This past December, Barbara Sahakian and Sharon Morein-Zamir had a commentary in Nature entitled 'Professor's Little Helper' which discussed some of the ethical issues that arise with the use of cognitive enhancers. Appended to the article was a request to readers to share their thoughts on cognitive enhancers, and
"We especially want to hear from you if you’re already using these drugs – or if you know people who are. What are your reasons for taking, or not taking, these drugs?"
The ensuing discussion focused more on the ethical issues associated with the introduction cognitive enhancers than autobiography. In a recent issue of N+1, Molly Young, a senior at an Ivy League university, takes up the challenge in a wonderful piece entitled Kick Start My Heart. The article has produced a fair bit of dicussion (here, and here, and here, and here), all of it laudatory for the frank way in which Molly discusses the issue.
Molly shares with us the ambiguity that she felt as she began her adventure with Aderall.
"It is difficult to know whether it is a drug itself or a drug culture that attracts certain people to certain substances. In the case of Adderall, I came for the culture and stayed for the drug. Nothing had ever tempted me before. As an adolescent girl, alcohol was closely allied with promiscuity, and I was a prude. Weed suggested foolishness and snacking, and I was foolish and hungry enough as it was. But then came college, and with it, Adderall—a drug associated with writing, thinking, and joyful, hermetic reading. Adderall Me and Ideal Me were nearly the same person, and I saw no reason not to dabble in my best self."
This comment, perhaps more than any other in the piece, is remarkable insofar as it directly addresses, albeit from a first-person perspective, the notion that cognitive enhancers such as Adderall (if it can indeed be called one) alter our deepest perception of ourselves. It is not just Molly's insight that suggests this; Molly did some cursory research on how Shire markets Adderall and found essentially the same thing.
"The Shire website offers some vague information about ADHD, the disorder for which Adderall is prescribed, and warns that the consequences of untreated ADHD can include relationship problems, drug abuse, and frequent job changes. There is a link for people who are already taking Adderall. "Congratulations!" it reads. "By taking ADDERALL XR, you're showing your commitment to reaching your potential in all aspects of your life—and to being the person you were meant to be."
Despite the obvious pressures of an Ivy League education, Molly gives no indication that she felt coerced to take Adderall. Finding it was easy, and the results were self-reinforcing, but she doesn't describe a culture in which she felt compelled to take the drug just to keep up with her classmates. Whether this singular experience generalizes across cognitive enhancers will be important to know as more and more of these drugs enter the market.