“Smart drugs” to enhance performance: a way to go or a step too far?

We live in the world where productivity and efficiency are not just desired; they are expected. Furthermore, we seem to all be living the motto of the Olympic games: “Citius, Altius, Fortius”(“Faster, Higher, Stronger”). Yet how to meet these ever-growing expectations when our physical abilities are limited? We still require sleep; we cannot concentrate and perform non-stop for many hours in a row; we get sick from time to time. We are just humans after all. So… should we lower expectations or should we start using doping?

Harvard Business Review recently published an article: “Like it or not, “Smart drugs” are coming to the office“. The article talks about a trend of repurposing some cognitive-enhancing drugs to achieve higher performance and hence, higher results. Like, for example, Modafinil, which normally is a narcolepsy drug, is used by a growing number of executives to improve their decision-making. To note, that certain drugs are effective, easy to get; and most importantly, their side effects are negligible. All this provokes quite a few ethical considerations.

If you think that high-stakes corporate world doesn’t interest you and thus, this matter for you is irrelevant, think again. Did you know, for example, that some universities expanded their definition of cheating to include: “unauthorized use of prescription medicine to enhance academic performance” (see policy of Duke University for example)? So this matter can still be relevant, if not for you personally, then maybe for your kids.

Talking about the above mentioned policy, I understand what the University was trying to address, yet, is it actually fair to do it like that? To think about it, with “doping” of any kind you simply work harder and do more. You don’t actually use shortcuts or somebody else’s work; so why is it “cheating”?

During my exams in the law school I was drinking close to 8 cups of coffee a day and adding an energy drink now and then. I had a demanding full-time job in a law firm and there was a lot of cases and materials to go through for certain exams. The image of the pile of cases for the public international law still haunts me sometimes in nightmares! In that period I simply needed to stay awake and concentrated as long as I could. But are coffee and energy drinks equal to performance enhancing drugs? Could they also be labelled as “doping”? Likewise, what about vitamins, supplements, additives? They are also “enhancing” us in a certain way, improving our performance… Should they then be banned and equated to cheating? In other words, the whole matter is far from black or white.

To conclude, given the blurriness surrounding this issue, the actual answer as to whether taking “smart drugs” is a way to go or a step too far remains ambiguous. I believe that different people will have different answers as to what is acceptable and what is not. However, important questions to ask yourself are:

  • Why do you actually want to enhance your performance?
  • What is it that you truly want to achieve? and finally:
  • What are all the options you have to get there?

What do you think? Have you ever taken “smart drugs” to enhance your own performance? Where would you draw the line?


P.S. I am proud to announce that I have published my book “Everything a parent needs to know*”. More on that – here. The book is available at Amazon, iBooks and in pdf version at Sellfy store.

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3 thoughts on ““Smart drugs” to enhance performance: a way to go or a step too far?”

  1. wow tough topic. found u off blogging meet up group. hope to hear more… i take perscribed supplements that the doctor found i needed thru talking and looking at symptoms and history etc… blood test … that me … blessing keep blogging 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am a former drug counselor so I can see both pros and cons to performance and/or mind enhancing drug use. I would have a few concerns about particular drugs already on the market for a different use. Adderall comes to mind first. It is primarily used for ADHD and is a schedule II drug, which means there is a high probability of becoming dependent upon it. For the most part, mind enhancing substances are processed and distributed as ‘supplements”. the largest problem with supplements is that there is only empirical evidence as to their efficacy and side effects. No testing is required.
      I feel that for the most part, competent adults should be free to decide whether or not to use cognition-enhancing drugs, and if these drugs are sufficiently safe and effective, the government should subsidize access to them. It thus is important that the public have valid and reliable safety and efficacy data for these products. The greater the safety hazards are, the greater should be the justification required for anyone, including the government, employers, or parents, to mandate their use.

      Some cognitive enhancement products may be so dangerous that society would be justified in outlawing their use in certain cases. Giving them to children, for example, could be deemed child abuse and neglect. However, given the potential societal benefits from cognitive enhancements, the difficulties of interdicting them, the traditional rights of adults to accept risks as long as they do not impose undue costs on third parties, and the liberty of parents to raise their children as they see fit, the government should bear a heavy burden before imposing highly restrictive regulatory prohibitions.


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