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Brain-Boosting Drugs FAQ: What You Must Know

7 Scientists Assert Brain-Boosting Drugs Are OK: Are They Wrong?
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WebMD Health News

Dec. 11, 2008 - What's wrong with healthy people taking brain-boosting drugs? Nothing, seven leading scientists and ethicists announced this week.

Polls suggest that as many as one in five scientists already take brain-boosting drugs -- usually the stimulants Ritalin, Adderall, or Provigil.

And there's nothing wrong with that, suggest the authors of a provocative editorial in this week's issue of the science journal Nature.

"We call for a presumption that mentally competent adults should be able to engage in cognitive enhancement using drugs," they write. The editorial also calls for further research into the risks and benefits of using drugs in this way.

It's a prominent list of authors:

  • Henry T. Greely, JD, professor of law at Stanford University; co-director of the Stanford program in genomics, ethics, and society; and co-director of the Stanford program in law, science, and technology.
  • Barbara Jacquelyn Sahakian, PhD, FMedSci, professor of clinical neuropsychology at the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, England.
  • John Harris, DPhil, FmedSci, research director at the University of Manchester Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation, and research director at the university's Center for social Ethics and Policy in England.
  • Ronald C. Kessler, PhD, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
  • Michael Gazzaniga, PhD, professor of psychology and director for the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California Santa Barbara.
  • Martha J. Farah, PhD, professor of natural sciences and director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Philip Campbell, PhD, editor-in-chief of Nature.

Sahakian and Kessler consult for a number of pharmaceutical companies, but the other authors declare no such ties.

The issue, they say, isn't for drug companies to make money. They suggest that responsible use of drugs for brain enhancement can be good for society as well as for individuals.

Controversial? You bet. Here's WebMD's guide to the issues.

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