Debate around brain enhancement drugs

At O'Reilly's Emerging Technology Conference last week, I hosted a panel on the future of "mind hacks," from cognitive fitness programs to smart drugs to neuro-implants. One of the panelists was Timo Hannay, publishing director of, who talked about a recent heated debate taking place on the journal's site around the ethics of using brain drugs for wakefulness, focus, and other cognitive "enhancements." Nature is continuing that discussion with a public "brain boosting drugs" survey. Today's New York Times "Week In Review" takes a look at the controversy. From the New York Times:

"Suppose you're preparing for the SAT, or going for a job interview – in those situations where you have to perform on that day, these drugs will be very attractive," said Dr. Barbara Sahakian of Cambridge, a co-author with Sharon Morein-Zamir of the recent essay in Nature. "The desire for cognitive enhancement is very strong, maybe stronger than for beauty, or athletic ability."

Jeffrey White, a graduate student in cell biology who has attended several institutions, said that those numbers sounded about right. "You can usually tell who's using them because they can be angry, testy, hyperfocused, they don't want to be bothered," he said…

One person who posted anonymously on the Chronicle of Higher Education Web site said that a daily regimen of three 20-milligram doses of Adderall transformed his career: "I'm not talking about being able to work longer hours without sleep (although that helps)," the posting said. "I'm talking about being able to take on twice the responsibility, work twice as fast, write more effectively, manage better, be more attentive, devise better and more creative strategies."

Link to the New York Times, Link to Nature News and Opinion Forum, Link to "Brain Boosting Drugs Survey" (Thanks, Alvaro "SharpBrains" Fernandez!)