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Smart drugs mean society loses out

Having read the article by Justin Thomas on the emerging use of ‘smart drugs’ (The Pharmaceutical Journal 2015;295:244) I was somewhat concerned by his final statement: “And, if the long-term effects are beneficial, then there is no reason to stop people using these cognitive enhancers responsibly, in the same way as drinking a cup of coffee.” In the article he talks about the advantages students could gain, such as getting better exam results and then being offered better university places. He goes on to ask the question: “If you had a hard-to-diagnose and potentially life-threatening health condition, all else being equal, which physician would you want working your case: the one on modafinil or his slightly sleepy looking counterpart?”

I would like to ask the question: which physician would you prefer working on your case — the physician who just managed to get the grades he needed to go to medical school by taking modafinil while sitting his exams or, instead, the person who would have become a doctor but lost her place at medical school to the person with slightly better exam grades, achieved using cognitive enhancing drugs? Unless the person intends on using cognitive enhancers every working day to maintain the advantage he gained while taking any exams, he will not perform better than someone who would have outperformed them during the exams had there been a level playing field. As a society we are therefore losing out.

Ray Lyon


Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2015.20069557

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