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Mind-Enhancers for All?
Adderall (Photo by hipsxxhearts, Flickr.com)

Adderall (Photo by hipsxxhearts, Flickr.com)

Attention-deficit drugs like Adderall and Ritalin have helped millions of ADHD kids get along. For a new generation, they’ve also fed a black market in college dorms and high-pressure labs, where off-label use by the non-ADHD gets term papers written and lab reports done.

Now, pharmaceutical companies — and some scientists — are saying maybe we should consider “cognitive enhancers,” drugs like these, for the general population.

Some call it “cosmetic neurology,” and say it’s time. Others say it’s a bad, bad idea.

This hour, On Point: The debate over drugs for the mind.

You can join the conversation. Is it time to loosen up? To think of Adderall and Ritalin the way you might think of an hour of exercise? Or a cup of coffee? A fine way to sharpen up? Or is general use of pills for the mind a bad idea?


Joining us from New York is Ellen Gibson at BusinessWeek magazine. She recently wrote the article “Mental Pick Me Ups: The Coming Boom.”

From Philadelphia, we’re joined by Martha Farah, professor of psychology and director at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. She is co-author of a commentary in the December issue of the journal Nature, “Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy.”

From Garrison, N.Y., is Thomas Murray, president of The Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank. He was formerly the director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics in the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University.

And from Washington, we’re joined by Nora Volkow, director of the National Insitute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health.

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  • Madeline

    Mind-enhancers? I think you ought to be able to strive for what you want with what you’ve been given. Turn off the TV, the computer, the Ipod, exercise more, eat a good diet, get plenty of what you need in order to be at your best, etc. The basics.

  • Viv

    Sounds like legalized drug pushing to me with a lot of subterfuge in the name of science. The american society is becoming more and more reminiscent of the “fictional” classic BRAVE NEW WORLD. I sense that our current economic demise is in part due to this sort of thinking: If we got a problem whether education, depression or elevation take a drug. I just don’t see any difference between this and the man on the street pushing drugs. Again, the only difference I see is the subterfuge. And lets face it, we know that even though they may back their statements with “scientific” studies those studies are bought.

  • Nicole

    I am currently on adderal xr 20mg and lexapro 10mg, I find them VERY helpful. As a person diagnosed with ADD and major depression, I found I clearly needed them! After two months of being on anti-depressants and adderal I was able to put my focus back on my life….the way it once was. Before being on said drugs I was very depressed and had a suicide attempt, I dropped out of nursing school, and couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I’m now on the deans list and living what a person may even call a “normal” life. I agree that many people use these drugs for recreation, but not everyone does! Might I remind people that many drugs on the market are also sold on the street! The difference….. it’s monitored by medical professionals, and is not a “mystery drug”! I would hardly consider the use of Novocain as the use of street pushing drugs! Yet…isn’t that coke? It’s not the drug, it’s the method it is used!

  • http://www.vigorousmind.com Yuval Malinsky

    I am CEO of Vigorous Mind of Newton, MA. We develop software for helping people in staying sharp as they age. We get excellent feedback from users telling us that they are feeling great that they can do something about their slowing down which is fun and stinulating. That it is helping their mood, their positive sense of well-being and their overall functioning.
    There is growing evidence that physical fitness, healthy nutrition and brain fitness can help brain wellness. Why do we need more drugs that have side effects and can become addictive?

  • Linda

    I am the parent of a child with severe ADHD who has been supported by stimulant medication since kindergarten when it became apparent that the non-pharmaceutical interventions we had tried (which were many) could not enable my child to function successfully in school. I would be so relieved if I did not have to give this medication each morning. In addition to side effects related to appetite suppression and growth, I am convinced that one of the medications contributed to a heart arrhythmia that was only recently resolved. A quick internet search will demonstrate that I am not the only parent who believes that these medications are implicated in heart problems and one of the drugs was banned for a while in Canada, though it was later reinstated due to lack of evidence. My point is that these substances are currently controlled for good reason, and why someone who does not NEED them would consider taking them is difficult for me to understand.

  • Jesse Waithe

    As a former college student myself, I too have experimented with adderall to see if it would help me complete my studies. I felt that it help enough but there wasn’t an extravgant transformation like most think. I believe that it would be benificial to others since there are some people out there that relay on this drug to get them through the day, but like anything else there are some cases of abuse. I took the pill from a a roomate which he didnt even have a presciption for which just proves that it is already relatively easy to get your hands on. By making it available over the counter i believe that it would take the whole rebel effect away from taking this mind enhancer.

  • Amy

    Just because someone takes Ritalin or Adderall, we are not considered healthy now? This conversation is mildly offensive – my brain may work a bit differently from the average person but that doesn’t mean I should be excluded from the “healthy” population! What’s that about? We’re not disabled!

  • Andy

    Brave New World here we come.
    Brave New World here we are.

  • John

    As an adult struggling with ADD/ADHD (it is not only a childhood affliction), this subject disturbs me.

    First, the drugs referenced in this piece have helped me a lot; however, these drugs are not silver bullets. They work amazingly well in the beginning, but as your body builds a tolerance to the chemicals you need to up dosages, switch medications, etc (the best way I have found to deal with cognitive problems is to apply many coping strategies including therapy, medication, diet, exercise).

    Second, these are controlled substances we are talking about. Many ADD/ADHD medications are stimulants and may be chemically similar to (or are) methamphetamines. In some cases these drugs are in the same schedule as cocaine.

    Third, there are dependancy issues that seriously need to be considered.

    Finally, what I am concerned about is that I use a medication to help me reach the potential I couldn’t on my own because my body doesn’t produce enough of the neccessary neuro-chemicals I need. I have enough trouble dealing with the associated difficulties of ADHD without having to worry about competing with non-ADHD people taking these medications. That may be a silly concern, but if you have adult-ADD you worry about a lot.

  • Nick

    In the future I will be thankful for the possibility to stay sharp when my body and mind would otherwise deteriorate.

  • Bill Walsh

    A terrible idea! If people like Ellen want to increase their productivity a good start might be dropping the the incessant “you know” and “I mean”. These meaningless interjections must make up 10% of Ellens speech.

  • Roxanna

    All of the male members of my family have been on Adderall, Lipitur, Ritalin, and other behavioral modification drugs for my entire life. One of my brothers once struggled with abuse of his medication, and I’ve witnessed family members experience negative side effects from taking the drugs. Then when I was in college, I saw people use the drugs as performance enhancers, but also as recreational drugs (snorting Adderall, etc). I have an instinctual aversion to these non-medical uses and abuses of these drugs, but I do struggle to defend a blanket ban in all cases, especially in situations where an enhanced “highly-focused performance” would be socially beneficial (such as a leader under stress in a crisis). However, I think that the ethical boundaries should be made much clearer, and that people–especially young people–shoul understand where the line is between use and abuse and between optimized performance and worker exploitation. Also, if our standard for focus and performance becomes the chemically “enhanced” one, what happens to the individuals who were previously medicated for the disorder?

  • Soli

    I took Ritalian from 1994-1997 after receiving a diagnosis of ADD. The drugs did help, but I decided to take myself off them after learning skills to help me work through any issues I had. I’m more than a little disturbed by how often young kids, whose minds are still developing, are being prescribed a form of speed. Funny what’s considered acceptable drug when the war on (some) drugs is still in effect.

    When did eating well, relaxing, and sleeping enough become passe for good performance?

  • SnowOwl

    I wonder how your guest feel about doping in sports with the use of steroids? These new drugs that you are talking about seem like they are steroids for the mind, there does not seem to be much of a difference to me. They are both enhancers, but does the physical versus the mental gain make a difference?

  • Tina

    When will pharmaceutical companies develop drugs that will give them more than a profit? That will actually help people, such as those with cancer or diabetes or Parkinsons for example?

    Have independent studies ever been done looking at the effects of Ritalin, especially in use in children? Do we really know what kind of chemical changes this drug makes?

    Horrifying….really horrifying….

  • Ian

    These drugs may offer hope of better performing minds, but before we consider their benefits vs side effects we need to consider the big picture. Drugs are government regulated. The FDA is struggling as is to make sure that safe and appropriate drugs are available for sick people. Now we are going to ask them to devote resources to drugs for healthy people? By allowing these drugs, we are also going to give the market signal that big pharma should stop spending R&D bucks on drugs for cancer, MS, heart disease, and everything else. This is not the direction we want the pharmaceutical industry to head.

  • Lee Taricone

    Is there a eugenics dimension to this issue? We are somehow not good enough to function in the society that is the culmination of thousands of years of human history. Better start augmenting now, for the greater good.

  • John G

    Are these drugs addictive?

    Can anyone confirm that one’s performance using these drugs is actually better?

    Do we want aircraft pilots, long distance truck drivers, and heads of the Federal Reserve Bank to be doing drugs like this?

    Cognitive enhancement sounds like a LSD rationale from the 1960s all over.

  • http://anythinganywhere.com Bob Reis

    Dangerous side effects and possibility of addiction can be to some extent addressed by real drug education, which does not exist in this country today. Analogy: we teach people how to use matches without burning themselves (though accidents and pyromania do occur). Imagine if there was the possibility of real drug education…

  • Ryan

    What are the environmental impacts or these drugs now? In addition, what would be the environmental impacts of everybody taking these drugs? Such as water pollution, and the impacts to plant and animal life.

  • John Lynch

    Are we reliving the 70′s? All drugs have side effects. Some functions of the brain are enhanced and others a affected in other ways. I have one dead nephew and I almost lost my son to drug experimentation. These women pushing brain altering drugs make me livid. Anyway, if everyone takes them then the bar of what is expected in terms of work is simply raised higher. First our leasure time was taken away by work, then our family time. Now we are supposed to offer our brains up to the corperation. No thank you!

  • Drew

    Seriously, I would like to know what pharmaceutical companies are backing Ms Gibson’s point of view.

  • Stephen

    Please ask Martha about PHARMA funding for her research.

  • kathleen robbins

    you’ve just hosted Robert Reich with a long discussion about our financial mess. now you’re discussing these drugs that so many business people are using. any connection? I remember all of the stoner jokes from college…how about bad decision making at higher levels being influenced by these drugs?

  • Mireille

    This is such a sad conversation and at the same time such a good example of what is wrong in America. The focus has change from loving to learn to learning to win to get ahead. This makes a whole lot of difference in the quality of learning and the depth of the advances people make. You want to revamp education? Infuse it with the LOVE OF LEARNING!!!!
    This has to be a side effect of teaching to the test and the focus on test. Sad, sad, sad…..

  • http://WGCU-Naples,FL Michael LaRochelle

    Re: the “enhancement pharmaceuticals”, can you imagine the confusion and disconnect where the children are little tasmanian devils and moving so much faster than the parents that are 20-30 years their senior? Will we then have to create pills so that the parents can relate to their children!

  • Laura

    A close male friend of mine was diagnosed with ADD as an adult and has taken adderal and other medications. In the past, he has used marijuana, but does not now because he is moving from graduate work in science to the job market and could be tested for drug use. His reaction to marijuana is different from the “norm” we think of – it increases his focus, helps him stay awake, staves off mild depression, and counteracts anxiety, without side effects.

    My questions: Have your guest heard of this in other adults with ADD?

    Marijuana has been studied for use with cancer patients as a pain reliever and appetite enhancer – how likely is it that it might be studied for other uses?

  • Isabel Gardett

    As a student and teacher, I’ve known a lot of people on these drugs, both prescribed and not.

    My question is, is there really any “enhancement?” In my experience, people who take these drugs are no better off, as a group, either in school or in life, than those who don’t. Is there any evidence to suggest that taking these “enhancers” actually makes users better off, cognitively or otherwise, in the long run, either individually or as a group?

  • Colby Bowker

    I can only hope for an onslaught of law suits should these drugs become approved for everyday use. Surely there is an equal opportunity or discrimination case in there? Does this mean that success truly can be bought and sold? What happens to those who can’t pay the price? Then we’ll really see an income gap.

  • Brooke Schuller

    This is an absurd prospect. Addiction has already stricken our country hard enough! With alcohol the number one choice among addicted americans, if we put even more addictive drugs on the supermarket shelves, where are we going?

    People misuse drugs regularly – breaking up and snorting vicodin, codiene, and i believe i’ve even heard about adderall and ridalyn being snorted! WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?

    These drugs are all so new, the only drug that has been on the market for more than 100 years is asprin, everything else has been removed because they find things out about drugs that eventually prove them harmful in the end, even things people have taken for years, etc.

    Additionally, if these drugs are made available at a high price (even worse at a low price, but listen to this) only the rich will be able to afford them. Are we willing to widen the knowledge AND economic gap in our country? If you’re rich and you dont give a shit about anyone else, then perhaps you don’t care if the gap widens, but you should.

    there is alcohol abuse, pain killer abuse, narcotics abuse, now we want to make it even easier to abuse even more drugs?

    no one is ever going to feel okay if they have 5 extra pounds of weight in their thighs, can’t stay up to read a book at night cause their day is already too long, can’t be happy all the time, even when life’s events give good reason to be sad for a while.

    as a child who was misprescribed many mood enhancers and psychotropic drugs, i was unable to feel ANY emotion FOR YEARS, is this what we want?

    this is an absolutely absurd idea.

  • Greg Carpenter

    I was recently at dinner with a researcher who has worked on cognitive enhancement for years. When I asked him about the current state of the art, he responded that it was about the same as you could get from the caffeine in several cups of coffee. Hmmm…

  • http://www.myunion.edu Linda Gray

    I teach at Union Institute & University in Montpelier, Vermont. I have two comments. One on the drugs, one on education.

    1. The drug Ritalin, and probably the others, can have the opposite effect. This can be dangerous (and certainly wouldn’t help a student in an exam). So the street/campus use for exams and deadlines could be very dangerous for the students, as well as legally troublesome for the student who gave the drug or sold the drug, or the university that tolerated casual use of prescription drugs.

    2. The nature of a form of education that puts so much emphasis on grades and exams distorts the student’s learning experience. I teach at a university where BA students have no exams, and no grades, but rather produce independent study projects, and get a detailed narrative evaluation of their work and their learning. We have no trouble with students using drugs to enhance their performance for a short period of time (an exam or deadline) — and their learning does not leave them the minute they leave an exam. Can you remember what you learned by cramming for a chemistry exam? Of course not. Learning gained in more progressive, student-centered and student-driven learning, the lessons are lifelong.

  • Scott Thomas

    Where this phenomenon is here and whether its a good idea or not is probably moot, as an employer i’m concerned that i wouldn’t be getting what I want/ expect out of an prospective employee; one perhaps, who’s managed the intense curricula of an Ivy league school only through use of these enhancements.

    Is there a test for previous use, so that an asterisk could mark their resume?Then, perhaps I could insist they continue using these cognitive enhancements while under my employ.

  • Brooke Schuller

    Greg, cocaine can just feel like couple cups of coffee.

  • http://www.clarku.edu/departments/sociology/facultybio.cfm?id=67&progid=28& Robert Ross

    Prof. Farah appears to be advocating an irresponsible and even dangerous attitude. Apart from the issues of overdose and addiction, dependence on chemical enhancement has rarely led to anything but danger. To use rhetorical flourishes likening these uses to “education” demonstrates clearly the perils of narrow expertise and hyperfocus on one’s particular hobby horse. Ritalin is to education as… staying awake is to wisdom?
    Robert JS Ross

  • Martha Perkins

    Good to talk about this. However, it would be enlightening to talk with people who have ADHD and learn what it’s like to be burdened with it. I have had ADHD my whole life and just began Adderall about four years ago. The difference is striking and helps me to, at last, after many years of being ‘out there’ be more or less what I call effective. The children and adults with ADHD suffer a lot, experiences unbelievable losses, and, most of all are not able to go for their potential, much less achieve it. We have not control over this lack. Drugs are miraculous for us.
    It would be great if someone with ADHD could talk on th program to bring some respect and responsibility to the conversation, rather than use the word ‘use’ we use the word ‘medicine’.


  • Tom Yarker

    What is enhancement exactly, and doesn’t anyone read Aesop’s fables anymore? See “The Hare and the Tortoise”

  • Ian

    I am hearing the marijuana legalization argument here.

  • Maggie L.

    My doctor prescribed Provigil for my depression. Yes, it was a real life-changer. Yes, there were cardiac side effects. Sure, I’d use it for cognitive enhancement. But, in terms of bio-ethics, let’s talk about cost. As I recall, Provigil was approximately ten dollars per pill. At that cost, lower-middle and lower class folks will not be able to afford it, and, hence, will not be able to compete. If that’s not unethical, I don’t know what is.

  • shellburne thurber

    why has no one commented on the cultural implications of this kind of drug use. shouldn’t we be questioning a culture that demands that people work at a pace that requires these kinds of drugs? i think that part of the reason why we are in the mess we’re in (economically, environmentally etc), is because we are no longer encouraged to step back and take a more holistic look at the lives that we lead. thoreau would be horrified. if we are too amped up for the kind of self reflection needed to make for a more balanced relationship to our earth and to each other, i think we are headed down the wrong path. there are other more alternative ways to address many of these “problems” such as yoga and meditation. for those of us who are SERIOUSLY impaired by cognitive problems like ADD, then i think the drugs make sense. otherwise i feel that the problems we are creating go way beyond the people who could be adversly affected by the inappropriate use of these drugs.

  • Tom Williams

    I wish these meds were around when I was a kid.
    ADD cuts a very wide path through both sides of my family.
    I first considered the use of meds when my niece was put on a very low dose because of problems attending in her senior year. She went from stuggling to all an all A student. I looked into the diagnosis, got counselling, and have been taking various stimulant medications that have been a great help to me. My daughter was really struggling at her freshman organic chemistry. She too was tutored, counselled, and tested. After two weeks on a low dose of Adderall, she got a 90% on her final.

    I can take a 20 miligram ritalin and go take a nap.
    They work for me. They work for my family. I do not abuse them, nor do I feel the urge to.

    It is a huge mistake to categorically dismiss their benefits under the rubric of some mistaken ethos.

  • John

    Many of these drugs have the potential to be addictive and that’s why most of them are controlled substances.

    There has been a lot of research on the effects of these drugs on children, but very little data collected on how they affect adults because ADDHD was (and is) still considered something only children have.

    I am old enough to not have been educated in the current system (teaching to the test) and do have a love for learning, none of which helped to overcome my ADD symptoms. Believe me, I am also old enough to have tried everything too. Not one thing by itself works. I need to have a few things working in conjunction to have an effective result.

  • Drew

    She says she is not getting anything from the drug companies – I doubt that.

  • Gail O’Keefe

    Martha, might you also have legalized LSD in the 60′s, since kids were using it anyway?

    This woman has a very narrow view of cognition and physiology. For every errant college kid using it, you have many more who have been prescribed Ritalin, who have stopped taking it because of its effects- dampening social interactions, heightening anxiety, and increasing negative reactive behaviors.

    I will be reading this Nature article, since the representation on NPR made it sound unscientific, unsupported, and illogical.

  • http://dontmarry-incorporate.blogspot.com/ Bill W.

    Oh please oh please, send me the Soma, Sylvie, every once in a while. (And don’t forget the filles pneumatique, too, that Aldous Huxley promised us for our Brave New World (Order)!).

    As for life-preserving, life-enhancing chemicals, the Ninth Amendment, should anyone honor their oaths to “support and defend” the document in which it appears, should have long ago settled this issue.

    When the “Framers” got done with “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people,” they probably thought they’d erected a fairly firm bulwark against government fiddling around with the body of every one of us “We the people” types (i.e., all of us citizens), from the most corpulent skin-sack into the most demure dendrite of our innards.

    However, that doesn’t seem to be the case, does it. Even though most of us recognize, instinctively, if not rationally, that your right to swing your arms around stops at the tip of my nose, and any powers we delegated to the federal government certainly stop at the surface of our skin. (On the other hand, there is that draft thing that we let bellicose opportunists get away with from time to time. And that little governmental power play definitely does not stop at the surface of our skin.)

    So I guess we’ll just have to keep on paying the billions and billions to support the drug ranchers, drug processors, drug smugglers, anti-drug-ranchers, anti-drug-processors, anti-drug-smugglers, drug users and anti-drug users. Until people start to read the Ninth Amendment, I suppose.

  • Margaret

    This was a very dangerous and disappointing discussion. It could easily have given listeners very wrong-headed ideas, and Tom, you really went too far today!

    There should have been a psychiatrist or other doctor on the panel. They would have told you how difficult these drugs are to prescribe safely to people who really need them, let alone everybody else. As a psychotherapist working with college students, I see enormous problems with abuse. Many students taking these drugs to study end up with severe sleeping disorders. Once sleep is disrupted, all functioning goes down. Child and other psychiatrists, already overburdened trying to care for the truly ill, would be horrified by the slew of new problems this would create in their practices.

    And I agree with another poster above; stimulants are used as party drugs!! They are very dangerous! Your panelist is living in a fairy land to believe that because your doctor told you how to use them, you will take the meds “as prescribed.” Or not prescribed, as the case may be.

    Let’s not make this problem any worse than it already is.

  • Greg Carpenter


    My point was that, according to the person I spoke with, the measurable cognitive improvement was roughly equal to what you get from caffeine. I was not advocating for or against any particular drug, though personally I avoid medicating myself or family members as much as possible.

    Until the early part of the 20th century, cocaine was readily available without a prescription (why do think they call it Coca Cola :-) AFAIK, it was regulated largely because of its addictive properties and the havoc addition and abuse wreaked on the addicted person.

    I’ve never taken it so I can’t speak from personal experience, but I can easily imagine that cocaine,taken in moderate doses under medical supervision, could have a positive cognitive effect and minimal side effects.

    My fundamental question is: If it is possible to significantly enhance cognition using readily available substances such as caffeine whose properties and side effects are well known, why would an otherwise “normal” person (note the quotes, please) feel the need to take relatively costly drugs whose marginal benefit over a substance such as caffeine is apparently minimal?

    I know why the pharmaceutical companies would like this to be the case–they can’t make money selling commonly available substances.

  • Louise

    Whoa. Were any of these panelists from a pharma company? No. Why? Because controversy follows drug companies like flies on dung. Drug companies are actually quite conservative and do not tend to purposely take on controversy.

    Martha comments that pharma should get going on these drugs for cognitive enhancement. Yeah. They’ll get right on that…..not.

    It’s hard enough to find an effective drug but to find an effective drug with little to no side-effects for individuals who are not already suffering from a disorder is asking for alot. Serious side effects for chemo drugs for cancer are tolerated by the FDA and medical establishment because they’re used to save lives. But side effects for “quality of life” drugs (i.e. hair growth or mood-enhancing) are not as tolerated by the pharma companies, medical establishment, the FDA or the public.

    Furthermore, just as Ian (above) mentioned the FDA is already understaffed and swamped just with drugs for serious disorders. To expect drug companies and the FDA to jump on this “mood enhancing” bandwagon is irresponsible.

  • David Goodrich

    Listening to this conversation, I had to check my calendar just to make sure it wasn’t April 1st. Twice, to make sure. At one point, with reference to widespread use among college students, Martha Farah sees two choices: Either send the DEA on raids into college dorms , or educate the public and promote the legal use of the drugs. How about marijuana? or cocaine? Do we have to either commit the resources of the DEA to raid dorms, or make the drugs legal and mainstream? I see neither happening at the moment.
    Here’s a hypothetical: our President relies on these drugs to make clear and quick decisions regarding the football; he is whisked away to a safe location and someone forgets his pill bottle. How will his cognative function be affected as the drug level drops in his bloodstream? I feel more confident in Barack’s brain running on its own steam.

  • Will

    There are so many questions that arise from this kind of discussion.

    What if we take this argument (mind-enhancement drugs are good) and play it out over a lifetime and throughout society?

    What do we know of the long-term effects of these drugs? What might be the lifetime effects of future drugs we don’t even have yet? Do we dispense these drugs because the short-term effects seem positive without knowledge of the long-term effects? If the long-term effects prove to be harmful, who will pay for required medical care of the users? Do we have to spent untold amounts of money on legal battles to decide, or can we decide up front?

    What if the cost-benefit ratio deteriorates with age? Perhaps it’s good to give such drugs to younger adults, but what about older adults? When do the benefits vs. the cost decline, and who makes the determination of the crossover point?

    What about social stratification? Who gets these enhancements and who doesn’t? Higher wage earners, or lower, or everyone? And who determines that measurement? Are they as easily accessible in rural areas as in urban? Citizens only or tourists as well?

    Is this something every emergency room and well-stocked emergency kit will need to carry, like aspirin?

    If everyone should have access, is it a right? An inherent, inalienable right? If so, who pays for it? And what happens if there isn’t enough money to provide it equitably to everyone?

    Is it available from multiple sources, or is there only one source?

    What is the relationship between society’s need and the producer’s profit margin?

    And when the next financial crisis hits (as it inevitably will), who will be denied access that they thought they had a right to?

    Song reference that came to mind:
    “Everything you think, do, or say
    Is in the pill you took today” (In the Year 2525)

  • James

    I do not claim to have any mental “disabilities” like ADD or whatever else they want to call it nowadays but like every other American of my generation I have always had a hard time concentrating on school or anything else. I am 25 years old and I have had many friends over the last decade with prescriptions to various types of stimulants. I have experimented with them and I will be the first to say that these drugs REALLY DO give an advantage to anyone who uses them. These drugs = speed. It is very intense and very effective. It is almost a shame to say but in all honesty I sometimes think “If only I had (drug a or drug b) I could do everything I wanted and never be tired or lacking in focus. I personally think these pills should either be pulled from the market or given to anyone who wants them. They give an unfair advantage to those with “ADD/ADHD”. On a side note 9 out of 10 people I know with prescriptions claiming they have ADD DO NOT HAVE ADD!! They get these pills, take them almost daily and sell them to friends at school for 8-10 dollars per 10mg.

  • Suzanne

    Much of what I would say has already been said above and on the program. Very challenging topic – it is TERRIFYING to me that we have gotten ourselves to the point of having to have this conversation!

  • Sarah

    Im totally disgusted that any credible scientist would suggest that we need to rethink the use of ‘cognitive enhancements’. This is, yet again, a ploy of the pharmaceutical industry to make people dependent on a substance they do not need, but THINK they need. Messing around with the biochemistry of the mind is something that should only be done when a person is unable to function in a reasonable manner.

    The suggestion that this could be utilized as a tool to help students have a competitive edge is horrifying. Comparing this to sleep, education, and good nutrition is completely absurd. The side effects of sleep, education and good nutrition is enhanced learning. The side effects of long term stimulant use is yet to be determined.

    All the while the media is trying to string up Michael Phelps for a few bong hits!! But be sure to get in line for your legal mind enhancers!!!!

  • Mike

    I find this idea highly offensive but I am torn between 2 points of view. On one hand, I think this whole idea is yet another creative marketing by pharma to tap into a new revenue stream. Is it a coincidence that this has come up during these economic times? Maybe…but the most probable answer is that the big pharma is getting squeezed just like everybody these days so it’s time to get creative. “We already medicate the ‘the sick’. To expand, we need to start medicating ‘the healthy’.”

    My other point of view, in conflict with what I just said, is that personally, why should I care if person X wants to take drug X that may be bad for them? If they CHOOSE to do so, then they should be able to. Although, legal issue come to play with that. In an age devoid of legalized responsibility, maybe this type of approach is not a good idea.

  • Louise


    Like I said before, the Pharma industry was not on this panel so why do people think that the Pharma industry is involved with this?? Because people have this preconceived notion about the drug industry with minimal solid proof to back up their claims.

    I am a scientist and all neuro research I know about in the pharma industry is geared toward Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, parkinsons, neuropain and other serious neurological disorders. I know of no scientist who wishes to waste their time doing research on “mind-enhancing” drugs no matter what their employer pays. After all, when disgusted with current situations, scientists can, and do, move to other jobs. We are not stupid nor are we robots.

    The Pharma industry neither has the interest nor resources to go after an indication like mind-enhancement that is 1) very controversial and 2) whose outcome (mind enhancement) is very subjective. During a clinical trial, how do you measure “mind enhancement”??? “Oooh. I feel good and focussed.” “Well, so do you feel this way because you took the drug or because you had sex today and released alot of built up frustration?” Dang. Talk about a placebo effect. Measurement of “mind enhancement” isn’t as easy as measuring effect of a chemo drug on tumor shrinkage.

    Finally, I bet that with this controversy, Martha is getting alot of interest as a speaker and possibly selling a few more books.

  • George & Kathleen Martinez

    What people fail to realize is the hidden agenda that comes with these types of drugs.
    Current laws like this one could(H.R.2640
    Title: To improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and for other purposes.
    Sponsor: Rep McCarthy, Carolyn [NY-4] (introduced 6/11/2007) Cosponsors (17)
    Related Bills: H.R.297
    Latest Major Action: Became Public Law No: 110-180)could put users on a list of citizen how cannot legally own a firearm, hence disarming a large group of citizen. Call me a nut case if you will but i had the insight to know this law existed. I’m no nut case, I’m a citizen of the near bankrupt state of California who is very concerned about the direction his country is headed. Just like all the lies given in regards to HPV vaccines and their effects on young girls why would anyone believe what the pharmaceutical companies or the FDA claim. Don’t fall for it people. Please look for yourself the answers are out there all you have to do is look!

  • Donna

    Tom, Your producers dropped the ball. I’m shocked and dismayed by two of the guests you chose to have on today’s program about performance enhancing drugs. Neither Ellen Gibson nor Martha Farah uttered coherent sentences. They did not string together two or more sentences to convey an intelligent thought, and consequently your program did not inform on a critical topic. They both stumbled and bumbled around your questions as if they did not know the subject matter. No credibility! I’m a regular listener to On Point for intelligent conversation and critical thinking. This show was a big disappointment. Do you screen your guests for articulateness?

  • anonymous with ADD

    I just missed most of the show, and read these comments.

    Americans are such a bunch of Puritans. Everything has to be really good or really bad. These drugs are neither. Puritanism with regards to sex results in teen pregnancy. (There are studies to back this up.) Puritanism with regards to drugs results in abuse, crime, imprisonment, budget deficits and death. Doesn’t anyone remember the first prohibition? There has to be some middle path, where nuances are recognized, people admit that this stuff is not the devil, but still find a way to discourage inappropriate use. Notice that I say inappropriate use. Appropriate use is a good thing.

    I tend to think for anyone lacking any mental problems, this stuff is not worth it. At least over the long term. These are real drugs and do have some side effects, although the stimulants have been studied for MANY decades, even before WW2. However, there can be a real benefit, and in that case the side effects are acceptable.

    I know a kid who’s now in prison for a really stupid impulsive thing he did with some other kids. And, after doing that, he belongs there. However, if you spent 5 minutes with this kid you’d know there was something wrong with his brain. If there wasn’t so much of a stigma, and if good treatment had been more available, this kid would probably be working 10 to 12 hour days (which he likes to do) at some reasonably high level job (he’s not dumb), instead of using up our money in prison and trying to keep his butt from being violated. He’s spent a lot of time in solitary because he won’t rat out the people that the guards won’t protect him from.

    There are studies which show that with appropriate medication for ADHD, the criminals who have this condition (a very high proportion) deal with their impulsivity better, are less likely to get into trouble, and even are less likely to abuse the very same drugs that they are getting from the program.

    This doesn’t mean that I approve of lots of college students taking this stuff all the time, but I think we’ve shown that draconian law enforcement is not the solution.

    I myself don’t have so much of that impulsive thing, or at least I’ve learned to stifle it, but I do drift. If you think this kind of thing is imaginary, try doing a project when every time you put down a tool you forget where it is. I think, unmedicated, I average about a third of my time when doing projects just trying to remember where the tool is. And I have trouble remembering to take my medication for another medical problem unrelated to ADD. Even though the ADD drug somewhat increases my risk, I suspect that, with caution, it actually reduces my total risk because my “compliance” is better. So that way I can stay out of the emergency room and your health insurance is cheaper.

    My IQ is someplace between 125 and 155. I graduated from a famous school you’ve heard of. Unfortunately, it took 14 years and I just made it. That was before adults were thought to have ADD, and before SSRI’s. (I tended to be pretty depressed, and sometimes very depressed.) If I’d had the medication, I bet it would have saved my old man $50,000 or more in tuition. And I’d like to be making a bigger contribution to society, but even with the drug, I’m a bit underemployed. If I had a normal level of focus, I’m sure I could have done much much more. As it is, the meds make it easier to hold down a good job, and much easier to look for one when I’m out of work. That saves you people paying taxes money. Still, they only sort of work. Anyone at work who knew what they were looking for could tell I had it. But I don’t let on because of the stigma. And my case is mild. I know people who have much worse problems. Talented people whose talents we don’t benefit from.

    We are willing to believe lots of people have health problems. No one tells someone with diabetes to just buckle down and use their will to solve it. But lots of people have physical problems with their brains. Of course they do. It’s the most complicated part of the body. So let’s not get holier than thou about meds. They’re imperfect, they have dangers, but they can be useful.

  • Angela

    The supplement industry has already tapped into this market, and some of the products available are just as strong as those under discussion, and supplement companies are not regulated by the FDA. So far, they have not taken over the workforce or the schools such that people feel they are required for general living. So why would these drugs be any different?

  • jim walters

    what about physiological effects, specifically upon the liver? These are often revealed much later. Examples might be Ibuprophen and acetimenophen which are supposed to be safer than Asprin, and are now known to be much more dangerous, especially when used in combination with alcohol?

  • John


    One thing I might caution potential users of “mind enhancers” both healthy and otherwise is this.

    My 19 year old daughter died two years ago of ahrythmia. She was taking a legally prescribed large dose of Adderall and birth control medications. The coroner said neither of the meds had any influence in her death. She saidher heart got out of sync with her brain. Now I wonder…

    Last week her 18 year old sister collapsed at work. She’s fine and wearing a heart monitor but after tests were run by a physican specializing in ahrythmia, lo and behold, she was taken off of anti depressents because (I was told) they can cause uneven heart rhythm in some cases. He thinks it may be a congenital syndrome.

    Although it’s a rare disorder, I feel anyone who feels the need to ingest these drugs may want to have a conversation with a specialist who is familiar with the potential for them to stress the rhythm of heart.

    By the way, has anyone done a study of the effects of mixing heavily caffinated drinks with their “mind enhancers”?

    Personally, I feel that’s one of the reasons this country has gone so nuts!

    Thank You! I really enjoy your show!

  • Cassandra

    It is not surprising that the main proponent of opening up the lucrative drug market for “cognative enhancement” was a psychologist.

    These drugs are known to be addictive, cause heart problems, and shrink the brains of people who take them by about 10%, among other adverse effects.

    Profits for the pharmaceutical industry are now senior to the health and well-being of Americans–and Big Pharma will do anything to keep the billions rolling in.

    However, it is apathetic to just lie down and let the pharmaceutical bus roll over us and our children. When people know the truth about drugs, they become much less interested in taking them or giving them to others.

    We can’t look to the “research” paid for by pharmacutical dollars for the truth, as the judgements against Eli Lilly for falsifying Zyprexa research so clearly illustrates.

    I’d like to see a full vetting of who has paid for her “research.” The corruption of medicine by Big Pharma is so rampant, that any promotion of drugs should now be accompanied by a complete financial disclosure.

  • Rick

    Once big Pharma and their quack scientists and doctors convince the public that doing average on your SATs is a psychiatric disorder Massachusetts will mandate coverage of these “mind enhancers” for anyone who can’t score over 1100 or can’t pass the MCAS. Think I’m joking? Massachusetts mandates Viagra coverage(Why not dinner and wine,too?) and IVF.

  • Claire

    How pathetic have we become? The mere thought of cosmetic neurology is horrifying!! So many of us think a pill can take care of everything and anything. What has happened to our inner strengths and resources?? And then there is the undeniable fact that ALL drugs have the potential for serious side effects, depending upon the individual!! We are not robots, although the greedy drug companies would like to change that. I am currently on a prescribed beta blocker, which some people take (as “needed”)for “performance anxiety” . I take it for hypertension and would give anything to be off of it. It dulls the emotions- not a good feeling for someone who wants to continue to be passionate about life!! Also, the argument “because everyone is doing it” is stupid and dangerous!! Didn’t your mother always tell you that was no reason at all??!!

  • Lance Houston

    What has happened to humanity that we have become a take a pill society? Rather than develop as a species in harmony with the natural order, we have been take hostage by economic development and the corporate, for profit ideologies. Mounting evidence shows we are being poisoned in the name of prosperity. A good place to start, EPA,FDA,and USDA?,could make human health via quntified science the number one priority as was their original intent.

  • Nancy Jones

    I listened to the show on Mind Enhancers with horror and real sadness. It appears that the pharmeceutical companies are just seeking a new market to exploit with targeting college students. These drugs are addictive and can be very easily abused. I have a family member who became addicted to these kinds of drugs and now he is facing time in a rehab facility. What kind of a culture are we becoming when we value SAT scores over human decency, altruism and just plain common sense? Shame on the person on your show who was defending the marketing of these drugs to people who do not have a legitimate diagnosis of ADD or ADHD. It makes me wonder which pharmaceutical company paid her to take the position she did.

  • kgw

    My mom gave me a couple Adderal pills when I finishing my architecture studio. If I mentioned it to anyone, there eys would light up and they would beg me for some pills. It is speed with a perscription. Do you we really want our children and family taking speed (aka crystal meth lite), and getting used to popping pills.
    In my opinion drugs like this taken on a regular basis are the real gateway drugs. All of my friends who grew up on Ritalin have no problem snorting coke or popping random pills.

  • Meredith

    This reminds of the show on talk of the nation where they were saying people without high cholesterol should take lipitor. Sounds like big business making big money. People are depressed because the commercial on T.V. convinced them that they were. So now they take medication. Now there telling people you don’t have to have problems to take our medicine it’s just good for you. The general public is quite vulnerable. Where are the regulations on lying to people.

  • AJ

    Adderall is pharmaceutical grade speed. I have a friend whose life has been ruined by addiction and abuse of this drug. All you have to do is tell a doctor you have all the symptoms of ADHD and you get the best quality speed on the market. This stuff is VERY dangerous.

  • Gerald Fnord

    My reaction to many of these comments is, ‘Then we need better drugs.’

    I think this is a great idea, because I am a transhumanist: we are made of matter, and we can change ourselves by changing that matter. We have no telos, we can be as we will. There is nothing useful to be learned from suffering save sympathy for those who suffer, which we should engender in our children anyway (and which often doesn’t happen—often, the over-worked are cruelly unsympathetic to the poor); it is cruel to keep someone who wants to better themselves from doing so.

    That being said, it’s important to make people aware of just how bad our current drugs are. I can see discouraging people from using these crude tools, because people are often not equipped to understand the extent of the damage they can do. I think something much like the process forced on people who wish to change their outward gender (again, using our hilariously primitive tool-set) might be in order.

    And, as in the case of recreational drugs, we must understand the price to our freedoms and purses of attempting to stop this. We bet on freedom, faute de mieux.

  • Paxtriot

    Wide use would be fine if the drugs were indeed enhancers. However, they are just money-makers for a few corporate fat-cats.  Promoting them is like promoting eating at Burger King for wholesome nutrition. Like the Romans lead-drunk themselves into extinction, we will medicate and over-eat ourselves into oblivion. History books in the Nubian Xiang-Chi republic 200 years in the future will show 300 pound zoned out American kids on motorized shopping karts in the aisles of Wall-Mart.

Aug 27, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, right, as Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, center, looks at them, prior to their talks after after posing for a photo in Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. (AP)

Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s leader meet. We’ll look at Russia and the high voltage chess game over Ukraine. Plus, we look at potential US military strikes in Syria and Iraq.

Aug 27, 2014
The cast of the new ABC comedy, "Black-ish." (Courtesy ABC)

This week the Emmys celebrate the best in television. We’ll look at what’s ahead for the Fall TV season.

Aug 26, 2014
Matthew Triska, 13, center, helps Alex Fester, 10, to build code using an iPad at a youth workshop at the Apple store on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, in Stanford, Calif.  (AP)

Educational apps are all over these days. How are they working for the education of our children? Plus: why our kids need more sleep.

Aug 26, 2014
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, right, speaks with Ady Barkan of the Center for Popular Democracy as she arrives for a dinner during the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium at the Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park near Jackson, Wyo. Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014.  (AP)

Multi-millionaire Nick Hanauer says he and his fellow super-rich are killing the goose–the American middle class — that lays the golden eggs.

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