Jessica Farrugia Sharples argues YES…
The promise of a ‘smart drug’, a drug to enhance your brain power, increasing concentration and memory, seems too good to be true. It’s a tantalising idea; a drug that would suddenly open your eyes to a more complex understanding of the world, brain whirring with equations and astrophysics and each sensation intensified, without the gritty association to illegal stimulant drugs. Sadly, the actual effects of these ‘smart drugs’, or nootropics, are far from being this advanced.
Meant for people with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, several forms of nootropics are already being experimented with. Scientists view the effects of these drugs as completely natural and believe that they should be legalised; several prominent ethicists and neuroscientists recently published a study entitled ‘Towards a responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy.’ At the moment, however, many of the grand claims of the cognitive enhancing drugs have not been formally tested and scientists have proven that the same effects can be achieved in other ways that don’t involve the drugs. Increased levels of oxygen to the brain, the release of ‘happy-hormones’, and increased energy, can all be achieved by exercise, eating carbohydrates and a good night’s sleep. Other naturally stimulating effects on brain function have been attributed to vitamin B and omega 3. Perhaps, in the future these drugs may have developed enough to enable humans to work for 40 hours straight while multi-tasking and pregnant, which is when it becomes a whole other ethical and moral argument.
At this point in time, these well-marketed ‘smart drugs’ are selling to lazy American students looking for a shortcut. To give yourself the best chance with no fear of any dodgy side effects, getting some rigorous exercise in your day (take that any way you like) and tucking yourself in bed at a normal hour will give you the best chance of achieving full potential. These drugs appear to be, at the moment, little more than a waste of money and a projection of students’ fantasies.
Samantha Owen argues NO…
The question is rather an interesting one, as it asks not whether ‘smart drugs’ work or whether they are safe but whether or not they are fair. Fairness is a relatively abstract concept and is one that is hard to quantify. But in this circumstance, the simplest deduction is that everybody should be given equal opportunities for success.
If we were to compare drugs which aid intellectual improvement with those that alter physical performance, we could clearly suggest that those taking drugs have an unfair advantage over those that are not. Performance enhancing drugs have been banned in sport for a reason ? they work in the favour of the drug-fuelled athlete. If two students are sitting the exact same exam, having had the same amount of teaching, but one revised using smart drugs and one didn’t and it resulted in the drug-induced student outperforming the normal student, then of course it is unfair.
One could, of course, argue that if these smart drugs were made legal, and were readily available then it would become the student’s choice whether they sought the advantage or not, and therefore the circumstances are fair. But as that is not the case, smart drugs are only attainable to those that have the right connections. This means that only students with enough money or with friends on ADHD medicine can score these intellectual highs and attain this unfair advantage over their peers.
To be fair, the only people desperate enough to seek this quick-fix are those that haven’t taken university seriously thus far, so I cannot imagine they’ll care a great deal about whether it’s fair or not anyway.