I’m on the drug that killed Paul Erdős

In the wake of the Nature survey that found that 20% of scientists admit to using brain enhancing drugs, Wired has just published an article detailing what drugs their scientist readers use to keep on keepin’ on.

Although the drugs issue is obviously the headline-grabber, the publication also has a great feature on cognitive enhancement that largely covers tips, tricks and techniques to boost your mental skills that aren’t drug-related.

The article itself is anecdotally interesting, but has a curious tone throughout:

Surprisingly large numbers of people appear to be using brain-enhancing drugs to work harder, longer and better. They’re popping pills normally prescribed for narcolepsy or attention-deficit disorder to improve their performance at work and school.

“We aren’t the teen clubbers popping uppers to get through a hard day running a cash register after binge drinking,” wrote a Ph.D. research scientist who regularly takes a wakefulness drug called Provigil, normally prescribed for narcolepsy. “We are responsible humans.”

Whenever people talk about using drugs, they’re always keen to distance themselves from that sort of drug user. You know, the ones that aren’t responsible.

This belies the fact that most people use most drugs with few problems. Even teen clubbers popping uppers.

While all drugs have risks and illicit street drugs increase the health risks and definitely have an impact on body and brain function, it’s only a minority of drug users who have problems that interfere with their daily lives.

For example, a recent study found that 4% of Australian workers use the (fairly nasty) drug methamphetamine. The figure rises to over 11% for 18-29 year olds. That more than 1 in 10.

While the study found that using methamphetamine significantly increases chances of a range of health problems, it’s still the minority of users that report significant problems. This is the typical pattern for studies on drug use.

In other words, drugs are bad for you but most people manage the risks. A small minority, of course, don’t, and die instantly or suffer long-term consequences.

The benefit and using and abusing prescription drugs for ‘brain doping’ is largely in the fact that you can be sure of the purity of the product and that probably (depending on how you acquire them) you’re not funding a vicious criminal network.

At the end of the day though, the process is the same, whether you’re using legal drugs, illegal drugs, for recreation or for performance.

Just make sure you’re educated about the risks and know the consequences. Just like everything else in life.

Link to Wired.com Readers’ Brain-Enhancing Drug Regimens.
Link to Wired ‘Give Your Intellect a Boost’ techniques.

7 Comments

  1. Alexis Madrigal
    Posted April 24, 2008 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the thoughtful post on my article. I do wish that I’d gotten in a graf about drug usage, in general, and how the optimal level of drug use might not be none at all.
    Anyway, thanks again. I’m a daily Mind Hacks reader, and it was nice to see my work on display.

  2. eclipse
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 4:17 am | Permalink

    Good post. I do, however, take exception to one bit: that methamphetamine is a “fairly nasty” drug.
    Not true. Meth is a downright evil scourge of a drug. I believe fully in the right for people to use recreational drugs- but meth isn’t recreation, it’s a runaway taxi to hell. I know this sounds melodramatic, but I have yet to meet ONE person who was a meth user who didn’t a) die b) lose everything valuable to him/her including sanity or c) become HIV positive.
    Meth is the devil. Exeunt all.

  3. Posted April 25, 2008 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Even with a drug like methamphetamine, most heavy users in our research engaged in “functional use.” They used to enhance cognitive function (or compensate for deficits), to increase overall productivity, and even to appear “normal” while being high (say, unlike alcohol). While many had problems that could be defined as drug dependence, others engaged in controlled drug use (Norman Zinberg’s work). Most substance use today falls either into a functional or a ritualized frame, coffee in the morning, champagne at New Years, meth to study hard or even clean your house (as one of our informants related).
    For more on this research, see my article Lende et al. “Functional Methamphetamine Use: The Insider’s Perspective” in Addiction Research and Theory. Email me at dlende@nd.edu if you want a pdf. Here’s the link to the abstract: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a781027696~db=all
    I also recommend the work of Miriam Boeri, part of the same project, using ideas about drug careers, social control, and social learning to examine lifetime patterns in heroin and meth use among baby boomers: http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1475-682X.2006.00154.x

  4. Enterhase
    Posted April 27, 2008 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    For the past few weeks I’ve been considering taking some performance-enhancing drugs. I work way too hard in order to support college.
    A neurologist once prescribed GABOB to me, but I found it made me sleepy. I was probably wrong, since now I’m ‘clean’, but still sleepy all day long.
    I was also diagnosed with ADD as a child, and prescribed Ritalin. Perhaps I should fall off the wagon, and start with Ritalin again.

  5. peaceout
    Posted November 6, 2009 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    Its common knowledge that there are chemical similarities between the key chemicals in Adderall (dextroamphetamine, C9H13N) and meth (methamphetamine, C10H15N). The two are amphetamines, they both act similarly, their chemical structure is almost identical, and yet one is prescribed to children. So, why isn’t meth just legalized and taxed? Why make criminals rich?
    Also why force stores to sell Claritin in limited quantities to customers? Its a waste of time. Any substance, like food, cigarettes, alcohol, and etc. can be abused. Online, people can order generic Claritin tablets in blister packs in bulk at websites like http://www.allerox.com. People just need to be responsible adults and use things in moderation.

  6. Brett
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    What’s the drug that Erdos used? Amphetamines?

    I’ve thought about taking something that would help me focus, but it’s not been a problem so far.

  7. Brett
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    I guess technically I consume caffeine, although you don’t usually think of coffee just as a drug delivery mechanism. I also don’t do it as much as I used to – considering all the beneficial side-effects of coffee consumption, I probably should get back into it.


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