Mainstreaming cognitive enhancement

Nature has just published an article arguing that the use cognition enhancing drugs by healthy individuals should be by accepted by society and appropriately regulated.

The authors are an interesting mix. They consist of several cognitive neuroscientists, a lawyer, an ethicist and the Nature editor-in-chief.

The piece follows a survey and discussion pieces published earlier this year by the magazine to try and kick-start the debate on these widely but often illicitly obtained substances.

It’s a thoughtful piece covering both practical and ethical issues which argues seven main points:

Based on our considerations, we call for a presumption that mentally competent adults should be able to engage in cognitive enhancement using drugs.

We call for an evidence-based approach to the evaluation of the risks and benefits of cognitive enhancement.

We call for enforceable policies concerning the use of cognitive-enhancing drugs to support fairness, protect individuals from coercion and minimize enhancement-related socioeconomic disparities.

We call for a programme of research into the use and impacts of cognitive-enhancing drugs by healthy individuals.

We call for physicians, educators, regulators and others to collaborate in developing policies that address the use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by healthy individuals.

We call for information to be broadly disseminated concerning the risks, benefits and alternatives to pharmaceutical cognitive enhancement.

We call for careful and limited legislative action to channel cognitive-enhancement technologies into useful paths.

However, I can’t help but thinking that the piece has the feel of trying to move the use of these drugs from the ‘bad’ to the ‘good’ category, where I tend towards thinking that we need to be less concerned about classifying drugs types and more about distinguishing between responsible and irresponsible drug use, which, of course, can differ between situation, purpose, and the specific drug being discussed.

For example, I wonder how easy it is to define ‘cognitive enhancers’. If someone has a drink before public speaking to help them relax and so make fewer mistakes – are they using a cognitive enhancer?

Link to ‘Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy’.

One Comment

  1. ChickenArise
    Posted December 8, 2008 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Sure, why not? A responsible drink before speaking, a quick smoke before tackling the canvas – as you say, it’s more about responsible vs. irresponsible.
    I can’t help but think of the “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people” meme, and I’m not sure if that is good or bad.


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