Cognitive enhancement drugs such as Ritalin are routinely used in an "off label" manner by students, doctors and other professionals to increase memory and concentration. And while the use of any medication–especially for off label purposes should be strongly cautioned–some experts are now saying cognitive enhancement drugs are no more dangerous than a cup of coffee. In a tough global economy, where business executives are always looking for an edge, should brain drugs be permitted in the workplace?


Earlier in the year I wrote an article where I detailed a hypothetical situation of two candidates vying for a marketing position. One candidate decided to take a brain booster drug to help him interview better, while the other candidate considered making the same choice–just to stay competitive.

And while reader responses varied to this particular dilemma, a new commentary in the December 2008 issue of Nature suggests brain boosters such as Ritalin, Adderall, or Provigil are a perfectly acceptable method of improving mental performance.

The writers of the article, which include a group of psychologists, and cognitive neuroscientists say, "Cognitive enhancement, unlike enhancement for sport competitions could lead to substantive improvements in the world."

In a testimonial for the use of brain boosters taken from the article, Henry Greely of Stanford Law School in California, and Barbara Sahakian, a psychiatry professor from the University of Cambridge in Britain said, "We should welcome new methods of improving our brain function."

Do we really need cognitive enhancements to improve brain functions?
The human brain is an amazing organ, loaded with billions of neurons that process an amazing amount of information–according to one source, "20 million billion calculations per second." And while our brains arguably have a fixed capacity, it seems that in a quest "to get ahead" there are many who feel the need to take brain drugs to push their brains to perform even better.

An article in Technology Review makes mention of another Nature survey of 1,400 people across 60 countries. A stunning twenty percent of respondents mentioned that they had taken brain boosting drugs to increase mental performance!

And according to the article, nearly 7% of students in U.S. universities have used prescription stimulants, and on some campuses, as many as a quarter of students have used the drugs for non-therapeutic purposes. These are students who will eventually be coming into the workplace. If they are taking cognitive enhancements to get ahead now, are we fooling ourselves that they will stop once they enter the workforce?

Let's be honest. These are challenging economic times. Those who are employed are feeling the pressure to perform even stronger, and those who are unemployed may be competing with candidates who are doing all they can to land an open position.

Business executives of all stripes will be confronted with tough choices–and one of those choices could be whether to use cognitive enhancing drugs to maintain or increase performance.
The pressure is real. How will you respond?

Questions for DailyFix readers:

* Should healthy adults have access to cognitive enhancing drugs?
* The scientists in the Nature article argue that cognitive enhancing drugs are just a tool to improve performance, much like using the internet, maintaining good health habits, or getting a better education. Do you agree?
* Do you think there will be more pressure to take cognitive enhancements during these challenging economic conditions?
* Should employers have a policy regarding employee use of "brain boosters"? Is this a "don't ask, don't tell" situation, or should companies outright ban such stimulants in the workplace?

Sign up for free to read the full article.

Take the first step (it's free).

Already a registered user? Sign in now.

Loading...

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.