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Finals Week: What About Stimulants?

Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008

A commentary in this week’s edition of the journal Nature tackles the question of whether “normal” people have the right to take stimulant drugs to improve their brain functioning.  The authors contend that using a pill is no more ethically problematic than other common methods of boosting brain power.  As one of the authors told the Associated Press, “"I would be the first in line if safe and effective drugs were developed that trumped caffeine."

Interestingly, this was one of the three top ethical issues for undergraduates identified this fall in a discussion with student workers at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.  Rebecca Fox-Bivona, one of the Center’s Social Networking outreach managers, wrote this case for the University’s Ethics Group on Facebook about a finals week dilemma:

It has been a hectic fall quarter. Jack was looking over his finals schedule: two finals on Tuesday (back to back) and two on Wednesday. How was he going to possibly do all of this studying? As he sat looking over his notes a fellow classmate sat next to him and started talking about the amount of studying he was going to have to do.

She suggested Jack take a pill to help him concentrate and study better: Adderall. He really didn’t know what Adderal was and had never heard of it before college. She said it would be okay because it was her prescription (a prescription a lot of kids take for attention deficit disorder to help them focus), and he could trust her. She mentioned that many college kids take Adderall to help them study during finals week.

Does Jack take the pill, believing his classmate and hoping that this will really help? Or does he decide that maybe it’s not such a good idea to be taking pills to study especially if it’s someone else’s prescription?