I was astounded to read the news about scientists essentially promoting pills to improve brain function - surely I had read the article wrong, I thought. But no.

Just a few blurbs, for those who haven't had the pleasure, with more or less the same take: Discovery, Reuters, AP. The main idea: seven scientists (neuroscience and bioethics experts) suggest researchers study the long-term effects of stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin on healthy people while also evaluating whether the drugs are addicting. The reason? Everyone is already doing it. Yes, scientists are regressing to playground mentality.

A gems from these experts: "We should welcome new methods of improving our brain function," and doing it with pills is no more morally objectionable than eating right or getting a good night's sleep. Did anyone ever question the morality of getting eight to 10 hours of sleep or eating your vegetables? And how is chemically altering your brain with synthetic pharmaceuticals on the same playing field as sleeping?

CartoonMy personal favorite comes from Martha Farah, director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience (U. of PA). She says that students are already using stimulants illegally, and demand will grow as better "brain-boosters" are developed. "It's a felony, but it's being done."

What? Is she serious?

Thankfully the authors do posit two "possible" risks to spiking the water supply with stimulants: children could feel coerced into taking the drugs either directly or through peer pressure, and the expense of such drugs might limit their use to people with higher incomes, which could heighten social inequalities.

Did we forget about the cardiovascular risks, or psychiatric risks, that led FDA to revise product labeling and create a Medication Guide? Or that Canada actually suspended marketing of Adderall, subsequently returning it to market with a strong warning, because of cases of sudden unexplained death?

And let's not consider that amphetamines like Adderall are a schedule II controlled drug, and that they are contraindicated in patients with a history of heart disease or hypertension - which describes a huge chunk of the American population. (Amphetamines are related to everyone's favorite home-cooked drug, meth - and who wouldn't want more meth labs in their neighborhood? There's a reason they put Sudafed behind the pharmacist's counter, people.)

Perhaps I misremembered, but didn't baseball just have a big scandal over performance enhancing drugs? If athletes can't take drugs to give them an extra physical boost, why can students take drugs illegally to gain that extra edge?

Speaking of illegal drugs, guess which narcotic is essentially pharmaceutically equivalent to the schedule II drug Ritalin? That's right, cocaine.

Brave New WorldAs I read the article, I couldn't help but think of soma, from Huxley's Brave New World. Although in BNW (published in 1932) soma was used to pacify the masses, his book The Island (published 40 years later in 1962) discussed the use of drugs to promote enlightenment and self-awareness and knowledge. Hmm.

I'll leave you with a little Shakespeare for the day - Shakespeare's The Tempest provided Huxley with the title for his 1932 classic, from the following speech:

"O wonder! / How many goodly creatures are there here! / How beauteous mankind is! / O brave new world / That has such people in it!"