According to a new report in Nature, one in five people surveyed have used drugs to boost their mental cognition - and while we know that most people using brain boosting drugs recreationally/academically are students in the 18-25 bracket, there is a (perhaps not) surprising number of academics reporting casual/non-medical use of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall. The study was informal, nonspecific, and international, and most of the 1400 people who responded said that they worked in some medical or education related field, and took the drugs to improve their concentration.
Martha Farah director of UPenn's Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, calls this "America's uncontrolled experiment in pharmacology." The drugs are risky, being taken in an unsupervised manner, and no one really knows what they will do or the long term side effects of taking them on a neurocognitively normal brain. And even more to the point, no one knows where people are receiving their supplies - the internet? Are they even getting what they ordered?
Brendan Maher thinks this is just our competitive nature coming out, wanting something that no one else can have and doing our best to achieve it - or at least take it away from them. I'm not necessarily convinced this is it, or at least all of it - it seems that it is our keeping up with the neighbour instincts coming out, and the desire to make sure we're doing everything we can to be in a competitively even situation with those around us.
Still, given how easy it is for off-share pharmaceuticals to become contaminated, or not made of of the basic ingredient in the first place, the lack of medical supervision and lack of long term followup is worrying. We simply don't know what these drugs will do long term, and what the consequences will be not only for the user but, at least in the case of medical professionls, the people that they treat.