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Brain Boosters: How should we deal with cognitive-enhancing drugs?

Publication Date: 
March 31, 2009
Stanford Magazine

Professor Henry T. "Hank" Greely is interviewed by Stanford Magazine responding to questions about an article about brain enhancing drugs that he co-authored for Nature:

Here's a good way to stir people up: publish a commentary in a prominent science journal supporting the use—with safeguards—of prescription drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall as a way for healthy adults to improve brain functions, including concentration and memory. (Those two drugs are central nervous system stimulants commonly prescribed for attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders.)

Law School professor Henry Greely was first author among the seven professors and scientists who collaborated on the article for Nature. He has gotten an earful since its December appearance, and he sat down with STANFORD for a question-and-answer follow-up. An abridged version of this Q&A appeared in the print version of the magazine.

SM: You’ve provoked quite a bit of attention. What’s your take on the overall reaction so far?

Greely: Part of me thinks that any attention is good attention, because we think this is a really important issue. I have to admit I also sort of cringe sometimes when I look at my e-mail. The two most common reactions I’ve gotten are: “How much crack were you were smoking when you wrote this?” and “How much money did your friends in the pharma industry pay you to write this?”

But at the same time, I’ve gotten some very thoughtful responses, including some pretty negative responses, from a couple of my friends and colleagues here at the University. It’s an issue that people care about. One of the reasons that we wrote this piece is we think people care about it more than they’ve thought about it. The other big reason is we think there’s more and more of this coming down the road, and we’re just not prepared as a society yet for how we should deal with good, safe, cognitively enhancing drugs that will almost certainly be available in the next 10 to 20 years.