Athletes who take performance-enhancing drugs are subject to drug testing, public disgrace, and an asterisk in the record books — but what about students who do the same? One psychologist foresees a future where students get tested for cognition-enhancing drugs.
In an article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, Vince Cakic, a psychologist at the University of Sydney, notes the increasing use of nootropic "smart drugs" such as Provigil, Ritalin, and Dexedrine to boost academic performance rather than for their prescribed medical uses. And, he writes that as more students indulge in non-medical uses of these drugs, academic institutions may attempt to ban academic performance-enhancing drugs in the same manner as drugs for athletic performance. Athletic doping, he notes, has been notorious difficult to eliminate, and academic institutions could be pushed to extremes to try to eliminate nootropics. They could even, he imagines, require students to take urine tests before exams and throughout the semester.
This is less an issue for the current crop of nootropics, whose effect Cakic deems "modest." But there are more sophisticated drugs in the works, and he believes that soon better grades could be available in a little orange bottle. The question is: should schools bother to ban these drugs at all? Cakic points out that the academic playing field isn't exactly level to begin with, and some students benefit, perhaps unfairly, from expensive private education or having more time to study than fellow students who have to work. Perhaps, he writes, schools shouldn't regard nootropic use as cheating, though the issues don't end there:
The long term safety of smart drugs in healthy people is unknown, and this might prove a good, and perhaps the only, reason to attempt to restrict their use. Mr Cakic points to the use of caffeine, which is known to enhance sporting performance. It is a form of 'cheating' that is tolerated, he says, because it is relatively harmless.