Performance-enhancing drugs: not just for athletes

The journal Nature ($) recently found evidence of significant drug use among academics for the purpose of improving mental ability and increasing productivity.  The Chronicle of Higher Education’s News Blog summarized Nature’s findings like this:

In an online survey of 1,400 readers, Nature found that 20 percent had taken pharmaceuticals for the nonmedical purpose of improving their concentration, focus, and memory. Most of the people who responded to the survey were involved in science, engineering, or education. “The numbers suggest a significant amount of drug-taking among academics,” the magazine said.

The drugs most commonly used were Ritalin, Provigil (which reduces the need for sleep – here is David Plotz’s account of his experience with the drug), and beta blockers. 

Considering the high-pressure, high-stakes environment that many scholars find themselves in, I don’t think it’s surprising that some are turning to performance-enhancing drugs.  It’s not a new trend, either: consider the number of novelists and poets who have turned to alcohol or narcotics to help their writing come more easily. 

I have mixed feelings about this.  I can sympathize (greatly!) with the desire to accomplish more, write more, read more, and to use “artificial” means to get there.  Isn’t this why I drink 2 cups of coffee each morning, to help me become more alert?  I confess that, if I had access to Provigil, I would be strongly tempted to take it.  I struggle to carve out hours in the day to read and write, and adding 8 more hours overnight would be incredible. 

On the other hand, I wonder where this fits into God’s design for our minds and bodies.  We are made in God’s image, with the ability to reason, meditate, study, ponder.  God’s image also includes the Sabbath rest, and a pattern of engagement and withdrawal.  We see this in Genesis 1 and 2, in the ministry of Jesus, and in the promises given to God’s people.  I have a hard time imagining Jesus using Ritalin to help him prep for the Sermon on the Mount, or suggesting that the disciples use Provigil so they could stay up longer. 

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