Doctors Taking ‘Smart Drugs’

The practice of taking “smart drugs” — pharmaceuticals that increase mental capacity and ability to concentrate — is growing more common. A new study shows that doctors perform better under the influence of certain performance-enhancing drugs:

Researchers gave sleep-deprived surgeons the brain stimulant modafinil, known to boost memory and brain power, and then tested how good they were at thinking clearly, solving problems and carrying out simulated operations.

The results were so convincing that scientists believe the medical profession could even be weaned off its current drug of choice — caffeine.

The study’s results, led by Lord Darzi, professor of surgery at Imperial College London, suggested that doctors whose brains were sharpened by the drug would perform better under pressure.

What is more, their extra brain power means they would think faster and react more decisively if something went wrong, Darzi said.

“We found that when surgeons had taken modafinil they saw sharp improvements in their ability to solve problems and think flexibly. In fact, their performance was very good,” Barbara Sahakian, professor of psychiatry at Cambridge University, said.

I know of students who have taken these kinds of drugs to get an edge in college. And some futurists argue that taking a pill to supercharge one’s intellectual output will be commonplace some day.

We will be debating the many ethical questions involved in this sort of thing, and weighing potential risks, for many years to come.

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