Take a pill and be more intelligent, faster, or stronger. Really? After having watched the first episode of the new series Limitless, I researched whether such wonder pills actually exist. The next few paragraphs are the result of my research.
Definition of smart drugs
Smart drugs are pharmacological cognitive enhancers (PCE) or, more simple, drugs that increase the cognitive performance and abilities of healthy people that improve, for instance, concentration or memory. Often the medicaments Adderall, Modafinil, or Ritalin are cited as the best smart drugs, however, some people experienced only negative side effects without positive changes. Short-term side effects include insomnia, anxiety, sleeping disorders, headaches, restlessness, cardiac arrhythmia, irritability, aggressive behaviour, psychosis, and some studies even report a risk of dependency. You have perhaps read different opinions or testimonials on the internet but be aware that online reviews could be either faked by agencies specialised in writing designed reviews or actors sponsored by companies that produce smart drugs. Consult your doctor and never buy medicaments from oversea countries where it is not clear whether the production is up to health and safety standards.
One the one hand, people argue that taking smart drugs is necessary because the competition does it as well, however, a study from King’s College London found out that only about three percent of their respondents had used cognitive enhancers. On the other hand, people take smart drugs because of the social pressure to achieve and excel at something.
According to Clauco Garofalo, founder of Sattva Land, feeling to take a pill to be part of the system is a warning signal and indicates a misalignment of the current system. Taking smart drugs without full consent and only because of social pressure is an act of obedience to the current system. It is the role of the citizens and the government to bring back balance to society when misalignment is present.
Instead of taking pills and subordinating to an exhaustive system, one should act or demonstrate against it. I do not think that the root causes of social pressure can be boiled down to capitalism. Capitalism brought more wealth to society than any other economic system combined, it is just that capitalism has to be used in a different and more conscious way. Most things are neither good nor bad, their interpretation often depend on the implementation.
If one wishes to excel at something, then there are great alternatives to taking smart drugs, such as using time in a better way or prioritising tasks.
Morality of smart drugs
While discussing the morality of smart drugs, one can look at a similar case: DNA change. Genetical modification is an intrinsic change of the person similar to taking smart drugs. Whereas genetical modification is permanent, the effect of smart drugs is temporarily besides potential long-term side effects.
Many people argue that changing DNA is like playing God, but sometimes people are born with genetical errors reducing the life quality. Should they suffer with their genetical errors even if there is a potential solution? I believe the answer in this case is clear. DNA changes that move people out of misery is morally correct as the alternative is not humane.
But should healthy people change their DNA to enhance themselves even if no life-threatening issue is apparent? I believe that in this case the answer should be no. Instead, one should practice gratitude for what one has. I accomplished all my achievements without any smart drugs, which makes me proud considering that more and more people seem to take them.
Movies and series similar to Limitless showcase drug usage and glorify drug taking. Media plays a powerful influence on its audience. Criticising the screenwriters of Limitless would have little effect and then one would have to criticise all television shows. Is Two and a Half Men, which glorifies sexism, better than Limitless? Probably not. Instead of spending too much energy on criticising, one should be simply aware that most movies and series are based on fictional ideas.
Ethics of smart drugs
Taking smart drugs is not yet a topic that can be discussed at work. Nevertheless, this topic is relevant to business ethics and business ethics departments have to find possibilities to discuss smart drugs and raise awareness about their side effects. I am not judging anyone who takes smart drugs. But my research showed me that it does more harm than good and perhaps there is a need to check whether students and workers stick to their natural abilities.
If human limits are reached and one cannot be more productive, then one might have to accept this fact. Nobody is perfect. I think that it is acceptable to take natural substances such as chamomile tea to calm the mind but the prolonged usage of any external substance should be a warning signal. I think we should respect our personal limits. Otherwise one could start to change everything. But the question is: would one still be oneself? When is enough enough? What justifies reaching over its limits? These are difficult questions and worth to be discussed but I do not believe that smart drugs play part of the answer.