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More of my crazy views on brain drugs - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

More of my crazy views on brain drugs [Jan. 14th, 2009|02:06 pm]
Arvind Narayanan
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Brain pills for healthy people are for the most part currently illegal. Some scientists—by far the minority—are calling for change.

I find it disturbing that this is even controversial.

First, the notion that there is an optimal "healthy" state is make-believe. We all get old and die, so in a sense we are all terminally ill. We should have a right to improve our minds and bodies as long as there is room for improvement.

More to the point, brain types fall on a spectrum. ADHD is just one extreme. Equating "median" with "healthy" is a fallacy. Consider this: is synesthesia a disease? It can make life very hard, but it can also make the patient extremely creative. Imagine a world where synesthesia is the normal condition—non-synesthetes would be considered retards!

If there were a drug that could turn you into a synesthete, should the drug be illegal?

Second, most of us already take a brain-boosting drug: caffeine, which is both undeniably effective, and has a wide spectrum of side effects. Other drugs like modafinil have almost zero side-effects in comparison, but they are prescription-only because they don't have a history of social acceptability. "Used historically" = "safe" is an even bigger fallacy.

Third, you can't prevent people from taking brain pills by not funding research (if the research doesn't happen in the U.S, it will happen in other countries.). All that our current policy will achieve is encourage a black market and unsafe usage.

The whole thing reminds me strongly of this Kurt Vonnegut piece.

There's a good bit of discussion where I originally posted this. Happy to hear your comments as well.

Previous writing: The Calculus of Caffeine Consumption, The Brain User's Guide to Pills.
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Comments:
From: statictype.org
2009-01-15 02:05 am (UTC)
You can hardly blame people for their confused stances on these issues. The news media does a terrible job of reporting and most people don't read scientific journals and research. I've seen many news bits declaring caffeine is bad for you, no wait - its actually good for you - on second thought, caffeine may be bad for you after all - this just in: research shows that coffee every morning can increase your lifespan....

(As an aside: I still have a healthy amount of distrust towards non-organic foods. I just don't believe enough time has gone to safely declare that there are no side-effects (though I'm somewhat open to being convinced otherwise) )

I completely agree with funding research though. Stifling research isn't going to prevent people from doing what they like. And you're losing out on any other potential scientific advances that you may stumble across.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2009-01-15 02:17 am (UTC)
"You can hardly blame people for their confused stances on these issues."

that's true. there is no excuse for scientists having ass-backwards stances though.

"I still have a healthy amount of distrust towards non-organic foods."

you do know that you're going to die anyway, right? :-) i think "safety" is taken way too seriously.

"I just don't believe enough time has gone to safely declare that there are no side-effects"

i don't think that can ever be declared. exactly what are you suggesting -- that studies should be done that cover the entire lifetimes of the test subjects, and then, ~80 years later, pesticides, genetic engg. etc. should be approved for general consumption?
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From: statictype.org
2009-01-15 02:48 am (UTC)
>you do know that you're going to die anyway, right? :-)

But I'd rather die of old age than cancer...I'm just sayin'.

>that studies should be done that cover the entire lifetimes of the test subjects, and then, ~80 years later, pesticides, genetic engg. etc. should be approved for general consumption?

I guess what I'm saying is not that every ground-breaking advance in science should be treated with such caution. It's a matter of the benefits outweighing the possible detriments. Currently, in the case of genetically-engineered foods, I don't derive any explicit benefits in using it. However, if one were to declare that these genetically-engineered carrots would significantly reduce the likely hood of acquiring then that's a different case entirely.

Or, to be more clear, I would personally not bother to use it unless it's gone through one cycle, because I don't gain any benefit out of it.

And I also freely stipulate that that is a somewhat impractical stance on the issues. I guess I'm also off-topic now. Sorry.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2009-01-15 02:57 am (UTC)
ha! that's interesting.. i think there's lots of benefits to GM food, and negligible risks. let's just call it a difference of opinion :-)
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(Deleted comment)
From: (Anonymous)
2009-02-19 06:52 pm (UTC)

modafinil

I'd just like to add that modafinil is a poor tool for regular use by researchers, having a detrimental (but reversible) effect upon inductive reasoning and creativity with chronic (but not acute) use. A brief google search will turn up numerous anecdotes to this effect, but it remains difficult to obtain funding to study issues that affect a target population of several thousand healthy individuals, no matter the possible benefit to society.
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