Have you ever wanted to work for 12 hours straight with laser-like focus and without getting exhausted? Yeah, me neither, but for the sake of this article, let’s assume that we are all workaholics who would much prefer to be in the office than squarely planted on the couch in front of the TV.
Okay, so now that I’ve set up the hypothetical scenario for this article: do you feel like your body can’t handle your 18-hour workday? (I’m exaggerating, obviously). Well, there is a category of new “designer” drugs that will help you to not only blaze through your workday but also keep your cognition working in overdrive while doing so. These drugs are known as nootropics and are touted as drugs that make you smart, increase your cognitive ability, and keep you focused on your work for inordinate and practically superhuman amounts of time.
But do they actually work? Let’s find out!
When the elite professional stratus adopts a habit, diet or lifestyle, the masses of people that aspire to be like them usually follow suit. This is the story of a humble little orange pill that saw the same fame.
The drug modafinil was first produced in France in the late 1970s as a treatment for various sleep disorders including narcolepsy, a disorder which makes the afflicted constantly groggy and, in extreme cases, prone to randomly falling asleep. So, obviously, you can easily identify the first effect of this drug: it keeps you awake and aware. However, an unforeseen effect was later observed; much like Ritalin and Adderall, which were widely used for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and Alzheimer’s suffers, the drug also seemingly increased cognitive function and focus.
When word got out that modafinil makes you focus more than a cat chasing a laser dot, it was adapted by elite, high-stress and highly demanding (both physically and mentally) professions such as jet pilots, ER doctors, financial market workers, and Silicon Valley millionaire startup savants.
What Do They Do?
The Argument Towards
As I mentioned earlier, smart drugs primarily influence executive cognition which deals with planning, execution, task flexibility, working memory, reasoning, and problem-solving, which are all undeniably important brain functions. Do you see which aspects are absent from the list above? Yes, there is a complete lack of creative cognition. Smart drug opponents thusly argue that, although these substances increase processing brain power, they do so by restricting creative processing and free will, essentially nullifying fundamentally human processes in lieu of processing power. Without knowing the potential addictiveness of smart drugs, people fear that these pharmaceuticals could relegate people to being nothing more than flesh and bone processing machines.
Another concern regarding nootropics is ethicality; is using a brain-boosting drug the professional equivalent of an athlete using steroids or other performance enhancers? Will the people that are inherent risk-takers try supplementing their brainpower, creating a skewed perception of normal functioning people that will refuse to use said drugs? Ultimately, the modern job market has all the trappings of a (not so healthy) competition, with an unending pool of applicants vying for the same jobs, many employees competing for the same promotions, and people struggling to maintain their jobs as demands and targets constantly increase.
Added to those circumstances is the fact that in a post-recession economy, the balance between family/social life and work is being heavily weighted towards work, so the ability to increase and sustain focus to compress unreachable professional demands into a workday will be a highly sought-after commodity. This will lengthen workdays, increase workloads, and critically restrict human interactions with family and friends.
A Drug by Any Other Name