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Unformatted text preview: A Reporter at Large Brain Gain The underground world of neuroenhancing drugs. by Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker, April 27, 2009 Every era has its defining drug. Neuroenhancers are perfectly suited for our efficiency- obsessed, BlackBerry-equipped office culture. A young man Ill call Alex recently graduated from Harvard. As a history major, Alex wrote about a dozen papers a semester. He also ran a student organization, for which he often worked more than forty hours a week; when he wasnt on the job, he had classes. Weeknights were devoted to all the schoolwork that he couldnt finish during the day, and weekend nights were spent drinking with friends and going to dance parties. Trite as it sounds, he told me, it seemed important to maybe appreciate my own youth. Since, in essence, this life was impossible, Alex began taking Adderall to make it possible. Adderall, a stimulant composed of mixed amphetamine salts, is commonly prescribed for children and adults who have been given a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. But in recent years Adderall and Ritalin, another stimulant, have been adopted as cognitive enhancers: drugs that high-functioning, overcommitted people take to become higher-functioning and more overcommitted. (Such use is off label, meaning that it does not have the approval of either the drugs manufacturer or the Food and Drug Administration.) College campuses have become laboratories for experimentation with neuroenhancement, and Alex was an ingenious experimenter. His brother had received a diagnosis of A.D.H.D., and in his freshman year Alex obtained an Adderall prescription for himself by describing to a doctor symptoms that he knew were typical of the disorder. During his college years, Alex took fifteen milligrams of Adderall most evenings, usually after dinner, guaranteeing that he would maintain intense focus while losing any ability to sleep for approximately eight to ten hours. In his sophomore year, he persuaded the doctor to add a thirty-milligram extended release capsule to his daily regimen. Alex recalled one week during his junior year when he had four term papers due. Minutes after waking on Monday morning, around seven-thirty, he swallowed some immediate release Adderall. The drug, along with a steady stream of caffeine, helped him to concentrate during classes and meetings, but he noticed some odd effects; at a morning tutorial, he explained to me in an e-mail, I alternated between speaking too quickly and thoroughly on some subjects and feeling awkwardly quiet during other points of the discussion. Lunch was a blur: Its always hard to eat much when on Adderall. That afternoon, he went to the library, where he spent too much time researching a paper rather than actually writing ita problem, I can assure you, that is common to all intellectually curious students on stimulants. At eight, he attended a two-hour meeting with a group focussed on student mental-health issues. Alex then took an extended- release Adderall and worked productively on the paper all night. At eight the next release Adderall and worked productively on the paper all night....
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- Fall '08