LONDON A rise in healthy people popping pills
to boost performance in exams or work, raises long-term ethical
and safety concerns about the effects of such treatments,
British doctors said on Thursday.
The British Medical Association (BMA) wants a public debate
about the risks and benefits of using drugs to improve memory
and concentration, sometimes called "cognitive enhancement."
The ability of prescription drugs and medical procedures to
improve intellectual performance is likely to increase
significantly in the next 20 to 30 years as technology
"We know that there is likely to be a demand by healthy
individuals for this treatment," Dr Tony Calland, chairman of
the BMA's Medical Ethics Committee said at the launch of a
discussion paper on the issue.
"However, given that no drug or invasive medical procedure
is risk free, is it ethical to make them available to people
who are not ill?"
Surreptitious use of brain-boosting prescription drugs is
particularly common in the United States and likely to increase
in Britain, the BMA said.
"There is a growing expectation that the use of these
so-called cognitive enhancers in the UK is both imminent and
inevitable," the BMA said.
Today, the use of pharmaceutical aids to boost performance
is mainly confined to certain groups -- notably students
cramming for exams.
Popular choices include drugs for attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder, such as Ritalin, or methylphenidate,
made by Novartis AG and others.
Another favorite is modafinil, the active ingredient in
Cephalon Inc's narcolepsy medicine Provigil.
Such drugs are widely available to buy online.
BOTOX FOR THE BRAIN
In the future scientists may be able to provide more
permanent fixes for bad memory or poor concentration through
brain stimulation and neurotechnology.
This would involve techniques such as transcranial magnetic
stimulation -- sometimes referred to as "botox for the brain"
-- where magnetic pulses are used to stimulate particular brain
regions, and deep brain stimulation, where electrodes are
inserted into the brain to transmit tiny electrical currents.
These and future medical interventions could benefit
individuals and, potentially, wider society, if they increase
the competitiveness of the workforce.
But "over-enhancement" of the brain's cognitive functions
could have damaging side-effects.
It may, for instance, impair a normal brain's ability to
selectively filter out trivial or traumatic information,
resulting in the individual being plagued by unwanted or