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Fall 2009...

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Page 39 of 91

"F our shots in my Americano, please. I've got a presentation due tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. and I haven't started it yet. I'll probably be up all night." The poor Starbucks barista is probably covering her ears. Caffeine and nicotine, which work by tweaking our neurons — in the case of coffee, by inhibiting our inhibitory neurotransmitters — are the most commonly used cognitive enhancers today. 40 Fall 2009 "I currently use a very powerful drug called caffeine to aid in my non-creative work, and for creative work I do not need additional help," says Bruce Katz, an adjunct professor of Computer Engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia and author of Neuroengineering the Future: Virtual Minds and the Creation of Immortality. (See the accompanying h+ interview with Dr. Katz.) Today, a new breed of cognitive enhancers — neuroenhancers, or "smart drugs" — is starting to appear with increasing frequency on university campuses around the world. Nature reports that students are striking deals to buy and sell prescription drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin — not to get high, but to get higher grades, to provide an edge over their fellow students or to increase in some measurable way their capacity for learning. These transactions are crimes in the United States, punishable by prison. "Society must respond to the growing demand for cognitive enhancement. That response must start by rejecting the idea that 'enhancement' is a dirty word," argues Henry Greely, a Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law at Stanford University. Modafinil — a banned stimulant in competitive sports — enhances academic productivity and significantly reduces the need for sleep to a couple of hours per night while improving working memory. A University of York web site describes three students — Charles, Nick and David — who each took a 200 mg tablet of Modafinil. According to Charles, "After an hour, none of us felt any different. But then I started to feel markedly more alert. I couldn't be sure it wasn't a placebo, but then Nick became uncannily good at computer games, beating his friends three times in a row at Pro Evo. It was no coincidence." Modafinil has proven so popular in the academic pressure cookers of Oxford and Cambridge that close to one in ten students have admitted taking prescription medication such as Modafinil without a prescription. The academic uses range from increased alertness during exams to stimulating thought processes when writing essays or take-home exams. "It's not the mind-expanding sixties anymore," comments Margaret Talbot in a recent New Yorker article. "Neuroenhancers are perfectly suited for the Surfdaddy Orca Courtesy of Mason Bryant

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