Are smart drugs a smart choice? Experts debate at SMPA

Moderator John Donvan, left, introduces Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education at the debate on Monday night. Olivia Anderson |  Hatchet Photographer
Moderator John Donvan, left, introduces Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education at the debate on Monday night. Olivia Anderson | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Daniella Olonilua.

If there was a pill that could make everyone smarter and more focused, how many people would take it?

This question was the subject of debate among experts at the Jack Morton Auditorium Monday night. Moderated by ABC News correspondent John Donvan, the panel weighed the medical and moral risks, as well as the benefits, of college students using drugs like Adderall, without a prescription, to help them study.

Duke University law professor Nita Farahany said college students should be allowed to use “smart drugs,” which are often used to treat attention-deficit disorder, narcolepsy and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Colleges should empower students to make their own choices about how they will change their brains,” Farahany said. “There is a common saying in education that we should teach students how to think, not what to think.

University of Pennsylvania neurology professor Anjan Chatterjee debunked the myths surrounding the side effects of taking smart drugs, such as addiction and cardiovascular problems.

“The use of these kinds of stimulants medications did not confer any adverse cardiovascular risks as compared to the non-user population,” Chatterjee said.

On the other end of the argument, Eric Racine, a neurology and bioethics professor at McGill University, and Nicole Vincent, a philosophy, law and neuroscience professor at Georgia State University, argued against the use of the drugs.

Racine questioned whether it was moral to take drugs without a prescription. He added that using smart drugs is not a genuine way to achieve self-worth.

Vincent said that too much emphasis is placed on the medical side effects of taking smart drugs without enough focus is on the social side effects. She said that if there was equal access to the drug, then “all the things that we really value are going to be jeopardized.” Instead of spending time with friends and family, Vincent said that people would prioritize academic success. She added that this would create competitive behavior that would harm, not benefit, society.

Prior to the debate, members of the audience could vote whether they supported, opposed or had no opinion about the use of smart drugs. The debate winner would be whoever saw the largest change in the votes. While 27 percent of voters supported the motion and 44 percent opposed it during the pre-vote, the final vote revealed that nearly 60 percent supported it.

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