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Debates

College Students Should Be Allowed to Take Smart Drugs

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Live Transcript
  • Can Smart Drugs Evolve Human Intelligence?

    Clip: Nita Farahany and Eric Racine take opposing sides on the potential effects of using drugs to enhance the human mind.

  • Weighing the Risks and Benefits of Smart Drugs

    Clip: What are the actual risks of allowing students to take smart drugs, and are they as effective as they claim to be?

  • 2-Minute Debate: Should College Students Be Allowed to Take Smart Drugs?

    Should college students be allowed to take smart drugs? This debate short is part of a series co-produced by Intelligence Squared U.S. and Newsy.

Debate Details

If you could take a pill that would help you study and get better grades, would you? Off-label use of “smart drugs” – pharmaceuticals meant to treat disorders like ADHD, narcolepsy, and Alzheimer’s – are becoming increasingly popular among college students hoping to get ahead, by helping them to stay focused and alert for longer periods of time. But is this cheating? Should their use as cognitive enhancers be approved by the FDA, the medical community, and society at large? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

The Debaters

For the motion

Dr. Anjan Chatterjee

Professor, UPenn & Chair of Neurology, Pennsylvania Hospital

Dr. Anjan Chatterjee is the Frank A. and Gwladys H. Elliott Professor and Chair of Neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital. He co-edited Neuroethics in... Read More

Nita Farahany

Professor, Duke University & Director, Duke Science & Society

Nita Farahany is a leading scholar on the ethical, legal, and social implications of biosciences and emerging technologies, particularly those related... Read More

Against the motion

Eric Racine

Director, Neuroethics Research Unit, IRCM

Eric Racine is the director of the Neuroethics Research Unit and associate research professor at the IRCM (Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal)... Read More

Nicole Vincent

Assoc. Prof. of Philosophy, Law, and Neuroscience, Georgia State University

Nicole Vincent obtained her PhD in the philosophy of tort law in 2007 from the University of Adelaide in Australia. She subsequently spent three years... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • Smart drugs are simply the continuation of long-established stimulant use (such as caffeine) to enhance performance.
  • Smart drugs can expand human capabilities and deepen our understanding of brain functioning.
  • If smart drugs were too dangerous for general use, they wouldn't be widely prescribed for ADHD and other disorders.
  • Individuals should be able to make their own decisions on whether or not to use smart drugs.
Against The Motion
  • Using smart drugs could give students an unfair advantage in a competitive academic environment.
  • There are health risks linked to the use of smart drugs, and we still don't know their long-term effects.
  • Widespread use of smart drugs may lead to an overly competitive academic and professional environment.
  • If smart drug use was widely accepted, only those with the financial resources to buy the drugs would yield the advantage.

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The Research

The Research

Nine Study Drugs Used by Students

Dieter Holger
September 6, 2015

Various prescription drugs and unscheduled substances are being taken as study drugs to help students concentrate for extended periods of time in hopes of boosting their grades. What drugs are being used for studying?

Are Smart Drugs a Smart Way to Get Ahead?

David Sack
June 3, 2013

Like fad diets, get-rich-quick schemes and other quick fixes, cognitive enhancement may never be able to deliver the kind of results achieved by good old-fashioned self-care.

Towards Responsible Use of Cognitive-Enhancing Drugs by the Healthy

Henry Greely and Colleagues
December 7, 2008

Society must respond to the growing demand for cognitive enhancement. That response must start by rejecting the idea that “enhancement” is a dirty word.

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