ICBioethics Blog 

Stimulants as Cognitive Enhancements

Written by: Barbara Postol

Having spent a portion of my career working with families and children with behavior disorders, I have come to witness their struggles personally, in particular, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. Most people have a general idea of the disorder which is characterized by inattention or hyperactivity and stimulant medication is a common treatment to help kids stay more focused.

When I began a career in ethics, it was quite shocking to see how these same stimulant medications were being used by people who were never diagnosed with ADHD. In particular, it has become very common for college students to use stimulant medications in hopes of giving themselves an edge -study more, or stay more focused. The use of medication in this sense would be considered cognitive enhancement.

Many of us use a form of cognitive enhancement in our daily lives, like having a cup of coffee in the morning to wake up or maybe some of us have taken a prep course to prepare for a big exam, like the SAT. But, a growing trend among students is to take stimulant medications even though they do not have ADHD. This raises many ethical questions. Stimulant drugs were tested and intended to be used for those who have a problem, a deficit; not otherwise healthy individuals who hope to benefit from the drug. Furthermore, research doesn’t indicate that medication has any impact on those without ADHD in getting that “edge” they seek. Also, a lot of students are not getting these drugs from a doctor, but from their friends or other sources. Stimulant drugs are powerful medications and should only be taken under the care of a medical provider with supervision. Using prescription medication for cognitive enhancement purposes and not medical need is a topic which requires much attention. Future research into the safety and efficacy of using stimulant medication must be addressed in healthy individuals first to prevent bad outcomes in the future of college students who may use these medications.

Mitch GennusoComment