back to article Boffins sound exam cheat warning on brain enhancing pills

A group of leading medical scientists has called on the government to investigate what effects the use of brain performance-enhancing drugs by healthy people could have on society, education and the workplace. The call comes today as part of a new report on drugs in society by the Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS). …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Welcome, Welcome

    I, for one, welcome our drug-enhanced overlords.

  2. Alan Parsons
    Thumb Up


    I used to do this, ephedrine, caffeine and aspirin makes a good cocktail.. The caffeine and aspirin are socially accepted, but it's the ephedrine that gives you the 'kick'. Bodybuilders use this stack to get an extra couple of reps out of everything (Anyone remeber Ultimate Orange?), but it's generally accepted that as a metabolism increasing drug, ephedrine will increase concentration too - in fact a World Superbikes rider was once stripped of a title due to testing positive for ephedra. The official line in that case was that this is a concentration enhancing drug.

    Side effects vary from being jumpy, irritable, nervous and writing a couple of operating systems in an afternoon to heart failure.

    disclaimer: Don't take ephedrine. I don't do it anymore and neither should anyone unless instructed by your doctor :)

  3. Dave
    Paris Hilton

    Could do with some of those

    My job (for the most part) is sooooo mind numbingly boring at times that a fistful of "brain enhancing pills" would do me the world of good . . . . .

    There is one (hidden as yet) problem with this though.

    SPAM ..... yep, now the 117 emails that I get every morning offering me either Viagra or Penis extensions will be supplanted by offers to give my memory a boost along with my manhood.

    Paris (again) cos she is a natural penis extender

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Absolutely true...

    ... and there are already prescription drugs out there that will do this for you. Ritalin, for example, for the right sub-set of the population (those with borderline attention deficit - too low a threshold to be regarded as needing help) is a fantastic aid to clearing the mind and focusing attention. Of course, as an amphetamine it is illegal to use without a prescription... ... and may not have the right effect on 'completely normal' people... if there are any out there of course ;-)

  5. The elephant in the room
    Dead Vulture

    I killed the vulture with Mind Bullets...

    ...after brain pills unlocked my latent psychic powers!

  6. Matthew Ellen

    Student enhancement.

    Doing well in exams proves that you can do well in exams. It doesn't necessarily prove that you know your stuff. Someone who leanred in a comfortable and relaxed environment but then finds exams very stressful will find it hard to recall what they have learnt when in an exam. Also learning anything when stressed is difficult.

    Offerning university students Ritalin seems like a good idea, as it should allow them to perform at their best. It doesn't make you smarter, it helps you concentrate. The only downside (quite a big one, granted) is the addictive qualities of Ritalin. It's not like taking steroids, because the relation between improved ability to create and use muscle and the performace in athletic events compared to the relation between how well you concentrate under extreme stress and how clever you are are quite clearly different.

    Had I known that it would improve my concentration even if I didn't have ADHD, or a related neurological condition, then I would have probably tried to get some Ritalin 5 years ago.

  7. amanfromMars Silver badge

    The Great Game Live and OnLine with XXXXStreamAIMemes

    "Public suspicions of cognitive enhancement fall into five categories according to the AMS:

    * Unwanted or unknown side effects, related to a general fear of addiction and the absence of information about their long term effects.

    * Devaluation of 'normal' achievements and the potential reduction in the intrinsic value of the effort and motivation involved in learning.

    * Inequality, particularly if such drugs were expensive. Pressure to use and exacerbation of an already over-competitive culture.

    * Control of people's behaviour.

    * Personality change, perhaps resulting from long-term use. "

    Those five categories of Concern regarding Cognitive Enhancement would be easily Allayed and Confirmed to be be so Allayed with a Chronicling of Cause and Effect with MasterPilot Users of Research Medicines/Substances.

    You will QuITe Quickly discover, under ControlLed Conditions [Monitoring and Mentoring OverSight] that the Future Benefits in Natural Selection and not Immoderate Abuse, will Lay Waste to any Negative Conotation and Untested Concern.

    And how very Strange that Man be worried about Cognitive Enhancement .... Greater IntelAIgents ......... for if chemically Enhanced is IT also Artificially Advanced.

    QuITe whether you could accept IT as Alien, is up to you ...... for Life is for Loving in the Best Beta Frames of Mind ..... for XXXXtraOrdinary Rendition of Alternate Realities, Virtually, with Media Complicity for Privilege Hosting.

    Given the Path that some leaders are allowed/permitted to Follow with InfraStructure Support, surely some Cognitive Enhancement would be Most Welcome across the Great Games Board?

  8. Slaine

    alcohol good - phsychoactice drugs bad - yawn

    [Unwanted or unknown side effects, related to a general fear of addiction and the absence of information about their long term effects] Okay... so do some research or would that be seen as condoning the substance under investigation? An unwanted side effect of voting is a lizard gets in.

    [Devaluation of 'normal' achievements and the potential reduction in the intrinsic value of the effort and motivation involved in learning] Irrelevant given the way the education system has been systematically destroyed. It's a wonder kids today learn anything more than what to expect to pay for X, Y and Z and how safest to inject it. If 'normal' achievements were acceptable, normal wages would be too.

    [Inequality, particularly if such drugs were expensive. Pressure to use and exacerbation of an already over-competitive culture] So if they were cheap (like ooooo I dunno a popular but illegal classB muscle relaxant and cure for glaucoma), would that be okay? We live in an overcompetitive culture filled with demotivated individuals - get on with it. See also option 2.

    [Control of people's behaviour] Which obviously ISN'T what the government wants is it? Anyway - technically this is the same as option 2.

    [Personality change, perhaps resulting from long-term use] That's the same as option 1.

    So there you have it boys and girls, substances that affect the way your brain works may have an effect on your brain. The effect may be positive (a general feeling of euphoria regarding life or the weather, the ability to concentrate) or negative (a general feeling of euphoria regarding a desperately stupid piece of legislation or research, the ability to knock nails into breeze blocks with your liver).

    <sarc.>Nothing beats good research and reporting</sarc.>

  9. Steven Hunter

    Ah yes...

    You know caffeine has a stimulating effect on the brain as well. So they'll ban coffee and soda next, yes?

    As usual, The Simpsons put it all in perspective:

    "According to my uncle, Miss Springfield isn't as beautiful as she seems. Word is she uses appearance-altering cosmetics." -Lenny [CABF02, "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes"]

  10. Anonymous Coward


    "The use of psychoactive drugs by patients and healthy individuals will become an increasing feature in our lives"

    This is news? Haven't people been doing this since the first caveman discovered how to ferment grains or that breathing the smoke of certain plants tossed on a campfire gave him a good feeling, just the thing to relax after a hard day of chasing buffalo and dodging spears?

    I guess the only difference is that people now want to increase their cognition instead of their mood. IMHO, most people could use a boost in both departments.

    Mine's the one with the number 25 on it...

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Alright, where did you get the memory drugs?

    I want names, I want places, I want dates,...

    "Arnold Rimmer, his locker, this morning"

  12. Spleen


    "Research among members of the public indicated that currently most view cognition enhancement with suspicion, drawing a distinction between caffeine and narcolepsy treatment Modafinil on grounds that coffee has been part of society for generations."

    So we can't use something until we've been using it for 50 years. Brilliant.

    If exams are a test of aptitude, then there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to take a pill to enhance your performance in them, as long as you can take the same pill later on when it comes to actually using your knowledge in your job.

    Nowadays kids use calculators in at least part of their maths exam. This is because when they start work as scientists, accountants or bookmakers, they'll be using a calculator, and not testing their ability to do maths with a calculator is not testing their full ability to do maths. Similarly, if when they start work in a profession they'll probably be taking intelligence pills, there's no reason not to let them take them in the exam either. (Assuming the pills don't adversely effect developing minds - but until the pills actually exist only ethical issues are relevant.)

    Yes, poorer kids won't be able to take them, but blaming the pills is a perverse answer. Poorer kids are already at an disadvantage on exam day because they aren't as well fed and don't get as much sleep. Inequality should be dealt with during the education stage - once it comes to the exam everyone should compete to the best of their ability, whatever that may be. Otherwise we're in Harrison Bergeron "don't succeed, it's not fair on the failures" territory.

  13. vincent himpe

    Wake me

    when they have drugs that can prolong my vacation time and redue my work time. I'm not interested in anything else.

  14. Graham Bartlett

    Linking threads

    Since "Gay" is/was apparently a common abbreviation for "Gabriel" in Ireland (according to posters on the other thread about filtering), does this mean his name is actually "Sir Gay Horn"? Good luck in getting *that* name on your XboxLive account!

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Booze and coffee...

    ...were the twin pillars of the British Empire: Booze-fuelled grandiosity and belligerence, alloyed with caffiene-based hyperactivity to actually go out and *do* it.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    I've seen it

    I've seen non-ADHD folks on Ritalin and similar compounds, or at least coming off it, and it's not a pretty sight. Sometimes they won't shut up for hours. I doubt I would want that, even if it helped in an exam. I would also have to live with the shame that I had to use a drug in order to pass/pass well. As apparently a lot of people have no problem with that sort of fakery, the same way as they have no problem with fake boobs & noses etc due to value attributed the desired "results", it points to a serious issue with the value system within out society. Shame went out of fashion a good while ago.

    Unless you keep taking drugs you will not be able to repeat that performance. You'll be as addicted to them as you are to caffeine now (and let's be honest, caffeine is a terrible, terrible substance if you take a closer look). And good luck once you impregnated that "pretty" woman with all the known and unknown "enhancements". Better start saving up now, because the Igorina she'll sprog will demand surgery too as soon as she can.

    It's all moving in circles. Bad.

  17. Echo 5

    Thanks for the list of drugs on page 143

    I have been so content with Ritalin all this time. Luckily the downloadable pdf report had a break down of new things to try on page 143. =)

  18. Rhys Briffett

    Those drugs sound all well and good...

    ... but I want whatever amanfromMars uses.

  19. Brett Brennan


    So, does this mean we're going to end up with Mentats? And a Butlerian Jihad?

  20. Anonymous Coward

    @Booze & Coffee

    Don't forget Grog! Every sailor used to get their daily ration of Grog. (I think the practice was finally discontinued in the 80s, wasn't it?)

    Mine's the one with the fifth of Pusser's in the pocket...

  21. Rick Stockton
    IT Angle

    Do I take the RED pill,

    or the BLUE pill?

  22. Captain DaFt

    @ Rhys Briffett

    I do believe amanfromMars is a perfect example of the long term effects of cognitive drugs!

    Elsewise, I remember reading about how the state one's mind is in when learning something affects how it's remembered later, Ie, if you've had a couple of drinks and then study, you'll do best on the exam with a couple under your belt.

    (Well, it's as good an excuse as any!)

  23. adnim


    "Given the Path that some leaders are allowed/permitted to Follow with InfraStructure Support, surely some Cognitive Enhancement would be Most Welcome across the Great Games Board?"

    Yes, I absolutely agree.

    Providing any side effects do not include increased paranoia, living under a government exhibiting the current level of paranoia is bad enough. However, what they really need is a drug that induces a perception of reality.

  24. Red Bren


    "My job (for the most part) is sooooo mind numbingly boring at times that a fistful of "brain enhancing pills" would do me the world of good"

    I feel your pain but brain enhancing pills are the last thing you need. Imagine every soul-destroying second passing with matrix bullet-time-esque slowness and every moment of tedium etched permanently into your memory in horrific clarity?

    Stick to booze n caffeine!

  25. Kanhef

    Possibly useful

    If it makes you do your job better or get more work done, that's great. The military has been working on this for years, if not decades. Long-term side-effects (addiction, organ damage, etc.) could be a problem, though, and need to be researched.

    In sports, you're competing against other people doing the same thing. Drugs are considered an unfair advantage, which is why they're banned. In the real world, that comparison usually isn't being made, so there isn't any ethical problem with it.

  26. Stefan Christou

    I need TP

    I come from lake titicaca

  27. Anonymous Coward

    Easy guide for your brain tweaking needs

    Not that I would condone or encourage you but take a look at:

    An easy guide to brain boosting drugs and how to get them.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Matthew Ellen

    I am not aware that Ritalin is addictive to those with attention deficit, although I am willing to stand corrected.

    If anything is addictive, it is the novel scenario (for a person with ADD or ADHD) of being in complete control of your own mind without unstoppable interruptions. My son has ADD and without Ritalin is unable to do his homework, or focus on lessons at school. He takes Ritalin under a consultant.

    I have many conversations with him about this. He doesn't like taking it because the after-effects include a reduced appetite and insomnia. But he also appreciates the positive effects - the ability to concentrate during the school day and to be able to interact normally with his peers. He takes it because he wants to.

    If you've not taken it, or been the parent of someone prescribed it, you are not in a position to comment.

  29. David Pollard

    MIght it help ...

    ... if appropriate quantities of these brain enhancers were to be introduced into the victuals at the House of Commons? Er ... and the civil service canteens and ...

    Mine's the one with the faded psychedelic patterns.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @I've seen it

    ... I agree. Ritalin only *works* for people who have a degree of ADD/ADHD.

    As Ritalin is fundamentally an amphetamine, its effect for normal people is to promote concentration and hyperactivity. For people with ADD/ADHD it has the opposite effect, concentration and suppression of hyperactivity, and the boffins still do not know why, which, incidentally, is why the yanks generally givie it the hairdryer treatment.

    If a normal person takes Ritalin it is the same as taking any other amphetamine. The main way to spot a genuine ADD person is that they still need to go to the toilet - possibly more often than if they were not under the drug because people under Ritalin need to drink more.

    Having dabbled myself, the main problem was insomnia - a four hour tablet taken at 6pm would prevent me from sleeping until at least 1am with the feeling of being 'wired' long after the positive effects of the drug had gone.

    If anything I'd say that being able to concentrate was addictive, but knowing what you were going to pay for it later was a strong counter-balance.

    Bottom line - drugs that help concentration do not make you more intelligent, they simply allow you to use your innate intelligence and memory to maximum effect.

    If you don't have a shade of ADD then the overall effect of Ritalin is no more beneficial than downing three or four Red Bulls (but with longer lasting, and worse, side effects), but if you do have a degree of ADD/ADHD it can be the difference between success and failure.

    These days I use my scarce supply of Ritalin only for job interviews, the ability to focus on the question being asked and the answer I give - rather than the colour of the interviewer's tie, or the text left on the interview room's whiteboard, is invaluable.

    Let me be clear - I'd rather get diagnosed and do it legally, but it has been made clear to me by the NHS that because I'm not being arrested every week or so I am not a priority and the shrinks simply tell me to go to (yet another) personal organisation training course.

  31. Maksim Rukov

    choose: be a user, or be a loser

    Personally I couldn't care less if people used these kind of enhancers. It is up to them to weigh up the pros and cons, and manage usage.

    But I'd hate to be going into an exam and be surrounded by people all dosing up. Are they going to have an advantage over me simply because I choose not to pop some pills?

    It seems to me that the biggest need for concentration in exams is speed -- the ability to plow through the questions before time's up. Maybe if exams were always generous with time (say two hours for one hour's worth of questions) these kind of enhancers would not give so much of an edge?

  32. John F***ing Stepp

    And going with the (off the shelf stuff)

    Thought I would stick this little list in here.

    because it is legal.



    A small brain boost; maybe one, two IQ points.

    There is also Acetyl-L-Tyrosine; pounding headache territory that.

    Ginko Biloba

    My limited skills in Mandarin translate this as black something.

    It is (I think) a blood thinner; more oxygen to the brain.

    Rhodiola Rosea

    Some kind of Russian Herb that calms you down; I have not injured anyone this year.


    Probably just makes you live longer; giving up drinking and smoking might do the same but not as much fun in that.


    Acetyl L Carnitime


    Alpha lipoic acid

    Okay, about three weeks into this you see a brain boost that has to be about 5-6 IQ points; it takes a while but seems to be a keeper.

  33. joe
    Thumb Up

    RE:The Great Game Live and OnLine with XXXXStreamAIMemes

    amanfromMars, you are as usual, when i get it, bang on. Unfortunately, in the GGOL plenty of the affluent/influent are missing a rook or two. The masses are the ones that stand benefit. Sadly, the world brain trust of power will never allow a en passant. Moo, moo Zzzz, Zzzz, spend, spend.

  34. Anonymous Coward

    ADD - ADHD

    Eyes opened by ritalin comments... step son was diagnosed ADHD. I didn't see much difference on or off the prescription (concerta and ritalin at different times) but can certainly attest that there was NO addiction. He was desperate to STOP taking it - in fact I wondered sometimes if he really needed it at all.

    But the bit about "concentrating on the interviewer's tie"... I wonder if maybe I should go and self medicate with some amphetamines.

  35. Ideala2

    @AC, the parent.

    While your arguement was valid and interesting i felt compelled to comment should you re-read this post.

    Your decisions to dismiss everyone elser arguements based on the idea that they hadn't taken ritalin or weren't a parent of a child who does is ridiculous.

    For all you or i know matthew may be a doctor with many patients on the drug, or a researcher. Or he may simply have a very strong interest.

    This 'if you haven't X then your point is invalid' is one that annoys me no end, and weakens your own well made arguement.

    i haven't ever jumped off a cliff, shot myself in the foot, or gone nude into town however i know from empirical, and anecdotal evidence, as well as a general social understanding that none would do me any favours.

  36. Steve

    If you haven't

    Is a typical argument you'll hear from a parent when you disagree with them about anything parenting related.

    As if the only way to have an opinion on something is to experience it first hand.

    One of the key things that defines humanity is the ability to empathise, most of us can do it, but maybe some parents loose the ability.

    As to the arguments against cognitive enhancing drugs. The only ones that I see as valid are their applications in standard testing situations. Much like the athletes they make a comparison too, if you merely want to run fast, but not competitively then who cares if you take drugs to aid you.

    If you need a boost at work, or for your all night gaming session, or to finish a bit of research, then do what you like.

  37. Matthew Ellen

    @Anonymous Coward

    WRT to your other assertion, at the end of your post, I have to agree with steve.

    I was off the mark about Ritalin being addictive. I read the article that says something along the lines of "People take Ritalin to increase their concentration ... concentration enhancing drugs are addictive." Put 2 and 2 together and made 5. My mistake.

    The symptoms you describe your son having are similar to those experienced by people who take speed. A commenter has already mentioned that Ritalin is an amphetamine. Just an FYI, if you didn't already know.

    So it seems I should have taken speed before exams. If only I'd known.

  38. Aodhhan

    Think of the world

    I welcome any product which increases a persons ability to think.

    Take a couple e-feds and think about it for a bit ;)

    You'll see... there are too many idiots in this world! They require all the help they can get.

  39. Slaine

    Athletes ... and enhancements

    Well known factoid to polish of the Friday... High altitude training and the removal of blood for re-injection just prior to a competition are widely accepted as "normal" in competitive sports, so what's the difference if one obtains the same effect from a chemical, an environment or from a medical procedure?

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