This Is Your Brain On Drugs

As noted in gnxp, cognitive doping is not uncommon:

Poll results: look who’s doping : Nature News
One in five respondents said they had used drugs for non-medical reasons to stimulate their focus, concentration or memory. Use did not differ greatly across age-groups (see line graph, right), which will surprise some. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in Bethesda, Maryland, says that household surveys suggest that stimulant use is highest in people aged 18–25 years, and in students.

For those who choose to use, methylphenidate was the most popular: 62% of users reported taking it. 44% reported taking modafinil, and 15% said they had taken beta blockers such as propanolol, revealing an overlap between drugs. 80 respondents specified other drugs that they were taking. The most common of these was adderall, an amphetamine similar to methylphenidate. But there were also reports of centrophenoxine, piractem, dexedrine and various alternative medicines such as ginkgo and omega-3 fatty acids.

As a group, pharmaceuticals are the greatest invention of the 20th century. They join earlier blockbuster molecules in deeply affecting the human condition. From extending life, fighting allergies, deepening concentration, and heightening enjoyment, biologically-targeted chemicals are quite the trick.

Of course, some come with risks of dependence. These can range from the debilitating (methamphetimines), through the physically addicting (nicotine), to those that come with risk of lifestyle dependence (cannabis, ritalin). Just as skin tanners and whiteners help one overcome sub-optimal DNA from parents, compounds like nicotine can lower stress (which is biologically heritable), as ritalin can heighten concentration (ditto).

There’s a good argument to be made that the state has an interest in discouraging use of those drugs that drag down economic productivity. If someone is able to achieve the same sense of contentment consuming an economically small amount of marijuana, say, as in some other higher stress (but more financially renumerative) life, the size of the national economy may suffer. The solution, of course, is a consumption tax. This is true not only of drugs generously, but of all non-capital-improving economic activities (buying a television, going on a vacation, etc.).

The question then becomes what should government policy be to “cognitive doping.” Is cognitive doping a form of human capital improvement? Should it be taxed, let alone, or subsidized?

And what about the children?