: The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Have Cognitive Enhancing Drugs Arrived at Law School?

A few months ago I posted Future of the Law: Cognitive-Enhancing Nootropic Drugs with the quaint notion that someday law students would have to worry about the effects of cognitive-enhancing drugs on law school performance. That someday is now.

I’ve since realized in talking with some of my classmates that I had underestimated my naivete. At UVA recently, an ode to adderall was the showstopper of the Sweet Addie in the Virginia Law Libel Show.

Even creepier is that one of the sponsors of the show is “Wendy Painter, M.D., M.P.H., Pharmaceutical Consulting” – here’s to hoping that’s just, um, libelous.

Margaret Talbot plumbed the depths of the practice in Brain Gain: The underground world of “neuroenhancing” drugs in this week’s New Yorker, following a poster child named Alex who used adderall extensively at Harvard:

College campuses have become laboratories for experimentation with neuroenhancement, and Alex was an ingenious experimenter. His brother had received a diagnosis of A.D.H.D., and in his freshman year Alex obtained an Adderall prescription for himself by describing to a doctor symptoms that he knew were typical of the disorder. During his college years, Alex took fifteen milligrams of Adderall most evenings, usually after dinner, guaranteeing that he would maintain intense focus while losing “any ability to sleep for approximately eight to ten hours.” In his sophomore year, he persuaded the doctor to add a thirty-milligram “extended release” capsule to his daily regimen.

Consider one of Talbot’s other cognitively-enhanced poster children, Paul Phillips:

Phillips soon felt that he had mastered the strategic aspects of poker. The key variable was execution. At tournaments, he needed to be able to stay focussed for fourteen hours at a stretch, often for several days, but he found it difficult to do so. In 2003, a doctor gave him a diagnosis of A.D.H.D., and he began taking Adderall. Within six months, he had won $1.6 million at poker events—far more than he’d won in the previous four years. Adderall not only helped him concentrate; it also helped him resist the impulse to keep playing losing hands out of boredom. In 2004, Phillips asked his doctor to give him a prescription for Provigil, which he added to his Adderall regimen. He took between two hundred and three hundred milligrams of Provigil a day, which, he felt, helped him settle into an even more serene and objective state of mindfulness; as he put it, he felt “less like a participant than an observer—and a very effective one.” Though Phillips sees neuroenhancers as essentially steroids for the brain, they haven’t yet been banned from poker competitions.

While Talbot mines the most evident ethical issues of unfair advantage or the dangers of side effects, the most frightening implication is the financial incentive to make a drug large classes of people don’t feel they can afford NOT to take.

Richard Susskind on the End of Lawyers

The Berkman Center at Harvard Law hosted Richard Susskind on “The End of Lawyers?”, discussing the ideas put forth in his book of that name.

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You can also download video of the presentation (.mov) and audio (.mp3) from the Berkman Media Archive

Future of the Law: Cognitive-Enhancing Nootropic Drugs

An online poll of the British science magazine, Nature, asked its subscribers about the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Nature’s presumably geek-tilting audience was not interested in enhancing athletic performance, however, but mental performance. Of the 1,400 scientists who responded, 20% reported using performance-enhancing drugs. Of these, 62% used Ritalin, 44% used Provigil, and 15% used beta-blockers like Inderal. Even among non-users, the notion of drug-enhanced cognitive performance has wide acceptance; nearly 80% of respondents said it should be allowed.

In December commentary in Nature, a number of noted scientists published a defense of cognitive-enhancing drugs: Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy. They begin by noting that the use of cognitive enhancing drugs is already here, among academics, and inevitably among hyper-competitive students looking for an edge in increasingly competitive admissions processes for undergraduate and graduate schools.

Today, on university campuses around the world, students are striking deals to buy and sell prescription drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin — not to get high, but to get higher grades, to provide an edge over their fellow students or to increase in some measurable way their capacity for learning. These transactions are crimes in the United States, punishable by prison.

Are graduate schools headed toward a MLB-style arms-race for competitive advantage?

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