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Résumé en français : conçues à l'origine pour les victimes de troubles de la mémoire, les nootropiques, drogues qui stimulent l'intelligence, sont aujourd'hui utilisées par des étudiants qui cherchent à améliorer leurs performances.
Students use the so-called ‘smart drugs’ in order to boost academic performance and to get them through exams. As a result, scientists believe that routine drug-testing could become inevitable. The drugs used by students are normally taken by sufferers of the sleep disorder narcolepsy, Alzheimer’s or Attention Deficit Disorder.
The drugs are stimulants which are designed to improve memory and concentration. Users say the drugs help them to concentrate and to focus, and this has been backed up by the findings of research studies.
However, banning the drugs would be almost impossible, and so the situation poses a real challenge for society. The only possible option would be testing students in the same way that athletes are tested. Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, psychologist Vince Cakic said: ‘As laughable as it may seem, it is possible that scenarios such as urine testing could very well come to fruition in the future.
Given that the benefits of the drugs could also be derived during periods of study at any time leading up to the examinations, this would require drug testing during non-exam periods.’
Complicating the matters further, not everyone sees a problem with the use of smart drugs. For some, the argument for banning the drugs because they offer an unfair advantage is no different to banning private schools for the same reason. And Mr. Cakic admitted that it was not clear whether using the drugs was necessarily wrong.
Professor John Harris, the director of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester, even went so far as defending the use of the drugs. He said that it was ‘not rational to be against human enhancement’. He believes that it is a natural extension of the education process.
However, what the experts do agree on is the fact that the long-term safety of the drugs is not known. The drug Ritalin, often used for cases of Attention Deficit Disorder, is thought to carry the most risk because it has been known to affect the heart.
At the moment, Mr. Cakic says that the impact of the drugs is ‘modest’, but stronger versions could be developed. For Mr. Cakic, the problem boils down to the pressure and competition to be found in education: ‘High school and university are the primary competitive spheres of many people’s lives, and ones that have significant bearing upon their lives, in terms of both career opportunities and future earning capacity’, he said. He believes that ‘the pressure to succeed academically is very real’ and therefore , the temptation of a helping hand is difficult to resist. ‘The possibility of purchasing “smartness in a bottle” is likely to have broad appeal to students’, Mr. Cakic said, adding that ‘they are in quest of an advantage in an ever more competitive world.’