Thursday, May 15, 2008

This, too, is your mind on drugs...
A week later, the little white pills arrived in the post. I sat down and took one 200mg tablet with a glass of water. It didn’t seem odd: for years, I took an anti-depressant. Then I pottered about the flat for an hour, listening to music and tidying up, before sitting down on the settee. I picked up a book about quantum physics and super-string theory I have been meaning to read for ages, for a column I’m thinking of writing. It had been hanging over me, daring me to read it. Five hours later, I realised I had hit the last page. I looked up. It was getting dark outside. I was hungry. I hadn’t noticed anything, except the words I was reading, and they came in cool, clear passages; I didn’t stop or stumble once. [More of a fascinating account]
By now, or especially if you read the entire article, you may be upset, horrified, or any of a number of unimagined reactions. My own surprised me.

I'd consider it.

Really. This sixty-year old farmer who has never (unlike seemingly every other Boomer) even tried pot, let alone more uptown drugs, finds Provigil to be a different breed of moral issue altogether. I can only imagine then how likely its prevalence is on campuses and trading floors and cubicles. And battlefields.
Provigil is a drug that keeps you awake. It has legitimate medical uses and is used for performance enhancement by the military for pilots and soldiers in combat situations. Provigil enhances short-term memory and lets users stay awake for extended periods. [More]
Now you may start to see some of the conflict pharmaceuticals like this will cause for certain people. I think it is safe to say there is considerable overlap between those who support military action as a matter of duty regardless of the wisdom, and those who abhor drug use. Meanwhile, Uncle Sam is passing out pills to keep soldiers alert and alive.

Unlike the mixed emotions of the excitement of a steroid-enhanced home-run battle between equally pumped up sluggers, Provigil seems to carry very few side-effects and long term dangers. Meanwhile, as ex-wrestlers and football players deflate and die young, that particular bargain looks pretty Faustian.

Now throw in the number of Ambien users who deploy the chemical to make long flights something other than 6 hours wasted. The first time a friend offered me one on a flight, he told me the company nurse made them available for all the employees traveling to and from overseas locations. I passed, although the conversation creeped me out. These were not your typical drug abusers.

It is estimated that 90% of Provigil use is "off label." And as the "most tempting drug to some along in decades", I can see why. We are entering a whole new arena of lifestyle drugs, and of all the lures, the ability to concentrate may be the most powerful. Creativity as a rule declines with age, and recapturing (or even surpassing) your former abilities by enhancing concentration doesn't seem all that wrong. [I can only hope the prescription is impossible to get and expensive, engaging my economic outrage at drug companies to prevent the experiment.]

If my cohorts can use drugs to keep their cholesterol and blood pressure down to allow them to continue to produce on the job, would aiding my mind to put words together and stay on track be so much different? I honestly don't know. Now imagine there are no more adverse consequences than taking aspirin. We've seldom had choices this subtle before.

Still, the label is the law. Nonetheless, if this old fraidy-cat is mildly curious, I would guess millions may be actively experimenting. And I wouldn't be surprised if a few of those round-the-clock farm operators aren't taking a lesson from a returning family veteran.


Anonymous said...

Grandpa was a D-Day vet and a couple of times mentioned something about pep pills. These are not a new invention for the army to use. I have no idea how long they've used them, but I imagine they've gotten stronger over the years.

John Phipps said...


If you have not done so, please read the linked articles (click the green words) for a better understanding of Provigil.

This is not your grandpa's stimulant.

Anonymous said...

You know, the article discussing modafinil was a little over-enthusiastic. It's more suited for people who have to say alert and watchful for long periods of time, rather than people who need to make better decisions. It would help night watchmen or troops on combat missions more than it would help a student, scientists, or software developer. For deep analytical thinking, you'll get no help from provigil because you're trading speed for depth, and it's not gonna increase your IQ or memory.

The argument that people will be forced to take this stuff just to remain competitive is kinda weak, though. Have you ever felt compelled to drink coffee just to remain competitive? The effect this stuff has is rather mild, and I think the author of that story was probably sleep-deprived, which is why they got such a boost from it. It's not actually all that earth-shaking after all.

Hope that helps you make sense of things.

If you'd like to read more about this stuff, I recommend Smart Drugs and Nutrients at Amazon.

John Phipps said...

mr gunn:

Thanks for the clarification and extra info.