Do Scientists Cheat When They Brain-Dope?

|

As an April Fool's joke, Jonathan Eisen of the University of California, Davis, issued a press release about the National Institutes of Health's new anti-brain doping regulations, complete with a World Anti-Brain Doping Authority website.

http://pro.corbis.com/images/42-16451068.jpg?size=572&uid=%7B25298D6F-945C-4C9C-ACFD-3B9CB8ACB04F%7D

Now Nature is reporting the results from an informal poll that one-fifth of scientists confess to using pharmaceuticals such as ritalin, modafinil, and beta-blockers to enhance their cognitive function. According to Nature:

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.

The most popular reason for taking the drugs was to improve concentration. Improving focus for a specific task (admittedly difficult to distinguish from concentration) ranked a close second and counteracting jet lag ranked fourth, behind 'other' which received a few interesting reasons, such as "party", "house cleaning" and "to actually see if there was any validity to the afore-mentioned article".

So far professional scientific societies have not declared that using such enhancements violates their rules.

Whole Nature article here.

Hat tip to Andy Fell.

Advertisement

NEXT: March of the Paulites

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Stains on my lips? What stains?

    I’m an all-natural mentat.

  2. After he died, it was revealed that Carl Sagan regularly smoked pot for inspiration and insight.

  3. Does this mean I can’t go through the spice agony to become the Kwisatz Haderach?

  4. ‘other’ which received a few interesting reasons, such as … “to actually see if there was any validity to the afore-mentioned article”.

  5. The stuff of satire. Of course, the anti-doping nannies will point out that science is not a spectator sport, there is no licensing by the NIH of scientist action figures, no cereal boxes featuring prominent scientists. The Children don’t ask scientists for their autographs.

  6. It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. I don’t need no stinkin’s Sapho juice.

    But seriously, I wish more scientists would cheat and bring their engineer pals in on it so they can make us more cool shit. Cats with six legs! Computers that resemble dandruff! Automatic toenail clippers!

  7. Wow. Some drugs help even normal people think/concebtrate better. [takes a deep drag on a Marlboro] Who would have thought that?

  8. Caffeine is conspicuous by its absence.

  9. He will go to a place that is terrifying to women: Horton Hears A Who!

    (Hint: Each word is a different link! Collect all four!)

  10. Beer is the mind killer.

  11. Of course, this is not analogous to sports doping. The purpose of science is to reveal, discover, and understand truths about the natural world. It doesn’t matter who comes up with a theory or how, as long as the theory itself is valid.

  12. Beer is the mind killer.

    heh
    Where the beer has gone there will be nothing

  13. I will let the beer pass through me, and when it has gone, only I will remain.

    *urp*

  14. He will go to a place that is terrifying to women: Horton Hears A Who!

    The ability of the radical fringe to get outraged over silly ass shit amazes me. Wait untill Horton Hatches an Egg comes out. Female abandons egg. Stalwart male protects same. That should really get the feminist fringe tits spinning.

    Are we slightly off topic?
    Not that I care, just wondering.

  15. I am, therefore I drink.

  16. Damned italics tags.

  17. Wow. Some drugs help even normal people think/concebtrate better. [takes a deep drag on a Marlboro] Who would have thought that?

    You laugh, but it’s true. When I quit smoking several years ago, I felt stupid. Cigarette breaks helped me think. It took me probably a year to retrain myself to think. I’m still not up to where I was though.

    p.s. But beta blockers! I didn’t know they helped you think! Now I can be smart again AND lose the weight I gained by quitting smoking!

  18. SugarFree, you are most evil. How do you control your addiction to those sites? I can only do tiny doses or I’ll go crazy.

  19. Brandybuck: Ah, nicotine how I miss you! I have several friends who were never smokers who occasionally chew nicotine gum when they need to concentrate.

  20. When you consider the amount of coffee that a lot of programmers (especially ones under pressure) drink, it’s a total wonder that they’re not on speed. Maybe they are, and use the coffee as cover.

  21. Why do you think they call it dope?

    Hmm? Now, I’m not sure why. Could anyone please remind me?


  22. But beta blockers! I didn’t know they helped you think! Now I can be smart again AND lose the weight I gained by quitting smoking!

    Indeed. Im anxiosly waiting for one of our ‘experienced’ posters to list the pros, cons and effectiveness of each of these drugs. For educational purposes of course. Also post availability, places and difficulty of aquiring them. Just out of curioisity, thats all. Oh and the prices.

  23. It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion. The teeth acquire stains, the hands acquire shakes. It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion.

  24. I like dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE) myself. Good for coding, popular in Europe for ADD I’m told.

    I was given ritalin when I was younger, and try to avoid pharma stuff now. Besides the DMAE, strong tea for work, a Sam Adams with dinner, and a little weed for fun is about my limit.

    After he died, it was revealed that Carl Sagan regularly smoked pot for inspiration and insight.

    Huh, that’s interesting, thanks for sharing. Have to look into that.

  25. I will let the beer pass through me, and when it has gone, only I will remain.

    The fat chick is harder to get rid of in the morning, though.

  26. cigarettes definitely helped me troubleshoot when I smoked. I don’t think it was the nicotine, I think it was the break. When I got to a point where I didn’t know what to do next, I’d go have a cigarette. Standing out in the smoking area I’d be thinking about the problem, but since it wasn’t in front of me, I couldn’t chase down every idea I had, so I’d think it all the way through instead of just grabbing a meter and taking a reading.

  27. BTW, great graphic choice Ron.

  28. Will my dissertation be disqualified on the grounds that I used caffeine to write it?

  29. Will my dissertation be disqualified on the grounds that I used caffeine to write it?

    You still have the grounds? Are you mad? Did Watergate teach you nothing. Flush them right now (don’t throw them in the trash!) and no one will be able to prove a thing.

  30. All I can say is, I am simply stunned that what we planned as a complete farce turns out to be really close to home. I really had no clue how many people might be doing this stuff. For more on the April 1 joke I coordinated go here.

  31. Not only did I use caffeine to help me write my dissertation, I used a beta-blocker to help me get through my prelim exam 3 years earlier!

    And on both occasions, I used beer to help me recover.

    Wow, I had no idea I was “doping”… *sob* I’m so ashamed! What will my children think of me?!?

  32. The purpose of science is to reveal, discover, and understand truths about the natural world. It doesn’t matter who comes up with a theory or how, as long as the theory itself is valid.

    Except to the scientists all fighting to be first with a discovery, theory, etc. If some scientists are doing this, the others looking for that Nobel prize are forced to as well.

  33. I don’t think it was the nicotine, I think it was the break

    You could get the same results with a carrot, then. No, I think it was the nicotine.

  34. NO DISCLOSURE, NO LOVE FOR RON BAILEY

    DISCLOSE, MOTHERFUCKER!!! ADMIT THAT YOU DID YOUR GREATEST WORK WHILE HUFFING CRAZY GLUE AND SMOKING BANNANA PEELS

    Ok, explain this one for me =

    Parents get their doctor to proscribe Ritalin purely on their subjective opinion that “he’s just too hyper to pay enough attention in school – he’s not DUMB – he must have a learning disorder”

    (aka – no parent likes to admit that a) their kid might be an idiot, or b) that human beings arent technically designed to sit still all day and listen to boring lectures)

    … dr puts kid on the smack. Kids grades do not improve, but he now no longer fidgets and has a thousand yard stare. He decides he likes Umberto Eco better than X-Men. Parents thrilled with new behavior modifications.

    Alternate scenario = College student uses Ritalin selectively when working on in-depth term paper. = DRUG ABUSER!!

    Which is more clearly ‘abuse’ – parents forcing their kids on a drug for their preferred behavioral modification – or a kid who knows it will make his tediously-dull 50 page paper on the Holy Roman Empire easier to crank out.

    Discuss

  35. db | April 9, 2008, 2:59pm | #

    It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion. The teeth acquire stains, the hands acquire shakes. It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion.

    This got a high-grade LOL

  36. Now I’ve gotta go home and watch me some Dune!

  37. You could get the same results with a carrot, then.

    Yes, I believe you can get the same results with a carrot. If you take the carrot away from your work area.

    On the other hand there is no denying how effective pot is in gaining insight to something you’ve been thinking hard about all day (sober). But you better write it down QUICK or it’s gone forever.

  38. I don’t understand this. I smoked a shitload of high-grade weed the night before a vector calculus test one time and it didn’t help me at all. In fact, I think I did worse.

  39. But you better write it down QUICK or it’s gone forever.

    I think you smoked too early.

    Not that I would know, I’ve never partaken :/

  40. db | April 9, 2008, 2:59pm | #

    It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion. The teeth acquire stains, the hands acquire shakes. It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion.

    This got a high-grade LOL

    I cannot take credit for creating this; it was the invention (afaik) of a college acquaintance.

  41. Ephedrine is a somewhat legal drug that does wonders for concentration and alertness. My ex-methhead friend describes it as sort of a lighter version of meth. Combine with coffee and take care that your heart doesn’t asplode.

  42. It’s never quite so brilliant the next morning, however.

  43. “House cleaning” makes sense, how is that confusing at all?

    …Not that I’ve ever spent 30 hours cleaning a house while under the influence of amphetamines.

    No sir.

  44. Ephedrine is a somewhat legal drug that does wonders for concentration and alertness.

    Available over the counter (except for the states that require ID now, assholes) as pseudoephedrine, or…Sudafed. Nasal decongestant. Take a few of those and you’ll be concentrating and not too hungry either.

  45. Episiarch | April 9, 2008, 3:22pm | #
    I don’t understand this. I smoked a shitload of high-grade weed the night before a vector calculus test one time and it didn’t help me at all. In fact, I think I did worse.

    Doesn’t surprise me a bit. First of all you have to put in many hours of hard SOBER study to prepare your mind. Then smoking A LITTLE pot can often be the catalyst to making mental breakthroughs. But since memory loss is one of the most pronounced effects of marijuana, you’d have to be on drugs to study for a test the next day while high.

  46. Warty,

    Her, and that puddle of urine you got after allowing the beer to pass through you.

  47. Epi: I buy actual ephedrine online, the id thing seems to be hit or miss, some of them dont bother as long as the shipping address matches the billing address 😉

  48. Or just take one of those decongestant inhalers off the shelf – they’re made with levomethamphetamine. Two sniffs in each nostril will clear your sinuses, a few sniffs more will keep you up and alert all night.

    For some reason, these have escaped the nanny-staters’ notice.

    Shhh! Don’t anybody tell them!

  49. SugarFree, you are most evil.

    Why, thank you.

    Mostly, I can only stand it because my student workers and I skim them most of the day to read out the choice bits.

    Choline was cool, but it made my sweat smell like rancid squid. (As oppose to rancid goat.)

  50. Warren, my post was a joke. Of course I did shitty on a vector calculus exam because I spent the night before getting ultra-baked instead of studying. It’s called dry sarcasm. Doesn’t come across that well on the internet, I know, but I try.

  51. Epi: I buy actual ephedrine online

    Have you experienced a difference between ephedrine and pseudoephedrine? Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opiate (so it’s kind of pseudo) but it gets you grooving just like the real deal (morphine).

  52. Beta blockers are supposed to help you concentrate? News to me. I’m on 50 mg of Lopressor / day, and haven’t noticed any improvement.

    …since memory loss is one of the most pronounced effects of marijuana…

    Short-term memory loss. Read this and rejoice

  53. From Reason: Now Nature is reporting the results from an informal poll that one-fifth of scientists confess to using pharmaceuticals such as ritalin, modafinil, and beta-blockers to enhance their cognitive function.

    From NatureNews Spurred by the tremendous response, Nature ran its own informal survey. 1,400 people from 60 countries responded to the online poll.

    Was this even nominally a poll of scientists, or was it a poll of people who read Nature? And is the rate of usage reported more than, less than, or about the same as use among the population at large?

  54. Epi: That’s because your body metabolizes oxycodone in oxymorphone and noroxycodone.

    So you’re getting the morphine in the end, your body just has to do a little work for it.

  55. “House cleaning” makes sense, how is that confusing at all?

    …Not that I’ve ever spent 30 hours cleaning a house while under the influence of amphetamines.

    No sir.

    Oddly enough, the last two times I did mushrooms I wound up totally cleaning the house and doing all the household chores on my list.
    It was a feeling of being uncomfortable and everywhere I looked there was clutter, or something that needed attending. So I just started going. I would get distracted first by one thing then by another, I just worked on what was in front of me. When stuff had to be put away in another room, I’d get into whatever was in that room. I didn’t care about getting wet or dirty or anything. I filed my taxes and health care docs. I built flower beds. I dusted and cleaned and washed.

    When I was done, the drugs had worn off, but the house was spotless!

  56. Choline was cool, but it made my sweat smell like rancid squid.

    NutraSweet, you have a genetic disorder.

  57. So you’re getting the morphine in the end, your body just has to do a little work for it.

    I don’t mind working for my opiate high.

  58. Well, great. Thanks Wikipedia.

  59. It’s called dry sarcasm.

    Yeah, I just wanted to revise and extend my point so I replied as if you were being straight. But I hung a punchline on the end as a signal. gorram internets

  60. I was on Effexor for a while, and god-damn, it was like taking a massive dose of caffeine first thing every morning – wired all day. (Perhaps the norepinephrine reuptake being inhibited?)

    The problem was that I also had the faintly queasy feeling you get when you’ve been up thirty hours and then take a massive dose of caffeine to make it thirty six.

  61. But beta blockers! I didn’t know they helped you think! Now I can be smart again AND lose the weight I gained by quitting smoking!

    Indeed. Im anxiosly waiting for one of our ‘experienced’ posters to list the pros, cons and effectiveness of each of these drugs.

    Actually, beta-blockers provided me with my personal Worst Psychoactive Drug Experience Ever.

    I got a script for them to try to treat a hand tremor I have when I was 13. I was home alone after taking my first dose and I managed to go through all the listed adverse psychological side effects in about the span of about 2 hours, starting with me flying into a white hot rage for no apparent reason (which I dealt with by beating on my bed with a wooden rod from my desk), followed by me becoming severely depressed and sobbing uncontrollably for a while before setting into a nice paranoid delusion of unspecified hostile intruders being in the house (which I remembered as shadowy humanoid forms although I didn’t “see” them at any point), which caused me to hide under the aforementioned bed with the aforemented rod in hand until my parents got back. I’m not sure if they helped with the hand tremor.

  62. For those of you who mentioned interest in Carl Sagan’s weed use, here’s the article he wrote about it:

    http://www.marijuana-uses.com/essays/002.html

    Maybe my favorite treatise on the subject I’ve ever read.

  63. I buy actual ephedrine online.

    Me too. I did the ECA stack for a while minus the A. Thats taking Ephedrine Caffeine and Aspirin, minus the Aspirin for those that dont know. Defintely helped me drop a few pounds and get a little lean mass. The most noticable effect was hunger reduction. I did take 2 doses too close together once to get a pretty bad case of the shakes. But I did not notice any difference in concentration levels. I wasnt really taking them for that reason though, so maybe I wasnt paying attention.

    It seems to me though that you take ephedrine or other aphetamines to help you stay awake longer or give you a little boost of energy. That it self would help you study, but I doubt it directly imporves concentration the way Rittalin would.

  64. Will my dissertation be disqualified on the grounds that I used caffeine to write it?

    Crystal meth and Jolt cola. Without those, I would still be in grad school. Haven’t done either in 20 years but I might have to start again.

    I buy ephedrine online too. I keep expecting it to be banned any day now.

  65. “House cleaning” makes sense, how is that confusing at all?

    Yeah I’ve heard that’s a pretty common meth experience.

    I don’t clean or do meth, myself.

  66. “House cleaning” makes sense, how is that confusing at all?

    …Not that I’ve ever spent 30 hours cleaning a house while under the influence of amphetamines.

    Heh, JC, I can relate. After doing a bit of research and doctor shopping, I found one willing to prescribe amphetamines (dextroamphetamine) to help with focus and concentration. It just so happened that at the time I was also moving from the apartment I’d been in for four years with the regular accumulation of junk. It was going to be a daunting task to clean and pack everything but with this stuff I almost enjoyed it – I can’t express how different the experience was but I was just absolutely driven to get it done and worked round the clock for two days.

    When I raved to my friend about it, she said she wanted to try some so I gave her a few pills. A couple days later she called and said, “I have got to get some more of those!” Turns out she had scrubbed her apartment spotless, which she had been putting off for some time, and detailed her car inside and out (and trust me, if you had seen her car you’d know she hadn’t cleaned that thing in at least two years!).

    So yes, the urge to get things clean does seem to be a common amphetamine (not just meth which I’ve never tried) experience, particularly when you first start it. That urge fades after you’ve used it for a while, though concentration is certainly heightened as well as the ability to prioritize among the many things competing for your attention and stick to the task you’re on.

  67. Oh, yeah, amphetamine use, even in small does can greatly improve drive, and concentration.

    That’s why meth addicts call it “sketching” or “tweaking out.”

    Some meth addicts will doodle endlessly, and some will pick up strings of fabric off the floor for eight hours. However, these are usually the high dosers.

    Baseball players have used amphetamines since the 20’s.

    In small doses, amphetamines can unlock a world of potential in a human being, which is why they’ve been so popular with ADD patients. The problem with such drugs, however, is that evolution seems to have made any long term, good feeling unsustainable.

    It’s one of the tragedies of life.

    You could feel like absolute shit, with the typical tired fog in the back of your head, and amphetamines will completely wipe it out in minutes. The sudden increase in drive is astonishing.

    Now, I think I’m going to go take some Modanifil and get some writing done.

  68. As long as scientists shun clove and strawberry, and stick to menthol flavored beta blockers, Congressman Waxman is unlikely to object.

  69. Stephen Jay Gould smoked Marijuana for the alleviation of symptoms associated with his abdominal cancer, and spoke highly (pun intended) of its effects.

  70. I was tweaking by myself one night,
    that’s when I wrote this tune
    Didn’t have no need for that bed
    in my hotel room

  71. Hmmm… caffeine as grounds for disqualification, … coffee as grounds for disqualification,… coffee grounds …

    Nope, there’s no bad pun lurking there.

  72. Jesus Christ, are there actually people who CARE if scientists and engineers brain-dope? I, however, do not use Ritalin or these other stimulants, more because of my heart condition than anything else. Maybe I’ll look into those beta-blockers, though.

  73. Thanks a lot for a bunch of good tips. I look forward to reading more on the topic in the future. Keep up the good work! This blog is going to be great resource. Love reading it.

    buy dissertation online

  74. Hi, if anyone needs Ritalin

    just send a mail to

    brunnerm_82@gmx.at

    best regards

    Markus
    ——————————————————————-
    Quick, discrete & trustworthy – your professional Ritalin partner.

  75. That’s it mr scientist. All of your results for the 2010 season are being thrown out.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.