It has been reported that certain students in universities take neurostimulants (Kruse et al., 2006). For those who have heard about the drug for the first time it may seem that it is something akin to a performance enhancing drug. Thus, they will argue that it is a form of cheating. In their estimation, it is cheating because it helps the students in terms of mental processes. In other words, those who do not have access to a neurostimulant drug do not have the capacity to increase their mental prowess. But the purpose of the neurostimulant is not to increase brainpower. The original purpose is not to enhance the ability of the students to perform tasks related to solving mental exercises such as those that require mathematical computations or memorizing a significant amount of information. Therefore, it can be argued that the use of neurostimulants does not constitute cheating. However, there are those who use neurostimulants without prescription. In this case, the use of neurostimulants must be considered as a form of cheating.
A popular term used to describe neurostimulants is cognitive-enhancers (Parrot, Morinan, Moss, & Scholey, 2004). The abuse of cognitive-enhancing drugs must be considered in the same level as drug and alcohol abuse as well as illegal use of performance enhancing drugs. It is therefore important to clarify the meaning and purpose of a neurostimulant (Kleiman, Caulkins, & Hawken, 2011). According to one definition, a neurostimulant “is a type of pharmaceutical that increases neuronal activity” (Collins & O’Brien, 2011, p. 318). Common types include “methylphenidate and dexamphetamine” (Collins & O’Brien, 2011, p. 318). These are some of the more popular active ingredients found in many neurostimulants.
According to medical experts, “methylphenidate and dexamfetamine are central nervous system stimulant class B schedule drugs to be prescribed under the supervision of a specialist” (Claveirole & Gaughan, 2011, p. 209). This type of drugs takes effect within twenty to sixty minutes of the first dose. But its therapeutic effect is of short duration and in most cases it is only good for 4 to 6 hours (Tasman, 2008). In order to have continuous effect it is recommended that students repeat the procedure two or three times a day. One way to deal with the inconvenience of having to take in multiple medications in a single day is to avail of new products that provide slow release action. Thus, a pill is designed in such a way that the active ingredient is released slowly because it breaks down at a slower rate as compared to ordinary drugs.
Neurostimulants are often used in the treatment of ADHD (Collins & O’Brien, 2011, p. 318). It is clear that a neurostimulant is a powerful drug.
It is a common practice among health practitioners not to recommend the use of neurostimulants for those who are suffering from moderate ADHD (Claveirole & Gaughan, 2011, p. 209). Medical experts agree that the use of neurostimulants must be reserved only for those who suffer from severe forms of ADHD. However, it is recommended for those who refused non-pharmacological interventions. It is also recommended for those who believe that behavior and cognitive interventions are not effective for them. The reservations can be understood from the point of view of responsible use of a special type of drug.
The active ingredient found in neurostimulants is a cause for concern for those who prescribe the said drug. However, the benefits of neurostimulants are attested by physicians and parents. It has been reported that a carefully monitored “medication at the correct dose” frees the ADHD patient from the many frustrations that usually comes from ADHD (Claveirole & Gaughan, 2011, p. 210). The effectiveness of the said drug is the reason why it is still in production and readily available for those who need this type of medication.
It does not mean however, that anyone can use neurostimulants. It is important to determine if these drugs are prescribed by a specialist. It is also important to consider other problems related to ADHD and not just the medical aspect. It is believed that those who suffer from ADHD may struggle with issues like low self-esteem and poor interpersonal relationships. Thus, it is crucial that the school or the university exercise care in dealing with the negative perception of neurostimulants. If there is an ongoing controversy, then, school administrators should develop an information dissemination strategy that is subtle and yet effective. The purpose of the said information drive is to educate the students about the real purpose and function of neurostimulants.
Although it has been established that there is a legal and proper use of neurostimulants, it has come to the attention of school administrators all over the country that there are students who use neurostimulants even if they do not suffer from neuropsychiatric disorders (Ter Meulen, Savulescu, & Kahane, 2011, p. 12). The use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by students for purposes other than treating a particular problem is alarming. It does not require expert analysis to ascertain that misuse and abuse of drugs can harm the health of students. But there are those who contend that there are other issues at play here.
It has been reported that “the prospect of improving cognitive and motor performance as well as mood in otherwise healthy individuals has gathered a sizeable amount of public interest and media attention” (Racine, 2010, p.128). There are those who argue that it is acceptable to use cognitive-enhancers. But at the same time there are those who contend that this is a form of cheating.
An example of a brand that is believed to be popular among students is called Modafinil. It is a “cognitive enhancer originally developed for use in patients with narcolepsy” (Ter Meulen, Savulescu, & Kahane, 2011, p. 12). It has been reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that there was a prevalence of nonmedical use of prescription drugs in college students (Ter Meulen, Savulescu, & Kahane, 2011, p. 12). The reason for the upward trend was discovered by researchers to be the result of the effectiveness of the said drugs to help students to meet the following needs: “aid concentration, to help study and to increase the alertness of students” (Ter Meulen, Savulescu, & Kahane, 2011, p.12). It is therefore easy to understand why many are tempted to try this drug.
If universities and colleges are serious in their drive to curb the abuse of cognitive-enhancers, then, they must realize that this drug is widely available. They must add to their consideration the fact that it can be readily purchased online. In a survey made, it was discovered that there are 159 online sites that offered cognitive-enhancers. In the 159 online sites, only two were regulated (Ter Meulen, Savulescu, & Kahane, 2011, p.12). At the same time it was discovered that with that number, only 85% require a doctor’s prescription. It is also important to find out that the non-medical use of cognitive-enhancers has gained favorable review from mass media (Ter Meulen, Savulescu, & Kahane, 2011, p. 12). In effect, there was an unwanted information dissemination drive that increased the use of cognitive-enhancers among students.
Those who have no problems with the use of cognitive-enhancers argue using the framework of moral acceptability. According to proponents of this view, “when striving for moral acceptability, we seek permission to do something within an existing framework while respecting social and legal obligations” (Racine, 2010, p. 124). Using this argument, the students who use cognitive-enhancers are allowed to use this type of drugs because they did not do anything that can cause harm to others. However, the same moral framework also stipulates that it must pass two rigid tests and these are social and legal obligations.
Those who do not agree to the use of cognitive-enhancers will contend that the use of these drugs constitute a violation of social and legal obligations. When it comes to legal obligations, users must realize that there is a need to secure a prescription before this type of drugs can be purchased. It also requires a physician’s order before a person can use drugs that were intended to cure neuropsychiatric disorders. When it comes to social obligations, those against the use of cognitive-enhancers will also contend that students must be fair to their fellow students. It can be argued that the illegal nature of cognitive-enhancers – because it is utilized without prescriptions – makes it impossible for other students to access the same. Therefore, only those who are willing to break the law and social norms can have access to the said drugs.
Those who argue in favor of cognitive-enhancers see nothing wrong with the attempt to increase the capability of the individual. In this line of reasoning it is the right and duty of an individual to find ways to increase his or her performance. According to one commentary about this subject matter:
Why do we resist change in our cognitive skills through drugs? The reason it seems to me, is that we think cognitive enhancement is cheating. If, somehow, someone gets ahead through hard work, that’s okay. But popping a pill and mastering information after having read it only once seems unfair. This position makes no sense. Among the normal population are men and women with incredible memories, fast learners of language and music, and those with enhanced capabilities of all kinds. We accept the fact that they must have some chemical system that is superior to our or some neural circuitry that is more efficient. So why should we be upset if that same thing can be achieved with a pill? In some way, we were cheated by Mother Nature if we didn’t get the superior neural system, so for us to cheat her back through our own inventiveness seems like a smart thing to do (Howard-Jones, 2010, p. 54).
The above-mentioned commentary cannot be used to justify the use of cognitive enhancers. The argument was made on a defective premise and the accusation that Mother Nature cheated those who did poorly in their math exams. It is a deplorable argument because it requires the assumption that Mother Nature is an entity that has control over the fortune of people. It ascribes to Mother Nature a certain power that can significantly affect the capabilities of people. But worse of all it assigns blame to Mother Nature for those who are underperforming. In other words, it can be used as an excuse for those who are lazy to study and make the necessary preparation for their exams.
Another problematic feature of the argument that mentioned Mother Nature as the culprit is that it perpetuates a mentality of blame. At the same time, it encourages a certain mindset with regards to the need to rectify an offense through an illegal act. If it is true that someone has to be blamed for a certain phenomenon, then, it follows that an appalling deed can also be justified as a way to avenge the wrong that was committed. This kind of mindset must not be tolerated and encouraged especially inside colleges and universities. The schools and university campuses are hallowed grounds wherein the future leaders are trained and developed. It is not a place to teach students the idea that a wrong action can be justified as a way of spiting an offender.
There use of cognitive-enhancers must not be tolerated, because it is a form of cheating. The usual argument is that it increases the capability of a student and therefore it provides a competitive advantage. In the same way it creates an unfair advantage over others. This is a good argument but in order to discourage the use of cognitive-enhancers, parents, school administrators and concerned citizens must go beyond the argument that it creates unfair advantage over others. They must focus on another aspect of the controversy. They must also focus on the side-effects and other consequences of the use of the said drug.
It has to be made clear that cognitive-enhancers are neurostimulants and the original purpose is to cure neuropsychiatric disorders like ADHD and narcolepsy. Imagining the impact of the said drug is applied to healthy individuals, there may be long-term damage to the student who took this type of drugs and that is the real issue. Another problematic aspect is that it creates a false sense of assurance and a false sense of competence. If to consider that the use of cognitive-enhancers is only a temporary effect on the cognitive capability of the students, for instance, during the time of the exams the student was able to answer all the questions. However, when the effect of the drug wore off, the student cannot remember anymore the answers to the question. This is a problematic issue, because there are certain professions that require mastery over a particular subject matter.
There are those who seek the acquisition of prescription in order to access the benefits of cognitive-enhancers (Buccafusco, 2003, p. 4). There are also those who are hopeful that a specific drug can be designed and produced with the sole purpose related to memory aid and as a way to gain advantage during scholastic examinations (Buccafusco, 2003, p. 4). When that time comes, the issue evolves into something else. When that time comes people will accept the use of cognitive-enhancers because it is now deemed safe and more importantly, it is now available to all students.
The use of cognitive enhancers is a form of cheating, because it creates unfair advantage over others. Since it is considered illegal and immoral to buy and use cognitive-enhancers for non-medical reasons, then, only those who are willing to break the law are able to avail of the said drug. But there are other problems as well. It is also important to point out that certain exams ascertain the expertise of a particular student with regards to a particular subject matter. Imagining the impact in case a student is certified to have understood the intricacies of a human anatomy and went on to become a physician when in truth he can no longer remember pertinent information without the use of cognitive enhancers, it is difficult to place the lives of people in the hands of an incompetent doctor who happened to pass the exams through the use of a banned substance.