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Healthy people are increasingly turning to brain-enhancing drugs like Ritalin for treating narcolepsy to boost their
performance in school or at work, researchers said. And while some expressed alarm over the trend, others embraced the
idea, provided the drugs are proven safe. “In the United States, stimulant medications are widely abused,” said Dr. Nora
Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse. “They are abused for a variety of reasons, including the fact
that people want to get high, but there is the realization that they are being increasingly utilized to improve cognitive
performance,” she said. “This is not something that is going away,” Volkow said, adding that researchers must study the
long-term effects these drugs might have in healthy people.
Her concern follows a commentary in the journal Nature that argues for use of the drugs in healthy adults as a
legitimate way of improving brain power, much like education, the Internet, or other helpful tools. “We should welcome
new methods of improving our brain function,” Henry Greely of Stanford Law School in California, Barbara Sahakian, a
psychiatry professor from the University of Cambridge in Britain and others wrote. They cited a recent survey that found
nearly 7 percent of students in U.S. universities have used prescription stimulants, and on some campuses, as many as a
quarter of students have used the drugs for non-therapeutic purposes. The researchers called for doctors, educators,
regulators, and others to evaluate the risks and develop policies governing the use of cognitive-enhancing drugs.
Volkow said she and other experts would discuss the issue at the meeting of American College of Neuropsychopharmacology
in Nashville, Tennessee.