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Experts Question Adult Use Of Ritalin For Brain-Boosting Benefits

June 19, 2009

A UK ethicist suggests that healthy people should be able to take the anti-hyperactivity drug Ritalin to boost brainpower, BBC News reported.

If the drug is safe for children, adults should also be able to take it, according to Bioethics expert Professor John Harris of the University of Manchester.

Harris wrote on the British Medical Journal website that many students were already using the drug, which in the UK requires a prescription.

However, an expert in the U.S. said there were too many risks for the drug to be more widely used by adults.

Doctors often prescribe Ritalin (methylphenidate) to children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), as it is widely believed the drug can help children control their behavior and perform better at home and school.

However, since Ritalin is a class B drug in the UK, possession of the substance without a prescription can lead to a five-year prison sentence and dealing the drug to others could land you in jail for 14 years.

But many healthy adults, especially students, are taking Ritalin to enhance their mental ability while performing long or involved tasks.

Ritalin’s benefits include enhanced study skills and concentration, according to Professor Harris, who claimed it is “unethical” to stop healthy people from taking the drug. He said there is plenty of evidence showing it was safe to use as an adult.

“Safe always means safe enough and since no drugs are free of side effects, that always means the consumer has judged the risks of adverse effects worth taking, given the probable benefits,” he said.

If Ritalin is safe for children to use over a long period of time for a condition that was not usually life threatening, there is no reason to prevent healthy adults using it too, Harris added.

Harris suggested it was “not rational” to be against human enhancement and compared using drugs to enhance brain power to the use of “synthetic sunlight” such as firelight, lamplight and electric light.

“Before synthetic sunshine people slept when it was dark and worked in the light of day.”

He noted that with the advent of synthetic sunshine, work and social life could continue into and through the night, creating competitive pressures and incentives for those able or willing to use it to their advantage.

Others experts suggest, however, there are too many risks in taking Ritalin unless a person is actually ill.

Professor Anjan Chatterjee of the University of Pennsylvania said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had labeled it with a “black box” – the most alarming of possible warnings ““ due to its high potential for abuse, dependence, risk of sudden death and serious adverse effects on the heart.

Some children at top schools might be pressured to take Ritalin in “epidemic proportions,” according to Chatterjee.

He also questioned if people such as pilots, police officers and on-call doctors would be pressured into taking the drug to better perform these important public service job duties.

Chatterjee suggests that endorsing the legal non-therapeutic use of methyphenidate or other cognitive enhancers is still premature.

“The efficacy and risks of enhancers in healthy people needs to be adequately researched and this information needs to be disseminated broadly,” he warned.

He stated that it is not acceptable to recommend that healthy people take drugs to enhance performance until such preparations are made.

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