“Smart Drugs” Are Coming to the Office

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“Smart Drugs” Are Coming to the Office

Executives and entrepreneurs never hesitate to adopt new tools that improve their performance.  From spreadsheets to smartphones, innovative technologies have driven enormous gains in productivity in recent decades. 

That same drive for peak performance explains why nearly every business gives its employees a legal drug (caffeine) to increase their alertness during meetings, presentations, and brainstorming sessions.

In that context, it’s easy to see why some believe that nootropic drugs (“smart drugs”) could drive the next revolution in productivity.  Prescription drugs approved for other uses are increasingly being used by managers, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, lawyers, bankers, and even university professors studying their impact on the brain.

According to a Harvard Business Review article by Carl Cederström, the most commonly used smart drugs are:1

  • Modafinil, which is sold in the U.S. by Cephalon under the name Provigil and is approved by the FDA as a treatment for excessive sleepiness caused by narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea, or shift work sleep disorder,
  • Adderall and Ritalin, both of which are prescribed as treatments for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Studies show that American college students who do not have sleep disorder or ADHD are using the drugs to sharpen their concentration so they can complete term papers, study for tests, and do well on final exams. 

For example, a survey of 616 students at an Ivy League college found that nearly one in five students had misused a prescription drug in an attempt to get better grades, and one in four of those students had done so at least eight times.

As these students graduate and enter the workforce, we can assume that they will depend on performance-enhancing drugs when they need to write a report for a client or deliver a speech.  If the users of smart drugs perform at a higher level than their peers, the pressure will be on everyone else in the workplace to take them in order to avoid falling behind. 

It’s already happening, according to published reports:

  • According to an article in The Financial Times, smart drugs are already “becoming popular among city lawyers, bankers, and other professionals keen to gain a competitive advantage over colleagues.”2
  • TechCrunch, a blog that covers tech startups, has called Modafinil the “entrepreneur’s drug of choice” and suggests that one executive who admitted to relying on it to work twenty-hour days isn’t unusual...

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