Beggars in Spain
What does it say about me (or modern life) that when I read Judith Warner's column last week about the use of brain-enhancing drugs my first reaction was to wonder how one goes about getting some Provigil? (It's an anti-narcolepsy drug, which apparently allows one to maintain brain functionality in spite of sleep deprivation. And for the record, the only drug I'm actually taking is claritin.)
I'm not a scientist, and I don't know what the side effects of these drugs are. But a few months ago, after being up most of the night with one of the boys, I went to work, and was pretty fuzzy around the edges. And then I realized that I had spent a good two years or more in that kind of a fog every single day. And if someone had offered me a drug to make it go away (other than caffeine), I'm pretty sure I'd have jumped for it.
If asprin were invented today, it would probably require a prescription — between its blood thinning action and the potential for Reye's syndrome, it's easy to make the case that it's too dangerous to be available without control. Caffeine is ubiquitous, but I could argue that it's as much of a mind-altering substance as Provigil or Ritalin. I think the editorial in Nature arguing for legalizing these drugs for people who aren't "ill" is pretty convincing.
*If you're wondering about the title, it's a reference to Nancy Kress' excellent sci-fi novel Beggars in Spain, where she explores what happens if some people are genetically engineered not to need sleep, and thus have an advantage over the rest of us. Pills are certainly more egalitarian than genetic modification.