'Smart' drugs debate in Bristol

A debate on the taking of "smart" drugs by students is to be held in Bristol.

Studies have suggested drugs such as modafinil are popular among students in some US universities who use them to help them study and improve grades.

Dr Darian Meacham, a senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of the West of England, and one of the organisers, said students he had spoken to would consider taking them.

The debate takes place at the Watershed next Wednesday.

Four professional bodies - the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society - have all said use of "smart" drugs raise serious ethical, philosophical, regulatory and economic issues.

In a joint report published in November they said there was an "immediate need" for debate about the potential harms.

The so-called cognitive-enhancing drugs include those originally made for dementia patients and hyperactive children.

'Ethical questions'

Dr Meacham said these were being taken by healthy people to increase concentration and focus.

"They [the students he spoke to] are somewhat sceptical about what it would mean to improve their cognition or make them smarter," he said.

"On the other hand, I have to say, they are for the most part quite interested in the idea.

"They do seem rather open to the idea of taking something that would help them perform better in their courses or at university in general."

Dr Meacham added: "We are not really that sure about how these drugs work in the brain to begin with.

"Some of the really interesting ethical questions actually come after the safety issue.

"Let's say that in the future new drugs are developed that we can say are safe for use.

"If that's the case, what would the arguments be for saying students shouldn't be allowed to take these drugs?"

A spokesman for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said: "Modafinil is a powerful prescription-only medicine used in adults for the treatment of excessive sleepiness associated with narcolepsy.

"It is illegal to sell modafinil without a prescription.

"We strongly advise people not to buy their medicines from unregistered online pharmacies, there is no guarantee to the safety and quality of these products and the operators of these websites are only interested in profit, not your health."

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