In “Brain Gain: The Underground World of Neuroenhancing Drugs” published in The New Yorker, Talbot describes the harsh reality of young people in academia who take off-label drugs to keep up with their hectic schedules. Talbot’s first interviewee is Alex, a college student who is involved in activism and is extremely serious about his studies (699). The man argues that being a student has grown to be so challenging that it is no longer logical to think of studies as something to which you devote the time of day. Instead of what an individual can do from nine to five, studying is rather about what one can physically accomplish in 24 hours before passing out from exhaustion.
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Many students decide to enhance their natural ability with neuroenhancing drugs to be at the top of their class or at least, to perform better than they otherwise could have been. Drug use is a growing practice and a fact of life. The most common supplements are Provigil (modafinil), Adderall (amphetamine), and Ritalin (methylphenidate), and as it appears to be from the interviews, they are not difficult to obtain. All an overwhelmed student has to do is find a compliant physician, ask a family member to share their supply of prescription drugs, or contact Internet sources (Talbot 699). Improved performance and concentration, however, come at a high price: among the common side effects of Adderall and other drugs are insomnia, dizziness, loss of appetite, tremor, and headaches.
Another interviewee, Seltzer, reports that while his drug of choice, piracetam, does not make him smarter, it helps him maintain an emotional state conducive to productive work. In the closing paragraphs of her article, Talbot does neither scold nor praise students who resort to neuroenhancers. She deems a permanent ban to be inefficient at present; however, the circumstances that condition young people to endanger their health require an open dialogue.
Talbot, Margaret. “The Brain Gain: The Underground World of ‘Neuroenhancing Drugs’.” From Inquiry to Academic Writing: A Text and Reader, edited by Stuart Green and April Lidinsky, 2nd ed., Macmillan, 2011, p. 699.