I was first introduced to a prescription drug called Modafinil five years ago whilst training at a local sports club of all places. ‘What does it do?’ I asked my training partner, ‘It sharpens your focus and you’re able to concentrate for ages!’ he gleefully responded. ‘Sometimes it’s hard to sleep at night though’ he added.
I tactfully declined and gave it very little thought until about a year ago when I came across an article titled, Silicon Valley’s Smart Drug Trend. The thrust of the article highlighted a worrying new trend amongst mainly high performing tech employees taking ‘smart drugs or ‘nootropics’ to enhance their performance – essentially the brains version of steroids.
If you’ve ever watched the movie Limitless, you may recall seeing nootropics in action there. In the film, Bradley Cooper plays a character who becomes brilliant after taking a pill that acted like a nootropic of sorts. Whilst grossly overstated in the movie, the principle that one can ingest chemical and natural nootropics to give them a competitive advantage in the workplace is as real as my wife’s crush on Bradley Cooper.
Many nootropics can be as innocuous as caffeine, omega 3 oil and green tea, but it is the prescription drugs that deserve cause for alarm; Adderall and Armodafinil to name a couple.
The long-term effects of these drugs are not fully understood. Most nootropics target the brain’s neurotransmitters and excessive manipulation of neurotransmitter systems can lead to a variety of unpleasant issues, including serotonin syndrome, depression and anxiety.
What is just as concerning from my perspective are the possible cultural ramifications from this phenomenon. Can we foresee a future whereby, to remain competitive as an employee, you’d need/want to consume nootropics? Will organisations turn a blind eye to systemic use if it means that employees will perform better under the influence? Alarmist, maybe, but still worth considering nonetheless.
I’m thankful to say that to date, in my role as a consultant, I haven’t witnessed nor heard of any widespread use of chemical nootropics here in Australia – that’s not to say there isn’t.