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Should students take ‘smart drugs’?

Press release issued: 4 January 2013

The use of ‘smart drugs’ – pills to boost concentration and improve memory – is on the rise, with up to 25 per cent of American students using them to help with studying and to improve grades. But what are the ethical issues and risks associated with such drug taking?

The spotlight will be shone on the issues surrounding these cognitive enhancing drugs on Wednesday [9 January] when experts from the University of Bristol join forces with researchers at UWE Bristol, Oxford University and the Graphic Science education consultancy for a Question Time-style debate at the Watershed.

Members of the public are welcome to take part in the free debate between 6.30pm and 8pm.

Such ‘smart drugs’ are normally prescribed for conditions like ADHD and narcolepsy and have been shown to increase concentration, attention span and working memory capacity.

Areas that will be discussed include questioning if it is fair that some students have access to expensive medications while others don't; discussions around whether short-term gains outweigh possible long-term risks from the use of these pharmaceuticals and if there is a the risk of 'cognitive homogenisation' from the use of such drugs. Further questions include whether universities should apply penalties to students who do use them in exams and assessments.

The researchers agree that these ethical issues must be carefully considered as the use of cognitive enhancing smart drugs becomes more widespread and even sanctioned or encouraged.

The panel of bioethicists, psychologists, and educators includes Dr Darian Meacham (UWE), Professor Ruud Ter Meulen (University of Bristol), Dr Chris Alford (UWE), Sylvie Allouche (University of Bristol), Dr Heather Bradshaw (Universities of Bristol and Oxford) and Alex McKeown (University of Bristol).

This event is part of the Anthropotech Project, a collaboration between the Centre for Ethics in Medicine at the University of Bristol and UWE Philosophy. Tickets are free but booking is required via the UWE website.

A wider conference exploring the fundamental philosophical and ethical issues that are at stake in the debates surrounding technological alteration of the human body for the purposes of augmenting existing capacities, introducing new ones, or aesthetically improving the body, takes place on 9 and 10 January.

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