Friday, November 09, 2007

Brain drugs?

I’ve been ill. Well, strictly speaking my left tonsil is still pretty unpresentable. There are good points and bad points to illness. I don’t suppose I need to go into the bad points; you’ve all been there. The good points are Radio 4 all day long and choosing bits of today’s paper that I want to read and curling up around my cat and sleeping (although that one is in a grey area as he wanted the lion’s share of the bed!)

There was one article I read with interest. It seems that perfectly healthy students are taking drugs for ADHD sufferers and narcoleptics because they are enable them to stay up longer and learn more. The bonus of drugs like Ritalin and Modafinil is that as of yet, no harmful side-effects have been discovered. So there is this perfectly harmless drug (supposedly) that enables you to think better, is non addictive and you can buy it over the internet for as little as £3 a dose. So would you take it?

As a student I did, come exam time, regularly dose myself up with ProPlus. Side effects of ProPlus were harder on whoever was sitting behind me in the exam as I started to act as if I was ADHD. I couldn’t sit still on the stuff, but I did stay awake; for days on end. Was it cheating? Or was it just one of those rites of passage that you go through as a student. Ritalin and Modafinil on the other hand have been proven to enhance the ability to learn. Trevor Robbins, professor of neuroscience at Cambridge University says that taking the drug during exam situations is:

“...analogous with doping in competitive sport. But what can you do? Even if you do drug tests in the exam hall, people might have used modafinil to improve their learning on a course in November, for instance, then taken the exam in July. How are you going to test it by then?”

But there is something that’s niggling at me and it’s not the ethical question of whether it’s cheating or not. It’s the question of time. When did we get so busy that the hours in the day are not enough? Even I’ve been feeling it this year. I can’t find time to make an appointment with a physiotherapist; I have to choose whether to do this or that. And if I had a wee relapse this week it’s because I didn’t give myself time to get better the first time round. And this is me who on the whole is pretty good about clawing back some of those minutes for me time. The head cannot create if it is not given empty space.

So what about today’s kids? Earlier this week as a bunch of us reminisced about how we would go out in the morning and come back in the evening. I also blew my colleagues theory out the window that is was city living that engendered this over protective upbringing as I grew up in city. So what’s changed? Apparently according to the article parents are pressurising their doctors to prescribe Ritalin and modafinil to their healthy kids. These kids are ferried around from ballet class to music class and extra this and extra that. When I was a kid I did Country Dancing and then just played and stuff. I don’t think I turned out too stupid either. It seems to me that the side effect of this drug is the death of the creative soul. We’re so busy filling these poor little people’s heads with facts that we are turning them into robots who can’t actually think. And maybe I’m burying my head in the sand and ignoring the world outside, but sometimes it’s good to just listen to the radio or read the paper.


Princess Haiku said...

There is something called state dependent learning. It suggests that when things are learned, under influence of chemicals or perhaps a specific environment, you may need to reproduce the same conditions when tested, for good recall. This is kind of a sketchy definition but if you are interested there is a lot of research available on it.

Minx said...

Ahh, don't get me started on this....oh okay, I am started.

I too bummed around after school - having parents who deemed it necessary for my self development to allow me space after I had done a full day at school. The funny thing was that I often read a book during my 'off' time.

I have been witness to those children who have been fed a diet of Ritalin etc, one or two may have needed it but 99% didn't - the later effects are catastrophic, embedding a need to to have constant chemical support throughout life.

I didn't need drugs to get me through my day, hyperactivity developed naturally!

(the word verification says 'bumbad' - I like that!)

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Interesting piece, V. My aunt is narcoleptic and was taking increasing doses of Ritalin to keep her awake - then she noticed that her already bad memory was starting to get worse and worse and worse. She's not sure, but she seems to think it was aggravated after she, on the advice of her GP, started taking up to 8 - 10 Ritalin tablets a day... We never know about the side effects until years later.
Parents who insist on kids taking Ritalin are simply, to my mind, dodging their own responsibility and will be hellishly answerable in the long term.
I was one of those kids who did the ballet, horse riding, music, drama, German etc after school - and I got my schoolwork done and did well - and had plenty of time to play. Loads of energy in kids is natural but today's parents and doctors seem to think it's an aberration.
In this, as in so many other things, we seem to have lost our way.
Putting away soap box now.
Hope you're feeling much better.

Verilion said...

Hi Princess Haiku, yeah that research sounds kind of interesting. A bit like Pavlov's dog stuff I suppose. Or am I being too simplistic?
So Minx and Vanilla I guess I opened a bit of a can of worms. I guess based on my own experience I am able to fill my time and even need empty time for ideas to grow. I guess I'm questioning whether the creative soul can grow if a child never has any time of their own. And also this external pressure to succeed to the point where people would be driven to take these brain drugs scares me.
Apparently these drugs have no harmful side effects (or so the pharmaceutical companies say), but experience then shows us otherwise as both of you have pointed out.
I suppose I'm having one of those nostalgic, 'wasn't it better in the good old days' moments. But what are we actually doing to the kids nowadays?

Marie said...

Sorry to hear that you've been ill. Hope you are feeling better soon!

Shameless said...

Gosh, I didn't even know these drugs for learning purposes existed. I just think leave well alone. The head is such a delicate thing! :-) If it ain't going in during normal hours, it shouldn't be going in!

kyklops said...

Hmm... taking drugs to remember stuff? Seems kinda counter-productive to me...

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

S'funny, you know, V, I was an incredibly busy child, very hyper but - and perhaps this was because I was an only child - I had plenty of me time and loads of space to exercise my imagination, write stories etc.

I think the point you make about what are we doing today's children is the relevant one. I think ritalin is totally overprescribed and is the solution of lazy parenting and poor doctoring in far too many cases. As for taking drugs for learning, well, that's pretty much the same as doping for sports - why should one be acceptable and the other not? It raises all sorts of ethical questions.

Verilion said...

Hi Marie, thanks I hope so too.
Hi Shameless, these drugs are actually used for ADHD and Narcolepsy, the fact that they keep 'normal' people awake and focussed seems to be a yet untested perk of the drug. Well a perk to some. I am sure in the long run there has to be some harmful effect to the body.
And Kyklops, you may have a point there ;)
And hello again Vanilla. Yep the ethical question is a big one. As the article pointed out, again it seems to lead to the fact that the haves can have it all as they are the ones who can afford these drugs ; whereas the gap between them and the have nots grows bigger. I also cannot understand why a parent would willingly put their child onto a drug they do not need and feel. I have probably come across a couple of kids who did need Ritalin in my career and while the effects were beneficial for those around the student, the students themselves were bright but confused individuals who did not understand why their bodies betrayed them so.

apprentice said...

News this week was that these drugs stunt kids growth if they are on them long term, by up to 2 ins in some cases, but mothers of ADHD kids said it was a price worth paying. The research also said that they had no longe term benefits over more conventional behavioural based programmes.

I think it's really sad that people should resort to taking drugs to cram more information in their noddles. We seem to be moving to a culture where you are purely judged on how productive you are, there's no time to dream or mess about.

And I agree people don't shake off things cos they rush back to work before they've had a chance to heal. I worked through pnuemonia in my left lung, thought it was a bruised rib, the cancer diagnosis on my left side followed soon after - it hadn't occured to anyone that my lung couldn't drain because my lymph nodes were affected by the cancer.

So rest up and get well. - your health is more important than anything at work.

red dirt girl said...

hi ms. v ...

(via minxy's blog)

I couldn't help but stop and comment. First, gorgeous photos and a very interesting blog - i like the 'expat' viewpoint much.

Second, the drugs: bah! I say to anyone and everyone who says psycho-pharmaceuticals do not have side-effects! Of course they do - they are chemically bathing the brain, altering the firing of neuro transmitters and such.

I should know: I take quite a few of these mind alterers on a daily basis as I am diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder. Modafinil (aka Provigil stateside) is daily for me. It causes severe hand shaking at its regular dose. I have 'moderate' hand shaking at its half dose - daily. And when I stop taking it ?? Withdrawal is painful to experience, painful to watch. I can no longer 'write,' as in penmanship, legibly. Some days are better than others; however, I still hand-letter garden design plans. It is sad and discouraging to see how much my 'drafting graphics' have degraded over the last few years.

Students and parents alike, BEWARE. These are not sissy drugs.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

You've been tagged for a meme in the hope that it will get you back into the blogging routine! ;-)

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Personally I think the drugs need to go. Really... there are so few that truly need them.

Children are active, how many times has healthy activitiy been misdiagnosed at ADD or ADHD?

Really ticks me off.

I hope you feel better!

And - as far as time, you are singing my song, sister, but I did it to myself.

Isn't that always the way it goes though?

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Debi said...

I know one mother who swore by Ritalin but also admits her son's growth was severely stunted by it and that she was warned years ago that this would happen. Funny that's only just coming out now ...

I know of other kids who have been turned into virtual zombies by these chemicals.

Can of worms indeed ...

Hope you're feeling better, hon.

Verilion said...

Hi Apprentice, the more I hear about these drugs the more shocking it becomes. Also thanks for your warning. I am beginning to realise this is the only body I have and that I had better take care of it.
hello Red dirt girl, I have been following some of your antics over at the sisterhood of pointy heels! I have to admit that I have very little knowledge of these drugs either when they are properly diagnosed or taken casually. The comments here have been a real eye opener and I feel this is something I need to look into more closely. Thank you for sharing your experiences and adding a new dimension to my thoughts.
Scarlett and Debi. Do they need to go? Or should there be more regulation? It is indeed a tricky question. In my experience ritalin has helped extreme cases, but it certainly isn't a perfect cure by any measure. I think that I really do need to come back to this.

Anonymous said...

hi ms. v -

really, i just want to thank you for opening up the dialog regarding mental health, psycho-pharmaceuticals and the like. too little know too little .... at least that has been my experience. do these medications help? yes, i would have to say i have less anxiety and more 'good' days than before i was diagnosed. HOWEVER, these medications have also put me 'over the edge' whether it be too high (hypomanic) or too low (severe depression). It truly is such a balancing act on a daily basis: constantly tweaking the cocktail to achieve the right dose. If life is stressful? good luck.

As for creativity and medications? It is often a concern as my psychiatrist is a painter, and I write poetry. We often discuss this aspect of using the meds. A good read on the subject is Touched by Fire by Kay Redfield Jamieson. Personally, my muse tends to peek her head out when i am a bit over the hypomanic edge. But it is a lot like balancing on one foot: shod in a 6 inch heel .... if you know what i mean...!!!

much regard,

Verilion said...

Again, thanks red. Your comments are certainly food for thought. I have a colleague who is on migraine medication who speaks of the same thing: the juggling act between arriving at some state of 'norm' as opposed to the drugs wiping her out creatively, or living without the drugs.
I think on the whole the drugs are beneficial 'when they are needed'. It's the casual use with no thought to the long term effects that gets me. As others have mentioned, developing a chemical dependency when it is unnecessary. Is that really worth it? I don't think so.
I will add your recommended read to my long list. Thanks.


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