Ever noticed a colleague suddenly become of the top performers in the office with excellent focus and concentration and production targets? The answer to this may be performance-enhancing drugs!
Taking drugs to enhance performance and be best at work is nothing new. Famous leaders throughout history, like JFK to Hitler, took amphetamines to handle their grueling schedules. However, in present times, there are 'smart drugs' doing the rounds in workplaces and boosting the energy and performance of the workers. The so-called 'smart' or 'study' drugs are prescription medications that are used to treat narcolepsy. These are modafinil or stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin that are essential in the treatment of ADHD. The benefits of these 'smart' drugs are increased concentration and productivity, ultimately helping workers to perform better and for longer. In the United States, these drugs are circulating in all professions, from medics to shift workers to students.
There is also 'microdosing', where a person takes minute doses of psychedelic drugs. These drugs are LSD, psilocybin (magic mushrooms), or mescaline. This practice is said to have swept the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley start-ups, with a vast number taking the boost doses to 'open their minds' and boost their creativity. The highest section that is using these 'smart' drugs is the university students, who are dosing up to cope with exam revision and essay deadlines. In a recent survey by student website The Tab, around 17% of University of Cambridge students stated they took study drugs
Use of Smart Drugs at Work on the Rise
The medical director of Castle Craig Hospital rehabilitation center, Jonathan Chick, witnessed several business people seeking treatment for addiction to such 'smart' drugs. He stated, 'What we often hear is that they use these stimulants to function at work on into the night – it's particularly common where businesses have links in the Far East or North America and the person is expected to function outside of normal UK business hours,". Self-employed individuals also take these drugs, where the medical director cited the example of a man who runs an internet business and used stimulants to stay awake through the night so he could be available to customers at all hours.
The scale of microdosing in the UK workplace, however, is less well-chronicled. Amanda Feilding, the founder, and director of the Beckley Foundation, which pioneers psychedelic research, drives drug policy reform, and is at present carrying out the first scientific study into the impact of microdosing on the brain. According to Feilding, microdosing is most prevalent in 'the artistic, fashion, and music worlds – basically the creative world and also the tech world where performance is key.'
The growing trend of these 'smart' drugs and microdosing can be attributed to their easy availability. In the United Kingdom, narcolepsy and ADHD medications are controlled substances and available only through a prescription. However, a quick Google search and a person is just one click away from buying 10 modafinil pills for the reasonably modest sum of £18.99. The other channel, according to the director of the pharmacy at Addaction, Roz Gittins, is the 'diverted prescriptions, i.e., taking medication that is prescribed for someone else.
The Effects of the Drug
Though more scientific research is required to verify the effects of microdosing, 'self-reports are often very positive and says that it enhances creativity, vitality, and focus on work.' Her research into full doses of LSD found that the drug reduces the control of the network in the brain that inhibits some areas, permitting parts of it to communicate with each other and resulting in 'full brain consciousness.' When it comes to 'smart' drugs, evidence suggests that they can also enhance performance. According to a 2012 study by the Imperial College of London on the effects of modafinil on male doctors, it was found that the drug increased their cognitive function, improved their planning and made them less-impulsive decision-makers.
The 'smart' drugs though productive, have its share of side-effects. Liam Parsonage, the Consultant General Adult Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital North London, stated that -
- Employees witness an uplift in their performance because the medication is "correcting a problem with their lifestyle or way they work." According to him, the "brain's default position is to be distracted and not focus on any specific task." ADHD medication stimulates dopamine to help the brain move from a distracted state to a focused state. 'But the concentration power is affected by factors like lack of sleep and being stressed or anxious.' So if the person takes ADHD medication when they don't have ADHD, the drug will compensate for one of these factors.'
- Initially, stimulants have a positive effect on the person, making them stay awake for long being creative as the drugs stimulate the euphoric traces in the brain. While the medicines give a temporary lift to performance and memory, over time, the people become "more inclined to take risks" with their work. And, as with any drug, there are both physical and mental health-related side effects too. Some stimulants affect the heart and things like sleep, mood, and anxiety also.