Adderall and Ritalin have been used for some time in academia by some students and faculty seeking to get ahead in their occupations. Both drugs were developed to treat people with conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder.
It has been a classic case of medicalization, that is, the confounding of illness with health due to the efficacy of drugs for accomplishing social goals. In this case, well people take drugs to become more competitive in their careers.
It appears that there is now a new kid on the block: Modafinil (aka Provigil). Modafinil has much the same effect as Ritalin, etc. but without the jittery side-effects. Originally developed as a treatment of narcolepsy, Modafinil is now gaining marketshare among students and faculty alike.
Besides health concerns related to potential abuse of the new drug, there are concerns about fair play. Universities such as Duke have enacted policies identifying such drug use among students as a form of cheating. It is unclear how they will police this policy. Will students have to take drug tests before exams?
Faculty also use the drug to be more productive. After all, professors and TAs are expected to perform more grading than ever in a given amount of time. Also, that mountain of essays on the same topic can seem depressingly tall. Drugs to the rescue!
"The use of modafinil by students is just the tip of the iceberg," says Rachel, who buys her pills at 70p [$0.91] a pop from a Chinese website. "It seems bad to say, but grading essays is quite dull work. It's hard to keep focused and motivated when you've got to your fifty-ninth essay answering the same question.
"But with modafinil it's brilliant," Rachel continues. "My concentration is phenomenal, and my brain never gets tired. My eyes can just skim over the page, and I'll take it all in. I'm better at writing comments—on modafinil, I go into serious detail. I get it done twice as quick and I feel cheerful about doing it."
Rachel is also concerned what the long-term effects on her brain might be, but that is perhaps many years down the road.
Most universities have policies prohibiting illegal drug use by students and faculty. That might include prescription drugs ordered over the Internet from China. However, I have not found any (after a quick search) that undertake to head off conditions that motivate the use of cognitive enhancers like Modafinil. That is, none restrict their expectations for academic success to levels that could reasonably be met by un-enhanced faculty members.
Perhaps it is time to investigate the matter further.