It’s been almost a month since my last blog post, oh how time flies! Some of you may know and some of you may not, I’m currently studying for an MA in International Journalism. I’ve wanted to keep up with regular blog posts but I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be in the midst of end of year deadlines. Thankfully they’re mostly out of the way now. Bar an exam. And an essay. And a dissertation due August. But let’s forget about that for now hey?
Seen as I haven’t really left the library I don’t have any fancy places to blog about or any new buys to review so I thought I’d do a quick blog post on something different, I guess a more journalistic post? Yesterday I stepped out of my comfort zone and attended a seminar about issues surrounding new drugs: cognitive enhancers, legal and synthetic highs. That was in a broad term but the seminars focuses on everything from ‘what classes as evidence?’ to how drugs are sold on the dark web via The Tor network and Silk Road.
Now I must admit during quite a few of the talks I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I was kind of out of place in between all the Oxford, suited and booted types with my tweed cape and cleavage flashing shirt (not intentional, I lost a button on the walk in). One talk that did interest me was by a PhD student at LJMU, Jamie Tully, 25, who gave a short speech about his research that will take place over the next three years. Jamie’s talk was aimed to be entry level meaning no prior knowledge was needed which was perfect for me. Cognitive enhancers are something I know barely anything about, yet the media seem to hail these drugs as all sorts of miracles for the brain- my favourite example Jamie used was the Daily Mail and their use of the term ‘Viagra for the brain’.
To put it briefly cognitive enhancers is basically an umbrella term for drugs that are both legal (over the counter) for anyone and prescription based. Anything from caffeine to ginseng to Ritalin. Jamie will be primarily researching the usage of cognitive enhancers by University students. What I found most interesting was one of the aspects that Jamie’s research is investigating – morality and its preditctive capability on the use of these cognitive enhancement drugs. Although, as a scientist Jamie is primarily concerned with how morals effect use, as a Journalism student with no science knowledge, I’m more interested in the moral dilemmas. By now we are accustomed to reading about athletes who have been disqualified or have their awards stripped due to testing positive for some form of banned enhancement such as steroids. In its most basic form we understand that it is immoral for one athlete to have an (albeit synthetic) advantage over another. But then what about at academic level? At school or college or university? If I was to sit an exam with my classmates and I took Ritalin recreationally, because I knew it would help me focus, would that make me any different from the athletes using steroids? In one way I guess you could argue that no, I’m no different but then where do you draw the line? Caffeine is a cognitive enhancer too so does that mean it would be unfair for a student to drink coffee before an exam? Would it give those who don’t drink coffee an unfair disadvantage?
The seminar was definitely food for thought and although I initially felt out of my comfort zone I felt good for attending. Sure I took the semi-formal dress code a bit too far, dressing in smart layers during one of Liverpool’s only heatwaves and had to struggle against flashing cleavage all day but I felt like I’d achieved something with my day. I hadn’t just wasted it playing games or watching Netflix, I’d actually gone out of my way to learn about something new and interesting. I’d definitely recommend everyone to do the same at some point. Even if you’re not a student most universities have free seminars that are open to the public almost weekly, especially now the university year and classes are ending.
But I’m interested to hear what you think- do you know anything about cognitive enhancers? Maybe you’ve used them before? What do you think about Jamie’s hypothetical moral dilemma of the university student?
If you’re interested in this area you can message Jamie or follow him for updates on his research via @J_L_Tully