Sunday, June 24, 2012

Having trouble with writing this summer? Some try a little neuroenhancement.

It's been widely reported that illicit Adderall use is pervasive among many groups of students (here, here and here). I've also read that some academics occasionally take the drug to help them meet a deadline or to help them perform better during a presentation.  Here's an older article I found by the author of Moonwalking With Einstein, a book about his efforts to improve short term memory and the arcane world of memory championships, in which he discusses using Adderall to become a more productive journalist.  From Slate:

The Adderall Me: My Romance with ADHD Meds.

Depressives have Prozac, worrywarts have Valium, gym rats have steroids, and overachievers have Adderall. Usually prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (read Sydney Spiesel in Slate on the risks and benefits), the drug is a cocktail of amphetamines that increases alertness, concentration, and mental-processing speed and decreases fatigue. It's often called a cognitive steroid because it can make people better at whatever it is they're doing. When scientists administered amphetamines to college shot-putters, they were able to throw more than 4 percent farther. According to one recent study, as many as one in five college students have taken Adderall or its chemical cousin Ritalin as study buddies.

The drug also has a distinguished literary pedigree. During his most productive two decades, W.H. Auden began every morning with a fix of Benzedrine, an over-the-counter amphetamine similar to Adderall that was used to treat nasal congestion. James Agee, Graham Greene, and Philip K. Dick all took the drug to increase their output. Before the FDA made Benzedrine prescription-only in 1959, Jack Kerouac got hopped up on it and wrote On the Road in a three-week "kick-writing" session. "Amphetamines gave me a quickness of thought and writing that was at least three times my normal rhythm," another devotee, John-Paul Sartre, once remarked.

If stimulants worked for those writers, why not for me? Who wouldn't want to think faster, be less distracted, write more pages?

. . . .

As an experiment, I decided to take Adderall for a week. The results were miraculous. On a recent Tuesday, after whipping my brother in two out of three games of pingpong—a triumph that has occurred exactly once before in the history of our rivalry—I proceeded to best my previous high score by almost 10 percent in the online anagrams game that has been my recent procrastination tool of choice. Then I sat down and read 175 pages of Stephen Jay Gould's impenetrably dense book The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. It was like I'd been bitten by a radioactive spider.

. . . .

I tried writing on the drug, it was like I had a choir of angels sitting on my shoulders. I became almost mechanical in my ability to pump out sentences. The part of my brain that makes me curious about whether I have new e-mails in my inbox apparently shut down. Normally, I can only stare at my computer screen for about 20 minutes at a time. On Adderall, I was able to work in hourlong chunks. I didn't feel like I was becoming smarter or even like I was thinking more clearly. I just felt more directed, less distracted by rogue thoughts, less day-dreamy. I felt like I was clearing away underbrush that had been obscuring my true capabilities. At the same time, I felt less like myself. Though I could put more words to the page per hour on Adderall, I had a nagging suspicion that I was thinking with blinders on. This is a concern I've heard from other users of the drug. One writer friend who takes Adderall to read for long uninterrupted stretches told me that he uses it only rarely because he thinks it stifles his creativity. A musician told me he finds it harder to make mental leaps on the drug. "It's something I've heard consistently," says Eric Heiligenstein, clinical director of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin. "These medications allow you to be more structured and more rigid. That's the opposite of the impulsivity of creativity."

You can continue reading here.

Hat tip to DAM.


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