Smart Drugs: How smart are they?

Date & Time

Wed, 04/01/2009


Wouldn’t it be great if we could take a pill to learn faster, remember better, or think more clearly? Scientists have already developed drugs that can help people with cognitive deficits, so it isn’t a great leap to imagine those same pills being used to help someone to be “better than normal.” In fact, one recent survey found that approximately 1 of 4 college students had used some at least one of these prescription medications to improve their studying. The future is here. Or is it?
This Exploring Ethics program will allow us to examine both the science and ethics of drugs designed to help people be “better than normal” in terms of intelligence, learning ability, and memory. Uses of these drugs raise many questions, including:

* What does it mean to be smart or smarter?
* How, if at all, might it be possible to use a pharmacological intervention to increase learning ability or intelligence?
* What is likely and what is unlikely in such endeavors?
* If these drugs don’t work as well as many people believe, or if the risks of use are high, then what are the obligations of scientists, policymakers, and others?
* What are the challenges and the meaning of a situation in which such putative enhancements would be available to some but not all?
* What does it say about our society if we are constantly looking for ways to be someone who is different than we are?

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George Koob
The Scripps Research Institute

George F. Koob, Ph.D., is Professor and Chair of the Committee on the Neurobiology
of Addictive Disorders at The Scripps Research Institute and Adjunct Professor of
Psychology, Psychiatry and Pharmacy at UC San Diego and Director of Neuroscience for Casa Palmera in Del Mar. The primary focus of his research is on the neurobiology of addiction, including studies of alcohol, cocaine, opiate, and nicotine dependence.

Veronica Galvan
University of San Diego

Veronica V. Galván is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at the University of San Diego. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin, and her Ph.D. in neurobiology and behavior from the University of California, Irvine.  Her current research interests are human memory and some of the factors that may enhance or impair it, such as attention and stress.

Joan McRobbie
San Diego Unified School District

Joan McRobbie is interim Chief of Staff as well as Ethics Officer at the San Diego Unified School District. Her background is in education policy with a focus on issues of urban education and urban school system leadership.  At SDUSD, she oversees the superintendent’s new set of initiatives on dropout prevention, intervention, and recovery. A graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, she holds a master’s degree in public administration.

Mark Trotter
Retired Minister, First United Methodist Church

Reverend Trotter is a retired United Methodist minister, serving twenty four years as Senior Minister of the First United Methodist Church of San Diego, located in Mission Valley. Reverend Trotter is currently a member of the Board of Advisors for the Center for Ethics in Science and Technology (Ethics Center). His other community service includes the Parker Foundation Board of Directors, member of the Sharp Hospital Board of Directors, past president of San Diego Rotary, and past chairman of the Board of Trustees of San Diego Hospice.

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