Are ‘smart’ drugs used at your dealership?

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I must be living in a vacuum. I thought performance-enhancing drugs were mostly for the Russian Olympics team. I’ve never thought about them in the context of our colleges … or boat dealerships?

That is, not until I recently caught a TV report that revealed the extensive use of “smart drugs” on today’s college campuses. Really? Heck, when I was in college it was mostly about pot (for the record, as Bill Clinton said about weed: “I never inhaled”). Or how about that famous homemade designer drug: Mix some LSD with some Milk of Magnesia. You’ll take the same trip, just make more stops! (It’s a joke, folks.)

What’s not a joke is the apparent use of cognitive-enhancing drugs on campuses. And while they’re likely not already in use in your dealership, they soon could be.

One author who predicts it is Carl Cederström (carl.cederstrom@gmail.com). He co-authored with Andre Spicer the “Wellness Syndrome and he is also an associate professor of organization theory at Stockholm University. He contends the unauthorized use of prescription drugs, namely the ADHD medications Adderall and Ritalin, as well as Modafinil, a narcolepsy drug, is now common among American college students. However, unlike illicit drug use, these drugs aren’t being used to escape life. Quite the opposite: they’re used to be able to work more and better.

For example, nearly one in five students at an Ivy League college reported misusing a prescription stimulant while studying, according to research presented in 2014 at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Vancouver. Twenty four percent of the junior class reported using these medications on eight or more occasions, while 20 percent of the students overall reported stimulant misuse. Moreover, the Financial Times has said the so-called “smart drugs” that ostensibly offer the ambitious an extra edge were “becoming popular among city lawyers, bankers and other professionals keen to gain a competitive advantage over colleagues.”

So, apparently, they work? Yes, overwhelming evidence suggests smart drugs work. Cederström cites results published in peer-reviewed journals such as European Neuropsychopharmacology that document it. “It’s easy to imagine that these benefits might be welcomed in some organizations,” he says. “We know that at least some of these drugs are medically safe. And, sooner or later, executives will have to confront the issue of these drugs.”

Critics say the use of stimulants as work aids by those without ADHD can lead to a dangerous addiction. When taken in doses and via routes other than those prescribed, prescription stimulants can increase brain dopamine in a rapid and highly amplified manner (similar to other drugs of abuse such as methamphetamine), thereby disrupting normal communication between brain cells and producing euphoria and, as a result, increasing the risk of addiction, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. And much like opioid addiction can lead to heroin abuse when the user loses access to the prescription, so can a reliance on prescription amphetamines result in use of methamphetamines when access is stopped.

Cederström also suggests they’ll pose real challenges, practical and ethical, for corporations and small business owners such as marine dealers. For example, is it morally wrong to allow this drug use in the workplace? Should smart drugs be called doping, i.e., cheating? If more and more people start using them, could there be a “neurological arm’s race?”

Yes, argues philosophy professor Nicole Vincent. But is this necessarily a bad thing? No, claims Duke University law professor Nita Farahany, who calls it an ill-conceived policy that Duke has labeled such drug use “cheating”. She argues that “banning smart drugs disempowers students from making educated choices for themselves.” Farahany sees the improvement in cognitive functioning as a social good. Better brain functioning would result in societal benefits, she argues, “like economic gains or even reducing dangerous errors.”

Given that thinking, Cederström asks the logical question: should the use of these drugs be encouraged in the workplace? Would you want your sales team or service staff to be under the influence of these drugs? What if there was clear evidence they improve their work? What if employees could perform tasks in significantly less time than usual or totally clear their desks and inbox before leaving work?

In theory, at least, employees using performance-enhancing drugs could work shorter hours in a more focused way and be as productive, or produce even more, in a standard workday. And while it appears the current discussion is mostly in academia, if Cederström is right it will be a real subject for business owners and employees sooner than later.

So what are your thoughts?

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