If there was a safe, legal substance that could effectively improve your mental performance, would you take it? This question may have crossed your mind if you have ever wondered if nootropics are ethical.
The Human Desire
Humans have always dreamed of powers beyond limited human potential. In ancient Greece, students braided rosemary sprigs into their hair in order to improve their memory.<1>
Throughout the ages our collective desire to be faster, smarter, and even immortal have given us Ponce de León’s fountain of youth, Superman, Hercules, and many Stephen King novels.
Today, drugstore shelves are filled with pills, powders, drinks, and tonics that claim to improve IQ, enhance memory, increase endurance, boost mental focus, and heighten alertness.
But this new penchant for “cosmetic neurology” has many people questioning the ethics of using non-prescription substances to enhance performance rather than to remedy a debilitating condition.<2>
Here, we'll explore the ethical use of nootropics from multiple perspectives.
Ethics in Health Care
Because nootropics can affect brain chemistry and other physiological functions, many people believe cognitive enhancement should be governed as a branch of healthcare and medicine.
And for people dealing with serious neurological conditions or age-related cognitive decline, it can be. But what is health, and what is the purpose of medicine?
Allopathic healthcare focuses on combating symptoms with drugs or surgery, but these remedies do not always improve the patient’s quality of life. Yet the allopathic approach is widely considered ethical.
On the other hand, homeopathic and naturopathic approaches suggest remedies should improve quality of life by rectifying the source of ailments and returning them to a state of subjective well-being. Many nootropic supplements can help with this on various levels.
The Purpose of Pills
One reason cognitive enhancement is so provocative is because it “synthetically” alters the biological status quo.
Historically, humans have been highly resistant to change in the early stages of a paradigm shift, and that resistance is evident today, when drug-intervention for symptom management is generally supported by the public majority, but the use of pills for cognitive enhancement in people considered healthy is more controversial.
Fukuyama and other philosophers maintain that “the original purpose of medicine is to heal the sick, not turn healthy people into gods.”<3>
But if healthcare should be limited to the ill, then preventive care would be unethical for people who are not yet ill. But preventive care is an integral part of good healthcare and wellness practices – therefore everyone, regardless of current health status, qualifies for restorative interventions.
So, if improving the quality of life for people with infirmities means alleviating undesirable symptoms, what does that mean for healthy people? Could transcending the “normal” human condition and enhancing baseline performance become fundamental branches of medicine?
Nootropics on Campus
More and more students are using nootropics to improve academic performance, and some are using synthetic substances to enhance focus and alertness.
Around four to seven percent of American college students are officially diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), but up to twenty-five percent of college students admit to trying stimulants designed for ADHD.<4>
Students claim these substances help them study better, get better test results, and reduce stress, but is nootropic use for academics ethical? If a substance is available only by prescription, then it is illegal, and that makes using it not only unethical but dangerous as well.
But what about legal brain supplements? The primary argument against legal nootropic use in college is based on the idea that cognitive enhancers provide an unfair advantage to students who use them. But this argument only works if we assume an even academic playing field exists for all students.
Unfortunately, this is simply not the case. Academic performance depends on more than hard work, discipline, and other personal merits. Research shows that academic success is largely influenced by genetic and socioeconomic factors.
A significant proportion of academic success is due to the genetic predisposition. In fact, studies indicate that “IQ has a heritability of approximately 50%.”<5>
Beyond genetic inheritance, resources that affect cognitive ability are unevenly distributed across social classes. Things like home computer access, private education, and good childhood nutrition have a direct impact on adult cognitive function. Students who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to have had consistent access to these resources than those who grew up in more wealthy households.
So the ethics of distributive justice that worry nootropic use could lead to an uneven playing field do not really apply for students, because there was never an even playing field to begin with.
And a good number of students that do have prescriptions for synthetic prescription cognitive enhancers admit that they do not actually need it. Instead, some of them sell half of their pills and keep the other half for personal use – mainly to boost academic performance when an eight-page paper is due the next day.
So as long as high-cost prescription brain-boosters are provided to people who don’t actually need them, nootropics will maintain their ethicality by actually levelling the academic playing field. Nootropics can actually help disadvantaged students achieve success in three main components of college life:
- Social life
Besides, nootropics can’t increase IQ and they won’t directly synthesize new information or make you smarter. But they may help enhance focus, improve memory and learning, and provide other cognitive boosts to help you maintain optimal brain health for optimal mental performance.
Nootropics in Sports
The ethics of performance-enhancing drugs for competitive sport has been debated for decades, and some substances, like steroids, human growth hormone, and some diuretics are banned from sports because it gives players an unfair advantage over competitors who do not use those substances.
Unlike the majority of nootropics, which are largely regulated by individual countries, these drugs are regulated worldwide by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Banned substances share three criteria:
- Enhances or potentially enhances sport performance
- Poses an actual or potential health risk
- Violates the spirit of the sport
These guidelines are reasonable and ethical in that they attempt to present an equal opportunity for every athlete to develop their skills naturally. But do nootropics fall into any of those categories?
Nootropic supplements can enhance endurance, mood, response time, problem-solving, pattern-recognition, and memory, but so can coffee or green tea, and those substances are allowed.
Most natural nootropics merely supplement naturally occurring chemicals and nutrients in the body or those we get from diet but may not get enough of. Overall, natural nootropics optimize the brain’s natural biomechanics like healthy nutrition maximizes sports physiology. And that just makes good sense.
Legality vs. Regulation: Understanding the Difference
Different countries have different legal and prescriptive regulations governing nootropics, making the ethics of nootropic use more confusing for potential users concerned about legality.
Certain nootropic substances are regulated in some countries but not in others. The United States is one of the main countries that federally regulates or prohibits public or over-the-counter use and sale of nootropics which are freely available in many other developed countries.
In the United States, all prescription drugs are considered controlled substances, and it is illegal to possess a controlled substance without a prescription.
But even in the United States most nootropics are not considered controlled substances. Instead, non-prohibited nootropics are often labeled as food products or nutritional supplements. In that case, only the production process is regulated, leaving sole control of the ingredients, quality, purity, and efficacy to product manufacturers.
The manufacture and production of nootropics begs a whole set of ethical questions in itself.
- Ingredients. How clean are the ingredients? Are they genetically modified (GMO), grown with pesticides or herbicides, or sourced from areas with high concentrations of other contaminants?
- Workplace. Who makes the product and what are the workplace conditions like for workers? Is the product or ingredients made in a sweatshop where employees are treated poorly and paid little? Or are employees treated well and fairly compensated for their work?
- Environment. Is the product environmentally friendly? Are natural ingredients sustainably and mindfully harvested or are harvesting methods environmentally destructive?
- Packaging. Packaging has become a huge problem in our consumer culture, creating a massive amount of waste pollution. Ethical packaging is environmentally friendly, recyclable, and at least partially made with post-consumer content.
This is the easiest ethical question to address because the answer is the most clearly defined.
In fact, "father of nootropics" Corneliu E. Giurgea declared that true nootropics must have very few side effects and possess extremely low toxicity, meaning the very definition of the word nootropic implies it is safe.
Is Mind Lab Pro® Ethical?
The human desire to improve our so-called "natural" state has driven our development since ancient times, and we have attempted to surpass our limitations using many means, both ethical and unethical.
Using nootropics to enhance cognitive function is one of the more ethical ways we can improve our human prowess - on many fronts.
Mind Lab Pro® nootropics contain safe, sustainably sourced, non-GMO ingredients, produced in the United States and packaged in 100 percent recyclable containers made from at least 20 percent post-consumer content. It contains no banned ingredients and is completely legal. Plus, Mind Lab Pro®'s 11 brain-boosting ingredients are vegan friendly.
Wanting to be better is natural, and doing it ethically is best. So if you're looking for the most mindful way to improve performance and become more competitive, Mind Lab Pro® has all the bases covered.
- Le Strange R. A history of herbal plants. London: Angus and Robertson. 1977
- Chatterjee A. Cosmetic neurology: the controversy over enhancing movement, mentation, and mood. Neurology. 2004;63:968–74
- Fukuyama F. Our Posthuman Future. Picador. 2002. p. 208.
- Weyandt LL, DuPaul G. ADHD in College Students. Journal of Attention Disorders. 1 Aug 2006. doi: 10.1177%2F1087054705286061
- Cakik V. Smart drugs for cognitive enhancement: ethical and pragmatic considerations in the era of cosmetic neurology. Journal of Medical Ethics. 2006. Volume 35, Issue 10. doi: 10.1136/jme.2009.030882