Pills: Friend or Foe?
“Over the course of your lifetime, you are likely to be prescribed more than 40,000 pills”. (BBC Documentary)
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I don’t know about you but I was in utter shock when I heard this. But really, how many of those 40,000 are truly beneficial? Let alone the unknown side effects that remain undetected till centuries later.
I would like to share with you the story of Ritalin, a drug originally designed to control depression in adults. Like many science discoveries, luck also plays a huge role in Ritalin’s story. By chance, Ritalin is also effective in relieving symptoms of attention deficit hyperacitivity disorder (ADHD) in hyperactive children.
While all sounds good, Ritalin has a third function. Or not.
In the brains of the healthy, Ritalin
- Improves memory-related task
- Has cognitive enhancer property that improves neural network and ultimately increases intelligence.
- Boosts chemical messengers in a healthy brain, increasing concentration level and attention span
In simpler terms, it is known to students as ‘the smart pill’. With the potential of making us cleverer, would you consider taking Ritalin?
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A Cambridge student claims that taking Ritalin is the same as cheating as one is not in his/her natural state and is therefore an unfair competition between peer in terms of achievements. If one student takes it, surely others will follow just to be able to compete. Meanwhile some students use Ritalin to get past deadline or an exam to compensate for a weekend spent on partying.
Others have different opinion, whereby Ritalin is used by surgeons to ensure that they stay alert during long surgery hours. In this case, would taking Ritalin be acceptable and ethical?
Professor Barbara Sahakian of University of Cambridge argues that Ritalin is a good drug if it is used to lighten the work load to offer more family time. This would mean improving the balance between work and life. However in the current competitive society, individuals may consume Ritalin just so they can work for longer hours to earn more money. This way of thinking poses a greater disruption to the work-life balance.
If a compound has multiple functions, it is very likely that pharmaceutical companies create a new market that is previously non-existent to earn big bucks. With Ritalin there is a ready market, where students are willing to pay up to $5 per pill. The real question remains to be: what is the medical condition?
Ideally, we want to ensure that drugs are designed for a specific purpose and that it works against the intended target. The story of Ritalin proves otherwise. Its immense potential is only known years after its creation and following accidental or intentional consumption in non-target patients. Ritalin is just one of these drugs. Compound ‘UK9240’ from Pfizer is another example – a drug initially designed for angina but failed. Later, it became commercially successful as Viagra- a drug to treat erectile dysfunction but more popular as ‘sextasy’
A pill is made up of chemicals, that when consumed disrupt the normal biological processes in our body. Surely this will introduce side effects, ranging from mild to deadly. One has to consider if the risks outweigh the benefits. If only there is a cure-for-all miracle pill in the future.
- BBC Documentary: pill poppers (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00q9jfs)
- The Sydney Morning Herald (http://www.smh.com.au/national/ritalin-is-students-new-drug-of-choice-for-parties-and-studying-20100226-p953.html)