Brain doping can be good for you

Shelley has a good post on the biology of ADHD—the lesson, once again, is that the mind is regulated by physical and chemical processes, and we’re learning more and more about how seemingly nebulous, fuzzy, higher level functions of thought can be traced back to relatively simple material causes.

The basic story is that norepinephrine is the molecule behind ADHD, and that what the stimulants given to people do is increase the effective concentration of NE. I’ve never been a victim of ADHD — as a kid, I’d say I was more often characterized as being the extreme opposite of what we see in ADHD — but there’s an interesting comment that stimulants like caffeine can also release more NE … and that coffee addicts may be self-medicating. I confess: I am a coffee addict. Maybe I’ve been making myself worse over the years. Of course, being on the other end of the attention spectrum isn’t stigmatized like ADHD.

Coffee also doesn’t bear the stigma of Ritalin. It’s too bad; human beings have been willfully modifying their brain chemistry for millennia, and we really shouldn’t treat the more precise pharmaceuticals of today like they’re a cause for shame.


  1. #1 MAJeff
    July 28, 2007

    This is where i get to have fun as a sociologist. I wonder if part of the reason why we have seen “increases” in ADHD over the past several decades isn’t due to social factors beyond just attempts to regulate and control children’s behaviors. We live in a world in which we are being visually stimulated far more than at any time in history, and we’re asked to interpret more stimuli simultaneously. ADHD is functional in such an environment, but when placed in an environment without such a constant rush of stimuli, we get bored, fidgity, etc…..just a thought.

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