HuffPo: the ups and downs of Provigil
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Huffington Post recently ran an amusing piece in which journalist Johann Hari decides to experiment with Provigil for a few weeks and report back on the results. The experiment starts on a madcap note:
A few clicks on-line and I found I could order it from a foreign pharmacy, just £30 for a month's supply. I called a friend who is a GP, and told her what I was thinking of. She'd heard of people using the drug, and went away and looked up the details. "I think it's a stupid thing to do, because you shouldn't ever take drugs you don't need," she said when she called back. "Do I think it'll seriously harm you? No, I don't. But you'd be much better off taking a long holiday than narcolepsy pills." Then she warned me: "There is one known side-effect." Oh, damn I thought. A downside. "It often causes people to lose weight." Are you mad? You become cleverer and thinner? I whipped out my Visa card immediately.
As he dives into the experience with relish, he finds himself plowing through reading and work assignments, in a more contemplative state than usual, and eating less.
Normally, one day out of seven I have a day when I'm working at my best - I've slept really well, and everything comes easily and fast. Provigil makes every day into that kind of day. It's like I have been upgraded to a new operating system: Johann 3.0. On discussion boards, I talk to American student doctors taking the drug, who say they feel exactly the same way. "I keep thinking - where's the catch?" one says. It turns out it is being given to US soldiers too.
But soon doubt starts to creep in:
But then I began to worry again. We don't know the long-term effects of this drug: nobody has been taking it for long. What if it causes your brain to deplete its resources and wear out? My wonderful grandmother has dementia, her life and personality dissolving in lost memories; no short-term concentration is worth that. A friend says to me one afternoon, "Why do you always feel like you're not good enough, and you need some kind of chemical enhancement?" It makes me wonder. There are also concerns that if you take it for too long, it can become addictive.
Finally Hari opts to veer away from his newfound productivity, echoing the words of his GP:
I paced and agonised and finally concluded that taking narcolepsy drugs when you don't have narcolepsy is just stupid. Our lack of knowledge about what it does to your brain was, in the end, a deal-breaker for me. Perhaps in sixty years we'll know for sure it's safe, and I will have spent my life at only sixty percent brain-capacity - but I'd rather risk that than brain damage. So I have cut a deal with myself. I am keeping a pack in the bathroom cabinet for the days when I am really knackered and have to be able to work fast and fluently - but I won't ever take more than two or three a month.
Sounds fair - and for the rest of the month, you could always hit your GP up for an Adderall prescription. Works like a charm I'm told...
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