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What Users Think about the Differences between Caffeine and Illicit/Prescription Stimulants for Cognitive Enhancement
Published: Friday, June 29, 2012
Author: Andreas G. Franke et al.

by Andreas G. Franke, Klaus Lieb, Elisabeth Hildt

Pharmacological cognitive enhancement (CE) is a topic of increasing public awareness. In the scientific literature on student use of CE as a study aid for academic performance enhancement, there are high prevalence rates regarding the use of caffeinated substances (coffee, caffeinated drinks, caffeine tablets) but remarkably lower prevalence rates regarding the use of illicit/prescription stimulants such as amphetamines or methylphenidate. While the literature considers the reasons and mechanisms for these different prevalence rates from a theoretical standpoint, it lacks empirical data to account for healthy students who use both, caffeine and illicit/prescription stimulants, exclusively for the purpose of CE. Therefore, we extensively interviewed a sample of 18 healthy university students reporting non-medical use of caffeine as well as illicit/prescription stimulants for the purpose of CE in a face-to-face setting about their opinions regarding differences in general and morally-relevant differences between caffeine and stimulant use for CE. 44% of all participants answered that there is a general difference between the use of caffeine and illicit/prescription stimulants for CE, 28% did not differentiate, 28% could not decide. Furthermore, 39% stated that there is a moral difference, 56% answered that there is no moral difference and one participant was not able to comment on moral aspects. Participants came to their judgements by applying three dimensions: medical, ethical and legal. Weighing the medical, ethical and legal aspects corresponded to the students' individual preferences of substances used for CE. However, their views only partly depicted evidence-based medical aspects and the ethical issues involved. This result shows the need for well-directed and differentiated information to prevent the potentially harmful use of illicit or prescription stimulants for CE.
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