Professor's Little Helper

Nature has an interesting story on scientists using various cognitive-enhancing drugs to push their limits. It's rather like the use of steroids by athletes - but they're brain steroids, if you will. Mind Hacks notes:

These are the same drugs that have caused concern about their level of use among students, chiefly modafinil (Provigil) and methylphenidate (Ritalin), although other drugs such as Alzheimer's medication donepezil (Aricept), non-amphetamine ADHD drug atomoxetine (Strattera) are also candidates.

I haven't had a cow about the baseball steroids "scandal" because the only issue to me is whether some athletes have cheated by getting an unfair advantage over others. I don't actually believe the use of steroids in sports is inherently problematic - as long as everyone gets a fair crack at the needle. I guess it's because my own long-term use of testosterone replacement therapy has opened my eyes to the power and largely benign impact of moderate and responsible steroid use. I need it, of course, and when I've forgotten my dose (who wants to jab themselves if they can put it off?), I've experienced serious fatigue and marginal weight-loss. But I really can't see the harm in aging men without HIV using testosterone or human growth hormone to ease the transition into geezerdom - or just because it makes you feel good or look hotter. It's positively harmful for the young; but I tend to believe that adults should be allowed to put whatever chemicals they want into their own bodies. The line between medical and cosmetic or lifestyle usage seems to me to be rather blurry - and will get blurrier as science advances. So if a prof wants to do a little Provigil, it's no worry for me. Why should it be a worry for anyone but the prof himself?