by Reihan

I avoid caffeinated beverages, alcohol, all illegal drugs, and prescription medication. Only two drugs have appealed to me: MDMA, for its supposed therapeutic properties, and Adderall. I've never used Adderall, despite the fact that I clearly suffer from a serious if undiagnosed form of ADHD. Molly Young's very insightful reflections on Adderall have piqued my interest.

Of course, I could have studied in college without Adderall, just like I did in high school – I just couldn’t have studied with such ecstasy. Theoretical texts, in particular, were transformed into exercises as conquerable as a Tuesday crossword. I could work out in the gym with a Xeroxed packet of Gayatri Spivak perched on the elliptical machine in front of me, reading and burning calories at the same time. The efficacy of the multitasking was exhilarating. On Adderall, the densest writing became penetrable. I had an illusion of mastery, at least, that lasted long enough to write the necessary papers and presentations.

Inevitably,

there’s a downside to a drug that makes everything interesting. By the end of junior year, I still had no idea what I liked or was good at. This past fall, when my senior year started, I took a break from the drug – at first because I couldn't find any, and then because I refused it. It took these four abstinent months to realize that I was not supposed to be electrified by everything I learned in school; that some of it had a vaccinating purpose, so that by trying a little now and reacting badly, I could fend it off later.

Young ends on a thoughtful and skeptical note.

There were no more ecstatic Joan-of-Arc-in-the-library experiences, no more imagined channeling of dead literary critics – but this, I suppose, is appropriate when what’s at stake is only a 15-page essay on Jane Austen, double spaced.

Perspective is a good thing, of course. One of my best friends was recently observing that his students spend a surprisingly large amount of time making excuses and demanding that exceptions from class rules be made on their behalf, as though getting a zero on a problem set is somehow the end of the world. There are graduate students, by the way, many of them in their 30s. Still, Young's essay makes me look forward to the exotic wonder-drugs of the future, when we'll have a more detailed understanding of the brain, and perhaps even a finer-grained understanding of the way different chemical compounds interact with individual brains.

A scientist, I forget who it was, once posited that the reason superintelligent extraterrestrials haven't bothered to get in touch could be that they are too busy playing unimaginably elaborate video games, or perhaps using unimaginably excellent drugs. It is, so to speak, a sobering thought.

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