140.1 Enhancement and evolving polarities: The case of smart drugs

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 12:30 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Johanne COLLIN , Pharmacy, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada
Julien SIMARD , Anthropology, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada
Hugo C. DESROSIERS , Law, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
Over the last decade, there has been a growing concern for the non-medical use of prescription drugs by youngsters, and particularly college and university students (see Peralta & Steele 2010; Arria & Du Pont 2010). Prevalence of lifelong non-medical prescription drug use is close to 40% on some campuses (Peralta et al, 2010). Nation-wide American studies show that almost 10% of students used psychotropic drugs or antidepressants in their lifetime (McCabe 2005). While those numbers vary greatly depending on the sample, one finding seems universal: non-medical use is on the rise (Quintero et al. 2006; Sweeny 2010).   Although drug consumption trends among students can take many forms, we will focus in this paper on the use of so-called “smart drugs” or cognitive enhancers such as Ritalin or Adderall.

Many studies conducted by epidemiologists and psychologists offer data on the prevalence of the phenomenon, but in a totally decontextualized perspective, which is one among many flaws that characterize this literature. Based on the analysis of qualitative semi-structured one-to-one interviews as well as on focus groups, this paper aims to explore the social contexts, representations and rationales associated with cognitive enhancing practices among university students. We will try to fill the gap by linking cognitive enhancement with the social and individual contexts experienced by students through their accounts of performance, competition, depression and stress in the academia. We will argue that consumption of cognitive enhancers cannot be understood without trying to grasp the various strategies of coping with increasingly porous exigencies of higher education and those of the market. We will finally resituate cognitive enhancement in a broader theoretical framework on pharmaceuticalization, by illustrating how medications are central to the dissolution of polarities between health and illness, nature and culture as well as licit and illicit uses of drugs.