I haven’t given the concept of cosmetic neurology much thought since the last time we covered the topic, in January of 2008, Is Cosmetic Neurology the Behavioral Health Business of the Future? The Controversy Over Drugs That Build ‘Mental Muscle’. But, a recent article in the European version of Newsweek, ‘Braindoping’ Comes To The City As Bankers Are Take ADHD Medicine To Get Ahead, caught my eye – in particular the statistics about the expanding acceptance of pharmaceutical brain enhancement by a wider range of populations.
If you’ve forgotten the term, it’s a simple one – the practice of intervening, typically with pharmaceuticals, to improve cognition and affect in healthy individuals. The term is attributed to Dr. Anjan Chatterjee, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania in 2004 (see Cosmetic Neurology: Enhancement of the Mind and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder Medication Abuse Among College Students), though Dr. Peter D. Kramer in his 1993 book, Listening to Prozac, coined the very similar term, “cosmetic psychopharmacology.” The Newsweek article uses the sports analogy – referring to it as “Braindoping.”
And the statistics that caught my attention…
Simon and several co-authors recently presented ground-breaking statistics about the extent of brain-doping among surgeons. In an article in the scientific journal BMC Medicine, the researchers report that 9% of surgeons take cognitive-enhancing drugs…..Students remain the most frequent brain-dopers: the journal Pharmacotherapy reports a 20% brain-doping prevalence among students. But, as Simon and several other scientists show in an article in the academic journal PLOS ONE, athletes are also frequent brain-dopers, with 15% now taking brain-enhancing drugs, compared to 13% who engage in physical enhancement doping.
Except for newly emerging statistics like the ones above, there is very little “hard” evidence about the prevalence of these drugs. The soft evidence, on the other hand, points to a very high use rate. We covered the study of high school students – 20% Of High School Students Have Taken Prescription Drugs Recreationally. And, when Nature readers were polled in 2008, 20% of respondents stated that they had used drugs for non-medical reasons to stimulate their focus, concentration or memory, including 62% who had used methylphenidate, 44% who had used modafinil, and 15% who had used beta-blockers such as propranolol (see Academic Doping Or Viagra For The Brain?). This is happening at a time when the widespread use of pharmaceuticals for “pain relief” is at an all-time high and we’re seeing the ill effects of that – see Drug-Related Deaths – Prescription Meds Still Top The List. And, cosmetic neurology may not be limited to pharmaceuticals. In our 2015 coverage of the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) show, Neuroscience ‘Do It Yourself’ Tools, there were lots of tech tools to choose from in the “neuroenhancement” category.
For more on the state of cosmetic neurology, check out these studies:
- Use Of Illicit And Prescription Drugs For Cognitive Or Mood Enhancement Among Surgeons
- Associations Between Physical And Cognitive Doping – A Cross-Sectional Study In 2,997 Triathletes
- Brave Neuro World
From a strategy perspective, I’m less concerned about the exact statistics and more concerned with the trend. I think “consumer demand” for treatments (whether pharmaceutical or not) that they believe improve their life will continue to increase. There are many reasons – the power of the internet, marketing, our policy direction to have consumers “be in charge” of their own health, and more. The big question – how are managers of provider organizations going to address this consumer demand – both in policy (both clinical and administrative) and in practice (at the front line). At a time when more provider organizations are “at risk” for services from a financial perspective, the inevitable tradeoffs between what a consumer wants and what treatment will have the best clinical outcomes will be front and center. And, this falls in that large gap area between what is “health” and what is “social” (in the broadest perspective). In the year ahead, we’ll continue to track the statistics and the implications of this trend for strategy and management.