By Graeme Paton, Education Editor
Published: 7:01AM BST 01 Oct 2009
The use of drugs such as modafinil and Ritalin is no worse than sending
children to a private tutor, said Vince Cakic, from the department of
The comments are made in an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics.
Some academics have claimed that smart drugs, or “nootropics”, which are often widely available over the internet, should be banned over long-term safety fears.
Mr Cakic said universities in the future may attempt to impose random urine tests to root out drug cheats.
But he insisted that doping had already failed to properly clean up sport and insisted a more liberal approach needed to be adopted in academia.
“Prohibiting nootropics would not even the playing field, because there never was an even playing field to begin with,” he said. “To be sure, nootropics would probably make an already uneven playing field more unfair, and one that is likely only to favour the wealthy who can afford to purchase them.
“Not only do the rich get richer, but in the future it seems that they might also get smarter. However, using unequal distribution to justify the prohibition of nootropics is akin to prohibiting private tuition, which also increases academic performance while exacerbating educational inequalities between social classes.”
He added: “If socioeconomic inequalities in education are readily tolerated by society, then it would be hypocritical to apply this criterion selectively to nootropics and not to other performance enhancing strategies.”
Stimulants are increasingly used by students in an attempt to improve their exam results.
Many of the drugs can be bought over the internet, allowing students to exploit them for their apparent ability to boost concentration.
But they can cause significant side effects.
Potential side effects of Ritalin include mood swings, increased heart rate, headaches, dizziness and insomnia.
Patients can also become hooked on the effects of smart drugs and find it difficult to wean themselves off them.
Earlier this year scientists at