When this came up a number of years ago on another forum, someone wrote:
[...] if the scientist working on a cure for cancer is doing this um what's the problem? Even if it were to have some negative side effects, and he knowingly chooses to risk it b/c he feels it will help him.
And I wrote this (slightly edited here):
Let's walk a few years down this road. It's 2025, and ehancers are legal, or at least their use is tolerated.
Your son has just joined a law firm. The other new arrivals are using Modafinil, or its successor, to let them work 100+ billable hours per week. While his employment agreement explicitly states that he's not required to use any enhancers, it's also clear that he'll never make partner without them. Is there an element of compulsion here?
Your daughter is getting ready to take her SATs; she's smart and ambitious, and wants to get into a top-tier school, eventually going into med school. Recent anonymous surveys indicate that 20% or more of students taking the test are using enhancers. Nobody's been able to do a formal study, but there are indications that these students are seeing boosts of 200-300 points in their scores. What advice do you give your daughter?
Fast-forward another ten years. Your kids have been using enhancers for the entire time. Originally, they were just a way to get a little extra "edge" -- but, having established a performance baseline while using them, who wants to become "dumber", slower, or sleepier by giving them up?
The problem is, the drugs aren't working quite as well as they used to. It's not surprising, really, at least not to a cognitively-enhanced neurochemist; enhancers, particularly the primitive second- and third-generation varieties, lead to short-term habituation and long-term neurological adaptation. New drugs are better, and with their help, new researchers are smarter. But they still can't do much to help those who scarred their brains with the older drugs.
Your son is fairly secure in his position as a full partner, but the firm's newest hires are scary. Most of them simply don't sleep, ever; they're at the office for days at a time without rest, and when they do take "time off", they're out skydiving, or rock-climbing, or just partying. Partners have always had the power in law firms -- but how long can they maintain power when their underlings are so much smarter and more ambitious?
Your daughter... your daughter isn't doing so well. She's landed a great residency, but the early-21st-century movement to limit the length of residents' shifts faltered and died in the face of enhancement drugs. She doesn't really need sleep, but she misses it, and she misses the companionship that was once associated with it. (Who wants to be involved with a surgical resident, who's almost never home?) When she does try to sleep, her dreams are invaded by the brain-burn victims she sees at work, and she wakes up screaming.
And sometimes the dreams intrude while she's nominally "awake". It's an increasingly common syndrome in long-term gen-3 enhancement users. The neurochemists are hoping that the new gen-5 products will help reduce this symptom.
I think we will go down this road. There's a very good chance I'll go down this road -- I've never felt like there was any such thing as being "smart enough". I think people in general, and researchers in particular, will be able to become "more intelligent", and once they do, they'll be able to figure out ways to accelerate the process.
But I think it's going to hurt. A lot.