Soon it won’t only be athletes who are tested for performance enhancing drugs before any medals are awarded — Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners might also be tested.

The era of doping has entered the academic world; the journal Nature recently reported a finding by Cambridge University professors that a dozen of their colleagues admitted to regular use of prescription drugs like Adderal and Provigil which stimulate the brain. The report elicited a flood of responses, so the journal conducted its own survey, and so far the number of professors and students using brain stimulants has multiplied significantly. The academic culture is becoming “pop pills or perish.”

Four years ago, Dr. Anjan Chatterjee, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed the rising use of these brain stimulating drugs not to treat illnesses, but solely to improve performance. This was leading to a new specialty he called “cosmetic neurology.” He predicted that cosmetic neurology would mirror the growth of cosmetic surgery which once was scorned as vain and unnatural, but now has become mainstream. Dr. Chatterjee concluded:

“We worship at the altar of progress, and to the demigod of choice; both are very strong undercurrents in the culture. The way this will likely be framed is: Look, we want smart people to be productive as possible to make everybody’s lives better. We want people performing at the max, and if that means using these medicines, then great. We should be free to chose what we want to as long as we’re not harming someone.”

The original purpose of medicine is to heal the sick, not to turn people into gods. But in our winner-take-all society, anything that helps you perform at your max gives you an advantage in the competition. Is chemically tweaking the brain to improve performance the same as tweaking your musculature and endurance to win the Tour de France? No it’s not! It’s worse, because brain doping will have a much more profound impact on society. Those with access to medications will elevate themselves intellectually, financially, technologically, and politically, so that the gap between the haves and the have-nots will widen even more.

Medication is for treating illnesses, not for gaining advantage. If cosmetic neurology becomes mainstream there will be long-term consequences on the body, mind, and spirit. Let’s stick with the old- fashioned way of becoming a success, through hard work and struggle, because they also build character.