How do I increase the focus other than Ritalin

“Brain doping” - learning made easy with pills?

Is the use of performance-enhancing drugs a question of reprehensible "brain doping" in daily competition? Or can "cognitive enhancement" promote equal opportunities - for example, by helping students with part-time jobs and children to compensate for multiple burdens? And wouldn't it even be in the interests of society if members of professional groups with responsible tasks use “neuro-enhancers”, if their performance-enhancing effect has been proven and taking them would be harmless to health?

What can the “miracle pills” really do?

Methylphenidate, also known as Ritalin, is considered to be a miracle drug, from which healthy people hope to increase alertness and concentration in the study and work marathon. The number of Ritalin prescriptions is increasing. This is an indication that more and more people are misusing the substance in order to optimize their mental performance. In addition to drugs against restlessness, nervousness and anxiety, preparations against depression, daytime sleepiness and beta blockers are also consumed for this purpose.

In fact, some substances can improve alertness or reduce sleep deprived fatigue. However, there are no reliable results that demonstrate a performance-enhancing effect in healthy people. What is certain is that all of these preparations have side effects. Headaches and personality changes such as emotional dulling are part of it. In addition, dependency can establish itself.

Public discourse - as early as possible

The diverse aspects of “brain doping” show how important it is to accompany the possible consequences of progress in life sciences with a social discourse. This must publicly illuminate the ethical, legal and social dimensions of new developments. Because it is important to form an opinion at an early stage: it can help shape the course set by social actors and prevent undesirable developments.

For the discussion about “cognitive enhancement” this means: It is important now to think about whether “brain-improving” substances mean progress or not, whether their use should be regulated or left to the freedom of decision of each individual.

Better involve young people

The participation of young people in such discussions has so far mostly only run in the background. It is particularly important to motivate young people to find out about future-relevant topics and to form a reflective opinion.

This supported the research project "JuHdo - Young people and how they deal with ethical, legal and social issues of increasing performance through brain doping". The Federal Ministry of Research funded JuHdo as part of its focus “Ethical, legal and social aspects in the life sciences”, or ELSA for short.

Britta Oertel is an information scientist at the Institute for Future Studies and Technology Assessment (IZT). She led the JuHdo project and found that young people had a high information deficit on improving their cognitive performance. “This applies to both knowledge of the effects and the adverse health effects of the substances. But young people hardly have an eye on ethical, legal and social aspects either, ”says Oertel. “That is certainly cause for concern. Because if young people, on the basis of insufficient information, decide to use 'neuro-enhancers' or to accept them, this harbors personal and social risks. "

How many people “dop” their brains?

6.7 percent of the employed people surveyed use prescription drugs without medical necessity to improve their cognitive performance. But the number of unreported cases is high: Experts believe that up to 12 percent of the workforce practice “brain doping” (DAK Health Report 2015). And students? According to a study from 2012, 5 percent consume performance-enhancing substances (Hochschul-Informations-System GmbH, HIS study). A study published in the journal “Phamarcotherapy” in 2013 came to the conclusion that 20 percent of students consume performance-enhancing substances. This study guaranteed the respondents absolute anonymity.

JuHdo as a blueprint for bioethical education

In order to interest young people in the subject of "brain doping" and to promote their opinion and will-formation, JuHdo integrated diverse methods and media into its information concept:

Small group discussions revealed the level of information and needs of young people. They made it clear which aspects have a decisive influence on the decision for or against the consumption or acceptance of performance-enhancing preparations.

The project website was set up. It serves young people as an up-to-date and objective source of information on the subject of increasing cognitive performance.

  • During the project, video conferences were held on the Internet to disseminate expert and empirical knowledge. Recordings of the conferences are available at
  • The results of a writing competition entitled “Risks and Opportunities of Brain Doping” show the insecurity of young people when dealing with the subject. The winners' contributions are published on, the online platform for young readers of the weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT.
  • The project developed a tool kit for civic education. Information and work materials bring the project results together. They can be used in school and extracurricular youth work.

"With JuHdo we were able to show how you can successfully introduce young people to complex topics", says you Liong Thio, Senior Researcher at the IZT. "This also makes JuHdo a valuable blueprint for others for bioethical debates."

Contact Person:
Britta Oertel and you Liong Thio
IZT - Institute for Future Studies and Technology
evaluation of non-profit GmbH
Schopenhauerstraße 26
14129 Berlin
030 803088-43
030 803088-88
[email protected]
[email protected]