Blood Doping… for Dopes

I called it Lawyers on Steroids; the editors changed the title of my January 2010 Last Word (Lexpert) to Blood Doping… for Dopes. I like my title better… and here’s the full, unedited text for your enjoyment.

List of Major League Baseball players suspende...
LAST WORD: Lawyers on Steroidsby Marzena CzarneckaAs Vancouver 2010’s D-Day draws nearer and nearer, a young woman’s fancy naturally turns to—what else?—performance enhancing drugs. Who, I wonder, will thrill the fans, set new records, grab the gold, and then shame his or her country by testing positive for steroids? Will Canadians grab the headlines? Will the Americans? Or will it be the turn of the Belgians? (They have snow and steroids in Belgium, right?) Will it be the ski jumpers, snow boarders or biathletes? (Athletes with guns, on steroids. Be afraid. Be very afraid…)

Pleasant thoughts to wile away the time as the Olympic torch travels ever-closer. But here’s the big one: will we be as outraged as we were in 1988? Or even 2006—or 2008 in Beijing?

Here’s my prediction: not nearly as much. And by the summer games in 2012, even less so, and less every Olympics thereafter. Eventually, steroids will become as integral a part of the Olympics as them colourful spandex uniforms. And it’s all going to be the fault of… Lawyers.

No, darlings, not because you’re going to fight the bad fight and legalize steroids. No, you’re going to do it another way: by legitimizing the use of performance enhancing drugs in other arenas. A bunch of you are already doing it. Haven’t you heard?

The trend seems to be more widespread in the US than in Canada—the studies and headlines tend to come from there. And they report that more and more students—in particular, apparently, in uber-competitive faculties like, oh, let’s see, um, say, law?—are using neuro-enhancing drugs in not quite the way their family GP prescribed them.

You know all about neuro-enhancers, right? Your kids are probably popping them—with your and the family doctor’s blessing and prescriptions. The most popular ones are Ritalin and Adderall—the drugs for the use of which the condition ADHD was invented. A newer one is Provigil (originally developed to treat narcolepsy. Seriously. Its most popular current use: fighting jet lag). There are more in the pipeline, and all are growing in popularity as “tools” or “technologies” to “improve focus, concentration, or memory,” among the undiagnosed, who buy them from the diagnosed (or off the Internet)… or, convince their doctors that their apparent lack of narcolepsy or ADHD nowithstanding, they really need a steady supply of Ritalin to function.

Are you appalled or intrigued? Oh, I don’t mean intrigued for yourself. I know you and I are too bloody brilliant to need help improving our focus, concentration, or memory. We’re perfectly capable of giving our undivided attention to the dullest of documents (and claiming we find them fascinating, to boot). Our knee-jerk, immediate reaction is to be appalled: Cheaters! Losers! Addicts! But let’s get past that for a few minutes, ok?

There are some interesting trends that emerge across the studies on off-the-shelf use of neuro-enhancers. In universities, for examples, users are most likely to have GPAs of 3.0 or lower. In workplaces—neuro-enhancers are reportedly making it into fast-paced, demanding workplaces, as the drugged out, sorry, enhanced, grads join the workforce—they tend to be the second-stringers wanting to match the productivity and performance of the stars.

And should we stop them? Think of the potential: finally, hope for the mediocre! I’ve just come off a committee project where, if I had been able to spike the board room coffee with smart pills to raise the overall level of focus, concentration and critical thinking skills in the room, I would have done it in a heart beat. Don’t smirk at me: I guarantee you’ve been in the same situation. Probably yesterday. Come on: isn’t there a colleague—or opponent—you work with regularly who could use a bit of a brain boost? Wouldn’t your job be easier if everyone you worked with was just a little more on the ball? (And clients—don’t you have a client or two who could use a brain booster so they could finally understand a tenth of the advice you give them? And be able to follow through on it in a timely manner?)

I jest, of course. (Well, mostly—that committee meeting I mentioned? It needed a brain boost, desperately. If my kid had a Ritalin prescription, I would have commandeered it.) But it’s fascinating that we’re living and working in a time where mainstream media and relatively authoritative commentators are increasingly referring to neuro-enhancers as tools and technologiesa la the telephone, computer, Blackberry etc.—rather than drugs, pharmaceuticals or brain steroids. And it’s equally fascinating—and, I confess, disturbing—that even critics of off-the-shelf use of these products foresee a future in which their use in schools and workplaces will be widespread and to some extent normalized. It’s sort of Huxley’s Brave New World albeit applied post-embryonically.

So think on that when this or that Olympic athlete gets dethroned and condemned in 2010. Maybe they aren’t cheaters and victory-obsessed, hyper-competitive losers with questionable ethics. Maybe they’ve just been… ahead of their time.

Marzena Czarnecka lives and writes in Calgary, where her neuro-enhancers of choice are strong coffee, good books, and demanding conversations with people who don’t need Adderall to make her feel intellectually humble.

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