But If Speed Makes You Smart, What About the Headbangers?

Ok. I’m being a bit facetious with the title of this post.

I’ve always felt that stimulants make you smart and millions of test-taking college students and writers have taken advantage when under performance pressure.  Still, it is curious that stimulants (at least meth) seem to be most popular among people who (I’m generalizing horribly but it’s generally true) don’t value intellectual activity.  I just can’t imagine taking strong stimulants and wanting to fix the car instead of rereading Gravity’s Rainbow… backwards.

So the New Yorker has checked in with Brain Gain: The Underground World of Neuro-enhancing Drugs.

I’m a bit late to the party on this one… since many of my fave sites like Boing Boing and Dose Nation posted about it early last week, but of course I was early to the smart drugs party in general… I’ve been following it since the late 1970s.  So I thought I’d add my own remarks about Provigil, because my personal experience seems to be different than most.

I’ve had the opportunity to take Provigil a few times (probably just shy of 10) and I’ve found some negatives along with the positives.  On the positive side, yes… it does make one alert, with an ability to go from early in the morning until late at night.  For me, however, an early evening cup of caffeine was generally needed to re-up the energy levels. Also, despite the claims of 36 or whatever number of hours of wakefulness, I was generally able to go to sleep at around 3 am – a good thing (usually crashed around midnight during that time period).  I’m willing to bet that my memory was momentarily improved, and if I were forced to take a test on Provigil I would do better than I would in my ordinary sleepy-headed state.

On the other hand, several times… it gave me a headache, and in at least one case, the headache was bad enough to obviate the purpose of taking the drug in the first place… which was to allow me to get lots of work done on a particular day.  Rather, the effect was to call the workday off and spend it laying about with a hyperactive but boring aching brain slightly eased by Tylenol.

More on this use of the word boring…. For me, I have found Provigil — on some occasions to be anti-creative.  Yes, I was wide awake.  Yes, I could do tons of shitwork.  But in terms of getting into the rhythm and flow of good writing, it has on a few occasions had the opposite effect.

I think underlying some of this, there may be some interesting questions about the nature of intelligence.  In the first issue of h+, our awesome NEURO columnist, James Kent wrote “Data capacity, bandwidth, or robustness along the intelligence circuit is the main shortcoming of human intelligence, and what divides the geniuses from the morons. In real terms, this metric defines how many abstract symbols we can hold in working memory at any one time while still performing rational analysis on those objects.”

Well, I have a mind like a sieve, so this makes me a moron.  And while I’ll cop to being moronic in many ways, I seem to be able to write articles and books that people find stimulating and amusing and even – in some cases — intelligent, and I do OK in other creative areas as well.  I theorize that my brain has compensated for what it lacks in terms of memory and attention to detail by becoming pretty darned good at pattern recognition (zeitgeist recognition).  I further theorize that years of experimentation with psychedelic drugs further helped my pattern recognition (while perhaps hindering my memory.)

Speaking of which, I must confess that a couple of time, I mixed Provigil with very small doses of acid (20-30 mics), which gets the balance right in my case. Alertness, memory, creativity, enthusiasm… ahhh.

Not that I’m recommending this path to anybody.  Ironically, I pretty much can’t take Provigil or acid any more because of stomach acid problems. (Did you know acid causes acid?  I used to take acid. Now that I’m older, I take antacid …nyuk nyuk nyuk)…

No final message in this ramble, but I’d be curious to hear from anybody who has had similar experiences with Provigil.



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