Now Scott has a long, long article on Adderall, the prescription semi-speed. (The brand name “Adderall” apparently means “ADD for all”):
ADDERALL RISKS: MUCH MORE THAN YOU WANTED TO KNOW
POSTED ON DECEMBER 28, 2017 BY SCOTT ALEXANDER
I didn’t realize how much of a psychiatrist’s time was spent gatekeeping Adderall.
The human brain wasn’t built for accounting or software engineering. A few lucky people can do these things ten hours a day, every day, with a smile. The rest of us start fidgeting and checking our cell phone somewhere around the thirty minute mark. I work near the financial district of a big city, so every day a new Senior Regional Manipulator Of Tiny Numbers comes in and tells me that his brain must be broken because he can’t sit still and manipulate tiny numbers as much as he wants. How come this is so hard for him, when all of his colleagues can work so diligently?
(It’s because his colleagues are all on Adderall already – but telling him that will just make things worse)
He goes on to give me his story about how he’s at risk of getting fired from his Senior Regional Manipulator Of Tiny Numbers position, and at this rate he’s never going to get the promotion to Vice President Of Staring At Giant Spreadsheets, so do I think I can give him some Adderall to help him through?
Psychiatric guidelines are very clear on this point: only give Adderall to people who “genuinely” “have” “ADHD”.
But “ability to concentrate” is a normally distributed trait, like IQ. We draw a line at some point on the far left of the bell curve and tell the people on the far side that they’ve “got” “the disease” of “ADHD”. This isn’t just me saying this. It’s the neurostructural literature, the the genetics literature, a bunch of other studies, and the the Consensus Conference On ADHD. This doesn’t mean ADHD is “just laziness” or “isn’t biological” – of course it’s biological! Height is biological! But that doesn’t mean the world is divided into two natural categories of “healthy people” and “people who have Height Deficiency Syndrome“. Attention is the same way. Some people really do have poor concentration, they suffer a lot from it, and it’s not their fault. They just don’t form a discrete population.
Meanwhile, Adderall works for people whether they “have” “ADHD” or not. It may work better for people with ADHD – a lot of them report an almost “magical” effect – but it works at least a little for most people. There is a vast literature trying to disprove this. Its main strategy is to show Adderall doesn’t enhance cognition in healthy people. Fine. But mostly it doesn’t enhance cognition in people with ADHD either. People aren’t using Adderall to get smart, they’re using it to focus.
What are the cultural effects of speed-type drugs? We have a vast literature on the artistic and social impact in the 1960s of a fairly rare drug, LSD, and a large literature on the effects of marijuana on music, comedy, and so forth.
But people have been taking a lot of variants of speed since, roughly, WWII when militaries handed them out to guys who needed to stay awake to not die. But what kind of changes are there due to speed? Are certain kinds of music or movies or books more likely to have been made and appreciated by somebody on speed?