THE BLOG
10/22/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fashion Week: Prettier Brains for Fall

Dear E. Jean: How do I stop procrastinating? Please give me real concrete methods.
--I Even Put Off Writing This Question!

Dear Miss I Put Off Writing This Question: And I put off answering it. Now, if everybody will simply put off reading it, we will complete the holy trinity. Because the truth is, everybody procrastinates; so here's Auntie Eeee's famous How to Fool Yourself Into Getting Things Done:

1. Experts tell you to complete the most unpleasant task first thing in the morning. WRONG. Make your day's "to do" list. Put the most vile chore at the top. The Rule is: If you're going to waste time, you must waste time doing something on the list. What happens? You propel your lazy ass through task after task simply avoiding the heinous duty at the top.

2. Load the Freedom App on your computer. If you're an Internet junkie and are addicted to Facebook, Twitter, HuffingtonPost, Elle.com, Onion, etc., this app lets you free yourself by setting time limits which keep you off the Internet.

3. Hire a Scourge. My scourge is named Jan Arcangeli. I pay her to call and plague me about paying my bills on time. She also sends me irksome emails, leaves provoking voice messages, and interrupts me with "reminders" of all the other things I am neglecting with my finances -- IRS notifications, taxes, monthly budget, etc.

Thus concludes the official portion of this answer. Now, I'm about to touch on a topic -- cosmetic neurology -- which is much in the news lately. Let me begin by stating that I'm not recommending anyone take a neuroenhancer, or a so-called "brain-booster."

I'm bringing it up because everyone seems to be talking about it, and I feel it's my responsibility to investigate. Also now that fall is coming, new fashions are appearing and I wanted to organize my closet. I was devoting every conceivable moment to thinking how I could make myself systematize that damn closet when I began noticing a gush articles in Nature, New Scientist, The New York Times, New York, not to mention Margaret Talbot's brilliant twelve-page piece in The New Yorker (April 27, 2009) about "neuroenhancers," (Adderall, Provigil, etc) and if -- a big if -- these cognitive enhancers were deemed safe they could make humans smarter, more focused, and more able to "get stuff done."

I knew college kids were acing tests by taking Adderall off label, and that several of my writer friends were taking it to crank their "mental horsepower" and finish their books.

I called Dr. Ronald Kessler, Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School, one of the authors of the ground-breaking Nature paper on the ethics of prescribing neuroenhancers (Kessler and his co-authors concluded that if the drug was pronounced safe, the only moral response was to make it available to everyone). I asked Kessler if taking cognitive enhancers was actually a good idea. He said: "Smart people should do the smart things to make themselves smarter. According to early testing, these neuroenhancers may well prolong cognitive ability in people over 50. But the real issue is: These drugs have not been around long enough to know the long-term effects. We don't know if your head will fall off when you reach eighty."

Like Botox, nobody knows what's going to happen down the road. (Naturally that didn't stop physicians from injecting it -- off label -- into patient's faces to lessen frown lines before the FDA approved it for cosmetic use in 2002.) I emailed Professor Julian Savulescu, Director, Oxford Uehiro Center for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, UK, (and probably the handsomest academic I've ever beheld in my life -- look him up), and he replied: "If brain boosters are safe and don't have other side effects, it would be irresponsible not to take them. It is better to make oneself smarter."

That did it. I called my doctor, George Kessler, in New York.

"Adderall!" I exclaimed, excitedly. "I want to boost my brain!"

"Adderall is speed, E. Jean," he said, calmly. "It won't make you smarter. It may help you concentrate, it might help you work longer; but it has a strong addictive potential. Plus, Adderall is extremely dangerous if you have high blood pressure, heart problems, or if you're on anti-depressants --"

"You know I'm in perfect health!" I interrupted. "Exactly," said Doctor Kessler. "You can boost your brain with the latest cognitive revolution." "What's that?" I said, thrilled.

"Exercise," said Dr. Kessler.

I hung up and called one of my writer friends and she Fed-Exed me a sample. On the back of the envelop she had written: 'WRITER'S RELIEF FUND." I didn't feel any smarter when I took the ten milligrams of Adderall; I simply felt lively. After seven hours at my desk, which flew by like seven minutes, I stood up, stretched, and did something very odd. I walked to my closet, threw open the door; and merrily organized every item of clothing I own into seasonal, aesthetical, and chronological categories. Then I cleaned the microwave.

So, there you have it, E. Jean's brief report on Fall Fashion: The Pretty Brain Is Wearing a Neuroenhancer This Season. Again, I'm not telling anyone to take a prescription drug to improve concentration, just as I'd never advise anyone to drink more than three cups of coffee before noon -- which, by the by, produces exactly the same effect.

From Elle's September Issue

ELLE

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