The competitive nature of life today has resulted in a lot of pressure for many individuals. There is pressure to study harder, work harder, and work for longer hours. As a result of this people often suffer from fatigue, poor concentration and look for ways to enhance cognitive abilities. There have also been movies and TV shows which create a narrative that we only use a small percentage of the brain. In order to tap into more brain potential one only has to use a cognitive enhancing drug. Hence some people look for these drugs out of curiosity. The combination of these circumstances has seen increased and continuous use of smart drugs, also known as nootropics.
Nootropics are drugs that boost brain performance. The name nootropics is literally translated from Greek and means ‘towards the mind’. Smart drugs affect cognitive abilities in at least one of these domains: memory, attention, arousal and creativity. They do this by altering neurochemicals, enzymes or hormones in the human brain. The neurochemical alteration leads to increased catecholamine signalling.
Most of the popular smart drugs that healthy individuals abuse are prescription drugs. These drugs are used on ADHD, Alzheimer’s, narcolepsy and other sleeping disorders. Modafinil or Provigil is a popular smart drug which is used to treat narcolepsy through the stimulation of the central nervous system. It increases alertness and keeps an individual awake. Adderall, Ritalin or methylphenidate and racetams are other popular smart drugs. Adderall treats ADHD and contains amphetamines. It increases focus and reduces impulsive behaviour. Ritalin treats ADHD and narcolepsy.
In the short term, these drugs produce the desired effect since they increase the user’s alertness and focus. However, in the long term, the drugs could have a negative impact.
The abuse of nootropics raises concerns because the Drug Enforcement Administration categorizes Adderall, Ritalin as other smart drugs as Schedule II controlled substances. This puts them in the same category as cocaine in terms of potential for abuse. The pleasure effect that the users feel from altering the dopamine system can lead to addiction.
- Diminished abilities
To accomplish the short term results of increased alertness, the drugs overstimulate the central nervous system. As a result, they end up damaging cells. Users of these drugs end up having diminished abilities in several areas like multitasking and organization. Such consequences are ironic since the initial reason for abusing the drugs is to enhance cognitive abilities.
- Impulsive behaviour
Some studies show that prescription nootropics affect brain function. As a result of the improved brain function, users tend to have a higher risk of impulsive behaviour. Users tend to engage in risky sexual habits.
- Health problems
Smart drugs could lead to fast heart rates. Additionally, the use of smart drugs by healthy individuals could result in psychosis and anxiety. For drugs like Adderall and methamphetamine a user could have psychotic symptoms that last for months or years after the use of the drugs. Users of the drugs could also experience memory loss, damage to nerve cells leading to strokes, convulsions and tremors.
Research on the long term effect of smart drugs use on healthy individuals is however limited as previously most of the studies conducted on the effectiveness of prescription nootropics were mainly done in elderly individuals. The prescription nootropics, as the name suggests, require a prescription to control the amount an individual needs to treat their condition. However, healthy individuals taking the drugs to enhance brain performance take excessive doses which increase their risk of experiencing the negative effects of the drugs. Check out this story on the danger of smart drugs Little white pill(s)
The BBC has an interesting article on smart drugs.