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View Cognitive enhancement drugs

Cognitive enhancement drugs, also referred to as nootropics, smart drugs, and memory enhancers, are drugs, supplements, nutraceuticals, and functional foods that are purported to improve mental functions such as cognition, memory, intelligence, motivation, attention, and concentration. They are one of many strategies for human enhancement. Typically, they are thought to work by altering the availability of the brain’s supply of neurochemicals (neurotransmitters, enzymes, and hormones), by improving the brain’s oxygen supply, or by stimulating nerve growth. However, the efficacy of most cognitive enhancement drugs substances in most cases has not been conclusively determined. This is complicated by the difficulty of defining and quantifying cognition and intelligence.

Currently there are several drugs on the market that improve memory, concentration, planning, and reduce impulsive behavior. Many more are in various stages of development. The most commonly used class of drug are the stimulants.

Stimulants are often seen as smart drugs, but are actually just productivity enhancers. These typically improve concentration and a few areas of cognitive performance, but only while the drug is still in the blood. Some scientists recommend widespread use of stimulants such as methylphenidate and amphetamines by the general population to increase brain power.

Stimulants are used primarily to treat people with cognitive difficulties: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ADHD. However, more widespread use is being recommended by some researchers. These drugs have a variety of human enhancement applications as well and are marketed heavily on the internet. Nevertheless, intense marketing may not correlate with efficacy; while scientific studies support some of the claimed benefits, it is worth noting that many of the claims attributed to most cognitive enhancement drugs have not been formally tested.

Cognitive enhancers are often taken for the long-term when little data on adverse effects is available. One of the barriers to the clinical trials that need to be done to assess the full and long-term effects of cognitive enhancers are the illegality of their use for enhancement purposes, and the hesitancy of Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) to approve studies of drugs for enhancement rather therapeutic purposes.

In academia, modafinil has been used to increase productivity, although its long-term effects have not been assessed in healthy individuals. Stimulants such as methylphenidate and atomoxetine are being used on college campuses, and by an increasingly younger group. One survey found that 7% of students had used stimulants for a cognitive edge in the past year, and on some campuses the number is as high as 25%.

Dopaminergics are substances that affect the neurotransmitter dopamine or the components of the nervous system that use dopamine. Attributable effects of dopamine are enhancement of attention, alertness, and antioxidant activity. Dopamine is the primary activity of stimulants like ritalin or amphetamine. Dopaminergic nootropics include dopamine synthesis precursors, dopamine reuptake inhibitors, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, and other compounds.

IEET Links:
Should Creative Workers Use Cognitive-Enhancing Drugs
Cognitive Enhancement by Scientists

Wikipedia on Nootropics
Brave New Mind: Smart drugs and the ethics of neuro-enhancement