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July 31, 2011

How Smart Are Smart Pills?


Let me guess: You woke up this morning, dragged your feet downstairs, and first things first, poured yourself a nice, hot cup of coffee. It's no surprise, as shown by the overwhelming number of Starbucks across the globe, that many adults rely on the stimulating effects of caffeine on a day-to-day basis. The boost in alertness, focus, and mood are extremely attractive. However, the overly jittery cardiac stimulation and diuretic properties are not. So, what other options are there for those of us that just can't seem to stay awake throughout the day without our morning cup of joe? The answer is smart pills.

They've been around for years. In the 1940s, they were popularized under the name "pep" pills and "speed" and frequently used by armed forces pilots to stay alert for their many dangerous tasks. Today, "speed" (dextroamphetamine) is no longer used because of its serious side effects, but the prescription drugs Adderall and Ritalin are commonly used. They are prescribed to people suffering from ADHD, to alleviate the frustrating inability to focus. However, in a study conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland in 2008, it was found that 18% of 1,208 college students were taking ADHD medications in order to help them study, even though they had not been prescribed. Not only that, but many people over the age of 35 also reported to be using these drugs in a survey carried out in Nature magazine.

The latest and most talked about pharmaceutical neuro-enhancer is called Provigil and is marketed by the company Cephalon. It contains the compound modifinil, which is known to inhibit the reuptake of neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, thus enhancing attention and memory skills. Modifinil also influences the action of glutamate in sending signals across neurons. Researchers using fMRI scans to study the effects of modifinil have found that the use of the drug helps shift the brain into what is called the "exploitation mode", during which neurons are acting in a highly coordinated system to complete a complex task. As scientists begin to isolate which areas of the brain affect which types of concentration and memory, these drugs may be customized to target certain forms of ADHD and memory-deficient diseases, such as Alzheimer's.

But, surely, taking these smart pills can't be quite as intelligent as it sounds. Otherwise, why aren't they already on the market, unregulated, like caffeine? Well, the reason for it is also the number one problem facing neuroscience today, which is that it's still a developing science and we're not really sure of the negative effects that it may have. Perhaps a memory-enhancer of this might is capable of causing a condition called hyperthymestic syndrome, in which the person can remember every moment of his or her life, even the most trivial or minute. Or, as Oliver Sacks reported in a case about a musician who took a drug to cure Tourette's syndrome, which ended up putting a total damper on his musical creativity, it will inhibit us from reaching our highest creative potential. Is it even ethical to consume something that alters our natural abilities to think, remember, and create?

The questions continue to be asked, the scientists continue to search for answers, and all the while, college students are popping pills and downing energy drinks to finish those last-minute papers for their Intro to Neuroscience course. Who knows if smart pills will be the way of the future, as the increasingly competitive global economy and medical world seek new ways to "get ahead" ... All I know is I need another cup of coffee.

From the article, "Rx for Genius" in Discover Magazine: The Brain, by Sherry Baker.
Posted by      Anna V. at 1:36 PM MDT
Tags: fmri, memory

Comments:

  ali f.  says:
Posted on Sun, 26 Jan 2020 7:43 PM MST by ali f.
  zaiya m.  says:
I think it is not good for you to use this kind of smart pills. What is the real use of these pills? It is very dangerous for your health. CBD Oil for Migraines Avoid its maximum and be good. I hope you will get to know it soon.
Posted on Mon, 15 Jun 2020 4:38 AM MDT by zaiya m.

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