Posts Tagged ‘smart drugs’

Boost Your Brain But Not Too Much!

The purpose of the Next Brain Blog is to explore ways to enhance brain function and improve cognitive performance. The blog is dedicated to exploring all ways of improving learning, decision-making, creativity, memory, levels of mental energy, pattern recognition, embodied cognition and all things mental.   Nature gave us a hindbrain, midbrain and forebrain to deal with challenges in the environment. Optimistically, this blog assumes that we have the science, technology, drugs and training methods to take over where nature left off and create a Next Brain.

But is cognitive enhancement necessarily a good thing? An interesting new article, Why Aren’t We Smarter Already: Evolutionary Trade-0ffs and Cognitive Enhancements suggest that perhaps it is not.   The article points out that:

  1. Having a bigger brain means a baby’s head might not make it through a mother’s pelvis region leading to increases in infant mortality
  2. Cognition enhancing drugs such as Ritalin can cause poorer performance in individuals with normal attention levels and may interfere with some tasks such as driving because they cause us to over focus on the wrong things
  3. Having a super sharp or extraordinary memory seems to correlate to leading a difficult life and would certainty magnify the effects of trauma
  4. Very high IQ individuals may be more prone to genetic nervous system disorders.

The authors argue that our brains are in a natural balance with other parts of our bodies and the environment. Radical improvements in any aspect of cognition throws us out of balance and results in problems.  While such fundamental trade-offs  might make a  supermind or megamind unlikely, the authors point out:

“If you have a specific task that requires more memory or more speed or more accuracy or whatever, then you could potentially take an enhancer that increases your capacity for that task,” he says. “But it would be wrong to think that this is going to improve your abilities all across the board.”

While interventions that are strong enough to create radical cognitive improvements are some time off, the article does begin to develop a framework for a deeper understanding of the issues and limitations associated with our ambition for bigger better brains.

11 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - December 8, 2011 at 5:23 am

Categories: Cognitive Development   Tags:

Do ADHD Meds Make Healthy People Smarter?

Many of the emails I get about building a Next Brain have to do with drugs, especially medication prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. Readers want to know if there is evidence to support the claim that people without ADHD that still use drugs like Adderall will experience improved brain function and enhanced cognitive performance.

Important note: Using medications outside of the boundaries of their prescription or using medications without a prescription can be unsafe and illegal.

The 2011 September issue of the Psychological Bulletin has taken this question up with articles on who takes so-called smart pills and what kind of effects they are having.  My favorite paper,

Are Prescription Stimulants “Smart Pills”? The Epidemiology and Cognitive Neuroscience of Prescription Stimulant Use by Normal Healthy Individuals,

reviews results from over 40 studies finds:

“The cognitive effects of stimulants on normal healthy people cannot yet be characterized definitively, despite the volume of research that has been carried out on these issues. Published evidence suggests that declarative memory can be improved by stimulants, with some evidence consistent with enhanced consolidation of memories. Effects on the executive functions of working memory and cognitive control are less reliable but have been found for at least some individuals on some tasks.”

In short there is some evidence for improved learning by memorizing (simple list of items) but doubt about significant  improvement on working memory (how much information you can attend to at one) or self control.

More research is in the works but early results signal that the smart pill in its current form is not a silver bullet for the Next Brain.

13 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - September 14, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Categories: College Student, Executive Function, Mental Focus   Tags:

Popularity of Smart Drugs – See the Movie

A wide variety of pills and drugs promise to improve brain function or help us achieve peak cognitive performance.  Called cognitive enhancers, smart pills or nootropics they reportedly improve mental energy and focus, memory or creativity through altered states.  They include drugs such as cannabis and hallucinogens as well as off-prescription use of medications especially those used for attention-deficit disorders such as Adderall.

The use of smart drugs appears wide spread in colleges and the professions. Their short term and long-term impact on those seeking higher cognitive performance has not been studied.  Smart pills are so popular they even star in movies. Just released, the movie  Limitless stars a smart pill to access the other 90% of your brain.  It transforms your life. But there is a catch.

Interested to hear from readers that use smart pills to enhance brain function or cognitive performance. What do you take, how much and how does it work?

19 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - March 26, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Categories: Memory and Learning, Mental Focus   Tags: ,

Phosphatidylserine Improves Thinking in 10 Days

Phosphatidylserine is a supplement that some claim can stave off cognitive decline in the elderly and boost memory, learning, mood and decision-making in people of all ages.  I have seen conflicting studies so I am always on the look out for new ones that are done with great scientific rigor and that might help settle the issue.

Found one recently that was presented at the 7th Annual International Society of Sports Nutrition Conference.  It was a small study but it was double blinded and placebo controlled. You can read about it in, Study Shows PS Use Improves Cognition Prior To Exercise.

Here is the key finding:

“Cognitive performance was measured by the serial subtraction test (SST), a validated method in which subjects repeatedly subtract from 1,579 by intervals of seven.  PS supplementation did reduce the time needed for a correct calculation by 21%, reduced the total amount of errors by 38% and increased the amount of correct calculations per error by 42% prior to exercise.”

To achieve this effect athletes took 400 mg a day for 10 days.   I don’t think “safe and effective” dose guidelines have been established I have seen other studies and recommendations that use between 300-500mg daily.

I am not advocating the use of this supplement. I am however, interested in hearing from readers that use it. What dose, how long and what kind of benefits or side effects are you experiencing?

19 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - July 4, 2010 at 4:10 am

Categories: Cognitive Decline, Decision Making, Diet, Manage Emotions, Memory and Learning   Tags:

Use Off Prescription Drugs to Enhance Cognition?

Drugs designed for Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, narcolepsy and other neurological disorders are finding new off-prescription use as cognitive enhancers. Students, professionals and many other citizen have reported using prescription-only drugs such as Aderaal (a form of ritlan for ADHD) and Modafinil (a stimulant used to treate narcolepsy) to boost mental performance.  Typical non-medical uses of these  “smart drugs” include efforts to improve concentration, enhance memory and create mental energy.

Using smart drugs without a prescription is illegal but they are easily available on the internet and from street sources.  As reported in the commentary, Toward  responsible use of  cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy, in the prestigious scientific journal Nature:

“Today, on university campuses around the world, students are striking deals to buy and sell prescription drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin — not to get high, but to get higher grades, to provide an edge over their fellow students or to increase in some measurable way their capacity for learning.”

And it is not just students but professors, physicians, lawyers, engineers and many other professionals.

Not surprising there is little or no scientific evidence that these drugs work to enhance cognitive performance of healthy people.  However, the subjective effect of increased mental energy seems unmistakable.

With many people experimenting with smart drugs, and a growing number of calls for studying their use to achieve peak cognitive performance, they will be a frequent topic in the Next Brain Blog.

Please leave a comment if you have experience in using smart drugs that you want to share with other readers.

Source:  Image of Smart Drugs

4 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - March 20, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Categories: College Student, Lifestyle, Memory and Learning, Mental Focus, Professional   Tags: ,