22 March 2009

Drugs for smart brains?

When I did my finals at university, I must admit to taking “pro-plus” pills as a boost to keep me going – each giving a caffeine boost, the equivalent of multiple cups of coffee, but without the jitters. I am not sure they made me smarter, but they did keep me awake and enable me to get through a huge amount of last minute work.

So called smart drugs or cognitive enhancers such as Modafinil, Ritalin and Aricept, originally designed to treat medical conditions are now routinely taken without prescription in the US according to this month’s Zest magazine. In the UK they are still regarded as class B drugs although there is interest in their use here – for instance the British Armed Forces are testing them for use during combat. Smart drugs target specific parts of the brain, changing the balance of chemical neurotransmitters to improve memory recall, attention, focus, speed of decision making. But more work needs to be done on side effects – such as depression or enhancing traumatic memories. Drugs that boost memory could also fill our brains with clutter – we may find it difficult to prioritise what to discard. 25 years on from my finals, “pro-plus” pills long gone from my medicine cabinet, until we know more about side effects, I think I will just stick to exercise and sleep to boost my brain power.


  1. With regard to drugs and memory, you might like to have a look at an article that appeared in the Telegraph about a man who found his memory was deteriorating to the point where he thought he was suffering from dementia. It turned out to be a side-effect of the statins he was taking to reduce his cholesterol levels.

    This came as news to me because everything I hear about statins is that they are a wonder drug that “everyone should take” and they have “no side-effects”.

    However, the association between statins and memory loss appears to be relatively well known. For example, in a survey in Holland of 4,738 patients taking statins, a quarter reported physical or mental side effects and 13% reported memory loss.

    Perhaps not such a “wonder drug” after all.

    Here is a link to the Telegraph article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/4974840/Wonder-drug-that-stole-my-memory.html

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