Brain boost drugs 'growing trend'

By KomodoMK · Oct 13, 2008 · ·
  1. KomodoMK

    Increasing numbers of people are using prescription drugs like Ritalin to boost alertness and brain power, say experts.

    Up to a fifth of adults, including college students and shift workers, may be using cognitive enhancers, a poll of 1,400 by Nature journal suggests.

    Neuropsychologist Professor Barbara Sahakian of Cambridge University said safety evidence is urgently needed.

    Experts gather to debate this topic at a meeting in London on Monday evening.

    Professor Sahakian's own work shows 17% of students in some US universities admit to using the stimulant Ritalin (methylphenidate) - a drug designed to treat hyperactive children - to maximise their learning power.

    One in five of the 1,400 people who responded to the Nature survey said they had taken Ritalin, Provigil (modafinil) or beta-blockers for non-medical reasons. They used them to stimulate focus, concentration or memory.

    Of that one in five, 62% had taken Ritalin and 44% Provigil - a drug normally prescribed to alleviating daytime tiredness in people suffering from the rare sleep disorder narcolepsy.

    Most users had somehow obtained their drugs on prescription or else bought them over the internet.

    Although these are only snapshots of use, Professor Sahakian says it does suggest these drugs are becoming more popular.

    Professor Sahakian said given the increasing use of these drugs outside of their intended clinical setting, safety trials were urgently needed.

    "We do not really have long-term efficacy and safety data in healthy people. These are studies that really need to be done.

    "The use of these cognitive enhancing drugs is spreading to younger and younger people. That's a concern.

    "Methylphenidate does have substantial abusive potential so we have to be worried about substance abuse problems and the use of these drugs in the developing brain in children."

    John Harris, professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester said people should be allowed to make their own minds up about these drugs.

    He said: "If these cognitive enhancing drugs make our lives better and make us better able to concentrate and better able to perform, this would surely be a good thing."

    The debate will be heard at Kings Place, London.


    Share This Article


  1. chillinwill
    Let students take drugs to boost brainpower, says leading academic

    Students should be allowed to take “smart drugs”, such as Ritalin, to help boost their academic performance, a leading academic has suggested.

    John Harris, professor of bioethics and director of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester, said the government and medical profession should “seriously consider” making cognition-enhancing drugs available to students without prescription, or allowing them to be prescribed for non-therapeutic purposes, such as studying.

    Students have long used drugs to boost their study performance. Caffeine and ginseng are traditional favourites. But recently the use of more powerful, restricted drugs, particularly the anti-hyperactivity medicine Ritalin, has spread from campuses in the US.

    Currently such drugs are available only on prescription. Although many students buy them on the internet, their use without a prescription is a criminal offence.

    But Professor Harris, joint Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Medical Ethics, said that serious consideration should now be given to making some of them available on prescription for non-medical reasons, specifically for the purpose of enhancing cognitive performance.

    There was now a sizeable body of evidence to show that stimulants such as Ritalin, Provigil and Adderall significantly improve concentration and performance and their side effects were proportional to their benefits, he said.

    Many prescription drugs, such as the contraceptive pill or sleeping pills given to air travellers, were already prescribed for non-therapeutic reasons, he added.

    “Viagra has a medical use, but it is well know that the sales figures are far in excess of the level of dysfunction in society,” he told the Times Higher Education magazine.

    Professor Harris said he was calling for universities and the government to recognise that there was nothing wrong in principle with trying to improve cognitive function.

    If the government did accept this idea and changed the law accordingly, universities would have to develop policies on use of drugs before exams, he added.

    “The issue would move from legitimacy to one of fairness and cost,” he said.

    Professor Harris, who published his views in a commentary in the journal Nature earlier this month, said it would be helpful to determine precisely how widely used such drugs were by bringing the debate about their use into the open.

    “If, as seems probable, they continue to prove safe to use and they have advantageous effects in terms of cognitive enhancement, it would make sense to try to maximise their benefits,” he said.

    Up to now the debate on performance-enhancing drugs within British universities has focused primarily on the health risks faced by students taking prescription drugs.

    There are also questions of fairness as some have questioned why performance-enhancing drugs should be allowed for students in exams, when the practice is banned in sport.

    But students appear not to share these concerns and their use is believed to be widespread.

    In recent years Modafinil, a powerful drug stocked by the Army to keep combat troops alert and used medicinally to treat sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, has also becoming popular on university campuses. Drug trials suggest that it is highly effective at enhancing short-term memory and enabling users to stay up for extended periods.

    By Alexandra Frean, Education Editor
    Posted on January 1, 2009
    Times Online
To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!