In a meta-analysis recently published in European Neuropsychopharmacology,researchers from the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School concluded that a drug called modafinil, which is typically used to treat sleep disorders, is a cognitive enhancer. Essentially, it can help normal people think better.
SOURC Clck Here
Out of all cognitive processes, modafinil was found to improve decision-making and planning the most in the 24 studies the authors reviewed. Some of the studies also showed gains in flexible thinking, combining information, or coping with novelty. The drug didn’t seem to influence creativity either way.
“What emerged was that the longer and the more complex the task, … the more consistently modafinil showed cognitive benefits,” said Anna-Katharine Brem, a neuropsychologist at Oxford and one of the paper’s authors, in an email.
Adderall and modafinil are different chemically, but their effects on cognition are similar, according to some psychiatrists. Adderall, or amphetamine, works by boosting the brain’s levels of norepinephrine and dopamine, two chemicals that are responsible for concentration and alertness.
Scientists are less sure how modafinil works. One pathway is by stimulating the release of histamine, which produces a sensation of wakefulness. (People with allergies may be familiar with histamine because many allergy drugs are antihistamines. Just as Benadryl dampens histamine and puts you to sleep, modafinil boosts it and wakes you up.) But modafinil also works on other neurotransmitter systems in the brain, and the resulting effect is one of allowing users to perform complex cognitive tasks more effectively.
Very few adults “are going to have a horrible effect from using these medicines,” James McGough, a clinical psychiatrist at UCLA, told me. “They’re safe.”
The side effects, he says, are no worse than having one too many coffees—jitteriness and stomach aches. According to him, people taking Adderall or modafinil at therapeutic doses don’t get addicted, in the sense that stopping their use doesn’t cause a painful withdrawal.
Adderall and modafinil are about equal when it comes to both their performance-enhancing capacity and side effects, McGough told me. Ruairidh Battleday, one of the authors of the modafinil paper, said the side effects and abuse potential of amphetamine seem worse to him than those of modafinil.
These are not hypothetical questions. Between technological enhancers like holographic computers and pharmacological ones like modafinil, more and more products are coming to market that will give well-heeled, busy consumers the means to become even more so. As Battleday says, “more agents for neuro-enhancement are undoubtedly on their way.”
Little is known about the long-term risks of pharmaceutical nootropics. What’s more, cognitive enhancement falls beyond the scope of medicine. The FDA doesn’t prioritize approving drugs for healthy people who want to become superheroes. Similarly, doctors aren’t allowed to prescribe medication to people who aren’t sick. “It’s cheating, by our current standards,” McGough says.
But if white-collar workers are pounding spreadsheets for 16 hours a day—as they reportedly are at companies like Amazon—those standards are bound to be questioned sooner rather than later.
SOURC Clck Here