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July 13, 2005

Brain-boost drugs could become as common as a cup of coffee

Topics: Medicine

Sscientists predict that one day healthy people, including children, might take drugs to boost their intelligence (such compounds are called nootropics). The scenario was outlined by the think-tank Foresight (now called Foresight Nanotech Institute), in an independent report looking at potential developments over the next 20 years. They see such "cognitive enhancers" as becoming as "common as coffee," and even opined that some time in the future, children taking exams might face having to take drug tests, as athletes do, to see if they've taken any 'performance enhancing substances'.

- BBC News

(...) Some drugs are already known to aid mental performance:

(...) Ritalin, now prescribed to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), has already been used by some students to improve their performance in exams.

(...) Modafinil, used now to treat sleep disorders, has been shown to help people remember numbers more effectively.

(...) It can also make people think more carefully before making decisions.

(...) There is also a type of molecule called ampakins(I think the journalist means "ampakines"), which enhance the way some chemical receptors in the brain work, suggesting drugs could be developed to improve people's memory when they are tired.

(...) But the availability of such drugs would open up a range of social and ethical questions, including whether it should be permitted for people to use them to gain advantage over others.

However, making nootropics as common as a cup of coffee has it's downsides, it's not all roses. Nootropics can have serious side-effects like any other drug, and those effects can be far-reaching, especially when taken with other drugs and supplements.

The BBC News article doesn't address the big catch - the complex interplay between cognition and mood(link takes you to a plethura of general info). I'm no psychiatrist, and certainly no expert on nootropics. But great care should be taken before tampering with the noradrenaline-acetylcholine axis, as the linked site suggests. Thought-frenzied hypercholinergic states, for instance, are characteristic of one "noradrenergic" sub-type of depression. A predominance of forebrain cholinergic activity, frequently triggered by chronic uncontrolled stress, can lead to a reduced sensitivity to reward, an inability to sustain effort, and behavioural suppression. None of these side-effects are what you want to see exhibited in your child.

Posted by Hyscience at July 13, 2005 9:04 PM

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