Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Researchers Call for More Study on the Effects of Healthy Individuals' Use of Cognitive-Enhancing Drugs

The use of cognitive-enhancing drugs—ordinarily prescribed to control attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), slow memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients, or promote wakefulness—appears to be growing among healthy individuals and the phenomenon deserves closer attention from researchers, clinicians, regulators, and the pharmaceutical industry, said neuroscientists Barbara Sahakian, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge; and Sharon Morein-Zamir, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge.

“[T]he main uses of pharmacological cognitive enhancers by healthy individuals seem to be for achievement of a competitive advantage at school, university, or work; to maintain levels of attention and performance when sleep deprived or jet-lagged; and to improve task-related motivation,” wrote Sahakian and Morein-Zamir online in The Lancet yesterday.

Researchers noted the effects of these drugs (sometimes referred to as "smart drugs") on healthy individuals are actually quite small, but too little is known about who uses them, under what circumstances, whether they are used acutely or chronically, or what effects they could have on the developing brains of young users.

“We conclude that more immediate action is needed to establish the long-term risks and benefits of pharmacological cognitive enhancers for healthy people and to continue to develop novel, more effective pharmacological cognitive enhancers for people with impairments associated with brain injury or neuropsychiatric disorders,” they said.

To read more about the need for research into cognition, see the Psychiatric News article “IOM Tackles Standards on Cognition in Depression.”

--aml (Image: Constantine Pankin/


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