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'Smart Drug' Provigil Improves Memory And Cognitive Function, But Is It Ethical To Use It?

Stashed in: Brain, Awesome, Mexico, Ethics, Drugs!, Medicine, Memory, Memory!, Mental Health

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Modafinil -- or Provigil, as you may know it -- is mostly known as "the drug that makes you stay awake", and has allegedly been used for that purpose in warfighting scenarios... but it turns out that it helps your higher-level brain functions too. In a society where teenagers at top high schools are routinely given addictive amphetamines by their parents to be more "competitive" academically, it's just a matter of time before this stuff hits the street. Oh, and it's available without a prescription in Mexico.

Worse, it has no bad side effects:

surprisingly, the team observed that 70 percent of past studies discovered modafinil has very little negative side effects. In fact, most who took the drug for cognitive enhancement reported no shift in mood — those who did report side effects, though, said they experienced insomnia, headache, and nausea. Researchers note that these side effects were also reported with participants taking the placebo.

The question now remains: Should we promote a drug that enhances human thinking within people that experience no previous problems, or is this, in some way, cheating?

It helps with decision making too? Sounds like a candidate to put in the water supply.

When it comes to focusing and retaining information, most people wish they had an easy fix. If only we could just take a pill before a test or big speech that would help us remember details flawlessly, we wouldn’t have to struggle over cramming the night before, only to drink five cups of coffee the following day. Well, a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford is finding that the narcolepsy drug modafinil may enhance our cognitive abilities. As to whether or not this “smart pill” will ever be available for use, though, has yet to be determined.

Though modafinil is known to help sleep disorders, many people admit to using it to help concentration and alertness. Up until now, researchers have examined how the drug helps sleep-deprived people cope with focusing during the day, but a team at Oxford wanted to take this one step further and examine how modafinil affects the cognitive abilities of well-rested people, the demographic thought to be taking it most. In the new findings, published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers found that the drug can help enhance cognition, but for a specific set of tasks.

To see how modafinil is impacting its users, Dr. Ruairidh Battleday and Dr. Anna-Katherine Brem from Oxford and Harvard Medical School looked at studies involving cognitive improvement and modafinil from January 1990 to December 2014. Out of all the papers they looked at, the team found 24 dealing with how modafinil can assist in decision making, planning, flexibility in learning, memory, and creativity. But, after looking closely into the studies, researchers found that modafinil only worked depending on the task at hand. For example, modafinil was found to be more useful for more complex forms of thinking, assisting with faculties like executive function or consolidating memory.

And already available over the counter in Mexico?

Yeah, it's just a matter of time before a lot of people are on this drug. 

Modafinil is an interesting compound that seems to be a focus point for growing interest in nootropics or "smart drugs". These drugs are commonly stimulants such as caffeine but can include other drugs with abuse potential such as amphetamines. While originally prescribed for narcolepsy, the drug is popular in the nootropic community. Adrafinil is the prodrug which is primarily metabolized into modafinil. Adrafinil is not approved by the FDA, so it is currently unregulated in the US and can easily be purchased online.

The interest in nootrophins is related to increased attention being given to the use of nutritional supplements or naturally occurring compounds to treat brain injury and disease. This "nutraceutical " approach is being explored by pharma companies and makers of nutritional supplements. For example, several investigators are studying  omega-3 fatty acids (DHA) found in abundance in some oceanic fish as a potential therapy for traumatic brain injury (TBI) including concussions. The brain also contains endogenous cannabinoid receptors, and other research is exploring manipulation of the Endocannabinoid System for treatment of TBI and juvenile epilepsy. Two recent Phase lll clinical trials failed to show the efficacy of progesterone for treatment of severe TBI. 

Adam is correct to question the ethical and regulatory questions raised by this rapidly expanding area. Interested parties should carefully inform themselves.  In the meantime, I take large amounts of fish oils rich in omega-3 and rely on my robust placebo response!   

ronald l hayes

I truly wonder if fish oil supplements have the same efficacy as actually eating fish.

But if you're relying on a placebo response then I guess it doesn't matter. :)

Also, I didn't realize that fish oil is good for traumatic brain injury therapy!

Modafinil, on the other hand, is no placebo.

I tell people I know using it to proceed cautiously because there may be unintended consequences.

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