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    Contest: Which Mental-performance Enhancing Chemicals Are Legal?
    By Lee Silver | February 21st 2007 10:35 AM | 17 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    The five chemicals shown in the picture below are all consumed by millions of Americans as a means for increasing alertness (sometimes some are used for other purposes as well).   But each has different effects on the human body in terms of addictiveness, carcinogenicity, acute toxicity, and actual effectiveness, as illustrated.  Based on this information, can you decide which is legal and which is not?
    Mental Performance Enhancing Chemicals

    Consumption of each chemical has a greater or lesser probability of causing addiction [***** means highly addictive, *** is somewhat addictive, (.) means not addictive if consumed as suggested but could be addictive if consumed by a non-standard means, the blank (5) is not addictive under any circumstances].  Consumption of one chemical (2) is associated with carcinogenicity. This chemical is also associated with acute toxicity, while three others [labeled (*)] are only toxic if consumed in very large amounts.  Finally, four of the chemicals are associated with a greater or lesser effectiveness at providing people with an increase in mental alertness (to perform better on a college exam, for example), while one doesn't do anything in this regard.

    OK.  Here's the premise for the contest.  One of these chemicals is legally available only through a difficult-to-obtain prescription (although many college students use it illegally). Another one can only be purchased by adults.  The other three can be purchased legally without age restrictions.  
    Which chemicals are in each of these legality classes?

    The first person to post a completely correct answer wins the contest.  (If you have a degree in chemistry or biochemistry, you are not eligible.)  Once the right answer is posted, I will reveal what each chemical is.


    Now I wish I stayed awake in High School Chemistry. I'll keep an eye out for the solutions!

    2 legal for adults
    4 with prescription

    Lee Silver
    Congratulations! You got the right answer in its simplest categorical form. Send me an email with your address to receive your prize.

    What is your email address? I don't see any convenient way to contact you.

    We don't have the contact form enabled for anonymous users to cut down spam. You can email admin[at]scientificblogging.com and we can route it to him though.

    1 is completely legal.

    2 can only be purchased by adults.

    3 has restrictions on its purchase in some places, mostly because it can be used as a precursor for making something else.

    4 requires a prescription.

    I'm not familiar with 5.

    #1 - Caffeine, OTC

    #2 - Nicotine - Purchase by those > 18 years of age

    #3 - Ephedrine, OTC*

    #4 - Methylphenidate, (need prescription) CII controlled Rx

    #5 - Lecithin?, OTC vitamin

    * ephedrine and pseudoephedrine sales are now restricted.

    It was a fun contest. Thanks!

    1. caffeine, legal
    2. nicotine, 18+
    3. ephedrine, not over-the-counter anymore, but used to be used in diet aids, now only found in pharmacies/hospitals for medical use.
    4. ritalin, perscription
    5. vitamin B12, legal

    Lee Silver

    You got the whole thing right.  Send me an email with your address and I'll send you the second prize.

    The ephedrine issue is still in flux mainly because herbal products containing ephedra (also called ma huang) provide a so-called natural source of the chemical. The FDA banned the sale of ephedra in 2004, but the ban was knocked down by a federal judge (for low dose formulations).    The FDA has argued that the judge misunderstood the law, and wants to reinstate the ban.  For now, the sale of ephedra is legal, although most dietary supplement companies are waiting to see how the law settles out before they start producing it.   But just last month, i walked into my local health food store and bought a bottle of capsules named "Ma-huang & Ginkgo Combination 548" produced by the Sun-Ten company. (This product is no longer listed on their website.)  As a good scientist, I popped two capsules to see if they really contained stimulant activity, and they did.

    The real question is the one that I didn't ask -- what purpose is served by banning some of these chemicals but not others???

    No 2 is nicotine, but in the box it is shown as carcinogenic. Is there evidence that nicotine itself is carcinogenic? According to wikipedia (I know, I know, but I don't have time for more a thorough look right now)

    "The carcinogenic properties of nicotine in standalone form, separate from tobacco smoke, have not been evaluated by the IARC, and it has not been assigned to an official carcinogen group."

    Lee Silver
    You're right -- nicotine is not carcinogenic. But to make the contest a bit more interesting, I chose my phraseology very carefully: "consumption is *associated with* carcinogenicity."  Nicotine does not "cause" cancer, but its consumption occurs (usually) in association with smoke containing tars and other cancer-causing chemicals.

    I can only guess that 1 is caffeine, 2 is nicotine, and 5 is THC.

    Marijuana would be the "available only through a difficult-to-obtain prescription"?

    Rereading the post I see that number 2 is "associated" with carcinogenicity so that makes sense now. My mistake :)

    1) Caffeine (legal for all)
    2) Nicotine (legal for adults)
    3) Ephedrine (decongestant -- legal for all in some places)
    4) Methylphenidate (Ritalin -- prescription only)
    5) Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12 -- legal for all)

    My (Bio)chemistry background is limited to freshman chem in college.


    #2 is readily available to adults only.
    #5 is available with a hard to obtain prescription.

    The other 3 occupy the last legal class: readily available to all.

    Lee Silver
    It's interesting that Vitamin B12 looks so much more scary than it really is.

    You should read about the miztique manufacturer. This is really an interesting matter that concerns the people with a lack of vitamins in their metabolism.