Smartness In A Bottle: Nootropics Reach Concern Levels In Students
    By News Staff | September 30th 2009 08:24 PM | 11 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Estimates can be funny things because usually they're brought up by people with agendas rather than people interested in objective analysis.  Some estimates in competitive sports put athletic doping usage at 95%, for example, which sounds ridiculously high unless your slippery slope meter works overtime.

    What about academia?   The non-medical use of methylphenidate and amphetamine is as high as 25% on some US college campuses, particularly in colleges with more competitive admission criteria, says Vince Cakic of the Department of Psychology at the University of Sydney.  And the use of smart drugs - "nootropics" - to boost academic performance is increasing.

    Nootropics were designed to help people with cognitive problems, such as dementia and attention deficit disorder, but students with a looming deadline have several options: modafinil (Provigil), methylphenidate (Ritalin), and amphetamine (Dexedrine).  For boosting memory retention, there's brahmi, piracetam (Nootropil), donepezil (Aricept) and galantamine (Reminyl). And for a bit more zip, there's selegiline (Deprenyl).

    Athletes face routine testing for doping.   Will students have to submit blood and urine samples before exams in order to keep the playing field level?

    It could happen, says an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics.   And maybe it should.   Everyone recognizes the illegitimacy of chemically enhanced academic performance but these drugs will be near impossible to ban.

    "It is apparent that the failures and inconsistencies inherent in anti doping policy in sport will be mirrored in academia unless a reasonable and realistic approach to the issue of nootropics is adopted," Cakic claims.   "As laughable as it may seem, it is possible that scenarios such as this could very well come to fruition in the future. However, given that the benefits of nootropics could also be derived from periods of study at any time leading up to examinations, this would also require drug testing during non-exam periods.

    "If the current situation in competitive sport is anything to go by, any attempt to prohibit the use of nootropics will probably be difficult or inordinately expensive to police effectively."

    The impact of these drugs is as yet "modest," says Mr Cakic, but more potent versions are in the pipeline. "The possibility of purchasing 'smartness in a bottle' is likely to have broad appeal to students" seeking to gain an advantage in an increasingly competitive world, says Cakic.

    But the argument that these drugs should be banned for non-medical use because they confer unfair advantage is rather like suggesting private tuition be banned, contends Mr Cakic. These drugs might even level the playing field for those who have been disadvantaged, he suggests.

    The long term safety of smart drugs in healthy people is unknown, and this might prove a good, and perhaps the only, reason to attempt to restrict their use.  Cakic points to the use of caffeine, which is known to enhance sporting performance. It is a form of 'cheating' that is tolerated, he says, because it is relatively harmless.


    I am amazed and somewhat amused at the recent furor over this topic. Many of us have been stacking OTC compounds with purported nootropic benefits since the late 80's in the hopes of gaining an edge. DMAE with PABA buffers, Acetylcholine precursors, ephedra, white willow (the original asprin) and the list goes on. Most supplied a short lived placebo effect, while a few render real benefits --- if you were able to tolerate the side effects.

    The drugs you list are controlled substances and, while readily available for legitimate medical purposes, are typically administered under the watchful gaze of a physician. There will be some who procure the drugs through illegal channels and there will be some who abuse the drugs even with doctor supervision.

    However, for the vast majority of us who use these drugs to address legitimate medical needs and receive an ancillary boost, so be it. The flu vaccine provides millions the ability to resist the everchanging kalidescope of virus mutations while there is a real and documented risk that a small percentage may suffer horrible side effects up to and including death. I have yet to see any articles fretting over the risk the recent flu vaccine poses.

    When will we stop trying to legislate personal responsibility and common sense?


    Potions, potions!  What would J.K.Rowling make of this?

    As not only JK, but also GK noted ("The Demons and the Philosophers", HTML of chapter,  or PDF of the whole book), there are always those who would seek to gain the edge by going over to the dark side.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    it is ridiculous to limit the use of these.

    the author says it best:
    >> These drugs might even level the playing field for those who have been disadvantaged, he suggests.

    this is the whole point of these drugs. so to ban them is wrong headed.

    not only that. but if some drug increases the uptake of knowledge without damage to the host, so the better!

    >> "Everyone recognizes the illegitimacy of chemically enhanced academic performance but these drugs will be near impossible to ban."

    I call b**lsh*t on this. If anything it's a controversial topic. Certainly not "everyone". I would almost argue it's actually "no one" except for the press and whiny people.

    More intelligent than the above dubious statement from the article:
    >>>>These drugs might even level the playing field for those who have been disadvantaged (it's why we have them as prescription medication!)
    >> if some drug increases the uptake of knowledge without damage to the host, so the better! (amen)

    I unreservedly disagree with the assertion that

    "Everyone recognizes the illegitimacy of chemically enhanced academic performance".

    Academia is not comparable to athletics. It is not just a game. If people use nootropics to increase their memory retention, or their intelligence then surely society would see an overall benefit from having a greater number of smarter people.

    The argument of conferring an unfair advantage is another one that seems ridiculous to me. Nootropics are a drop in the ocean compared to the advantages that students receive by going to a good school, having good teachers, private tuition, and coming from a wealthy background.

    Yeah, sorry - "everyone"?

    For starters, let's consider a hugely common academic enhancement (chemical, of course) which is common both at colleges and workplaces all over the country... in some cases, even young children begin to use it, and quickly become addicted. Its costs vary, but it's generally affordable enough that it has pervaded millions upon millions of american homes...

    what is it?


    : )

    Obama's FDA is working to start reviewing all these dangerous supplements. Baby steps, they have started with limiting the dosage of painkillers and other OTC medications. These things are dangerous and smaller dosages are better because people are not that responsible. This is a good start and soon we will see a broader review of OTC supplements that havent been proven to be effective or gotten FDA approval.

    This article is based on so many unestablished assumptions it makes one wonder if the author should perhaps consider nootropics for himself. The use of "performance enhancing substances" in athletics is a blurred and controversial subject; to take a stand on one side of that line and extrapolate to other unrelated fields is ridiculous. Rather than beat this naive, if well meaning, horse I'll merely suggest "Harrison Bergeron" as a sort of handicap access to the track the rest of us are running.

    I have immense problems with procrastinator, concentration and focus. When I was younger I was diagnosed with ADHD and never treated for it. Despite that I excelled in primary and secondary school; when I wanted I was an A-B student. WIth college I also excelled and now I am faltering; it seems to me my ability to think and comprehend new subjects has waned and it difficult for me. Is it because of some psychological problem, poor nutrition, physical or maybe I'm just undisciplined/lazy or perhaps it's all in my head. Whatever the reason I am not going to artificially manipulate my brain chemistry. Is it ethical, perhaps but is it fair NO. It's pathetic in a sense that the only way one can compete the talented and to reach a desire level of skill(may that be average or superior) is by drugs when most don''t. And beyond reasons of dignity and fairness; I'm greatly concerned about the long-term side-effects.
    I think that it's extremely dangerous to alter the mechanics of the brain with powerful drugs aimed to manipulate the process of the brain when for non-medical reasons. The long-term effects are unknown and on the basic premise that our brains were not designed to be manipulated by chemical altering drugs that using nootropics will lead to result that is damaging.

    I have to agree that taking stuff such as amphetamines (Ritalin, Concerta and such) - especially if you don't "really" need them - should be avoided. If for nothing else - then for the very easy addiction and because we still don't know it's long term effects. Both reasons actually put amphetamines outside of nootropics group if you ask me.

    However there are things, such as mentioned Piracetam (the original nootropic by which the term was coined) that provide the very noticeable mental boost, with next to no side effects - and it has been extensively used for the past half a century or so - so any long term effects would have been found out.

    I actually wrote an article about the nootropics on my blog.

    Using nootropics to increase your mental ability before your test isn't cheating. Using theft, hacking, etc. to increase your knowledge of the answers and material before the test is cheating. Are we going to ban healthy eating for students because it may increase their mental ability?

    I mean, if you had a theoretical nootropic drug that significantly increases intelligence with no bad side effects, all I'd have to say is "The spice must flow."