A browse on psychic stimulants and cognitive enhancers
The term pharmac derives from the Greek pharmakon, which means “remedy, medicine, poison”. In English the word “drugs” is used. Are you used to thinking of drugs as a substance to get high, a drug as a principle to be taken to treat certain diseases, if instead you use this drug to become more intelligent, focused and to do your job better?
The consumption of so-called smart drugs among students is on the rise, according to a research by the Global Drug Survey published in Nature, in the USA more than 30% of university students have admitted to having taken smart drugs at least once. In Europe the trend is sharply increasing especially in France (from 3% to 16%) and in Great Britain (from 5% to 23%). Consumption affects not only students, but also workers and athletes.
These drugs are legal because they are normally used to treat certain ailments, and can be purchased safely at a pharmacy with a prescription. Only 4% of the people interviewed said they did it using this method, the rest bought them from sellers on the internet or obtained them through a friend.
It is a drug whose active ingredient is the combination of four amphetamine salts. It is used to treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and narcolepsy.
Its main mechanism of action is to increase the activity of the neurotransmitter dopamine and noradrenaline in the brain, plus it triggers the release of the synthesis of serotonin and some neuropeptides.
Some studies show that Adderall used in low doses produces an increase in long and short-term memory. Other effects are the increase in concentration, increase in task saliency (ie the motivation to complete a task) and in the state of alert.
Adderall is normally used by students (mainly Americans) to study long hours and complete tasks that are long and not very motivating. It is also used by athletes to increase not only mental skills but also physical ones, in which we have an increase in muscle strength, acceleration, endurance and enhancement of athletic performance in anaerobic conditions.
The main problem of Adderall is addiction: the consumer gradually becomes addicted to it and must take increasingly higher doses to have the same benefit; a constant for all drugs that act at the level of the dopaminergic mechanism. Added to it is a list of fairly common adverse effects such as: hypertension or hypotension, raynaud’s phenomenon and tachycardia, loss of appetite and possible weight loss. In males we can also have erectile dysfunction with reduced libido.
Methylphenidate hydrochloride (Ritalin)
It has a pharmacological mechanics very similar to adderall, even in the effects, both positive and negative. The main difference is the duration of the pharmacological effect, Ritalin reaches its peak of effect before adderall, but the latter has a longer-term effect (4-6 hours, compared to 2-3 hours of ritalin) . Ritalin is also predominantly used in the USA.
It is a drug mainly used to treat narcolepsy, it can also be used in OSAS (obstructive sleep apnea) and shift work sleep disorder.
The mechanism of action of modafinil is still poorly understood, according to recent research it seems to involve a small part of the metabolism of dopamine, acting on its transporters. Mainly the action against narcolepsy, however, would seem to be associated with its increase in histamine and noradrenaline levels in the brain, this mechanism would postpone the feeling of need for rest and increase concentration in performing a certain task.
Various studies have been carried out regarding the positive effects of modafinil. The benefits are an increase in concentration, working memory and reaction time. During the study of the substance, experiments were conducted in which individuals were subjected to a very complex task from a cognitive point of view: those who had taken the drug showed a higher concentration, and a faster development of the problems, with an increase in learning.
A very interesting study showed how chess players under the influence of modafinil were able to compete better against the computer.
Modafinil unlike Ritalin and Adderall is not addictive even for very long periods (> 40 weeks) and addiction. We do not see mood swings and all the other unwanted effects that the other smart drugs already listed have.
It has been found, however, that in the long term there may be alterations in the normal sleep architecture, even in some cases of young patients a problem linked to brain plasticity and memory formation has been observed. Obviously, as this is a relatively new molecule, further studies are needed to investigate the long-term issues.
Given the ever-growing audience of those who use these substances, ethical dilemmas arise regarding the correctness of using these drugs during examinations or tests. In sport, those who use prohibited substances are disqualified from competitions, should this also happen in the academic world?
Is taking a drug to pass an exam or to get a higher grade considered the same as copying? Society still doesn’t have an answer to this question.