A word on Cognitive Enhancement
A brief introduction to cognitive enhancement is important before discussing smart drugs. It is because the whole concept of smart drugs revolves around it. Cognitive enhancement is the amplification or extension of the core capacity of the mind by improving the internal and external information processing systems. In simple words, it is having an alert and focused mind on concentrating and being productive for a prolonged period.
There are two ways of achieving cognitive enhancement. Firstly, by maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle, abstaining from smoking or drinking, and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule. Secondly, using cognitive enhancers or pharmacological medications that help achieve enhancement.
What are Smart Drugs?
Smart drugs are another name for cognitive enhancers that are taken to enhance cognitive qualities. Also called nootropics, smart drugs are a heterogeneous or mixed group of chemical substances whose function is to work on the brain to improve memory, attention, learning performance and increase the creativity level of the person taking them. Nootropics can be obtained either over the counter in supplements or as prescription medication used for sleep disorders.
While prescription medications are strictly a prescription for sleep disorders to be obtained, the generic versions are more readily available and recognized off label as ‘smart drugs. These work by inhibiting the dopamine and noradrenaline receptors of the brain. The aim is to increase the dopamine and noradrenaline levels responsible for mental stimulation, which results in heightened cognitive enhancement. Modafinil, Ritalin and Warfarin are some of the popular names.
Why is it so much in Hype?
The year 2011 saw a steep rise in the use of nootropics among the public. Students, Pilots, sportsperson, entrepreneurs and even medical professionals have sworn on its efficacy and advocated its use for improving academic performance. Smart drugs have been proved as providing twelve hours of heightened and improved concentration, focus, stamina and mental alertness. Though it is good news for the manufacturing companies, the same has been bothering medical professionals and researchers.
While smart drugs are a part of the nootropics family that have been pharmacologically approved for cognitive enhancement, there is another side of nootropics. These contain substances that are prescribed over the counter and passed off as ‘smart drugs’ but have neither been FDA approved nor have had any satisfactory clinical trials or studies before to prove their safety and efficacy. Uncontrolled use of these medications can cause serious and irreversible problems in the brain functioning and overall system if misused or overused. Even more serious is the growing use of smart drugs in healthy individuals about the safety parameters. There has been no clinical trial or medically proven conclusion as yet.
A brief word on the Statistics
According to the current analysis of available reports and data, the global nootropics market was valued at 1.96 billion in 2018 and was expected to touch 5.32 billion by 2026, with a growth rate of 13.2%. Various surveys have shown that as opposed to the 5% growth in nootropics as mental stimulants in 2015, the past few years have shown an almost 14% growth from 2017 till now. According to the survey, the US recorded a 30% growth in smart drugs while the United Kingdom and France have recorded a 23% and 16% increase rate, respectively. What worries more is that out of this percentage, only 4% of the consumption is through prescription. Around 10% of the users stated obtaining it from a dealer, while 6% reported getting it from a family member. A staggering 48% reported getting it from a ‘friend’.
Is it a good Sign?
To control the growing misuse of many prescription drugs, they have recently been declared as State IV medications. That means it is illegal to acquire them and keep them in your possession without a prescription. Possessing them illegally can lead to fines, cancellation of your license and even in the worst case, you may face a jail term. The smart drugs can sabotage years of your hard work and get you expelled from your university apart from giving you a mental boost. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. When used in the long term or overused, smart drugs can cause a range of complications from loss of appetite to mood disorders and even life-threatening issues like liver problems that need urgent, immediate medical attention.
Is there a solution for it?
The solution for this problem is a multilayered one. Smart drugs through regulation are not as strictly controlled as some other narcotic drugs. Their generic version can be obtained over the counters or ordered online. Though not as effective as the brand version, they manage to obtain quite many of its properties. There is comparatively no hassle in procuring them without tripping the law. But their use and subsequently overuse depend wholly on the user. Plus, they come with side effects and withdrawal symptoms, and that has no solution. You need to be aware of their bright and dark side and use them with discretion.
Take home factor
There is a thin line of difference between their use and misuse. Smart drugs used wisely can cause tremendous improvement in performance and lift your academic performance by impressive notches. When misused, they can make you liable to get arrested or face prosecution. While using them can make you feel better and help increase your self-esteem, their impact on your central nervous system can cause mood swings, depression and even affect your brain powers in case of complications. We need to carefully address the legal, social, and ethical factors associated with them before concluding. The government needs to conduct further research regarding their nootropic effects to create awareness among the public regarding their efficacy and safety standards.