Smart drugs(cognitive enhancers) have often been used to treat people with neurological or mental disorders, but there is a growing number of healthy, normal people, especially students who use these substances because they want to get smarter. RALIAT AHMED writes
In the past couple of years, the in-thing amongst students and academics in the developed world to become smarter in their studies, exams and lecturing has pushed them to taking what has been generically referred to as smart drugs or cognitive enhancers.
Medically referred to as nootropics, smart drugs are any chemicals ingested to improve mental performance. Some improve overall IQ, while others are more focused, e.g. on memory boosting or attention span or creativity.
Students who use this substance go on the internet to purchase them with the aim that it will make them not only cope with work stress but to be even smarter and become geniuses and also to raise their IQ levels.
As a result of the ease of purchase on the internet, its use has become widespread and prevalent.
There are various types of smart drugs ranging from Hydergine - a “smart drug” that dilates the blood vessels of the brain, Piracetam ,Aniracetam ,Minaprine,Oxiracetam, Pramiracetam but Modafinil is one of the new neuro-enhancing smart drugs now being taken by growing numbers of students.
At present, there are several drugs on the market that improve memory, concentration, and planning, and reduce impulsive behaviour. Many more are in different stages of development. The most commonly used class of drug is stimulants.
These drugs are used primarily to treat people with cognitive difficulties such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, more widespread use is being recommended by some researchers.
These drugs have a variety of human enhancement applications as well, and are marketed heavily on the Internet. Nevertheless, intense marketing may not correlate with efficacy. While scientific studies support some of the claimed benefits, it is worth noting that many of the claims attributed to most nootropics have not been formally tested.
According to medical experts, nootropics work by altering the availability of the brain’s supply of neuro-chemicals , by improving the supply of oxygen to the brain or by stimulating nerve growth. However, the efficacy of nootropic substances, in most cases, has not been conclusively determined because of the difficulty of defining and quantifying cognition and intelligence.
How smart drugs work to switch on the brain varies. It may work by increasing one or more brain neurotransmitters (cascading), increasing blood flow to the brain (flooding), increasing permeability of neurons membranes (plasticity), and some even go as far as turning on smart genes (upgrading).
Pharmacist Bashir Akinwunmi explains: “Whilst there are varieties of smart drugs to choose from for European students, in our environment those drugs are not available. For Nigerian students it is a question of when what is desirable is not available, and then improvisation becomes the way out as there are an array of alternatives which have the same desired effect”.
Explaining further ,Akinwunmi says students use day to day harmless but potent over the counter drugs without prescription such as Alabukun Powder, Panadol extra, Kolanuts, black coffee etc , all which are not only affordable but act as stimulants with caffeine and aspirin (acetyl salicylic acid) content which keep the students awake. Caffeine content in alabukun powder is about 60mg, while in Panadol extra it is 30mg.
He notes that the biggest danger of smart drugs is psychological dependence. “When it is taken always as the easy way out, i.e. A dose for every study session, it may be difficult to study natural after feeling the power of smart drugs’’, he adds.
“Smart drugs do have associated side effects and should only be taken on the advice of a doctor because the more one uses it the higher the chance of side effect which can result in serious things like heat attacks and psychoses”, he advised.
Some studies suggest that cognitive enhancers do improve some types of learning and memory, but many others are of the view that these substances have no effect. The strongest evidence for these substances is for the improvement of cognitive function in people with brain injury or diseases.
Although companies that sell smart drugs will try to convince people that these drugs work, the evidence for any significant effects of these substances in normal people is weak. There are also important side-effects that must be considered. Many of these substances affect neurotransmitters systems in the central nervous system. The effects of these chemicals on neurological function and behaviour are unknown.
Moreover, the long-term safety of these substances has not been adequately tested. Also, the possibility that these substances will interact with other substances a person might take is untested. Some may be dangerous if a person stops taking it suddenly.