More Working Class Americans Hooked on Cognitive-Boosting Drugs

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I had just started studying for the Bar Exam when I realized the extent of legal information I’d have to retain wasn’t humanly possible. Terrified of failing, I sought outside help in the form of a small white pill:  Adderall.

Within minutes of popping the “smart drug,” my focus sharpened, my motivation increased and my brain processed information like I was a superhero. In fact, my 15-hour study days seemed to fly by, and I found I couldn’t wait to crack open my Property textbook the next morning.

Now, years into my career, I often wonder, would I be better at my job if I had the daily cognitive boost I had back then? If so, have many in the working class gone this route?

The Dangerous Quest for Productivity

As it turns out, more and more white-collar professionals are turning to cognitive enhancing drugs to yield greater productivity.

In an analysis recently published in European Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers from the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School examined a drug called modafinil (brand name Provigil).

This prescription-only stimulant is used by doctors to treat patients suffering from the sleeping disorder narcolepsy; its effects create improved decision-making skills, precise planning and flexible thinking.

Like Adderall, the drug works by affecting the dopamine system and by improving the efficiency of neurotransmitters, the chemicals that relay signals between cells in the brain. As a result, users feel more alert and are able to perform complex cognitive tasks more effectively.

But its boost to the working memory is what makes it so particularly appealing. In fact, modafinil is believed to enhance the short-term memory by as much as 10 percent, through its influence on a neurotransmitter called glutamate.

Questions About Safety

But is modafinil safe in the long-term? Doctors are unsure how chronic use of this “smart drug” will affect healthy brain function down the road, but do agree that it has mild side effects and low abuse potential. But they do urge caution in acquiring this drug, as many have bought it off the internet from unreliable sources.

In 2013 alone, 9,610 illegal websites around the world selling counterfeit and unlicensed medicines had to be closed down. As a result, experts warn would-be buyers that there is no way of being sure they are getting authentic modafinil from the black market or from abroad, as the mystery pills could be sugar-coated placebos, made from expired ingredients or, even worse, toxic concoctions.


Additional Reading: Study: Abuse of ADHD Meds is Beginning Earlier


Image Source: iStock

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