Experts Call for More Studies on Cognitive-Enhancing Drugs

April 8, 2015
Philip Ward

Philip Ward is ACT's European editor, phone +44 1244 538583, philipward1@btconnect.com

Applied Clinical Trials

The use and number of cognitive-enhancing drugs is likely to grow substantially in the coming years, and researchers must prioritize the potential advantages and dangers of their use in healthy subjects, according to U.K. neuroscientists writing in The Lancet Psychiatry journal.

The use and number of cognitive-enhancing drugs is likely to grow substantially in the coming years, and researchers must prioritize the potential advantages and dangers of their use in healthy subjects, according to U.K. neuroscientists writing in The Lancet Psychiatry journal.

“Reliable evidence is crucial for a balanced view on the risks and benefits of these drugs and to set out clear regulatory guidelines for their use,” wrote Prof. Barbara Sahakian and Dr. Sharon Morein-Zamir from the University of Cambridge, adding that the government, pharmaceutical industry, and national medical organizations need to work together to look at the harms and benefits of long-term use of cognitive-enhancing drugs.

Drugs such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) and modafinil (Provigil) are being used by healthy individuals to improve concentration, memory, and other aspects of cognitive performance, but very little is known about the long-term effects of this non-medical use, noted the authors. People are using the drugs to gain a competitive edge at school, university, or work, and for maintaining attention and performance when sleep-deprived or jet-lagged, and student use in the U.S. varies between 5% and 35%, they wrote. This might only be the tip of the iceberg and is unlikely to be representative of usage in professional or older populations, they added.

Most cognitive enhancers have been developed by the pharmaceutical industry to treat the effects of impaired cognition in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, and schizophrenia. But non-medical use raises safety and ethical concerns including side effects and potential abuse, particularly from sourcing on the internet, according to Sahakian and Morein-Zamer.

“Present cognitive-enhancing drugs have wide ranging effects and side effects and are not predictable. We also know next to nothing about their long-terms effects in healthy people,” they pointed out.

 

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