Commonly called nootropics, smart drugs, or cognitive enhancers, these drugs and supplements improve cognitive function in healthy people without a medical diagnosis. Let us take a quick look at a part of the history of the subject.
In 1954, the German company C. H. Boehringer Sohn put a new product on the market - pills for appetite reduction called Preludin (Generic Phenmetrazine). It was very popular and sold worldwide.
It would probably still be available in pharmacies today and obesity would have been eradicated - that is, if the consumers did not notice its side effects - Preludin have enhanced concentration, caused euphoria, and increased the libido... In short, appetite reduction pills became a favorite recreational drug that caused addiction and destroyed the mental health of many of its users.
Preludin was mostly used by students before exams for a full-time faster studying. In the early 70s, however, it was completely withdrawn from the market.
Afterwards, Plivin Revibol appeared. It had a similar effect and also gained popularity among students of medicine, pharmacy and other colleges.
Revibol was an amphetamine stimulant with certain medical indications, but was commonly used by students, who would stop using it only after graduation. The medicine was taken off the drugstore shelves somewhere in the late 70s.
Narcolepsy and ADHD medications
Students today still use nootropic drugs as stimulants and concentration pills. The most popular are Modafinil (also registered by the names Provigil, Modasomil, Vigil), intended for narcolepsy treatment, and Adderall (amphetamine) and Ritalin (Methylphenidate, Concerta), which are normally prescribed to patients with ADHD.
In 2014 study, an anonymous survey was conducted among 616 healthy students (without an ADHD or narcolepsy diagnosis) from most prestigious US universities. It was found that every fifth student used one of the mentioned drugs, mainly for essay writing and preparation and taking of exams. Exactly 33% students thought that the use of learning stimulus was not cheating, and 41% said that it was.
Taking seriously this widespread abuse of Modafinil, Ritalin and other drugs in the student population, a question arises as to what happens to these students after graduation. Is their acquired knowledge, skills and abilities at the level of their colleagues which graduated without pills for stimulation and concentration?
Their impact and success at work will surely show whether the results and ratings from the study were adequate. And yet, this is just a minor part of the problem.
Smart drugs in the business world
The much more serious problem, both from the health and the ethical point of view, concerns those students when they start a business career. What happens next? The pressure and the need to finish the task on time are nothing less significant than those of students. How do these people deal with the challenges of competition, the need to prove, and advance in their career?
We can assume that they will reach for pills again. But unlike students, in the business world this topic is not that known, and certainly, there are not exchanging experiences with colleagues. There are only a few anonymous testimonies, some of which can be found on forums about Modafinil and Ritalin.
The Financial Times states that "smart drugs are becoming very popular among lawyers, bankers and other professions, among people who are eager to gain a competitive advantage over their colleagues."
Surgeons from Imperial College of London tested Modafinil and found it helpful in working after night time off duties and published an expert article on it. The University of Oxford has released a study on the positive effect of Modafinil on decision-making, learning, and memory abilities.
Usage in military purposes
It is a public secret that the armed forces of various countries, and probably the police, use psychostimulants. The Times of India writes that the Indian air force pilots use legal pills to encourage alertness and cognitive skills. Pilots take Modafinil as an agent for action, and Zolpidem (Sanval, Lunata) against insomnia.
Weight loss aid
Modafinil and Ritalin are also used for their frequent accompanying effect - weight loss, just like Preludin in earlier days. These psychostimulants reduce the feeling of hunger. By stimulating mental performances, increasing energy, and improving motivation, according to some sources in the literature, these drugs also encourage making clever decisions, such as cessation of overeating, more exercise, and healthier lifestyle.
Is usage of such medications considered cheating? Is this a mental doping? Neuroscientists, psychiatrists, philosophers, moralists, businessmen and the general public are divided on this topic.
There is no dispute about Modafinil as a therapy for sleep disorders, and Adderall or Ritalin for ADHD among children. However, some US universities, such as the Duke University, have already stated in their regulations that besides plagiarism, transcription and using "cheat sheet", "unauthorized use of prescription drugs to encourage academic work" is considered cheating, too.
There are debates in the US about how employers should set themselves up against the use of nootropics among employees. Although aware of the illegal use of drugs, many would welcome better achievements of their employees, thus equating them with corporate stimulation by a healthy lifestyle, nutrition, and exercise.
Regardless of the divided opinions, nootropic drugs will obviously have an increasing number of ambitious users looking for business and career success.