Can Cognitive Enhancers Lead to Addiction?
The Dark Side of Smart Drugs
Nootropics (English pronunciation: noh-ə-TROP-iks), also known as smart drugs and cognitive enhancers, are drugs, supplements, and other substances that are believed to improve cognitive function. Particularly targeted are executive functions such as memory, creativity, or motivation.
The use of cognition-enhancing drugs by healthy individuals – in the absence of a medical indication – is one of the most debated topics among neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and physicians. The international sales of cognition-enhancing supplements exceeded US $1 billion in 2015; and the global demand for these compounds is still growing rapidly. Wikipedia, Nootropic
‘Smart drugs’ have no official designation or description. However, most references to smart drugs usually include Provigil (modafinil), Adderall and Ritalin.
‘Cognition Hacking’ Among University Students and Working Professionals
Recent studies suggest “smart drug” or “neuro-enhancing” cognition hacking is increasingly appealing to students and working professionals.
According to a Cherwell survey conducted in 2016 which received 662 responses – 15.6 per cent of students have knowingly taken Modafinil or another so-called ‘study drug’ without a prescription while studying at Oxford. Other study drugs include Ritalin and Adderall, both of which are used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The unauthorized use of prescription drugs such as the ADHD medications Adderall and Ritalin and the narcolepsy drug Modafinil is now common among American university students. A 2014 study found that 18% of sophomores, juniors, and seniors at Ivy League colleges had knowingly used a stimulant at least once during their academic career. Among those who had ever used uppers, 24% said they had popped a little helper on eight or more occasions.
‘Life Hacking’ enhancement is also on the rise within the workplace, where modafinil, which treats sleep disorders, has become particularly popular.
- Adderall is a prescription stimulant amphetamine. It is addictive and habit-forming; and has been associated with a higher risk of psychosis, heart attacks, and even sudden death.
- Ritalin is a prescription stimulant. It can cause dependency and addiction. Common side effects are nervousness, sweating, blurred vision, reduced appetite, weight loss, and nausea.
“Methylphenidate [Ritalin], which is thought to be a fairly innocuous compound, can have structural and biochemical effects in some regions of the brain that can be even greater than those of cocaine,” stated Dr. Yong Kim. Ritalin May Cause Changes In Brain’s Reward Areas; Effects May Overlap With Those Of Cocaine
- Provigil (modafinil) is not considered addictive; but it can cause dependency. Common side effects include fever, easy bruising or bleeding, hallucinations, depression, chest pain, fast/pounding/irregular heartbeat, or mental/mood changes (such as confusion, depression, hallucinations, rare thoughts of suicide).
Down Side to Modafinil
Modafinil, marketed as Provigil in the US, was first approved by the FDA in 1998 for the treatment of narcolepsy. Since then it has become better known as a nootropic, a “smart drug,” especially among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Modafinil is rumored to be the model for the fictional pills in the movie Limitless that allowed Bradley Cooper’s character to use 100 percent of his brain.
“The first downside noticed was in line with the film: He couldn’t drink. “I went out for a drink, and then I had another drink. And because I was so energized and focused, I got drunk faster. It kind of freaked me out, because time would sort of fly by. I’d be here, and then I’d be here. Almost like mini-blackouts. I very quickly cut out alcohol.” From The Real Limitless Drug Isn’t Just for Lifehackers Anymore
Smart Drugs and Paths to Addiction
Anecdotal evidence suggests that Modafinil enhances the effect of alcohol, cocaine and other addictive substances.
“The potency of cocaine in combination with 30 mg/kg of modafinil was more than 10-fold greater than that for cocaine alone,” From NIH Study, The Unique Psychostimulant Profile of Modafinil
Although more studies are needed, Modafinil appears to affect brain chemistry by blocking the reuptake of certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. The result is an over-abundance of dopamine.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Addictive drugs provide a shortcut to the brain’s reward system by flooding the brain with dopamine.
Brain Hacking – Leading to Addiction?
Unfortunately, brain hacking can come with a very high price in physical health and potential for addiction.
Negative side effects usually do not occur immediately. Some individuals can stay on a regimen of chemical ‘performance enhancing’ substances for a long time before noticing problems. These individuals often become functional addicts.
A common scenario and pathway to addiction for brain hackers.
- Modafinil (alertness enhancer), as well as Adderall and Ritalin (amphetamines) – cause difficulty in sleeping.
- To enable ‘instant’ sleep, individuals take prescription Opioids.
- Larger doses of Modafinil and Adderall are then needed to achieve the same alertness levels.
- Larger doses of Opioids are needed to relax and sleep.
- At this point, the individual has developed a dependency.
- If dependency is not halted, addiction will occur.
- With addiction, careers and personal relationships will suffer; or become unsustainable.
Getting Help Before Addiction Destroys Careers and Relationships
Possibly the ultimate ‘brain hack’ or performance enhancer is: knowing when to stop.
If performance and cognitive enhancing substances are beginning to cause problems in your life – it is time to consider the possibility of dependency and addiction.
Mindfulness with Whole Person Addiction Recovery
Long-term addiction recovery is dependent on discarding habitual behaviors – and instead engaging in new sober activities. Mindfulness means having the internal focus to be quietly aware of your own thoughts and impulses – without judgment or acting on the impulses.
Clients are introduced to new habits, rituals, and wellness techniques for mind, body and spirit. Holistic recovery in the residential program at New Start Recovery Solutions includes core addiction treatment along with mindfulness practices, yoga, tai chi and positive psychology.
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