In an attempt to be the best and excel, many college students and twenty-somethings take so-called "smart drugs" such as Adderall and Ritalin to boost their brain power. The belief is that these prescription medications -- typically used to help children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) concentrate -- will help adults without the disorder improve their focus and memory.
If you think that sounds like a surefire way to achieve above and beyond your potential, think again. Recent research that took place at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia found that those who took Adderall performed no better on tests of cognitive function.1 Interestingly, though, they believed that their performance was better due to the drug.
The 47 participants were all in their twenties and none had a diagnosis of ADHD. The scientists gave them cognitive tests that gauged working memory, intelligence, and memory of specific items. The volunteers were either given Adderall or a placebo prior to testing.
Those who took Adderall did no better at the testing than those who took the placebo. However, the subjects on Adderall were much more likely to state that the drug had improved their performance in testing. This actually makes sense, since Adderall is closely related to amphetamine and affects dopamine production in the brain, which stimulates the pleasure and reward center.
Previous studies had indicated that actual cognitive benefits can occur from taking "smart drugs" such as Adderall, especially in retaining information over the course of several days -- ideal for students studying for exams. However, even in the research that found some benefit in taking these drugs, the outcomes were not consistent. And outside of those few studies, many people who take the drugs experience absolutely no performance enhancement whatsoever.
Those who do get a boost are usually sub par in the particular area in which the drug has elevated them -- but it only gets them to the average mark. It will not elevate those at the high end any higher. In fact, it has been shown to actually hinder the performance of some of the brightest subjects who have been studied, which is ironic considering it's the very reason many of these ultra competitive people take it. When you think about it, instead of being "smart drugs," they behave more like "middle-of-the road drugs."
But even if you worry that you're in that bottom half and feel that a "smart drug" might give you a fighting chance to compete with others at school or work, are they worth the risk? Consider that Ritalin carries a black box warning issued by the FDA because of its highly addictive properties and potential for causing sudden death and serious cardiovascular damage. Ritalin's side effect list includes an astonishing array of potential problems, ranging from the development of Tourette's sydrome to insomnia, psychosis, hypertension, hair loss, anemia, tachycardia, and so on.
And, as if it's not bad enough that so many people are willing to take serious risks with their health to do better on a test than the next guy, what about the doctors who are prescribing these ADHD drugs to patients who exhibit no symptoms of the disorder? As we are well aware, all too many physicians are fine with the status quo of prescribing all of our problems away. Too many doctors rely on prescriptions for themselves and even admit to taking "smart drugs" themselves. ("Trust me! I'm a pusher.") Needless to say, this is a happy occurrence for the pharmaceutical industry executives who enthusiastically support these ADHD drug prescriptions to the tune of $3 billion per year in their company coffers.
If you truly feel you are in need of a brain boost, at least try an all-natural formula that won't harm you in any way. Ingredients such as Gingko Leaf, Gotu Kola Leaf, Calamus Root, Rosemary Leaf, Kola Nut, and Periwinkle are all traditional herbal cerebral "stimulators," demonstrated to improve mental functions. A supplement containing these items can improve memory, clear the head, enhance concentration and alertness, and rebuild mental reserves. And the effects are cumulative. The more you use them, the better they work and the longer lasting their effects.
1 Melnick, Meredith. "Adderall May Not Make You Smarter, But It Makes You Think You Are." Time Healthland. 21 December 2010. Time Inc. 7 July 2011. http://healthland.time.com/2010/12/21/adderall-may-not-make-you-smarter-but-it-makes-you-think-you-are/.
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