Can Legal “Smart Drugs” Improve Performance At School Or Work?


There’s a new drug culture emerging in our society, but it’s more focused on heightening the relationship with reality than it is on escaping it. Common drugs today are being used to boost the brain’s ability retain information, think under stress and stay productive for longer hours. Some people swear by these drugs and feel they are legitimate means to improve their performance at their job or in the classroom.

How common are these neuro-enhancing drugs? It’s difficult to know for sure, but researchers have definitely seen an increase in use in the past decade. Users are also becoming more adept at mixing prescription drugs with natural supplements to create their own highly individualized effects.

Are you interested in enhancing your performance with legal drugs? Here is what you need to know about 10 of the most common smart pills that have been involved in clinical trials.

1. Amphetamine and dextroamphetamine (Adderall)

Brain hackers use this smart drug – normally approved to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – to stay alert and study longer or to achieve hyper focus in high-pressure jobs. The evidence suggests that this super drug allows people to remember past events and other types of executive function, such as helping with the ability to generate sets of data. You should know that this drug is highly addictive. It also causes side effects including a reduced interest in sex, excessive sweating, sleeplessness and even a higher risk for psychosis and death. Worth it? That’s definitely a judgment call you need to make for yourself.

2. Aniracetam

This nootropic brain enhancer is used to reduce anxiety and foster creativity. The evidence suggests it can boost cognitive function in adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a type of disorder marked by forgetfulness and problems with language, judgment or planning. Though not FDA-approved, this brain-enhancing drug is a common choice for those in creative fields. Some users have reported side effects such as nausea and vertigo, though, so it does not come without its downside.

Bacopa monnieri herb

3. Bacopa monnieri

This supplement is thought to enhance thinking, learning and memory. Though studies have shown it to improve cognition and attention span, it may also cause cramps, nausea, dry mouth, fatigue and a slowed heart rate. There is also some proof that it could worsen lung conditions, ulcers, gastrointestinal obstructions and thyroid disorders. In short, it seems to cause more problems than it creates neuro enhancement.

4. Donepezil (Aricept)

Brain hackers use this smart drug to improve memory and ability to complete complex tasks. Aricept is FDA-approved to treat those with Alzheimer’s and it has been shown in trials to improve a certain type of memory called “procedural memory.” Procedural memory can help patients remember how to do things such as skip or swim that may be lost in cases of dementia or brain injury. There are some side effects reported such as vomiting and sleep problems, but it’s not enough of a drawback for many who recognize its abilities.

5. L-Deprenyl (Selegiline hydrochloride)

This monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) can help with planning skills and attention span. It’s also a recognized mood-booster, which also helps with focus. Mainly used as an antidepressant or in the early stages of Parkinson’s, this drug improves the symptoms associated with the degenerative disease. It may also improve the cognitive abilities of those who have experienced a stroke and those who have had a brain injury or concussion. However, when taken in high doses, it can also trigger high blood pressure. It also is not a good mix with many other drugs.

6. Methylphenidate (Ritalin)

This popular smart drug is mainly used as a study drug to stay awake and improve focus and memory. This is another FDA-approved brain enhancer used to treat ADHD.

Patients with brain injuries who used the drug were able to concentrate longer, but the drug showed no marked improvement on their memories. As with many of the drugs on this list, low doses seem to have positive effects while high doses lead to more problems. Long-term use of the drug may also have serious negative consequences on memory and brain plasticity for young people.

7. Modafinil (Provigil)

This FDA-approved drug is often used to treat those with narcolepsy, but people without the condition take it to improve their motivation and reaction time and enhance other mental functions. In small studies, healthy people taking modafinil showed improved memory and spatial planning with no ill effect on the user’s mood. As with Ritalin, however, long-term use of Provigil may cause permanent damage in young users.

8. Piracetam

This neurodrug is thought to enhance memory and learning by causing an increase in blood flow – especially to the brain. Studies have shown it’s helpful in reducing body tics in myoclonus epilepsy. Mixed evidence suggests it may improve memory in subjects with cognitive impairment as well but it is better known for its effectiveness in treating depression. Piracetam is generally well-tolerated, though some users have had allergic reactions, nervousness, anxiety and balance/coordination problems.

Omega-3 supplement

9. Omega-3 EPA and DHA

Brain hackers use omega-3 supplements – most of which are made from fish oils and contain both EPA and DHA fatty acids – to reduce stress, improve concentration and speed up reaction time. Although everyone can benefit from omega-3 supplements, there is not enough evidence of any brain-boosting effects from omega-3 supplementation. It also may cause disturbing side effects including increased burping, loose stools and frequent nose bleeds.

10. Tyrosine

This smart drug is used to enhance memory, alertness and the ability to solve problems creatively. Military studies show that this supplement may aid alertness in people under extreme stress. It may also have an effect on how the brain operates in cold climates. Side effects can include fatigue, headache and nausea, though, so be careful about your dosage.

If these neuro-enhancing smart drugs do what they seemingly do – increase mood, focus, memory and more – it means an ethical debate may be on the horizon as the normalization of the drugs continues to rise. If you believe using these types of drugs is right for your situation, consult your doctor, be mindful of dosage and keep a close eye on possible side effects and interactions with other drugs or supplements you are taking.