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Medicine Science

Cognition Enhancer Research 189

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the what-happened-to-ginkgo-biloba dept.
oschobero writes to tell us the Economist has a look at pharmaceutical research as it applies to cognition enhancers. While the research is obviously focused on things like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and schizophrenia, the resulting drugs may also have a benefit to healthy minds. "Provigil and Ritalin really do enhance cognition in healthy people. Provigil, for example, adds the ability to remember an extra digit or so to an individual's working memory (most people can hold seven random digits in their memory, but have difficulty with eight). It also improves people's performance in tests of their ability to plan. Because of such positive effects on normal people, says the report, there is growing use of these drugs to stave off fatigue, help shift-workers, boost exam performance and aid recovery from the effects of long-distance flights."
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Cognition Enhancer Research

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  • by bersl2 (689221) on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:25PM (#23523266) Journal

    Paradoxically, another glutamate-booster, D-cycloserine, is being tested not to enhance memory, but to abolish it. The paradox is resolved because unlearning (or "extinction", in neurological parlance) is a process similar in its details to learning.

    By binding to certain glutamate receptors, D-cycloserine selectively enhances extinction, suppressing the effects of conditioned associations such as anxiety, addiction and phobias. According to Dr Robbins, experiments have shown that if a rat is given a cue that it previously associated with fear at the same time as it receives D-cycloserine, the bad memory can be eliminated. Not only may this help remove unpleasant memories...
    Does this mean that people might be able to unsee things *coughgoatsecough*
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Bryansix (761547)
      Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind.
    • by Briareos (21163) *

      Does this mean that people might be able to unsee things *coughgoatsecough*
      Bah... that's nothing that can't be solved with enough sandpaper applied directly to one's brain... if only I could remember where I put it...

      np: Saul Williams - Coded Language (Amethyst Rock Star)

  • Provigil. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bob of Dole (453013) on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:31PM (#23523306) Journal
    I've taking Provigil. It's an amazing and weird drug.

    On the one hand, It helps endlessly with functioning while sleepy. As a chronic insomniac, I'm never THAT awake, but after two hours of sleep and a provigil, I'm awake enough to drive and take exams. It doesn't even keep you up after it wears off, something every other sleep aid or wake aid I've ever taken does. It avoids the problem of body/mind disconnect, you're AWAKE, not brain awake/body tired or body awake/brain sleepy.

    On the other, it has an effect I can only describe as "positional". You can still tell that you're tired, but you only feel it in one part of your head, kinda towards the lower-right-back area. And yes, that's insane.
    What's weirder is that if you get a headache while on provigil, you'll feel it in that area too. It's kinda like it's turned off your brain's natural "error reporting" that tells you you're tired/headachey, but it doesn't do it for the whole brain.
    I also had some nasty experiences in the bathroom while on it. That's definitely a downside. (Wee, rather than being late for class because I can't wake up I'm late for class because I'm stuck in the bathroom)

    I only used it for about two weeks (despite the above praise, it didn't help with my main problem), but I'd definitely use it again if I had the chance. There's enough times where I've not gotten enough sleep for one reason or another but I really have to be at work the next day that it'd be quite handy to have around.
    • by caffeinemessiah (918089) on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:35PM (#23523330) Journal

      I've taking Provigil.

      That's a great first sentence to promote a cognition-enhancing drug.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Banquo (225167)
      I just started on a "neurotropics regimen" and one of the things I'm taking is modalert (cheap provigil) I've been taking that and other standard stuff (ginko, B-complex, amino's, dhea, C, etc..) for about 5 days @100MG/day.

      It's pushed that "post lunch drowsy need a nap" feeling back to about 7pm, and by then I'm up and around (not behind the desk)so there's no worries. My focus is better during the day. Haven't gotten any headaches but most people use 200mg a day from what I read. I've also noticed tha
      • Ever tried sleep? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Roger W Moore (538166)

        I get roughly 5-6 hours of sleep a night and have had no issues at all. I did notice the "You know you're tired, but you don't think/act like you're tired" thing and yeah it's really odd.

        Instead of drugs have you considered getting an extra 1-2 hours of sleep per night? This is cheaper than taking drugs, does not make you feel odd, and 10 years from now will not be shown to cause cancer/depression/heart disease/... If you are feeling tired during the day the message your body is trying to send you is 'sleep more' not 'take drugs'.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DeadChobi (740395)
          Well, if you've ever been in school, you know that the demands it makes on a person are much greater than a full-time job. Plus there's also the need to have some type of social life outside of work, and for some people a need to cook in order to eat. These things combined mean that there isn't a lot of room in life to sleep.

          What I'm saying is that your solution, although the better one, is not the most feasible one.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Banquo (225167)
            Most nights my job/life don't allow me the time to get extra sleep through the week. But even if it did,..I feel about the same with 5,8,10 or 15 hours of sleep. I'm trying to clean up my life, (eat better, work out more etc..) but feeling tired and unfocused through the day is just the norm for me.

            And yes I've had the full medical battery and exams, aside from needing to lose some weight and having some mild skin allergies I'm 100%

            Also I'm taking this mainly as a neuro enhancer than a "pep pill" and so far
          • by smoker2 (750216)
            If you had ever had a real full time job, then you would realise how ridiculous that statement was. I started work at 4 am yesterday, and didn't get home again until 8.30 pm. And that's just the time span, without taking into account the physical and mental nature of doing the job. I can assure you, there is plenty of time for sleep, because you will die without it.
            Work/school are choices, food and sleep are basic necessities. Ignore that at your peril.
        • by loraksus (171574)
          and 10 years from now will not be shown to cause cancer/depression/heart disease/...

          I can't vouch for cancer or heart disease (although modafinil has been on the market since '86), but modafinil is being used off label to treat depression related fatigue. While anecdotal, it worked incredibly well for me when I was spending 20+ hours a day sleeping and didn't have any of the rather horrific side effects of most of the antidepressants out there. A little heartburn was the only side effect for me.

          That said,
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DCGaymer (956987)
      I recently started taking Provigil for fatigue issues related to another condition. Without a doubt....I'm certainly more alert....but it does not help with fatigue. If you're tired and taking Provigil, you're simply going to be tired and awake. NOT a good combo. It's not a great panacea cure all .....but it does help make a formerly dysfunctional person a bit more functional. As mentioned above...it will give you a headache. It does me. They're worse in the beginning but seem to taper off to a mild heada
    • by Joe Tie. (567096)
      That odd state of numbed tiredness is something I've only ever experienced with it. Even with stimulants, I'm either tired and jittery or awake. With modafinil it's more like what ibuprofin is to pain. It's often still there, but numbed down to a point where one no longer cares.
  • by urbanriot (924981) on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:33PM (#23523310)
    I've used it before and it increased cognition considerably, especially when I was tired and figured I'd have a wasteful night of studying. If I have less than 8 hours sleep, I have difficulty focusing on a single source at one time, and studying is impossible. Ritalin has helped me micro-focus, and not just cram for exams but actually learn topics. If I had a steady source of Ritalin, or a doctor that 'played ball', I might consider experimenting with it more often.
    • by Original Replica (908688) on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:56PM (#23523490) Journal
      Ritalin has helped me micro-focus, and not just cram for exams but actually learn topics.

      I was prescribed Ritalin throughout grade school for ADD by the end of freshman year of college I decided to stop taking it because I had learned to "fake" the cognitive effects. Ritalin takes effect so quickly, that I was able to perceive the difference and use that to learn ways to be almost as effective, but without the drug. 14 years later I still have ADD but can function pretty normally because of what I learned with Ritalin. I have to wonder if the same thing could be done with Provigil, learn the thought patterns that give you the increased cognition, but eventually have the benifit without the drug.
      • by Beefpatrol (1080553) on Saturday May 24, 2008 @01:22AM (#23525552)
        I've been learning the same kinds of things with one of the ADD stimulants and an antidepressant for the last few years. One of the best things about these drugs is that they show you what "the other side" feels like. When you've been predominantly in one mode every day since puberty, it can be impossible to even understand what people mean when they ask simple questions about what you are going to do. For instance, there was always cognitive dissonance when a manager would ask me something like, "can you do thing X by deadline D?" My mental answer to a rhetorical question like that was always something like: "maybe." I usually answered verbally in the affirmative because I was aware that it was expected that I would, despite knowing that the actual answer was not so clear. In situations like that, I always felt like I had entered another dimension where people continuously behave in ways that don't make sense. The reason for this, I later found out, was because most of the time, normal people can say "yes" or "no" to a question like that and be sure that unless something extremely unusual were to happen, they would be correct; they either can do it, or they can't, and they know ahead of time which is true. Their reasons for saying "yes" or "no" didn't usually include thoughts like: "technically yes, and I've done it before -- it is actually pretty easy, but my track record for managing to do it is dismal for reasons that I don't understand, so an objective interpretation of the data suggests that a long-winded and unsatisfactory answer that indicates that I really don't know if I will do X by deadline D, and that the reasons for this are beyond my realm of comprehension, is what my reply *should* be, but I'm going to say yes anyway because any other response is going to piss people off. I absolutely hate corporate America -- this kind of weird asking of questions that are obviously unanswerable in an honest fashion must mean that either people are screwing with me or they are intensely stupid."

        I didn't realize all this in a concrete manner until somewhere in my late 20s after trying some of these drugs that made things like mental crises, and the utter inability to turn my brain off to focus or sleep optional. I've since taken them on and off as necessary, but being able to intuitively understand what it means to be able to cause one's actions to align with one's intentions on a regular basis is invaluable. I can say with complete honesty that I really didn't understand how the world worked before.


        • There's a psychological side to this, separate from the pharma-medical side. It's about managing people's expectations, AND their "feel-good" needs.

          Starting from scratch, "sustainable" speed is always less than perfect top-power speed. So, yes at flawless form you might be able to do something in 2 hours, but corporate america forces workers to deal with weird distractions that for some of us seriously break the flow.

          So, if your manager one day wanders up and asks "can you do that again in 2 hours", the ans
    • by Jaime2 (824950) on Friday May 23, 2008 @08:38PM (#23524358)
      First person anecdotes are pretty useless for this topic. Many people who have dropped acid will testify in front of the Supreme Court that it enhanced their perception. Only a well controlled, well designed double-blind test is acceptable in this context.
  • Being a physicist, I've got an excuse for being absent minded, but keeping SEVEN DIGITS in your working memory? Holy crap. I'm lucky if I can cram four of them in there.

    Seriously, it's an issue with me and older telephones -- I can punch three numbers, then I have to look on the number I'm calling to get the next batch, and by the time I've got it, the phone is already dialing.
    • by crazybit (918023) on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:44PM (#23523404)
      it's probably because of how your brain works.

      Maybe you are trying to memorize 7 numbers (symbol + significance in our society) instead of memorizing a 3cm x 1.5cm illustration (the area in a paper where those numbers can be written) or instead of memorizing a 10 second sound (the aprox time in wich those numbers can be pronounced).

      The problem might not be your memory, but the way your brain processes and stores the information it receives.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I am a network systems engineer(among other things) and I have the same issue! remember 3 or 4 numbers and have to look for the next!

      I find that my multitasking and fast thought processes lower my memory recall. If I take a few days off from work and just relax or go riding or something I can then remember very long strings of info, like multiple phone numbers.

      Back when DVDs were being pushed by the likes of Futureshop and Bestbuy, I could memorize 2 or 3 serial numbers from the DVD players(free DVD with n

      • Absolutely, and this has even been in some high profile studies. Multi-tasking is at the employer's convenience. I think it's a weird form of "prisoner's delimma". It was all the vogue for about a decade for multi-T to be "the new wave of work", until the brutal evidence began mounting.

        All I have been able to do is batch similar tasks, and carefully micro-manage minutes of rest in the day.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Try remembering two, three digit numbers and one single digit. I don't exactly know why it helps, but it makes numbers and their order a lot easier. Perhaps it's something about treating a three digit number like a single concept.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hkmarks (1080097)
      That's totally normal, don't worry about it.

      Most people can retain 7 +/- 2 (5 to 9) semantic "packets" of information. A "packet" can be a part of a larger packet. Most people can reliably recall 5 random numbers or letters in a row. Or 5 groups of 5 numbers or letters. Or 5 random words. Or 5 unrelated phrases.

      But don't try to memorize a paragraph worth of random letters and numbers -- that's more than 9 packets so it's almost impossible without a lot of repetition. That's why phone numbers have a da
    • by jma05 (897351)
      7 is not the hard number the way the summary makes it sound. The range was claimed as 5-9.

      http://www.musanim.com/miller1956/ [musanim.com]
      A classic 50 yr old paper. Has been a subject of great debate since.

      But its trickier than that. It is 5 to 9 "items", not simply numbers. What constitutes an item can change. If you perceive the area code of your phone number as an item, it just counts as 1. So it all depends on how you "chunk" information. That is how experts are said to work better. They chunk at a different level th
    • by DeadChobi (740395)
      I've read that a typical person can only remember about 3 strings of 3-4 numbers at a time. This is why phone numbers, social security numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, and a whole host of other numbers are in triplets or quadlets. Try remembering the number using the familiar place names like thousands, millions, billions, and you should be able to recall more of the information.
    • by synaptik (125)

      keeping SEVEN DIGITS in your working memory? Holy crap. I'm lucky if I can cram four of them in there.

      Your problem is the radix that you choose to think in. Simply switch to base 10 million, and then you'll only have one digit to remember, not 7.

  • I don't like drugs (Score:2, Insightful)

    by crazybit (918023)
    as much as scientist claim they can enhance or reduce certain abilities, it is also a reality science is just beginning to understand human metabolism.

    We don't know much about how each part the human metabolism affect the others, so it's very difficult to anticipate possible side effects.

    It's also widely known that many of the current drugs where discovered by accident while trying to cure something else (like the discovery of viagra, and the heart benefits obtained from aspirin). So, as much as we don't wa
    • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:55PM (#23523476) Homepage Journal
      "as much as scientist claim they can enhance or reduce certain abilities, it is also a reality science is just beginning to understand human metabolism."

      Bull.
      While we don't know everything, we are long past the "Just beginning " phase.
      What are you, posting from 1950?

      "It's also widely known that many of the current drugs where discovered by accident while trying to cure something else (like the discovery of viagra, and the heart benefits obtained from aspirin)"

      discovered through experimentation and observation. You make it sound as if they drop something accidentally and then it cured something.

      While they observed unexpected effect during the scientific process, it was the experimentation and testing that brought there discoveries to light.

      "So, as much as we don't want see it, our scientist can be wrong."
      This is nonsensical.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by crazybit (918023)
        from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viagra [wikipedia.org] :

        "It was initially studied for use in hypertension (high blood pressure) and angina pectoris (a symptom of ischaemic cardiovascular disease). The first clinical trials were conducted in Morriston Hospital in Swansea. Phase I clinical trials under the direction of Ian Osterloh suggested that the drug had little effect on angina, but that it could induce marked penile erections. Pfizer therefore decided to market it for erectile dysfunction, rather than for angina."

        Evi
  • Oh no! (Score:3, Funny)

    by iminplaya (723125) <iminplaya.gmail@com> on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:37PM (#23523338) Journal
    Now the competitors in the national spelling bee tournaments will have to rake a piss test.
  • by Vspirit (200600) on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:38PM (#23523344) Homepage
    Based on what findings is it stated that most people can only hold 7 digits in memory?

    I wonder if there is a connection to how many digit you need to make a local phone call.

    In the states I assume you can or could leave out the area code, and then needed to remember xxx-xxxx.
    In Denmark as a kid and now, we need to remember 8 digits to make a phone call.

    I see a correlation, but.. heck, digits for thoughts.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Take a look at George Miller's seminal work:

      The Magic Number Seven, Plus or minus Two
      http://www.musanim.com/miller1956/

      This is psych 101 guys...

      -Anymouse
    • Phone numbers drop to patterns, where you may have a number of friends with a prefix of 995 and you only have to recall the last four digits, or where a pattern is available on the digit pad. The memory that they're discussing is being provided a random string of digits with a short time to memorize them, and then being asked at some point in the future (minutes or hours, sometimes longer) or while performing another task to recite the string of digits in order.
    • In Denmark as a kid and now, we need to remember 8 digits to make a phone call.

      In Germany in '82, our phone number was 011-49-6571-20538, or dialed locally, 06571-20538...

      I don't have an eidetic memory, so why'm I able to remember every phone number from age 3 on? I'm not saying that Miller was wrong... It might be that we're more number oriented today than in 1950, h'wever. Cell-phones, credit cards, PIN numbers, passwords; none of this was really available at that time. Food f'r thought...

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by skraps (650379)
        I can remember long sequences of digits with relative ease. For example, my credit card number is 4744-7200-2258-9834. For bonus points, the expiration is 05/12 and the CCV number is 092. Beat that, Provigil!

      • Your own phone number is in a different class - it's stable for a long time (until you move or change cells, etc.)
        So that single piece of data gets lots of repetition.

        The question at hand was how different people do with fresh new information *with no expectation of remembering it later*. Thus for a study, presented with 10 phone numbers your rate could be much lower. But if you're in an office and need to learn these numbers, then that motivation factor proves to make a difference in the results.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I think religious people might metaphysically have a hard time with this because this goes against the whole "Garden Of Eden" model of health which is Humans were made perfectly and they fell from perfection when they got curious and ate the special apple hoping for some sort of benefit. Only disease is allowed to be treated in order to restore the system to what god intended.

    So you can't get a prescription for viagra because you want to have loads of sex, you can only get it for treating the dreaded disea
  • Drug tests (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jamshid (140925) on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:39PM (#23523352)
    Yup, won't be longer before passing a drug test for employment means your results have to come back positive.
  • by LM741N (258038) on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:40PM (#23523358)
    Enhanced my cognition right into the homeless shelter. Now I'm a homeless genius and use the computer at the library to control vast bot nets. Eventually I will rule the world.
    • by 4D6963 (933028)

      Enhanced my cognition right into the homeless shelter. Now I'm a homeless genius and use the computer at the library to control vast bot nets. Eventually I will rule the world.
      The homeless ruler of the world? If I was you I'd rather use your unfathomable genius to get in the spam business. You'll be so rich you'll never have to dive into a dumpster again!
  • by Penguinisto (415985) on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:40PM (#23523364) Journal
    Taking a somewhat little-understood psychotropic drug for treatment of illness is one thing (especially when prescribing it to children), but it is another thing entirely to start talking it up as a performance enhancer.

    What is the long-term (or even all of the short-term) effects of this? IIRC, Ritalin comes with a bucketload of side effects.

    I guess that drugs specifically made for the mind start (at least for me) creeping deeper and deeper into questions of morality and ethics than one designed to treat any other body part. Just something that makes me a bit wary about them... For instance, is an "enhanced" person more susceptible to suggestion than otherwise? Are they more focused on the task at hand, but not as aware of their surroundings? How does it affect multitasking? Emotions? Attitude and outlook?

    Dunno... but caffeine seems to work just fine for me, and I get to keep a clear mind which I retain full control of while I'm at it.

    /P

    • I've wondered about the personal ethics of such drugs. I'm intrigued by them, especially the possibility of skipping a night or two of sleep each week, but are there ethical concerns with taking a drug that allows me, for example, to read an extra technical book every week, thus perhaps soaring past my colleagues?

      From a work standpoint, if my employer begins to depend on my ability to stay far ahead of others (maybe competitors, maybe just the tech industry in general), if I stop taking them, is it ethical

      • You really can't SKIP entire nights of sleep - long term, all you can do is cut them short.

        However, I recommend Nancy Kress "Beggars in Spain" for an entire novel built on this premise. (Note to self - go buy another copy.)

        What eventually happened is that "normal" became a ghetto that eventually withered and faded. In the novel, the "sleepless" mutation was "pure" - no drawbacks.

        A much more complex scenario is the "Algernon Phenomenon", in which someone trades long term health for short term bursts. THAT qu
    • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:58PM (#23523506) Homepage Journal
      you aren't keeping a clear mind with caffeine.
      No doubt you believe you are.

      Coffee comes with a "bucketload" of side effects as well.

      The brain is a part of the body just like your heart, or hands, or belly button.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Penguinisto (415985)
        Perhaps, but the effects (side or immediate) of coffee/caffeine taken in moderation are well-known (and have been for literally over at least a century).

        The key term is "moderation" - if I were to suck down a case of Bawls in the morning (or even one bottle), then yes, the term 'clear mind' would not be perfectly accurate - just as taking any stimulant in large doses (or in the case of, say, Ampehtamines, in any but the smallest doses) would affect mental clarity.

        One cannot say the same for synthetic ch

        • by Joe Tie. (567096)
          Not really on the side effects. It's only fairly recently that good studies have been performed on the subject. I had to sort through caffeine studies for a paper a few years ago, and it was amazing how bad most of the early methodology was. Bad as in taking someone who has three or more cups of coffee a day, keeping them off it two days, giving it to them again, and concluding that it's a cognition enhancer because they did better on tests during the last day than the two days they were off. The addictive
        • by couchslug (175151)
          "Perhaps, but the effects (side or immediate) of coffee/caffeine taken in moderation are well-known (and have been for literally over at least a century). "

          Which is why military pilots who need to stay alert on long missions take (under Flight Surgeon supervision) mild amphetamines instead.
    • "I guess that drugs specifically made for the mind start (at least for me) creeping deeper and deeper into questions of morality and ethics than one designed to treat any other body part."

      Oh, they do, they do. Because in various forms, IQ is the Holy Grail.

      This is THE question of the 21st century.

  • These drugs would be immensely beneficial to the human race. And what sane person wouldn't want to be smarter? Unfortunately, they will be opposed by very powerful religious and conservative forces. it will probably devolve into a cyclic, pointless, and unyielding debate like the one about abortion.

    Caffeine is one of these substances; probably the most widely available, too. Personally I can think faster, clearer, and longer with about 300mg of caffeine in me. Unfortunately, I'm getting tolerant to
    • Personally I can think faster, clearer, and longer with about 300mg of caffeine in me.
      300mg? That's all? Do you drink your coffee from a sippycup, too? ;)

      Anything less than a gram isn't worth talking about.
      • I bout 10 oz of caffeine from unitednuclear.com

        I can take about 1g hit in the morning and not need any for the rest of the day. I just mix it with cold distilled H2O.And, it feels nice... Not as nice as the percocet I was taking for my shoulder though ;D
    • These drugs would be immensely beneficial to the human race. And what sane person wouldn't want to be smarter?

      If the decision were that simple there would not be a problem. The question you should be asking is "What person would want to be smarter given the risk of unknown side effects from long term use?". These things are messing with your brain chemistry so side effects could be subtle: suppose they suppress happiness (not cause depression mind you)? Would you want to take them then?

      If there are long term effects, say like early dementia, is it fair for the rest of us to pay for the required health care? T


      • "The question you should be asking is "What person would want to be smarter given the risk of unknown side effects from long term use?""

        Lots.

        IQ has a crushing "Threshold" problem. Either you can perform some function in your enhanced state alone, or not at all. Thus if you ideally bank it properly, you stand to make much more money, and we all know how much fun it is to be poor in this world.

        It's made worse by the entire culture (at least in the US) of valuing short term gains - if our national leaders can'
  • by argent (18001) <peter@NOsPam.slashdot.2006.taronga.com> on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:46PM (#23523418) Homepage Journal
    Richard Shindell's Confession [richardshindell.com]...

    Hey Doc
    How's about a refill
    Hey Doc
    The pretty little blue pill...

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:51PM (#23523458) Homepage Journal
    What happens to your cognition once you stop taking it, after you've gotten used to taking it? Do you get a tolerance, so you not only need higher doses for a smarts boost, but you also just return to your base performance after getting used to it?

    What's the withdrawal like?

    I suspect that maybe the many kids given Ritalin while growing up learn to depend on it for their baseline. When they outgrow their "hyperactivity" (AKA "childhood"), they quit the drugs, and sink into an unfamiliar dullness in which they can't think at their previous baseline without the artificial stimulation. And how much do they just get burned out from the steady drugging?

    Something's got to explain the evident steady decay in average intellect as the years wear on [imdb.com], despite these synthetic boosts.
    • by grammar fascist (239789) on Friday May 23, 2008 @06:48PM (#23523802) Homepage
      I can answer these questions on the average for Adderall and Dexedrine (dextroamphetamines) and Ritalin (methylphenidate).

      What happens to your cognition once you stop taking it, after you've gotten used to taking it? Do you get a tolerance, so you not only need higher doses for a smarts boost, but you also just return to your base performance after getting used to it?

      Tolerance is rarely an issue with the low doses given to treat ADHD. A couple of back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that an average dose of Adderall (20mg) is about 1/10 an average "first hit" of meth or cocaine. Prescription medications are also designed to metabolize much more slowly than recreational drugs.

      Tolerance mainly results from neurons being overexcited and altering receptor sites in response. (This is in fact how caffeine tolerance develops.) People who take these medications under a doctor's care are generally not overstimulated. In fact, with ADHD, because medication corrects understimulation it's usually not an issue at all.

      I would be more worried about tolerance if the general population started on them, though.

      What's the withdrawal like?

      Usually a little mentally fuzzier than before medication and maybe a bit crankier. It lasts about half an hour to an hour. People report that Ritalin and Dexedrine have "rougher edges" than Adderall, which makes sense since Adderall is a mixture of amphetamine salts that metabolize at different rates.

      I suspect that maybe the many kids given Ritalin while growing up learn to depend on it for their baseline. When they outgrow their "hyperactivity" (AKA "childhood"), they quit the drugs, and sink into an unfamiliar dullness in which they can't think at their previous baseline without the artificial stimulation.

      If they don't outgrow ADHD and they need medication to function, they shouldn't stop.

      However, often the medication does have a lasting effect, though not one that people with "OMG DRUGGIES!!!" in mind would predict. It can train your mind to mimic the patterns it gets used to while on medication. People will often lower their dosage over time, and some quit altogether. I'm not aware of anyone needing more until they're a prescription crack-head. Both anecdotal evidence and the literature (peer-reviewed studies) support this.

      It also tends to train behavior. While on medication, functional behavior is much easier, and people who learn to function effectively while on medication have an easier time off of it than they did before medication.

      Again, I wouldn't apply this to the general population, just to people who use medication to treat neurological problems.

      And how much do they just get burned out from the steady drugging?

      They only do if the dose is too high. The beautiful thing about stimulants at these dosages is that their cognitive effects don't last into the next day, except for the gradual effects I mentioned.
      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        Overall I'd tend to agree with your calm assesment. But in my personal experience I've seen many many kids prescribed Ritalin or other drugs when what they needed was more time chasing each other around outside, less time playing videogames or just watching TV. And not just kids, but loads of adults on Prozac-type drugs, Xanax, and other stuff that's supposed to be prescribed by a doctor to give them a moment of clarity and a chance to work through their problems, but instead are just dosed into limbo. Psy
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        You are quite wrong, clearly not a doctor or pharmacist, and I hope you dont try to spread these ideas as fact easily. First, tolerance buildup in amphetamine (dexedrine and adderall) as well as amphetamine derivatives is very easy and happens very quickly. It happens with children all the time. By the time kids reach high school or college, if they have taken amphetamine for a while, they are definitely on a significantly higher dosage than before and/or redosing more often (twice a day, three times a day,
  • by DynaSoar (714234) on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:53PM (#23523468) Journal
    To first address the comments regarding number of digits in working memory: the "magic number" is 7 plus or minus 2, the variance being context dependent. To hold more items in memory, which people obviously do, they employ "chunking", or grouping them together and remembering the chunks in the necessary sequence. The 7 digit phone number was based on the original 7 digit idea, the grouping of area code XXX, prefix YYY, and last 4 ZZZZ was based on chunking. Since this chunking is a major action of attention and memory, simply adding a single digit to a single chunk is a weird way to claim improvement.

    Yet once again an article on cognition enhancement fails to note its origins and long standing history. The first nootropic, hydergine http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydergine [wikipedia.org] , was developed by Albert Hoffmann of Sandoz. While he is best known for LSD, his "problem child", he considered hydergine to be his most important discovery. He credited his longentivity (he died recently at age 102) to using hydergine regularly.
  • legalize it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Deanalator (806515) <pierce403@gmail.com> on Friday May 23, 2008 @05:56PM (#23523492) Homepage
    Modafinil [wikipedia.org] (provigil) is safer, more effective, and less addictive than caffeine.

    Unfortunately, possession without a prescription can get you a year in jail. Strangly, it's chemical predecessor, Adrafinil is perfectly legal to buy over the counter (at about a tenth of the cost as well). It actually turns into modafinil in your stomach, but it takes longer to take effect, and the chemical byproducts cause stomach pains and liver problems.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Martin Blank (154261)
      Adrafinil is legal to import for personal use. It is not legal to sell OTC (at least in the US).
  • by slifox (605302) * on Friday May 23, 2008 @06:04PM (#23523554)
    Ritalin (methylphenidate), Provigil (aka Modafinil), Adderall (mixed amphetamine salts), etc are not the only options. In fact, there is a whole class of cognitive-enhancement drugs, called Nootropics.

    The best of these (and arguable one of the safest), in my non-medical opinion, is Piracetam. It is a cyclic derivative of the neurotransmitter GABA, and has been used extensively since the 1960s in clinical studies, for treatment of Alzheimer's (and more), and off-label as a "supplement." Many studies suggest it increases blood flow (and hence oxygenation) to the brain, and protects the brain against damage from alcohol poisoning. It has no known LD-50, and has been clinically tested in daily doses exceeding 50 grams!

    I personally use Piracetam to help study, and through my (obviously non-blinded and partially-biased) self-tests, I found that it really does help me learn things faster. After a cramming/studying session, I'll usually look back and realize how much material I've been able to learn in such a short time. All friends I've recommended it to have come to the same conclusion. My dosages vary from 1 gram up to 5 grams at a time, repeating every 3-4 hours.

    Unfortunately, the reason why Nootropics aren't used much is because they don't have the intense effects that *stimulants* such as Ritalin do. The effects of Piracetam are very subtle (though the first time is more noticable)--enough so that its easy to get discouraged. However, when you take Ritalin, the stimulation effect is VERY noticeable (and fun, for many people).

    The big problems with stimulants are that they aren't great for your body, they can encourage bad sleep habits, they are fun to use (possibly leading to irresponsible use), and they can lead to distraction for those not used to the effects at the used dosage. Additionally, they have terrible come-downs. A responsible stimulant user must recognize these aspects and make efforts to control them, otherwise they will not get any work done, or worse harm themselves!

    Disclaimer: I'm not licensed to give medical advice. These are my opinions and are for informational purposes only. Using the mentioned stimulants without a prescription is stupidly illegal (but illegal nonetheless). I won't get into how prohibition is stupid and doesn't work (I think free-use regulation and accurate dispersion of information is the way to go). More importantly though, using these drugs improperly can be unsafe. Make sure you thoroughly research any drugs you use, including over-the-counter drugs, and consult a medical professional when unsure about possible interactions with other drugs or your health conditions.

    Wikipedia on Piracetam: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piracetam [wikipedia.org]

    Erowid on Nootropics: http://www.erowid.org/smarts/ [erowid.org]
  • Because of such positive effects on normal people...
    The normal people referenced are Ciba-Geigy stockholders and the positive effects are primarily to their portfolio value.
  • by perkyx1 (1104245) on Friday May 23, 2008 @07:53PM (#23524142) Homepage
    Personally I'm keen on the idea - from a selfish point of view :-) As I have progressive MS it seems like cognitive problems aren't due soon (hopefully) and will be less than with other forms (again, hopefully) but if there's a hope for something that'll help prevent this - then that's great. Not walking too well is ok, and being a wheelchair user is something I can surely cope with - but difficulty with thinking? That's the most terrifying thing I can imagine.
  • by non (130182) on Friday May 23, 2008 @08:38PM (#23524356) Homepage Journal
    i disagree. people can hold however many digits in their head as they are accustomed to holding. to say that the number of digits just _happens_ to coincide with the number of digits in an american phone number is obviously ethnocentric.

    not only that, but people become accustomed to structuring that memory in different manners. is it 2-2-3, or 3-2-2. or 3-4. people remember strings of digits in the patterns that they learned as a child.

    i learned an 11-digit number on first go last weekend, its a swiss telephone number dialed from overseas; 414354#####. what is this bullshit about adding an *extra* digit to one's memory?
    • what is this bullshit about adding an *extra* digit to one's memory?

      Wow, chill out. First of all, the statistic about working memory span being 7+/-2 is simply the average amount that people can recall when given an unstructured list of numbers. Nowhere is anybody saying that one can't remember more than this: a) it's an average and b) it is divorced of context so the subjects may have a harder time chunking the numbers in order to store them hierarchically.

      Second of all, what does it mean to "add an extra digit"? It simply means that *on average* subjects were able to

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Veggiesama (1203068)
      The "magic memory number" is something like 7 +/- 2 digits. So how do you remember 11, how do you remember? How do idiot savants count cards or memorize a hundred digits of pi?

      For the most part, it's called "chunking." You might remember the first three digits of a number as a single part, like an area code. Maybe through repetition or some kind of pattern, those numbers become a single encoded, sometimes even rhythmic, symbol.

      The number you gave was "414354#####". That 414 is a palindrome, so maybe that ge
  • by Bones3D_mac (324952) on Friday May 23, 2008 @08:42PM (#23524402)
    Beta-blockers medications commonly taken by patients with varying heart conditions, such as Atenolol or Metoprolol, can also generate similar effects in brain function and memory. For example, as a child, I was regularly a D to F student during my middle school and early high school years. But after having been diagnosed with a heart murmur and placed on Atenolol, I suddenly started generating A's and B's in my classes. Although I never really pieced it together until a few years ago, I do know I was able to focus on my work far more easily due to a perceived "slow-down" in my overall personality

    Also, it seemed to improve my ability to work with logic problems, making programming a far simpler task... especially when it came to tracing/debugging my own code.
  • by acvh (120205) <{moc.sragicsm} {ta} {keeg}> on Friday May 23, 2008 @10:02PM (#23524800) Homepage
    I use it mon-fri as an attention deficit/cognition enhancement supplement. I am able to concentrate on a task more effectively when using it. For me the effects are like cocaine without the euphoria. I don't get jittery or wired, just focused. I have a shrink who has studied provigil extensively as an attention deficit drug, and while it is not yet approved in the US for that use, he believes strongly in it, as do I.

    As do the mice who will choose provigil over food when given a choice.

    Do we need drugs to make our lives "better"? Why not? Our society is no longer based solely on fulfilling basic needs. We work in fabric covered boxes performing tasks that have no direct connection to survival, other than earning money to buy food. If a drug helps us do that then, given the facts about it, we can make an informed decision.

    • by smoker2 (750216)

      As do the mice who will choose provigil over food when given a choice.
      ... other than earning money to buy food.
      Seems like you demonstrated the problem right there.
      If the mice would rather take a drug than eat, and you think that earning money to buy food is an irrelevance, then I would quit the drug now.

The key elements in human thinking are not numbers but labels of fuzzy sets. -- L. Zadeh

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