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Unlikely Drugs Emerge as 'Cognition Enhancers'

Medications to treat ADHD, heart problems becoming popular, survey finds

WEDNESDAY, April 9 (HealthDay News) -- One in five respondents to a new survey acknowledges using so-called "cognition-enhancing drugs" -- such as ADHD and heart medications -- to stimulate their focus, concentration or memory.

The most popular drug was Ritalin (methylphenidate), which is prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but has emerged in recent years as a campus "study aid." Coming in second was the stimulant Provigil (modafinil), followed by blood-pressure drugs called beta blockers, which can also help to reduce anxiety.

The online survey was open to subscribers of Nature -- who tend to be researchers and scientists -- and the results are published in the April 10 issue of the scientific journal. The survey found that people of all ages are using these drugs for cognitive enhancement.

That flies in the face of conventional wisdom that suggests stimulant use is highest among people 18 to 25 years old and students, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, noted in the report.

Ritalin was the most popular drug, with 62 percent of users reporting having taken it. Forty-four percent of the respondents -- more than 1,400 people from 60 countries -- said they'd taken Provigil, while 15 percent said they'd taken beta blockers such as propanolol.

Other popular drugs of choice included adderall, an amphetamine similar to Ritalin; centrophenoxine, which is used to treat dementia; and dexedrine, an amphetamine. Supplements such as ginkgo and omega-3 fatty acids were also commonly used, according to the poll.

One third of those using drugs for non-medical purposes said they'd bought them over the Internet. Others got them from pharmacies or with a prescription, according to the survey

The most common reason given for taking any of these drugs was to boost concentration. Combating jet lag was another frequent reason cited by the respondents.

Eighty-six percent of the respondents said they thought children under 16 years of age should be prevented from using these drugs. But one third said they'd feel pressured to give the drugs to their children if other kids at school were using them.

Dr. Anjan Chatterjee, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, predicted that the use of these drugs and other "neuro-enhancing" products and procedures will continue to grow in popularity as they become available, he said in the Nature report. One reason that use of these drugs is on the rise is that they don't rely on training of medical specialists, he noted.

About 50 percent of those taking these drugs reported unpleasant side effects, including headaches, jitteriness, anxiety and sleeplessness. These side effects made some people stop using the drugs.

More information

To learn more about so-called "smart drugs," visit the University of Washington.

SOURCE: Nature, April 10, 2008

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