Neuroenhancement - What is it?

The use of performance-enhancing drugs to study or work better is often called “cognitive enhancement” or “neuroenhancement”. I bumped into this topic when I watched the Neflix documentary “Take Your Pills” some years ago.

While watching it, I became really impressed (and, honestly, horrified) by how spreadout and common the use of stimulants (such as Adderal and Ritalin) is among students in order to keep up with the pressure and focus in school work for hours and hours straight - something they could never do, in terms of duration and quality of concentration without any drugs.

Stimulants, such as methylphenidate (better known as Ritalin), as well as some tranquilizers such as beta-blockers or anxiolytics, are commonly prescribed as medication for particular diseases (attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, anxiety disorders), but are then often used without a doctor’s prescription, or for reasons other than prescribed.

The main motivations for healthy individuals to use “smart drugs” (as they are also called) are:

- Cognitive neuroenhancement: the enhancement of mental performance parameters in the field of attention, vigilance, learning and memory, as well as concentration, is in the foreground

- Emotional neuroenhancement (mood enhancement): an optimized mood and/or a modulation of personality traits such as social skills are in the focus of this approach. Users also anticipate an accompanying positive effect on cognitive parameters

- Moral neuroenhancement: moral enhancement is gaining increasing attention in the trauma therapeutic field - the inhibition of consolidation of new potentially traumatic memory engrams, as well as the extinction of existing traumatic memories, is a field of application of these drugs

Although this last motivation may be a bit more confusing, (and exclusive of certain psychological disorders or issues, as well as being in fact under large investigation for its apparent clinical potentitalities) the first two make quite clear the subjective advantages people look for when taking drugs they are not prescribed to take.

One study from 2017 suggests that the spread of US-style practices in ADHD treatment is driving the trend and making drugs more available: countries with higher rates of ADHD diagnoses, such as the United States, Canada and Australia, have higher rates of non-medical prescription-drug use for cognitive enhancement. The study discovered that nearly half (48%) of people said they obtained the drugs through friends; 10% bought them from a dealer or over the Internet; 6% obtained them from a family member; and 4% said that they had their own prescriptions.

“Take Your Pills” was an eye-opener for me and since then, I started to be a more attentive judge of the usage of certain medications. It is not without HIGH RISKS that this “enhancement” occurs and I honestly challenge you to see the movie and notice how you feel throughout.

Let me know :) We may talk a bit more about this theme in the future - stay tuned!


Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Mar; 11(3): 3032–3045. doi: 10.3390/ijerph110303032

3 views0 comments