Cognitive Effects of Psychostimulants
Psychostimulants or stimulants (colloquially called uppers) is an umbrella term that includes all the drugs that enhance the activity of our body and the central nervous system. These drugs have a psychotropic, pleasure-inducing, and invigorating effect. A few common psychostimulants you must be familiar with are caffeine, nicotine, and cocaine (the most illicitly used stimulant). However, there are many more such psychostimulants that are used as a prescription and over-the-counter medicines (also illicitly used) for treating diseases, enhancing performance, and for recreational purposes. For example, amphetamines are commonly prescribed for the treatment of ADHD, sleep apnea (breathing difficulties during sleep), and narcolepsy (excessive urge to sleep during daytime) disorders. However, in recent years, psychostimulants have gained much traction as cognitive enhancer drugs. Modvigil 100 mg (Modafinil) is believed to be helpful in improving concentration and keeping you alert. Some have even claimed that it enhances cognition but how true are such claims?
Do psychostimulants improve cognitive abilities?
Let us start by saying that we do not have a definitive answer due to the lack of proper research in this area. But there are several anecdotes relating to the cognitive benefits of nootropic/ psychostimulant drugs. As mentioned above, Modafinil has become quite popular with people who need a good focus and high efficiency in their work, like students, military personnel, and other high-achieving individuals.
There is very slim evidence that proves psychostimulants improve our learning abilities and memory. It may even be a placebo effect that has led many people to believe that these drugs actually make them more productive. Or it may be the case that most of those who take these medicines are sleep deprived and therefore, benefit from them. Amphetamines can be slightly helpful in getting one interested in their otherwise mundane task because it changes our perception. However, we cannot say that it will significantly improve your performance. Similarly, a Modvigil 200 mg tablet can only make you a little more attentive to your task-at-hand but it probably won’t increase your IQ. There is limited proof for Modafinil’s ability to enhance your spatial planning and pattern recognition memory.
How do psychostimulants take effect?
There is a long history of psychostimulants being used as cognitive enhancers. Natural psychostimulants like ginseng roots and Ginkgo biloba have long been used for this purpose. However, these drugs are equally known (quite infamously) for being addictive and causing cognitive impairment. The answer is hidden in the drug dose- a small to moderate dose (prescribed by the physician as per individual need) will enhance cognition but an extreme dose will cause psychosis.
As per a study, when administered in low doses, psychostimulants improve attentiveness by acting on the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and extended frontostriatal circuit regions of the brain. These drugs work by typically activating the dopamine and norepinephrine receptors present in the PFC. Therefore, they are effective for people suffering from a developmental condition like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Armodafinil 150 mg might help you deal with the drowsiness you feel during one of your whole-night study sessions before an exam. But the study also says that these drugs (at low doses) don’t necessarily increase one’s working memory. This is especially true for their effect on healthy individuals. Nicotine, Caffeine, and Modafinil are found to have some effect on the working memory and episodic memory but one cannot guarantee the beneficial effect owing to the separate working mechanisms of all these drugs.
The negative effects of cognitive enhancers
Even though drugs like amphetamine are widely used to treat ADHD, many patients discontinue its use because of the negative impact on their psychological health. Depression, mood changes, and irritability are some frequent complaints. Headache, nausea, and insomnia are a few other common side effects of these drugs.
Used for a long time, psychostimulants can cause serious problems like psychosis and other mental health issues. Also, these drugs are very prone to be abused and people abusing them can experience withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, it is strictly advised to not use these medicines without medical supervision.
Lastly, there are ethical concerns related to the use of nootropics. People who are taking these drugs may have an undue edge over those who aren’t. It is similar to the doping problem in the sports realm. Also, exercising is a relatively better, surer, and safer way to enhance cognitive abilities (especially in older people). So, it’s better to not resort to psychostimulants unless it’s needed.
Psychostimulants like nicotine, caffeine, cocaine, amphetamine, methylphenidate, modafinil, armodafinil, etc., have been used to improve cognition in people with developmental issues. But recently, there is a rise in their use by healthy individuals to enhance performance and cognition. Stimulants or nootropics usually work by increasing the level of certain neurotransmitters in our brain like dopamine, norepinephrine, etc. They tend to increase attentiveness, boost working memory, and uplift one’s mood. But these beneficial effects are generally limited to people with low cognitive abilities because of certain medical conditions. There is very little evidence that supports the safe and effective use of these drugs by healthy people. A lot depends on the individual neurobiology, how one person will react to a certain stimulant may be vastly different from how another person will react to the same stimulant. We also saw how these medicines can have a detrimental effect on us. But if you still wish to try one of the psychostimulants, we recommend you talk to a physician before doing so.