The popularity of “smart drugs” that claim to boost intelligence has led experts to warn that the products often contain harmful banned substances that can cause serious side effects.
You’re only using 10 percent of your brain!”
All those people were wrong.
If we did use only 10 percent of our brains we’d be close to dead, according to Eric Chudler, director of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering at the University of Washington, who maintains an entertaining brain science website for kids. “When recordings are made from brain EEGs, or PET scans, or any type of brain scan, there’s no part of the brain just sitting there unused,” he said.
Larry Squire, a research neuroscientist with the Veterans Administration hospital in San Diego, and at the University of California San Diego, pointed out that “any place the brain is damaged there is a consequence.”
Damaged brains may have been where this myth originated. During the first half of the last century, a pioneering neuroscientist named Karl Lashley experimented on rodents by excising portions of their brains to see what happened.
When he put these rodents in mazes they’d been trained to navigate, he found that animals with missing bits of brain often successfully navigated the mazes. This wound up being transmuted into the idea humans must be wasting vast brain potential.
With the rise of the human potential movement in the 1960s, some preached that all sorts of powers, including bending spoons and psychic abilities, were laying dormant in our heads and that all we had to do was get off our duffs and activate them.
Following a brain study on an unprecedented scale, an international collaboration has now managed to tease out a single gene that does have a measurable effect on intelligence. But the effect – although measurable – is small: the gene alters IQ by just 1.29 points.
According to some researchers, that essentially proves that intelligence relies on the action of a multitude of genes after all. “It seems like the biggest single-gene impact we know of that affects IQ,” says Paul Thompson of the University of California, Los Angeles, who led the collaboration of 207 researchers. “But it’s not a massive effect on IQ overall,” he says.
The variant is in a gene called HMGA2, which has previously been linked with people’s height. At the site of the relevant mutation, the IQ difference depends on a change of a single DNA “letter” from C, standing for cytosine, to T, standing for thymine.
Nootropics, also referred to as smart drugs, memory enhancers, neuro enhancers, cognitive enhancers, and intelligence enhancers, are drugs, supplements, nutraceuticals, and functional foods that improve mental functions such as cognition, memory, intelligence, motivation, attention, and concentration.
Nootropics are thought to work by altering the availability of the brain’s supply of neurochemicals (neurotransmitters, enzymes, and hormones), by improving the brain’s oxygen supply, or by stimulating nerve growth. However the efficacy of nootropic substances, in most cases, has not been conclusively determined. This is complicated by the difficulty of defining and quantifying cognition and intelligence.
The theory on these tests is that if these Nootrpoics hep the person with Parkinson, then what would be the effect on a healthy intelligence human?
Racetams are sometimes cited as an example of a nootropic with few side-effects and wide therapeutic window; however, any substance ingested could produce harmful effects.
Some “smart” drugs are prescription medications approved to treat debilitating mental disorders, such as dementia and Parkinson’ s disease. Among the more popular are Hydergine (ergoloid mesylates), Eldepryl (selegiline ride), Dilantin (phenytoin), and Diapid (vasopressin).
Other “smart” drugs are medications not approved in the United States. These include piracetam (Nootropil), aniracetam (Draganon), fipexide (Attentil), vinpocetine (Cavinton), and Oxicebral (vincamine).
“Smart” drinks are made with amino acids such as phenylalanine, choline, mudfine, and L-cysteine, which are blended into juices and other nonalcoholic beverages.
But, like cure-alls of the past, no scientific evidence exists to show that “smart” drugs and “smart” drinks work, and FDA has not approved any drug or product to enhance memory or intelligence.
“The notion that ‘smart’ drugs affect intellect is based on the belief that drugs designed to treat people suffering from dementia and other conditions that affect the mind can make normal people sharper,” said Thomas Crook, Ph.D., a researcher with Memory Assessment Clinics, Inc., of Bethesda, Md. “But there is not scientific proof to back up this theory.”
Crook, who headed the National Institute of Mental Health’s geriatric psychopharmacology program from 1971 to 1985, said that no human studies objectively show that “smart” drugs can enhance the mental performance of normal individuals. No credible studies measuring subtle changes in normal individuals after taking “smart” drugs for a long period have been conducted.
“The research data I’ve seen was not based on well-controlled studies in which a ‘smart’ drug and a placebo were compared, and in which there was an objective measure of how successful the drug was, such as having to remember someone’s name,” Crook said.
“The clinical evidence relied on animal models, but animals and humans may not react the same. Individual people are different, too. A 25-year-old stockbroker won’t react to certain stimuli in the same way that an older person would.”
While efficacy of “smart” drugs is unproven, side effects associated with their use are well documented. Piracetam and Hydergine can cause insomnia, nausea and other gastrointestinal distress, and headaches.
Adverse reactions associated with Diapid include runny nose, nasal ulceration, abdominal cramps, and increased bowel movements.
Vincamine should not be used by pregnant women or children because it can cause gastrointestinal distress.
Although most of the known side effects are short-term, health professionals fear that the possibility of long-term side effects also exists.
“We just don’t know what adverse effects there could be later,” said James L. McGaugh, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, University of California-Irvine. “There haven’t been enough studies conducted over a long period of time.”
Further complicating the safety issue is the megadoses and different combinations of “smart” drugs users claim are needed to achieve the desired effects.
The effect of piracetam, according to “smart” drug enthusiasts, can be increased if taken in combination with Hydergine. Aniracetam, they say, works best if taken with choline. And no combination will work, say “small” drug users, unless taken over an extended period.
“Based on theoretical evidence, you’d have to keep taking them to maintain the effect,” said Crook. “When taken in combination over time, we don’t know that they’re safe.”
So if the drugs increased intelligence, do you really think the government would say so?
Of course not.