Drugs to help mental focus are known as cognitive enhancers and are supposed to enhance brain function. They are typically meant for treating mental disorders. Drugs like Ritalin, Povigil and Aderall also enhance cognition in healthy people, but there often consequences, as well.
Let us first understand how drugs to help brain function and mental focus work. These drugs block adrenaline receptors in the heart, blood vessels and the brain. A receptor is a cellular structure that is required to mediate between chemical agents that act on nervous tissue and the physiological response. It means that despite production and release of adrenaline, its autonomic responses are not initiated and you are not distracted by your nervousness.
The discovery of cognitive enhancers is credited to research and studies associated with mental disorders like narcolepsy and Alzheimer’s in adults and attention deficit disorder in children. These drugs alter the balance of neurotransmitters associated with mental activities like attention, learning, memory and other activities involved in cognition. Methylphenidate and Modafinil, the main components, stimulate the central nervous system, but do not address the underlying cause.
There are reports that there are more than 600 drugs for neurological disorders in different stages of research and development. Despite the fact that these drugs are meant to treat illnesses, there is every possibility of misuse. Prescriptions for these drugs, notably Ritalin, are being written increasingly for trivial issues such as helping remember that extra digit in a long number or even recovery from jet lag. These may even be used to ward off fatigue or simply to get that extra bit of liveliness and energy.
This particular aspect of cognitive enhancers is causing a lot of concern in medical circles. We all know of what happened with plastic surgery. Initially it was developed for rehabilitating badly maimed soldiers and is now being used by healthy people as cosmetic surgery. The use of anabolic steroids by athletes is another classic example of how drugs meant for treating illnesses can be misused. Despite regulations, there is no way that healthy people can be prevented from using drugs under the guise of improving brain function.
Now, we all know that all allopathic drugs have side effects and every drug does not work well with others. Even if the listed side effects of a drug are limited, there is an accompanying risk of interaction with other drugs that one may be taking. The ground reality is that academics, administrators, students and even professional poker players have already started using drugs despite potential side effects. Their common justification is that these drugs do not give them an undue advantage but rather only enhance their hard-earned skills. This total disregard of regulations and side effects is the biggest cause for concern.