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This Pill Will Make You Smarter

July 8th, 2016
Who doesn't want to be more alert, sharper, quicker with a better memory? A good night's sleep, exercise, nutrition and a cup of joe have all been shown to improve cognition. Some people -- students especially -- have tinkered with Ritalin and other similar drugs for a quick boost in brain ability, though researchers doubt they have much effect.

Now, though, a real-world "Limitless" pill may have been found. Two researchers in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford report that "modafinil may well deserve the title of the first well-validated pharmaceutical nootropic (cognition enhancing) agent."

Writing in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology, Ruairidh Battleday and Anna-Katherine Brem reviewed two dozen studies to conclude "modafinil appears to enhance attention, higher executive functions, and learning and memory."

In the U.S., modafinil is sold under the name Provigil. It is FDA approved for treating narcolepsy and some sleep-related disorders.

The researchers sifted through 267 studies, dismissing those that involved cognitively impaired or sleep-deprived subjects. That left them with 24 that focused on investigating the cognitive actions of modafinil in healthy non-sleep-deprived humans. All the studies showed modafinil had some positive effect, but is those using complex assessment methods modafinil was shown to "consistently engender enhancement of attention, executive functions, and learning," Battleday and Brem wrote. "Importantly, we did not observe any preponderances for side effects or mood changes."

How soon will we see doctor's prescribing modafinil for brain enhancement? Not anytime soon. Just last month the American Medical Association adopted a policy discouraging the nonmedical use of prescription drugs for cognitive enhancement in healthy individuals.

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