Those Smart Drugs Are Making You Stupid
Yeah, we know. Adderall’s got a swift little kick to it. It can make you feel smarter too. A lot smarter. Same goes for Ritalin. In fact, that why both are known as “smart drugs.” The problem is, all that so-called smartness they’re supposed to provide is only an illusion. Sure, you might feel as if you’re the sharpest knife in the drawer, but that’s as far as it goes. The truth is you’ve been duped. Big time.
A recent study backed by the University of Melbourne seems to prove it. And we’ve got a feeling it’s right on target. Why? Well, in the first place the study is based upon some very serious research. In the second, it was conducted by some equally serious researchers. Heck, a good chunk of the original data was culled by the researchers themselves.
We’re talking about Elizabeth Bowman and Carsten Murawski of the University of Melbourne Centre for Brain, Mind, and Markets, and David Coghill of its Departments of Paediatrics and Psychiatry. We’re also talking about University of Cambridge Faculty of Economics member Peter Bossaerts. And we’re talking studies such as “Surveying the Use of Pharmaceutical Cognitive Enhancers in the Australian Financial Services Industry” and “Does methylphenidate improve academic performance?”
In other words, smart people doing smart studies set where smart drugs are most misused and abused – in the workplace and the classroom.
Researching Smart Drugs
Make no mistake, this is some serious research. Heck, a tweaked Intro alone will tell you how deep these researchers are willing to dive.
Prescription-only stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin are increasingly used by employees and students to enhance workplace or academic productivity. However, though there is a subjective belief that these drugs are effective cognitive enhancers, evidence to support this assumption is, at best, ambiguous.
Yes, some improved cognitive capacities have been shown. Yet these effects appear to be more evident in clinical samples than the general population. This finding may be explained by ceiling effects. Furthermore, even in clinical populations, mitigation of cognitive deficits has only mild benefits for functioning. Consequently a meaningful impact of such drugs on real-world function is yet to be convincingly established.
A mouthful, to be sure. But that mouthful shows very little reason to opt in on so-called smart drugs.
Take the knapsack optimization problem (aka the “knapsack task”). This experiment was designed to determine if and/or how three popular smart drugs work by mimicking the difficulty of real-life daily tasks.
Forty participants, aged between 18 and 35 years, were tasked with packing a knapsack, four separate times, within four minutes. They were then asked to return and repeat the experiment once a week over the course of the next month. Thing is, within that timespan some were being administered smart drugs.
Fret not though, because the study was a randomized double-blinded, placebo-controlled single-dose trial. And the participants were administered standard adult doses of methylphenidate (MPH), modafinil (MOD), and dextroamphetamine (DEX). That is, Ritalin, Adderall and Dexedrine.
CBS News Report
Let’s put it layman’s terms. According to CBS News, who got the goods from ScienceAdvances, researchers found that after a dose of one of three so-called smart drugs the participants actually had small decreases in accuracy and efficiency on a cognitive task, along with large increases in time and effort (emphasis added).
These were significantly larger increases too. In fact, participants given methylphenidate (Ritalin) took about 50% longer to complete the given task than those who got a placebo. Conversely, participants who were high performers with the placebo tended to show a bigger decrease in performance and productivity after receiving one of the supposed-to-make-you-smarter drugs.
That’s a problem. Especially since more and more employees and students are considering these prescription-only drugs to be smart drugs, and are using them to optimize work or cram for exams. In fact, some middle and high schools in the United States show nearly 1 in 4 students report misusing prescription stimulants for ADHD during the year prior.
“Our results suggest that these drugs don’t actually make you ‘smarter,'” said Bossaerts. “Because of the dopamine the drugs induce, we expected to see increased motivation, and they do motivate one to try harder. However, we discovered that this exertion caused more erratic thinking.”
Smart Drugs Don’t Make You Smarter
Not only do smart drugs not make you smarter, they impede your capacity to work smarter too.
Lead author Bowman said, “our research shows drugs that are expected to improve cognitive performance in patients may actually be leading to healthy users working harder while producing a lower quality of work in a longer amount of time.”
Shortage of Smart Drugs
Making matters much worse is that the rampant misuse has created a severe shortage. In fact, clinicians say the shortage of Adderall and other stimulants is having a negative impact on patients who depend on them to concentrate at work and school. This could possibly lead to depression and mental exhaustion.
Much of that shortage can be attributed to the uptick in pandemic-related telehealth. Now that there’s no need to isolate however, perhaps prescribers need to second look a lot of their earlier prescriptions. And since these smart drugs aren’t making anyone any smarter anyway, folks who don’t actually need these medications, can simply stop using them. After all, being selfish is one thing; holding yourself back is another altogether. And taking Addies and Rit without ADHD is just like putting a lasso around your very own neck.