Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Smart drugs pose special risks to developing brain of young people

Date:
May 13, 2014
Source:
Frontiers
Summary:
Students who take 'smart drugs' risk long-term damage to the brain's working memory and ability to move efficiently from one task to another. Over a million American students misuse prescription drugs or take illegal stimulants to increase their attention span, memory, and capacity to stay awake. Such "smart drugs" become more and more popular due to peer pressure, stricter academic requirements, and the tight job market.

Over a million American students misuse prescription drugs or take illegal stimulants to increase their attention span, memory, and capacity to stay awake. Such "smart drugs" become more and more popular due to peer pressure, stricter academic requirements, and the tight job market. But young people who misuse them risk long-term impairments to brain function, warn Kimberly Urban at the University of Delaware and Wen-Jun Gao at Drexel University College of Medicine, USA, in a NIH-funded review published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience.

The latest research on the potential lasting side-effects of the most important smart drugs on the uniquely delicate, developing brain of young people was reviewed. It was found that any short-term boost in mental performance due to smart drugs may come at a heavy cost: a long-term decrease in brain plasticity, necessary for task switching, planning ahead, and adaptive flexibility in behavior.

Special risks for young brains

Methylphenidate is the most popular smart drug among kids today and often sold on the black market. It was originally developed as a prescription-only drug (sold as Ritalin and Concerta) to treat ADHD, and works by increasing the level of neurotransmitter in the nervous system. Around 1.3 million American teenagers misused or abused methylphenidate without prescription in the previous month, according to The Partnership at Drugfree.org and the MetLife Foundation.

Trials on rats have shown that young, developing brains are particularly sensitive to methylphenidate: even low dosages early in life can reduce nerve activity, working memory, and the ability to quickly switch between tasks and behaviors. Such mental flexibility is important for complex motoric learning, interpersonal skills, and work performance.

Another popular smart drug is modafinil, sold under the name Proviigil against narcolepsy and other sleep disorders. Believed to work by raising the levels of dopamine in between synapses of brain nerve cells, it can boost memory as well as the ability to work with numbers and do other mental tasks. But research indicates that modafinil could have similar long-term undesired effects as methylphenidate on the developing brain.

New smart drugs also pose risks

Not yet widely used are ampakines, an emerging class of drugs currently studied by the US military with the aim of increasing alertness in soldiers. Ampakines bind to so-called AMPA receptor molecules in the nervous system and boost the response of nerve cells and strengthen connections between them. Known to improve memory and cognition in rats and healthy humans volunteers, ampakines are often considered to be relatively safe potential smart drugs. But they are not without dangers for young people: uncontrolled use might over-excite the nervous system, damaging or killing nerve cells, caution the authors.

Many "known unknowns"

More research on the long-term effects of methylphenidate, modafinil, ampakines, and other smart drugs, especially in young people, is urgently needed, the authors caution.

"What's safe for adults is not necessarily safe for kids," warns Urban. "The human brain continues to develop until our late twenties or early thirties. Young people are especially prone to abuse smart drugs, but also more vulnerable to any side-effects. We simply don't know enough about the long-term effects of these drugs on the developing brain to conclude they are safe."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Frontiers. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Kimberly R. Urban, Wen-Jun Gao. Performance enhancement at the cost of potential brain plasticity: neural ramifications of nootropic drugs in the healthy developing brain. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 2014; 8 DOI: 10.3389/fnsys.2014.00038

Cite This Page:

Frontiers. "Smart drugs pose special risks to developing brain of young people." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140513113453.htm>.
Frontiers. (2014, May 13). Smart drugs pose special risks to developing brain of young people. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140513113453.htm
Frontiers. "Smart drugs pose special risks to developing brain of young people." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140513113453.htm (accessed October 23, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

AP (Oct. 23, 2014) A scandal involving bogus classes and inflated grades at the University of North Carolina was bigger than previously reported, a new investigation found. (Oct. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) Feast your eyes on this gorgeous family-friendly resort. Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Your Favorite Color Says About You

What Your Favorite Color Says About You

Buzz60 (Oct. 22, 2014) We all have one color we love to wear, and believe it or not, your color preference may reveal some of your character traits. In celebration of National Color Day, Krystin Goodwin (@kyrstingoodwin) highlights what your favorite colors may say about you. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins