There has been a dramatic increase in the use of stimulants by those who are deemed healthy and have no medical need for the drug. The surge comes from the belief that stimulants increase cognitive ability, making one smarter. The most common methylphenidates (MPH) or amphetamines (AMP) used include Ritalin, Concerta and Adderall, primarily prescribed for the treatment of ADHD. M. Elizabeth Smith from the Department of Psychology and Martha J. Farah, of the Center for Neuroscience & Society, both at the University of Pennsylvania, researched existing data to determine exactly how people were obtaining these illegal prescriptions, and if, in fact, they did make people smarter.
They found that most of the nonmedical users of these drugs get them from peers or friends who already have a valid prescription. Previous research revealed that over 50% of college students with a prescription for a stimulant had been offered money for their medication. More shocking was the fact that nearly one fourth of all high school students in recent studies admitted to having been asked to sell or give their medication away.
But the question remains, do stimulants actually enhance cognitive abilities? After exhaustive research, Smith and Farah found that although two thirds of the research does show some increase in cognitive functioning, many of the participants who “got smarter” also suffered various impairments as a result of taking the stimulants, thus decreasing their overall cognitive improvement to moderate levels. “If stimulants truly enhance cognition but do so to only a small degree, this raises the question of whether small effects are of practical use in the real world,” said the team. “A scholarship or a promotion that can go to only one person will not benefit the runner-up at all. Hence, even a small edge in the competition can be important,” said the researchers. Therefore, illegal use of stimulants may become more common in the future.
Smith, Elizabeth M., and Martha J. Farah. “Are Prescription Stimulants “smart Pills”? The Epidemiology and Cognitive Neuroscience of Prescription Stimulant Use by Normal Healthy Individuals.” Psychological Bulletin 137.5 (2011): 717-41. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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