Do Stimulants Make You Smarter?

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.

Reference:
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 Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Science Man

    Science Man

    September 13th, 2011 at 4:50 PM

    SMARTER!!!?? I don’t think so…

    The use of stimulants for non-medical purposes is not okay. Do you really think that they wouldn’t let anyone get a prescription unless they weren’t 100% sure that it didn’t improve intelligence?

    Trust me, pharmaceutical companies love money and if they thought there was a valid reason to allow stimulants to be used for intelligence purposes they would be ALL OVER IT! I kid you not, these guys have lots of power so the fact that you can’t get it means their is valid reason for it.

    By illegally taking stimulants you do not have the guidance of a medical doctor to ensure you are using it correctly. So kids, don’t do it. If you think your parents are overly upset with your grades now, just wait until they find out you illegally obtained prescription medicine!

  • brad

    brad

    September 13th, 2011 at 11:30 PM

    are we trying to encourage youngsters to try stimulants?! the reason why there is a slight increase in skills may well not be because of the stimulant but the state of mind of the person himself!

    remember all the cartoon characters drinking plain water and feeling a lot more enthusiastic and stronger in the ending of Space Jam?! Its because Bugs Bunny told them it would help them achieve that. They believed it would and felt it did!

  • runninfast

    runninfast

    September 14th, 2011 at 4:19 AM

    I have some friends who swear by them for weight loss. I know very unhealthy but they claim that this is the only way they have been able to lose weight and consistently keep it off.

  • Steadman

    Steadman

    September 14th, 2011 at 12:57 PM

    Make you smarter huh? Well I for one think the very opposite. I am against taking anything into your body for something that you really could control on your own. Reading makes you smarter, learning new things and trying new things makes you smarter, not drugs.

  • LINDA

    LINDA

    September 14th, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    @brad:Even I feel it is a result of what is expected of it rather than the substance doing anything by itself..But this is a dangerous trend nevertheless and more and more people are now exposing themselves to the side-effects of meds and that too unnecessarily(unlike those that really need those meds who take it for benefit and have to take the side-effects as a part of the package).

  • Eric Wiley

    Eric Wiley

    September 18th, 2011 at 4:02 PM

    ““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.”

    Okay, who else feels those researchers just encouraged students to buy these drugs that they don’t physically need with that statement? Good grief! I thought researchers were supposed to be smart. Way to go…

  • Rex Davies

    Rex Davies

    September 18th, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    @Eric Wiley-My thoughts exactly, Eric! I see they didn’t address in detail the “various impairments” suffered nor the long term damage taking it would have on a healthy person either.

    It only follows that the users will take it long term, as they would continue to need (or perceive they need) that edge to follow through with the scholarship workload.

  • Nick Melville

    Nick Melville

    September 18th, 2011 at 5:21 PM

    @Rex Davies – Why would they stop there,Rex? Take that assumption to its logical conclusion. Then they graduate, and want the drugs for that edge to help them secure their first job. Then when chasing their first promotion. Then when they need to cope with their newly increased workload… and so on and so on.

    These guys or girls could be taking it until they retire! It could very quickly become their crutch instead of relying on their God-given abilities to give them that edge.

    I see our war on drugs expanding to these meds too in the next decade if that continues.

    And yes, agreed, the researchers offered no admonitions at all there. If anything they put the fear of God into them of being a runner-up and not a winner. Very thoughtless indeed.

  • m.h.w

    m.h.w

    September 18th, 2011 at 5:31 PM

    They can improve your concentration if you’re having problems with it, but not enough to warrant a prescription for some. My sister used adderall but it didn’t work for her at all. I have the same issues although no ADD dx yet. I took it once and it definitely helped me focus on my studies better. Why is the one thing that helps me prescription-only?

  • Sandra Caine

    Sandra Caine

    September 18th, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    @m.h.w.– The reason they are on prescription is so a doctor can monitor your usage of it and watch carefully for any adverse reactions you may have from taking them.

    If you become dependent on the drug, physically or psychologically, you’ll have to keep finding someone to sell it to you just like any other addict and no doctor will prescribe a pill to fuel an addict’s habit.

    People can’t be trusted to use them responsibly and not pass them out like candy – as this study has demonstrated!

    And that’s before taking into account that they may be taking other drugs that this one could react with. It’s stupid to risk damaging yourself internally by taking meds that aren’t prescribed for you. If you genuinely need it prescribed for you, see your doctor!

  • kirk l.

    kirk l.

    September 18th, 2011 at 6:40 PM

    I don’t see taking that drug as any different from drinking coffee to get you going in the morning. It’s a stimulant too, you know.

    If I wanted to take a legal drug to enhance my performance in my daily life, whose business is it anyway? Nobody’s!

    At least legal drugs have been approved by the FDA for safety. Unlike crackheads who’ll smoke anything, I’m wanting to improve my life, not wreck it.

  • Pattie Francis

    Pattie Francis

    September 19th, 2011 at 2:37 PM

    These students that are selling them must be dumb as a box of rocks. Do they really believe their doctor won’t notice they used up a 90 day supply in 60 days when they ask for a repeat prescription? Enjoy your jail time, kiddos. You’ve graduated for sure – from students to drug dealers. That will look good on your resume.

  • K. Reagan

    K. Reagan

    September 19th, 2011 at 3:39 PM

    The pharmaceuticals are sitting on a goldmine with this stimulant craze. I’m surprised no bright spark in their company has suggested they create a legal stimulant that’s a derivative of these drugs and sell it OTC at a fair price. They could watch the money roll straight in.

  • Peter

    Peter

    March 28th, 2012 at 2:34 AM

    As a regular stimulant user, I can say that first hand stimulants absolutely make you smarter and increase your cognitive ability. I felt for many months that it was like parts of my brain which had remained dormant were now active and accessible. Not only was my memory and thinking ability increased but my creativity also significantly increased. There was the added bonus of being able to sell many of the stimulants to my friends, I’ve made a cool 100 thousand dollars over the past couple of years selling stimulants to my friends. Laughing all the way to the bank here!

  • Zach

    Zach

    February 5th, 2013 at 9:26 PM

    I cannot believe these idiotic comments. Simple-minded, redundant points all lacking credibility for being based on an utter lack of information. I’m not going to take a side here, just tell you all do research a bit before spewing nonsensical palaver.

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