Beginning in Silicon Valley and spreading across the US, the once techy trend of dosing with mindboosting drugs – or nootropics – has now spread to workplaces here in the UK. But while they’re no substitute for a healthy lifestyle, recent research suggests the right kind of self-medication can help your brain shift into a higher gear as you age.
First let’s examine the market. The number of neuro-active pills currently on offer is unprecedented, but Modafinil – an Fda-approved substance originally developed to treat narcolepsy – has the greatest body of evidence. It works by increasing levels of certain moodboosting neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, stimulating neural activity in the same way as amphetamines, just without the unwanted side effects or the P45 at home-time. A systematic review of studies published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology found it has significant brain-enhancing capabilities, including the ability to improve executive function, attention, memory and learning.
But a long-term leg-up to careercrushing concentration this, unfortunately, is not. Evidence suggests the most readily available nootropics – including prescription drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin, and some illegal recreational drugs – can be highly addictive, and when taken in high doses over a sustained period can actually break down muscle mass and reduce cognitive abilities. When it comes to smart drugs, just say no.
For those who want to boost their brainpower without synthetic supplementation, CILTEP – a blend of natural compound forskolin (thought to aid weightloss and prevent some cancers) and artichoke extract – may be just the tonic. It is available as capsules (£35 evolutionorganics.co.uk) and is thought to boost ‘synaptic plasticity’, according to research published in the Journal of Neurophysiology. Evidence, at last, that it is entirely possible to drug your way to a younger brain without the accompanying comedown. We’ll have two, thanks.