By Lily McCann
Smart drugs, also known as neuro enhancers, memory enhancers, intelligence enhancers, cognitive enhancers and nootropics, are drugs and supplements that improve functions of the brain, including attention, memory, concentration and intelligence. These mental function enhancers are believed to work by improving the brain’s oxygen supply, stimulating the growth of nerves in the brain and increasing the brain’s supply of enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters.
Increasingly people are turning to smart drugs as a means of overcoming mental fatigue. Even people with ‘healthy brains’ are relying on smart drugs to improve mental performance. For example, in schools across India children are regularly taking little yellow and green pills as an attempt to do better in exams and get better grades at school. Whilst executives throughout the U.S are insisting their hair is becoming thicker and healthier as a result of their improved memory.
These so-called smart drugs include a plethora of over-the-counter herbal formulas as well as man-made prescription mixtures. For example, there are now many herbal smart drugs available over-the-counter which comprise in some cases of compounds derived from the brahmi plant found in rural India.
Despite the current trend for healthy individuals to pop smart drugs in order to become more mentally alert and subsequently perform better at school, university or work, do smart drugs however really help people with cognitive loss?
Smart drugs and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases are neurogenerative disorders whereby the functions of the brain rapidly decline. With Alzheimer’s patients the neuron-toxic beta amyloid protein replaces amyloid precursor protein and in doing so effectively destroys neurons with the result being severe and often irreversible memory loss.
Aricept is a smart drug that is currently licensed in Britain to treat Alzheimer’s patients suffering with cognitive loss. In blocking the action of a body chemical in the brain, Aricept works by breaking down a neurotransmitter that, according to the BBC, helps ‘pass messages between brain cells in the parts of the brain key to memory and conscious thought’.
Although Aricept is believed to delay the progression of Alzheimer’s, there are concerns about the side effects of this smart drug. As Dr Richard Harvey, from the Alzheimer’s Society told the BBC:
“In the short term, it causes diarrhoea and vomiting, so it might not be ideal.”
Tacrine is another smart drug that has been associated with treating Alzheimer’s patients suffering from cognitive loss. By blocking an enzyme involved in the breakdown of acetylcholine, Tacrine artificially enhances the number of failing neurotransmitters in the brain and temporarily assuages memory loss in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
HIV and memory loss
Many HIV patients report cognitive problems such as memory loss, which are often resonant of the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Although whilst the majority of Alzheimer’s sufferers are elderly people in their 70s, 80s and 90s, people living with HIV who are suffering from cognitive loss are often as young as 40 and 50. The similarities between the neurological decline of HIV patients and people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease have been confirmed by a key commonality of an abnormal distribution in the brain of the amyloid beta protein. Whilst the cognitive problems related to Alzheimer’s are often rapid, severe and aggressive, the cognitive problems related to people with HIV are typically much milder. These minor cognitive motor disorders (MCMD) usually consist of the inability to think clearly, perform hand-eye coordinated movements and not remembering things as well as they once did. The more serious HIV-associated dementia (HAD) is much less common, particularly since effective HIV drugs became available.
Smart drugs and HIV
In order to improve the cognitive functions of the brain, namely memory, many HIV sufferers are turning to smart drugs. In 2002 a smart drug called Memantine was licensed in the UK, a cognitive enhancer that was used to improve the cognitive loss in patients suffering with some form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s disease, HIV/AIDS related dementia and alcohol-related dementias. As will all cognitive enhancers or smart drugs, Memantine could not cure these diseases but were believed to have improved the symptoms of the diseases.
My Journey With AIDS
Kenn Chaplin was diagnosed with HIV in 1989. We would like to congratulate Kenn on his brave battle and winning against a range of AIDS-related illnesses, including bipolar II. You can read Kenn Chaplin’s remarkable and inspirational journey that gives hope and solace to others in Kenn’s situation at http://www.kwikmed.org/16-star-rated-aids-information-sites-blogs/. Kenn’s personal site includes a glossary of HIV/AIDS and information about this inspiring individual and his inspirational battle with HIV.