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Psychol Bull. 2011 Sep;137(5):717-41. doi: 10.1037/a0023825.

Are prescription stimulants "smart pills"? The epidemiology and cognitive neuroscience of prescription stimulant use by normal healthy individuals.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 3720 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.

Abstract

Use of prescription stimulants by normal healthy individuals to enhance cognition is said to be on the rise. Who is using these medications for cognitive enhancement, and how prevalent is this practice? Do prescription stimulants in fact enhance cognition for normal healthy people? We review the epidemiological and cognitive neuroscience literatures in search of answers to these questions. Epidemiological issues addressed include the prevalence of nonmedical stimulant use, user demographics, methods by which users obtain prescription stimulants, and motivations for use. Cognitive neuroscience issues addressed include the effects of prescription stimulants on learning and executive function, as well as the task and individual variables associated with these effects. Little is known about the prevalence of prescription stimulant use for cognitive enhancement outside of student populations. Among college students, estimates of use vary widely but, taken together, suggest that the practice is commonplace. The cognitive effects of stimulants on normal healthy people cannot yet be characterized definitively, despite the volume of research that has been carried out on these issues. Published evidence suggests that declarative memory can be improved by stimulants, with some evidence consistent with enhanced consolidation of memories. Effects on the executive functions of working memory and cognitive control are less reliable but have been found for at least some individuals on some tasks. In closing, we enumerate the many outstanding questions that remain to be addressed by future research and also identify obstacles facing this research.

PMID:
21859174
PMCID:
PMC3591814
DOI:
10.1037/a0023825
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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