Unmasking the truth: Do nootropics truly boost productivity?
If you've seen Limitless, you'd recall how a pill boosted the actor's cognitive function. So, do smart drugs really exist?"
Limitless, the movie where Bradley Cooper maximizes his brain capacity with a mystery pill, is familiar to many. While it’s fiction, many in reality pursue similar “Limitless” outcomes with substances known as smart drugs or nootropics. These substances are said to enhance and accelerate cognitive processes. One well-known example is Ritalin.
Nootropics (1), often called “brain doping” or “intelligence boosters,” are a centuries-old practice in India to enhance cognitive abilities like creativity and focus. Staple herbs like Bacopa monnieri in Ayurveda have been employed to boost cognition. Today, we see the rise of synthetic nootropics.
First developed in the 1960s, drugs like Piracetam, Methylphenidate (Ritalin), and Modafinil (Modalert) are now commonly prescribed for conditions like ADHD, Alzheimer’s, narcolepsy, and Parkinson’s. Unlike herbal supplements, which often take weeks to show effects, synthetic nootropics deliver an immediate, potent impact.
While they may not increase intelligence, they can boost focus and alertness. Today, we live in a very competitive society, so these drugs can be a problem-solver and irreplaceable for many people.
Smart drugs, widely favored by students and young adults in the US, India, and our country, are at the center of ongoing debates. The safety and ethics of pharmaceutical nootropics, likened by some to steroids for an unfair advantage, are always being discussed. Nevertheless, most neurologists agree that evidence regarding their safety is inconclusive. But they’re still popular.
The nootropics market, valued at $2.17 billion in 2018, is expected to more than double to $4.94 billion by 2025.
“I started using Ritalin in 2014 on a friend’s advice. I tried it and saw a significant improvement, leading me to consult a doctor. I’ve used it for four years, initially to manage my hyperkinetic disorder. It initially enhanced my focus, mental clarity, and even boosted my libido.
However, the past year has been challenging. I became highly emotional, and the initial effects seemed to wear off. I began consuming my two-month supply within a week, focusing more on the drug than my work. The aftermath even includes dental decay. Ritalin, while initially helpful, distorted my perceptions over time and felt addictive. Overdosing felt almost inescapable.
I’ve stopped for a month now after exhausting my three-month supply within a week. I have to wait until the end of the month to get a prescription, but my goal is to quit entirely. Well. I hope I can succeed.”
“I had been struggling with studying. At 25, on a friend’s advice, I saw a doctor and was diagnosed with ADHD. That’s how I started with 18 mg of Ritalin and Concerta, which I’ve been using for about six years. Initially, it alleviated my anxiety and paranoia, although that effect diminished over time, regardless of intermittent breaks. It notably improved my productivity, but not my creativity.
I continue its use due to my penchant for stimulants, despite side effects like insomnia, appetite loss, and withdrawal-induced anxiety, which sometimes leads to other stimulants, creating a cyclical dependence. Over the long term, I believe it damages health and fosters addiction, with the immune system being most affected and causing physiological issues when not taken.
While contemplating quitting, I first need to break away from my fast-paced lifestyle, which I often link to Ritalin usage. My doctor, who’s also a friend, is aware of my usage and advocates for its benefits, encouraging its use if it helps.”
“In high school, I was referred to a psychiatrist by my psychologist and started using Ritalin, continuing it for 9–10 years through university and my master’s degree. Now, I’ve stopped.
Initially, Ritalin caused unpleasant physical sensations like palpitations, dizziness, and nausea, hampering my focus. Over time, while I didn’t grow accustomed to these effects, I learned to control them and use the medication beneficially. As my tolerance developed, the side effects lessened or only appeared with higher doses. I started with half a tablet, eventually reaching four at a time by the end of university, though I reduced it during my master’s.
Ritalin improved my focus and productivity, facilitating my completion of a double degree, thesis writing, and maintaining academic standing. However, the necessity of this is debatable.
Toward the end, I found myself enjoying the sensations I was managing. Despite my doses increasing, their effects were halving, leading to a desire to consume more in less time.
A combination of factors, like stomach issues and constant anxiety, led me to quit, especially since I was taking antidepressants. Post-academic life allowed me to gradually eliminate Ritalin, realizing it wasn’t essential for focus and the side effects weren’t worth it.
Now, I feel improved, with activities like meditation having a greater effect on my concentration. In my personalized work schedule, I find no need for medication.
While I don’t regret taking Ritalin, given that it’s part of my personal journey, I wish it wouldn’t be so readily prescribed to children. If families and educational systems were more informed, it could be better.”
“I started taking Ritalin and Concerta, prescribed for ADHD, at 3–4 years old. I took both during my high school years. Despite no longer taking them, perhaps my severe ADHD necessitated the drugs during my development years (12–23 years old.)
I dislike any medication, and while they were needed due to my severe ADHD, the side effects were substantial. Since high school, I stopped these drugs, yet I accept that they aided me during exams.
With age, I’ve become calmer and don’t need such medication. I view them as potentially addictive and am critical of parents relying on them for their child’s school success.
My family encouraged sports since I was little. This helped channel my energy, and I excelled in swimming and volleyball. I see sports as a valuable tool for children with similar conditions, fostering focus without medication.
The controversy surrounding nootropics’ usage by those without medical conditions is indeed concerning, especially considering their potential side effects. It raises ethical and fairness questions, and the need for these ‘smart drugs’ given our competitive society. Interestingly, caffeine and tea are the most consumed nootropics worldwide.”
The controversy surrounding nootropics’ usage by those without medical conditions is indeed concerning, especially considering their potential side effects. It raises healthy, ethical and fairness questions, and the need for these ‘smart drugs’ given our competitive society.
Here is an interesting info: caffeine and tea are the most consumed nootropics worldwide.
Ok. smart drugs may enhance productivity. But, is it worth the possible side effects?
For some, maybe.
For some, maybe not.
(1) Nootropic is a term for drugs and supplements used to boost mental functions like attention, memory, creativity, and motivation in healthy individuals.