Would You Take Viagra for the Brain?

If you have a headache you take a paracetamol. If you’re vitamin D deficient you take a daily supplement. If you’re struggling with erectile dysfunction you take Viagra. Popping pills to treat physical issues is the one of the most everyday things in the world.

But what if you just don’t think you’re smart enough? Would you take a pill for that?

Well.

You might have heard of Provigil (otherwise known as modafinil). It shot to fame after being featured in a Rolling Stone article a few years ago. It had been doing the rounds on college campuses, and after a journalist went on a four-day binge; secured its position as the ubiquitous ‘smart’ drug.It works on multiple neurotransmitter systems in the brain; particularly boosting dopamine, neorepinephrine and histamine.

Dopamine: No, not a backhanded nickname for your spouse; dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasurable reward. By triggering the dopamine system modafinil keeps you alert and awake.

Neorepinephrine: Beyond being a mouthful and a half, action on the neorepinephrine system will keep you alert and focused.

Histamine: Yes, this is the same histamine featured in antihistamines (a drug name anyone susceptible to mosquitos or hay fever will know). Modafinil’s effect on the histamine system will keep you awake.

So, by all accounts the drug doesn’t sound vastly different to the effects of a can of red bull (minus the shakes). But the results that have been recorded are pretty astounding. Measurements have recorded up-to 25% improvement in formal IQ in individuals on the drug; 10% better short-term memory rates; faster recall; better concentration; and, if you set score by academia – it’s use is apparently prolific amongst Oxford and Cambridge students.But Provigil does have an actual medical prescription – for Parkinson’s Disease. And you’re unlikely to persuade a GP to prescribe it to you for anything else.

Although modafinil is by all accounts a ‘smart drug’ using it isn’t a fix-all way to keep yourself up for days, being super productive and mind-blowingly sharp. The long-term side effects of the drug are not known. Plus, you have a finite amount of dopamine in your body at any given time. Flood your system with it and your stores will eventually be depleted.

Add to that, there’s been speculation that it might eventually make you dumber.

“Look at nicotine. Nicotine is an amazing cognitive enhancer, purely from a lab perspective! But for people who use nicotine chronically, we know their baseline cognitive function goes down and the nicotine is maybe bringing them back up to normal. So now nicotine is no longer a cognitive enhancer, it’s a cognitive normaliser. Because of the chronic use, the brain has adapted and without it, you’re performing at a lower level. There’s no reason to think that modafinil would be any different.”[1]
Dr Peter Morgan, Yale University

Taking drugs to overcome a physical problem is an efficient solution to an unfortunate problem. And when Provigil is taken to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s, it works a treat. But using the drug to bypass the perfectly normal and natural cycle of wakefulness and sleepiness creates a physical deficit; and no matter how smart it might make you in the short-term, it will catch up with you eventually.

If you have concerns about your health, or feel like you’re not performing at your best – book a consultation at The WellMan Clinic. We are men’s health specialists and can help you keep your body and mind in top condition for years to come.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/education/mortarboard/2013/may/31/is-modafinil-safe-in-long-term

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