The material is published in partnership with the project “Medicines for Life”, dedicated to improving the pharmaceutical literacy of patients.
Several years ago, a number of publications appeared in major Western media outlets about whether it is ethical to take drugs that improve memory. Doctors and journalists wondered if this was not doping, the use of which, like in sports, should be prohibited. Such attention to the problem was explained by the fact that it was then that students began to use so-called smart drugs, usually prescribed to patients with Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit disorder, etc. In Russia, the question of ethics is far away: drugs that traditionally mothers give to those lagging behind school children or who are accepted by all the same students are simply ineffective.
If you ask in any Russian forum: “What to take to improve memory?” – someone will definitely suggest glycine or piracetam. Both of these drugs belong to the group of nootropics, extremely common in the countries of the former Soviet Union. Nootropics are known to be compounds that stimulate metabolic processes in the brain. However, numerous studies have failed to prove that, for example, the same piracetam improves memory. As for glycine, only one small study was conducted, which can be considered at least somewhat convincing, demonstrating the benefits of this drug. In the West, glycine is seen more as a treatment for schizophrenia, although this is not a common practice.
Those who want to improve memory and at the same time “not poisoned by any kind of chemistry” often use biloba ginkgo extract, fish oil, vitamin E, ginseng, etc., etc. As is usually the case with alternative medicine, research that gives at least some certainty regarding the effectiveness of these drugs is not so much. However, biloba ginkgo is found to help with dementia (senile dementia). But studies involving healthy people are less large-scale and convincing. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are not effective for improving memory in healthy older people. Ginseng has only a small effect on cognitive abilities. And vitamin E, fish oil, multivitamin complexes and many other dietary supplements have not shown their effectiveness.
Usually, pharmaceutical preparations for improving memory (donepezil, galantamine, rivastigmine) are developed for those who become worse with age, for example, due to Alzheimer’s disease. However, for some time these funds are actively used for other purposes – they are bought by students during the session. The same happens with drugs from attention deficit disorder (methylphenidate) and narcolepsy (modafinil). They increase the production of various neurotransmitters – norepinephrine, acetylcholine, dopamine, etc. – which improves the transmission of signals between nerve cells.
These drugs really help to improve memory for a few hours, to concentrate attention. However, they have two serious drawbacks. Firstly, being under the influence of such means, a person may behave unnaturally, rudely towards everything that prevents him from engaging in the chosen matter. Secondly, these drugs were developed for sick people. How such agents act on the young healthy brain in the long term remains unknown.