How to Give Your Brain a Chemical Boost, and Whether You Should

At some point, we could all use a bit of performance enhancement for the noggin — something to help us ace that test, command the room or nail a project under deadline.

Yes, there’s a pill for that — in fact, there are several. Drugs shown to modestly boost cognitive performance include stimulants used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), medications prescribed for dementia, and a compound marketed as an alertness enhancer for shift workers and for people with narcolepsy or sleep apnea.

And let’s not forget two time-tested stimulants that offer some enhancement without prescription: caffeine and nicotine.

But if you’re smart enough to wish you could be smarter, you’re smart enough to ask tough questions about “cognitive enhancement.” In addition to wondering what works, you’ll want to know how these cognitive enhancers work, and how well.

And don’t forget to ask: What’s the downside? (Because there’s always a downside.)


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