Science Questions

What happens when you stop taking cognition enhancing drugs?

Sun, 21st Nov 2010

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Sean Hoskins via Facebook asked:

If these drugs are taken to help with exams, what happens when the exams are over? Does the body/brain go back to normal? Does this new found ability stay with the drug abuser? Or, worse yet, do things get worse, because the body is looking a crutch?


We put this to Charlotte Housden:

Charlotte -   Okay, so the way I'm interpreting this is a “crutch” as being the potential for this seems to be addictive in some way or somebody become dependent on them.  There is a concern that people might feel psychologically dependent on drugs because they lose confidence in themselves and they feel they need something extra in order to go on doing well.  Furthermore with modafinil, an imaging study has actually shown that modafinil binds weakly to dopamine transporters in an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens and other drugs which bind to this area have actually been shown to be addictive.  But because it binds weakly, it’s thought that the addictive potential is quite low, so people won't get addicted. 

But this is still something which could be a risk factor, and could affect some people.  In terms of long term use, if you're using these drugs to help with exams, what happens afterwards and as we’ve already discussed, we haven’t had the opportunity yet to look at long term use in healthy individuals.  But it is a possibility that if somebody was taking a lot of some of these drugs over a long period of time, there might be some changes neurologically, but it’s very difficult to say how this would transfer to behaviour.


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