As advancements in the field of medicine and particularly genetic engineering and biotechnology are made, there is an unprecedented rise in ethical controversies. Some areas in the field of medicine that have caused a lot of ethical debate include euthanasia, issues of privatization, equity, and patient rights. A recently developed controversy is in the area of human enhancement technologies. Currently, there is a rise in the use of nootropics, or cognitive enhancement drugs.

Nootropics are drugs, supplements, and other substances that are used to potentially increase brain power. According to Your Inception, they target cognitive functions such as motivation, creativity, memory, and other executive functions in healthy persons. Previously, nootropics were primarily used to improve the capability of patients with neurological disorders. Today, as man yearns to have superpowers and rise above the basics of being just a mere man, nootropics have become quite common, and are being used by a significant part of the population to increase their brain’s functionality.

This has, therefore, led to a never-ending debate surrounding this ethical dilemma: Is there a just and equal distribution of cognitive enhancement drugs? It’s natural for the disadvantaged to feel that in case a large portion of a country was using nootropics, then without a doubt, they stand a better chance at succeeding, at the disposal of the disadvantaged. But first, even before getting into the details of whether nootropics are property distributed, is the question of their efficiency. After all, why fight over something that is just a myth?

That Said, Do Nootropics Work?

Understanding how nootropics work is necessary for their regulation and legalization. Not only this, but their risks can be assessed, to inform the population at large whether they are safe for nonprescription uses. There are many kinds of nootropics used by nonprescription users. Nevertheless, the two most popular ones are methylphenidate, or Ritalin, and modafinil, or Provigil. Here’s more on the two drugs:


Modafinil is prescribed by doctors to alleviate symptoms of “excessive daytime sleepiness”. It is a drug administered to people who generally suffer from sleep disorders especially sleep deprivation. As a result, they find themselves sleepy during the day, which can be quite detrimental to students, and people with jobs. Generally, even without school and work, irregular sleep schedules lead to restlessness, exhaustion, and stress. Modafinil s therefore primarily used to promote wakefulness.

It helps sleep-deprived persons maintain their cognitive capacity. As such, this drug has been extended to military personnel apart from mentally disturbed persons. The military uses it to keep awake during long missions. Today, the general population uses the drug to improve their ability to pay attention, as shown by Prof. Reantis et al. He further conducts a meta-analysis that shows that though non-sleep deprived individuals primarily use the drug to stay alert, it also enhances working memory. In this case, working memory implies the temporary holding of information for short spans.    

 Research conducted by Turner et. al. continues to show that beyond attention, modafinil also improves the following:

  • Stop-signal reaction time
  • Spatial planning
  • Pattern recognition
  • Memory for digits
  • Mood enhancement

Nevertheless, controversial data has been collected, showing that modafinil raises anxiety levels and has no cognitive enhancement capabilities. This was observed from one research study, which led to the argument that previous data was correct, being collected from different research parties.

Methylphenidate (MPH) or Ritalin

Ritalin is used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Just like modafinil, different researchers have arrived at different conclusions. After consumption, MPH primarily triggers the brain to release 2 hormones: noradrenaline and dopamine. Noradrenaline, as shown by a research study conducted on monkeys improves the spatial working memory (SWM). On the other hand, dopamine enhances the central nervous system’s functions such as movement, pleasure, attention, mood, and motivation.

Both these hormones arouse the patent, making them improve their attention, as shown by Professor Lynch et al. On the other hand, another research party showed that it did not enhance attention, but improved the functioning of the spatial working memory. Yet another different one showed that it made it harder for people to perform familiar tasks, but it improved the performance of new tasks.

In a nutshell,

Despite the different research findings, science does show that nootropics work. Moreover, further research has been conducted, bringing to our attention to multiple other benefits of these and other nootropics. Their effect, however, differs from one person to another. Cools and Robbins particularly indicate that the discrepancies amongst researchers show that nootropics only work for some, and not for some, albeit their effect is modest.

Currently, people use them for one singular purpose: To improve their ability to perform different cognitive tasks. Their effect has however had far-reaching consequences that override their cognitive enhancements benefits. Socially, they are proving to cause havoc. Currently, the majority of nootropics consumers do not consume them because they feel that they need additional help to enhance their cognitive

Rather, they consume them due to societal pressure. After all, if my classmates are using drugs to help them understand and pay attention better, why would I rely on my mere ability alone? Using this as a common scenario, students, employees, and many other people are using nootropics due to societal pressure. It has therefore led to the conclusion that the potential societal benefits of nootropics are much more significant than what the general cognitive benefits of nootropics may be.

Final Verdict

Nootropics are a valuable addition to the population. Science supports their functionality as cognitive enhancement drugs as well as mood enhancers. Conclusively, some of these enhancements would be increased concentration, mood, motivation, memory, reduced fatigue, and improved mathematical problem-solving. Their effects, however, vary relatively from one person to another.

Despite being advantageous, users should use them after an optimal informed decision. They should not just be used as a result of societal coercion. The majority of users nowadays use them just because others are using them. Sure, you may think that you need them to help you concentrate better in class, but the truth of the matter is that this does not mean that you will pass your exams. The use of nootropics should therefore be made when there is a vital need for them!