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Think twice before taking Aderall for cognitive enhancement: It may actually impair working memory and other cognitive abilities


ADHD drugs do not improve cog­ni­tion in healthy col­lege stu­dents (Sci­enceDai­ly):

Con­trary to pop­u­lar belief across col­lege cam­pus­es, atten­tion deficit hyper­ac­tiv­i­ty dis­or­der (ADHD) med­ica­tions may fail to improve cog­ni­tion in healthy stu­dents and actu­al­ly can impair func­tion­ing, accord­ing to a study by researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Rhode Island and Brown Uni­ver­si­ty.

Study co-inves­ti­ga­tors Lisa Weyandt, pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­o­gy and a fac­ul­ty mem­ber with URI’s George and Anne Ryan Insti­tute for Neu­ro­science, and Tara White, assis­tant pro­fes­sor of research in behav­ioral and social sci­ences at Brown Uni­ver­si­ty, had antic­i­pat­ed dif­fer­ent find­ings. “We hypoth­e­sized that Adder­all would enhance cog­ni­tion in the healthy stu­dents, but instead, the med­ica­tion did not improve read­ing com­pre­hen­sion or flu­en­cy, and it impaired work­ing mem­o­ry,” she said. “Not only are they not ben­e­fit­ing from it aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly, but it could be neg­a­tive­ly affect­ing their per­for­mance.” …

In con­trast to the small, mixed effects on cog­ni­tion, the drug had much larg­er effects on mood and bod­i­ly respons­es, increas­ing pos­i­tive mood, emo­tion­al rat­ings of the drug effect, heart rate and blood pres­sure. “These are clas­sic effects of psy­chos­tim­u­lants,” said White. “The fact that we see these effects on pos­i­tive emo­tion and car­dio­vas­cu­lar activ­i­ty, in the same indi­vid­u­als for whom cog­ni­tive effects were small or neg­a­tive in direc­tion, is impor­tant. It indi­cates that the cog­ni­tive and the emo­tion­al impact of these drugs are sep­a­rate. How you feel under the drug does not nec­es­sar­i­ly mean that there is an improve­ment in cog­ni­tion; there can be a decrease, as seen here in young adults with­out ADHD.”

The Study:

Neu­rocog­ni­tive, Auto­nom­ic, and Mood Effects of Adder­all: A Pilot Study of Healthy Col­lege Stu­dents (Phar­ma­cy).

  • Abstract: Pre­scrip­tion stim­u­lant med­ica­tions are con­sid­ered a safe and long-term effec­tive treat­ment for Atten­tion Deficit Hyper­ac­tiv­i­ty Dis­or­der (ADHD). Stud­ies sup­port that stim­u­lants enhance atten­tion, mem­o­ry, self-reg­u­la­tion and exec­u­tive func­tion in indi­vid­u­als with ADHD. Recent research, how­ev­er, has found that many col­lege stu­dents with­out ADHD report mis­us­ing pre­scrip­tion stim­u­lants, pri­mar­i­ly to enhance their cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties. This prac­tice rais­es the ques­tion whether stim­u­lants actu­al­ly enhance cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing in col­lege stu­dents with­out ADHD. We inves­ti­gat­ed the effects of mixed-salts amphet­a­mine (i.e., Adder­all, 30 mg) on cog­ni­tive, auto­nom­ic and emo­tion­al func­tion­ing in a pilot sam­ple of healthy col­lege stu­dents with­out ADHD (n = 13), using a dou­ble-blind, place­bo-con­trolled, with­in-sub­jects design. The present study was the first to explore cog­ni­tive effects in con­junc­tion with mood, auto­nom­ic effects, and self-per­cep­tions of cog­ni­tive enhance­ment. Results revealed that Adder­all had min­i­mal, but mixed, effects on cog­ni­tive process­es rel­e­vant to neu­rocog­ni­tive enhance­ment (small effects), and sub­stan­tial effects on auto­nom­ic respons­es, sub­jec­tive drug expe­ri­ences, and pos­i­tive states of acti­vat­ed emo­tion (large effects)…

The Study in Context:

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