Ward Dean, John Morgenthaler and Steven Fowkes
(ISBN 0 9627418 7 6)
Sceptics about the possibility of nootropics (“smart drugs“) are victims of the so-called Panglossian paradigm of evolution. They believe that our cognitive architecture has been so fine-honed by natural selection that any tinkering with such a wonderfully all-adaptive suite of mechanisms is bound to do more harm than good. Certainly the notion that merely popping a pill could make you intellectually brighter sounds implausible – the sort of journalistic excess that sits more comfortably in the pages of Fortean Times than any scholarly journal of repute.

        Yet as Dean, Morgenthaler and Fowkes’ (hereafter “DMF”) book attests, the debunkers are wrong. On the one hand, numerous agents with anticholinergic properties are essentially dumb drugs. Anticholinergics impair memory, alertness, focus, verbal facility and creative thought. Conversely, a variety of cholinergic drugs and nutrients, which form a large part of the smart chemist’s arsenal, can subtly but significantly enhance cognitive performance on a whole range of tests. This holds true for victims of Alzheimer’s Disease, who suffer in particular from a progressive and disproportionate loss of cholinergic neurons. Yet, potentially at least, cognitive enhancers can aid non-demented people too. Many members of the “normally” ageing population can benefit from an increased availability of acetylcholine, improved blood-flow to the brain, increased ATP production and enhanced oxygen and glucose uptake. Most recently, research with ampakines, modulators of neurotrophin-regulating AMPA-type glutamate receptors, suggests that designer nootropics will soon deliver sharper intellectual performance even to healthy young adults.

        DMF provide updates from Smart Drugs (1) on piracetam, acetyl-l-carnitine, vasopressin, and several vitamin therapies. Smart Drugs II offers profiles of agents such as selegiline (l-deprenyl), melatonin, pregnenolone, DHEA and ondansetron (Zofran). There is also a provocative question-and-answer section; a discussion of product sources; and a guide to further reading. “

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