The human brain is an exceptionally plastic structure, able to form and re-form connections in response to individual experiences and interactions with the outside world. One of the most important ways in which humans are able to control their mental experience today is through the use of cognitive enhancers—substances that noticeably alter and improve function in specific areas of the brain. While a plethora of experiences and drugs have been noted to alter one’s cognitive ability, only a few well-defined and documented cognitive enhancers seem to dominate recent academic study and today’s commercial market.
Q: Is it safe to take natural “smart drugs” to improve memory and focus?
Nootropics, a class of “smart drugs” and supplements that claim cognitive enhancement, are increasingly being taken to optimize performance. Enthusiasts say that they improve memory, boost concentration, and enhance productivity, but little scientific evidence exists to support such claims, and, for most, long-term safety has yet to be established. In addition, concerns about abuse, dependence, and addiction have not yet been adequately addressed. (Stay safe with supplements when you consult our definitive guide.)
The most widely accepted way to keep your mind nimble is to take on new mental challenges. One of the most promising methods is to study a language, which draws on “fluid intelligence,” among the first aspects of brain function to be affected by age. Regular meditation and short naps can also help.
If you insist on a pill to support healthy cognition, the best is supplemental …
While some are more optimistic than others, it is apparent that research regarding the use of cognitive enhancers, especially on a regular basis, is lacking. It is still difficult to identify long-term effects of the use of many cognitive enhancers that are relatively new to the scene, such as attention deficit drugs and various nootropics. Even caffeine, which has been in use for centuries, remains to be fully understood. It seems logical that, for the time being, an appropriate balance is important in the use of cognitive enhancers. “Too much of a good thing” is very much a concern in the use of cognitive enhancers.