June 12, 2006

other tech: Memory steroids

Seen by some ambitious students as the winner's edge -- the difference between a 3.8 average and a 4.0, maybe their ticket to Harvard Law -- these "brain steroids" can be purchased on many campuses for as little as $3 to $5 per pill, though they are often obtained free from friends with legitimate prescriptions, students report.

These drugs represent only the first primitive, halting generation of cognitive enhancers. Memory drugs will soon make it to market if human clinical trials continue successfully.

There are lots of the first-generation drugs around. Total sales have increased by more than 300 percent in only four years, topping $3.6 billion last year, according to IMS Health, a pharmaceutical information company. They include Adderall, which was originally aimed at people with attention-deficit disorder, and Provigil, which was aimed at narcoleptics, who fall asleep uncontrollably. In the healthy, this class of drugs variously aids concentration, alertness, focus, short-term memory and wakefulness -- useful qualities in students working on complex term papers and pulling all-nighters before exams. Adderall sales are up 3,135.6 percent over the same period. Provigil is up 359.7 percent.

Adderall helps memory in mice by about 20-50%.

Genetic engineering, gene therapy could replace steroids for muscle enhancement without side effects and that could be possible for memory and intelligence enhancement as well.