Mind Doping

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Performance enhancement by athletes using illegal drugs and hormones is old news. So in a recent article, the Los Angeles Times turned their attention to a different type of enhancement: "mind doping."

Mind doping (also known as "brain doping" or "cosmetic neurology") is the enhancement of cognitive performance by drugs, many of which are legal or available by prescription. Steroids and other hormones are used by athletes; in comparison, cognitive enhancing drugs are used by students, musicians, executives, and other professionals.

The most widely used cognitive enhancing drug is caffeine. (Who hasn't stayed awake for long hours drinking multiple cups of coffee?) Alternatives to caffeine discussed in the article include Ritalin and Adderall, both types of amphetamines ("speed"), which are always illegal and dangerous when used for unapproved purposes -- like staying awake to study for that final exam.

A relatively new drug designed for "wakefulness promotion" is Provigil (Modafinil). Provigil is not an amphetamine and the mechanism of action isn't clear, but it apparently acts directly on the area of the brain that promotes wakefulness. Provigil is formally approved for narcolepsy and "sleep work shift disorder" (SWSD), defined here:
SWSD is a sleep disorder that affects people who frequently rotate shifts or work at night. Schedules of these people go against the body’s natural circadian rhythm, and individuals have difficulty adjusting to this different schedule. SWSD consists of a constant or recurrent pattern of sleep interruption that results in insomnia or excessive sleepiness. This disorder is common in people who work non-traditional hours, usually between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.
The legal use of Provigil by professionals with erratic sleep/work schedules is becoming more common. In this article in the New England Journal of Medicine, the use of Provigil in patients with SWSD led to a decrease in sleepiness, attention lapses, and accidents or near accidents on the way home.

The article in the Los Angeles Times on mind doping is here.



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About the Author


MD, FACP, FASN

Dr. Schwimmer's blog explores the intersection of medicine, new technologies, and the Internet.

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