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AMA Confronts the Rise of Nootropics

For immediate release:
Jun 14, 2016
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CHICAGO - Responding to the safety concerns generated by a growing personal use of nootropics, physicians at the Annual Meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA) today adopted new policy discouraging the nonmedical use of prescription drugs for cognitive enhancement in healthy individuals.

Nootropics – the so-called smart drugs – include a variety of prescription drugs, supplements, or other substances that claim to improve cognitive functions of healthy individuals, particularly executive function, memory, learning or intelligence.

Prescription drugs that are FDA-approved to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or narcolepsy are commonly associated with the off-label use by students and others seeking to boost memory, learning or other aspects of cognition. Such use is associated with a variety of adverse mental health conditions and patterns of substance misuse.

"As temptation grows to use prescription drugs for a competitive advantage at work and school, the nonmedical use of these drugs should be discouraged given potential for substance misuse and other adverse consequences," said AMA Member Maya A. Babu, M.D., M.B.A. "The AMA believes physicians can support this goal by not prescribing any drug for the purpose of cognitive enhancement in otherwise healthy individuals."

While prescription stimulants carry real risks, they do not make people smarter. The available evidence suggests the cognitive effects of prescription stimulants appear to be highly variable among individuals, are dose-dependent, and limited or modest at best in healthy individuals.

Only a limited amount of information is available on the patterns of dietary supplements and herbal substances used for cognitive enhancement. More than 100 substances from amino acids to botanical preparations are advertised on websites as having the ability to improve cognitive performance, and their safety and efficacy have not been systematically examined.

The new AMA policy recognizes there is a gap in available information and calls for more research into the patterns of use, as well as risks and benefits, of dietary supplements and herbal remedies being promoted for cognitive enhancement. The AMA will also urge the Federal Trade Commission to examine advertisements for dietary supplements and herbal remedies that claim cognitive enhancement to ensure that they are not misleading.

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AMA Media and Editorial
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