September 16, 2010
Alzheimer's Drug Improves Perceptual Learning

Will college students (or maybe tennis players training to track balls) start taking their senile grandparents to multiple doctors to get multiple copies of the same Alzheimer's drug prescription?

Berkeley Research on a drug commonly prescribed to Alzheimer's disease patients is helping neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, better understand perceptual learning in healthy adults.

In a new study, to be published online Thursday, Sept. 16, in the journal Current Biology, researchers from UC Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and School of Optometry found that study participants showed significantly greater benefits from practice on a task that involved discriminating directions of motion after they took donepezil, sold under the brand name Aricept, compared with a placebo.

The study examined the effects of detecting whether successive moving dots were moving in the same direction. The results prove nothing about the utility of taking this drug to study science, law, or history. The researchers want to study the effects of this drug on other forms of learning.

Will the development of new drugs for Alzheimer's, dementia, and other neurological disorders also produce more drugs that boost intellectual ability? Seems likely.

The study was double blind.

Neither the researchers nor the participants knew whether they were taking the placebo or donepezil, a cholinesterase inhibitor that enhances the effects of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain. Cholinesterase inhibitors act by blocking an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is known to play an important role in mediating visual attention and, in animal studies, has been found to promote changes in the brain that are associated with learning.

Have you used drugs to enhance your ability to learn? If so, which drugs and which ones helped? Still using drugs to either enhance learning or to enhance performance of tasks you already know how to do? Anything work better than caffeine?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 September 16 06:38 PM  Brain Enhancement

Performer said at September 17, 2010 5:30 AM:

Still using drugs to ... enhance performance of tasks you already know how to do?

I find Viagra and a joint enhance performance in a "task I already know how to do".

Lono said at September 17, 2010 7:52 AM:

Nope - still using videogames instead to great effect!

Psychedelic drugs made me too intolerant of ignorance and corruption around me in society.

(I literally could not concentrate due to my enhanced moral outrage)

I already have problems dealing with the Densans surrounding me as it is - I would imagine further doping would only exacerbate the situation.

I am, however, very interested in Hydergine which reportedly Albert Hoffman took daily for the majority of his later years,

and he lived to be 102 with little reduction in his faculties over that time.

I don't like the idea of using doping on norms as a means of uplifting - as it is so impermanent - but if it can assist them in specific scholarly studies - I can see the benefit - it is just not likely, currently, to assist me in my pursuits presently.

Once our social structure has been somewhat reformed, I do think nootropics will become quite useful and common over-the-counter solutions to specific intellectual challenges.

dave said at September 17, 2010 11:47 AM:

Is it possible to get modafanil legally when you have no reason other than wanting it as a study aid?

AMac said at September 17, 2010 3:07 PM:

The press release doesn't describe a well-known feature of Aricept and all other approved drugs for Alzheimers Disease. They have an initial effect in improving aspects of cognition, but the decline of cognition over time continues at the same rate as it would have, absent the drug therapy. In other words, in a plot of cognitive function over time, Aricept doesn't change the slope. It has a one-time boost effect, thus changing the intercept.

If an AD patient discontinues Aricept, their cognitive function falls back to where it would have gotten to, had he or she not gone on the drug.

Probably this is because Aricept doesn't treat the underlying disease process, rather it helps the brain compensate in particular ways, offsetting some of the symptoms.

How would this affect its effectiveness over time in a setting of a normal, stable person, rather than in the setting of a progressive disease like AD? I don't know. Likely it would provide a short-term boost to certain functions, that would fall back to "control" levels once the drug is discontinued. But perhaps other dynamics would come into play.

Parker Bohn said at September 18, 2010 11:40 AM:

Not surprising. Being an indirect acetylcholine agonist, I figure that Donepezil is acting as a stimulant, and stimulants are well known for boosting short-term concentration and performance.

For instance, nicotine acts as an acetylcholine agonist, is a stimulant, and is known to boost learning and memory.
The reason smokers on average lose some weight when they start smoking and gain a few pounds when they quit, is also an effect of the stimulant nature of nicotine.

Hugh Jass said at September 18, 2010 12:44 PM:

That's funny, all the flies and mosquitoes I've sprayed with cholinesterase inhibitors over the years never got any smarter, just deader.
I might still have some malathion in the garage.. then again, I've seen Naked Lunch and know what happens when you abuse bug spray.

Re Dave's post, the answer is yes. Modafinil is available over the counter, in Mexico, anyway. Ask for "Modiodal"...

kenh said at September 18, 2010 3:12 PM:

I have sometimes taken the herbal version of Aricept, huperzine A. Both are bad on the gut.

dan said at September 18, 2010 6:41 PM:

LSD...nuff said

random said at September 20, 2010 11:02 AM:

The term you're looking for is nootropic ( ). Most are legal and depending on the person they can have some amazing effects. This post has some pretty good information:
Unfortunately the effects of most of these substances are fairly subjective. I tried Piracetam and Choline, and it helped me a great deal in social situations, but actually had a negative effect on my ability to do my job (software development).

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