ADHD Drugs Could Have Long-Term Consequences On Memory

By McCarton Ackerman 05/15/14

A new study showed that over time cognitive enhancing substances can have a negative impact on the brain's plasticity.

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It’s no secret that plenty of college students use ADHD drugs as a short-term means of getting ahead in classes, but those same drugs could have long-term negative consequences on the memory.

New research published in the journal Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience indicated that ADHD drugs can affect the brain’s plasticity, negatively impacting people’s ability to switch between tasks, be flexible in their overall behaviors, and plan ahead. Rat studies on Methylphenidate - otherwise known as Ritalin and Concerta - show that even low doses of the drug can harm memory and complex learning abilities.

The study also examined the use of ampakines, which are currently being studied by the military to increase alertness. Researchers found that the drugs can be particularly harmful for young people, resulting in an overstimulated nervous system that can actually kill nerve cells. But despite this, the authors of the study wrote that “the desire for development of cognitive enhancing substances is unlikely to diminish with time; it may represent the next stage in evolution - man’s desire for self-improvement driving artificial enhancement of innate abilities.”

Earlier this month, a poll presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada, showed that nearly 20 percent of students had misused ADHD drugs in an attempt to improve their academic performance. Most of the students who used these drugs didn’t have a prescription themselves and obtained them from friends who did. However, one-third of those polled didn’t see this as a form of cheating or academic dishonesty, compared to 41 percent who did.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.