||Miércoles 30 de Abril de 2008, Ip nº 228
|Wired.com readers' brain-enhancing drug regimens
Por Alexis Madrigal
If Wired.com readers are any indication, performance-enhancing drugs are moving from the sports field into the office.
We're not talking steroids; we're talking brain steroids.
Surprisingly large numbers of people appear to be using brain-enhancing drugs to work harder, longer and better. They're popping pills normally prescribed for narcolepsy or attention-deficit disorder to improve their performance at work and school.
"We aren't the teen clubbers popping uppers to get through a hard day running a cash register after binge drinking," wrote a Ph.D. research scientist who regularly takes a wakefulness drug called Provigil, normally prescribed for narcolepsy. "We are responsible humans."
The scientist works at the elite MIT-affiliated Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But because it's a legal gray area to use prescription drugs for off-label purposes -- like superhuman concentration at work -- the scientist asked not to be identified.
He is not alone.
After we reported that nearly 20 percent of scientists and researchers use brain-enhancing substances, we asked Wired readers about their experiences with these drugs. The response was overwhelming.
More than 50 Wired.com readers wrote in, called and instant-messaged to offer their regimens and results.
At the end of this article, we detail 15 drug regimens from among the scientists, college students and business owners who wrote to us.
Readers report taking drugs like Ritalin and Adderall, which are most commonly prescribed for the treatment of attention-deficit-hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, to improve focus and memory. They also take Provigil, which was developed to promote wakefulness in patients with sleep disorders, to replace sleep.
Most readers' brain-drug usage falls into two main categories: focus drugs and sleep-replacement compounds. Ritalin (methylphenidate), Adderall and Focalin fall into the first category, which in limited studies have shown potential to increase cognitive function in healthy adults.
The second category ranges from caffeine up through Provigil (modafinil), drugs which help combat the effects of feeling tired.
Because the Food and Drug Administration is unlikely to approve the use of drugs for performance enhancement, individuals who experiment with these substances are on their own, testing drugs on themselves in a wild, crowdsourced, ad hoc brain-enhancement experiment. They join a scientific tradition of self-experimentation that stretches back to Santorio Santorio, a 16th-century physiologist.
Jamie Heywood, who runs a social network for medical patients, PatientsLikeMe, even coined a phrase for the new era of experimentation: "personalized research."
"I adhere to a clear set of rules for myself that, in spite of sounding like care instructions for a gremlin, have made this a very positive experience for me," the Whitehead scientist wrote. "I spent several weeks experimenting with the dosing: 200 mg in the morning, 100 mg, 50 mg, 10 mg, and then split doses of more in the morning and a reduced dose at lunch."
Others report similar experiments to find the optimum dosage, and that doesn't fit the pattern generally found in drug abuse.
"I take half a Provigil tablet each morning, and three gingko capsules -- just to activate my triple espresso," wrote a wireless ISP owner. "I used to fall asleep at the service bench around 2 p.m. Now, I pretty much click along all day and still have enough reserve energy to service mama at night."
With the FDA sidelined, doctors appear to be the mediators between the public and these chemicals, but our readers didn't find them particularly astute or ethical about prescriptions. One student at a New York-area IT school just looked up the symptoms of ADHD, drank a little too much coffee, and play-acted his way into a prescription for Focalin, another drug used to treat ADHD.
"I think we both knew why I was there," the student said. "I got the impression if I answered the questions right, he was OK having a new patient and giving out more drugs. So if we both followed protocol, we were both getting what we wanted."
The Whitehead researcher had a different, if equally disconcerting, experience.
"My experiences with physicians regarding Provigil have been hilarious, and usually conclude with me having to sketch out basic neurobiology and explain the difference between epinephrine and norepinephrine," he said.
Most readers are unapologetic about their use of performance-enhancing drugs.
"Honestly, I feel great about it, the drugs shouldn't be illegal in the first place," said the IT student.
Others called the drugs "amazing." One stressed-out elementary school teacher wrote, "I love me some Provigil."
"What do people expect when they are putting physicians and researchers in situations where they are expected to perform with minimal sleep?" the researcher asked.
But not all users were satisfied with their experiences. Some became accustomed to the drugs. Others started using too much and had to stop taking the drugs completely.
"While studying computer programming in college, I started trying Adderall," said one respondent. "It ruined my life, but I did teach myself about PC hardware and retained all the information from that year.
What you told us
Here are some of the drugs and the regimens reported by Wired.com readers. All requested anonymity.
Anonymous, married neuroscience graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania
Regimen: Provigil two to three times a month
Results: We both find that we get not only more work done on our "Provigil days" than any other entire week put together, but that work is actually *better quality* than the non-enhanced work. We generally have to write off the day after Provigil day as a lost cause. It's very draining.
Anon, analyst, former liberal arts college student
Regimen: Various dosages of Ritalin, Concerta or Adderall throughout college (without a formal prescription) to "get the best out of myself" ... average of about five pills a week.
Results:"It actually worked ... made dean's list. My GPA went from mid 2s to 3.5 in about a two-to-three-year span. The boost from meds is undeniable. Adderall worked the best but made me the most twitchy. Ritalin was a 'lil more mellow so was probably my fav. I have not taken any in six to eight months because of the anxiety and other side effects it caused. I think it was a very dangerous path I found myself on, that I do not want others to undertake. Fortunately I had the foresight to get my act together and find another way."
Regimen: I preload 2,000 mg of ibuprofen or acetaminophen before work. Super-busy days: 160 mg Adderall; normal days: 80 mg
Results: "When you have to juggle in upwards of 20 or 30 slips of orders at once, you take every bit of help you can get. The Ritalin or Adderall help focus and manage them better without getting too frazzled."
Anon, computer science major, Central Michigan University
Regimen: Two pills Propranolol occasionally
Results: Within 10 minutes of taking two of the tiny pills, I began to feel different. I can't say I was calmer per se, but it seemed to reduce the number of concurrent thoughts. It also annihilated any sense of competition. The effects of Propranolol only last about an hour. After it wears off, I am always very tired. I do still maintain a prescription of Propranolol, because it does wonders when public-speaking, writing papers or general musing.
Anon, college student in Florida
Regimen: Adderall Extended Release 30 mg, five to six times
Results: I was super focused and driven to do anything constructive for about 10 hours. It definitely improved my SAT score.... It improved my attention to detail.
Regimen: Provigil, daily for several months
Results: "The effect at first was stupendous. Most of all, the effect was to help me concentrate. Every single moment of every working hour, I was concentrating on whatever I was doing. Daydreaming, extraneous thoughts and all distractions were banished. Productivity soared. The drug had no effect on my ability to sleep, so long as I took it before 11 a.m. But after a month or two, this effect became attenuated, so I stopped taking it.
Regimen: Began at 20 mg once a day
Results: I developed a dependence and it got out of hand -- sometimes 60 to 80 mg in a day, which would leave me wiped out and agitated.
Capt. Nemo, owner of an ISP and programming shop
Regimen: One-half a Provigil tablet, three gingko capsules and a triple espresso
Results: I used to fall asleep at the service bench around 2 p.m. Now, I pretty much click along all day and still have enough reserve energy to service mama at night. ;)
Anon, University of Washington student
Regimen: A battery of nooropics and similar drugs (DMAE, Vinpocetine, Pramiracetam, etc.) since last September or so.
Results: I swear by them. No negative side effects, and my brain functions 150 percent more effectively. More regular use gives improved enhancement.
Anon, British entrepreneur
Regimen: Modafinil, two tablets around 9 p.m., around three times a month when I have a large block of work to push through
Results: It's enabled me to stay awake for 30 hours at a stretch, and improves my concentration and short-term memory significantly. Having taken it I don't feel tired, and I can think more clearly. Solutions are more obvious and I can concentrate a lot more on specific tasks, more easily ignoring distractions.
Regimen: Ritalin, Adderall, less common drugs, such as Piracetam and
Selegiline; also Alzheimer's meds, such as Namenda and Aricept.
Results: Wrote my high-intensity Ph.D. while on Adderall, wrote a 600-page monograph while on Namenda. I would recommend cognitive enhancement to everyone; however, meds will need to be prescribed and, more importantly, fine-tuned, and 99.99 percent of medical doctors will have no clue and no intention to help.
Anon, liberal arts college student
Regimen: Ritalin and Adderall
Results: In my senior year of college, I wrote a 35-page political science thesis in less than 12 hours. Started at midnight, ended at 10:30 a.m. I received an A on the paper. I have felt more creative, more focused and more energetic as a result of taking these drugs.
Anon, project manager at a CAD design firm for military contractors
Regimen: Ritalin, two to four 10-mg pills during the work week.
Results: I strategically take the first dose in the morning when I have the most work to do and projects to get organized. Every dose thereafter has less of an effect. I can only explain the drug as feeling physically much like coffee, however you mentally become entrenched in what you are doing. Mundane tasks and ideas turn into your new favorite subjects. They literally make productivity enjoyable. Even too enjoyable … I can accomplish more in one hour taking 20 mg, then I could normally accomplish in a full workday.
Anon, student at a Northeastern IT college
Regimen: 15 mg, Focalin extended release. Break open the pills and inside, there are little beads. You can just chew them up. They taste surprisingly like candy.
Results: There was a clear difference in school. I should have just done this years ago. The pills aren't as helpful for the daily stuff as they are in doing big projects or meaningful work. The kind of thing where you'd like to sit down and really accomplish something -- that's where it shines. I'll stay on them for life, but eventually I'll switch to Adderall.
Regimen: Used Modafinil 200 mg for about a year now. Four days on, two days off.
Results: Its good stuff. There is quite a synergistic effect with caffeine I have found. Caffeine seems to '"start it up" again when you think it's stopped working.
|| 24/04/2008. Wired Magazine.
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