We tend to associate the word doping with sport, or rather, with greater sporting success. But what about brain doping? What is this new trend of the XXI century?
For those of you who have never heard of it, mental doping or brain doping would consist of a series of external substances or methods of brain stimulation whose objective is none other than, very much in the style of Leonardo Di Caprio in Wolf of Wall Street, endure the workday based on stimulating our thinking body as much as possible.
Essentially this type of brain doping is usually identified with the consumption of stimulant medication, but today we will talk about the different forms of brain doping today, because we cannot forget the brain electrical stimulation, or the futurists brain implants.
What substances are a symbol of brain doping?
These substances share something in common, and that is that most are derived from methylphenidate, a drug family of amphetamines that is used for the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Others, as we will see later, began to be used as treatment for Alzheimer.
Brain doping using amphetamines
AND there are not a few professions that need a kick of these substances: Professors, cooks, the military and even professionals in emergency medicine have come to consume substances of this type. Without going too far, as Robles also tells us, in 2008 a survey of Nature revealed that up to 20% of researchers had used such substances.
The downside of the whole issue is not only the issue of possible tolerance (need for more consumption for the same effect) or dependency (physical or psychological need to consume), but that amphetamines and derivatives have other side effects such as arrhythmias, tachycardia, palpitations, high blood pressure and of course they are contraindicated in people who already suffer from heart disease. Of course, the drawbacks are diverse.
Brain doping with smart drugs
According to the studies, the donepezil It could return to our brain the plasticity lost with age, as if we could relearn as easily as a child. For his part, the valproate will be able to reconnect the brain, improving mainly the cerebral areas of the ear.
But the most famous of all is the modafinil, which is used by 1 in 5 students as a smart drug, since it supposedly increases cognitive ability and improves reaction capacity, including better test results. Its use is based on the fact that it makes us be a little slower to think of an answer, reducing impulsivity, and in turn improving thinking.
However, a study of PloS ONE It brought us back to reality last year: Modafinil does NOT serve to improve thinking. Also, some study participants with less creativity seemed to benefit, but those who were already creative did not see any improvement. At the moment, the studies seem not to agree.
Is it possible to use electrical stimulation as brain doping?
Brain electrical stimulation as a form of doping is not new; in fact, has already been used in the field of sports doping. In his day, neuroscientist Nick J. Davis already proposed the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and the transcranial electrical stimulation (tDCS) as a form of sports doping. Both techniques use electrical stimulation, although tDCS is more affordable to perform at home, and both appear to shorten sport response and recovery time (and improve learning).
TDCS in particular it is easily workable in home mode, because it only consists of a battery connected to suction cups that are put on the head. However, it is not recommended to do it at home. This type of brain doping already demonstrated in 2009 (by chance) to improve learning twice, but it has side effects unfortunate: learning only increases in the brain area stimulated at that specific moment, and with the consequence that it reduces the rest of the learning capacities of the other brain areas.
On the other hand, the objective of current research is not to improve large-scale and long-term learning, but only at very specific moments: Perform a surgical operation, or deactivate a pump.
But things don’t end here, as even the United States Armed Forces have seen some potential in this type of brain doping: Transcranial electrical stimulation or tDCS can improve yield twice as much as caffeine and for three times as long.
Futuristic Brain Doping: Brain Implants
To conclude, we cannot forget some futuristic methods of brain doping, which although they are not at hand for any individual, they are a method to take into account when it comes to medicine: brain implants.
At the moment the commercialization of these implants is not something that is just around the corner, but there are already several works that have shown that brain implants or neuroprostis can help us come back to hear, improve our eyesight and even improve mood and memory! Those are the discoveries made to date, but the future holds other surprises.
Without going too far, very Matrix-style, some research predicts that we can improve cognitive tasks such as mathematics, spatio-temporal intelligence, or orientation with only the use of electrodes implanted in particular brain areas.
Conclusion: Brain doping is here to stay
Obviously the use that has more ballots to increase is that of substances such as methylphenidate and derivatives, or even the lesser-known donapezil and modafinil; The issue of putting electrodes on our skulls to study better is not, at the moment, a safe option. Still, the side effects of both drugs and the use of electrodes are known, and not entirely, so none of all the options discussed today is recommended in any case.