The American Medical Association (AMA) announced the adoption of a new policy discouraging the nonmedical use of prescription drugs for cognitive enhancement in healthy individuals.  

The so-called “smart drugs,” called nootropics, include various prescription drugs, supplements, and other substances that claim to enhance cognitive functions in healthy individuals especially with executive function, memory, learning or intelligence. Prescription drugs currently approved to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy are often linked to off-label use by students and others looking for improvements in memory, learning or other aspects of cognition. 

AMA Member Maya A. Babu, MD, MBA, stated, “the nonmedical use of these drugs should be discouraged given potential for substance misuse and other adverse consequences. The AMA believes physicians can support this goal by not prescribing any drug for the purpose of cognitive enhancement in otherwise healthy individuals.”

Current evidence suggests that the cognitive effects of these prescription stimulants vary greatly among individuals, are dose-dependent, and offer a limited or modest at best effect in healthy individuals. There is limited data on the patterns of dietary supplements and herbals used for boosting cognition. The safety and efficacy for over 100 substances that are marketed online as improving cognitive performance have not been systematically examined. 

The new policy recognizes the gap in available data and the need for additional research into the patterns of use, as well as risks and benefits of dietary supplements and herbals being advertised for cognitive enhancement. 

The AMA plans to also urge the Federal Trade Commission to study advertisements for dietary supplements and herbals that claim cognitive enhancement to make sure they are not misleading.

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