Enhancing Cognition: Nootropic & Promnestic Drugs

We can enhance cognition in two major ways: Cognitive enhancers (nootropic agents) and memory enhancers (promnestic agents). Together, these substance can augment cognitive (intellective) functions as well as abet memory.

Promnestic drugs

The drugs used to boost cognitive functioning in Alzheimer’s disease do so by one of two methods. Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors impede the degradation of acetylcholine, a major neurotransmitter in the central nervous system (CNS) that is involved in the formation, storage, and recall of memories–or, at least, that’s the theory behind it. As it turns out these drugs are not very effective in attenuating the inexorable effects of Alzheimer’s disease but they may work as cognitive enhancers in normal individuals.

These four promnestic drugs (cholinesterase inhibitors) include:

Aricept (Donepezil hydrochloride)

Cognex (Tacrine hydrochloride)

Exelon (Rivastigimine tartrate)

Reminyl (Galantamine hydrochloride) and also available at your local health food store without a prescription

NMDA Receptor Antagonists, operate in the CNS by way of a different neurotransmitter route. N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists (“antagonists” decrease the availability of a neurotransmitter) operate in the CNS by preventing glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter, from activating NMDA receptors and impeding new memory formation and include the following drug:

Namenda (Memantine hydrochloride)

Other drugs that putatively boost attention and sustain it include caffeine, the alpha 2 agonists (“agonists” increase the availability of a neurotransmitter) such as clonidine and guanfacine (Tenex), the dopaminergic and pro-noradrenergic antidepressant, buproprion (“Wellbutrin”), and the noradrenergic selective reuptake inhibitor, reboxetine (“Edronaz”). With regard to reboxetine, prefrontal noradrenergic pathways that subserve the neurotransmitter, norepinephrine (the adjectival form is “noradrenergic”), appear to play a role in focusing and sustaining attention as well as boosting interest and motivation. Low levels may induce depression. Hyperactivity and impulsivity, on the other hand, are mediated by the nigrostriatal dopamine pathway and may be reduced by drugs that “antagonize” or decrease the availability of dopamine in the CNS.

Nootropic drugs

Nootropic drugs purportedly enhance cognition and learning and may even reverse learning impairments. Piracetam is now available in the US through health food stores as well as online. Vinpocetine, another nootropic drug, is also worth checking out at your local health food store or online. You might also consider Bacopa monnieri.