Nootrop­ics & Other Cog­ni­tive Enhancement

TagLast edit: 2 Mar 2021 11:59 UTC by Yoav Ravid

Nootoropics (drugs/​psychoactive substances) is a form of biological Cognitive Enhancement, i.e., any modification in the biology of a person which increases their cognitive capacities 1. Apart from drugs (nootropics), alternative biological cognitive enhancements include, possibly, magnetic stimulation.

Note: this wage was last updated in November, 2014, and was written by a single author. It does not reflect any consensus on LessWrong.

The most imminent, successful and polemic method is through the use of drugs, substances that alter the functioning of our brain’s neurochemistry in order to improve certain aspects of cognition. There is an increasing trend in the use of cognitive enhancement drugs among healthy individuals in schools and colleges2 3. This means this kind of enhancement technology is already in use. The overall impact of a widespread use of these kinds of drugs could be enormous 4. However, the whole set of ethical consequences is unknown and subject of on-going developments 5 6 7 8 9 10 11


Currently, there are several drugs been used as cognitive enhancers by healthy individuals, e.g.: caffeine, ritalin, aderall, modafinil and Aricept. Academic research assessing the risks and benefits of these drugs in the healthy individual have began only recently. In addition, the results of those researches are vastly ignored by most of the concerned population. Three of the most used, promising and known cognitive enhancement drugs are listed in more detail below:

Many other studies in non-healthy patients have found some adverse effects38, but have confirmed its safety and—so far—no addiction potential profile. However, research on its long-term safety is deeply needed.

Biases affecting our judgment

There are several cognitive biases affecting our judgment on the risks and efficacy of biological cognitive enhancers. Two are worth mentioning:


Bostrom 44 argues for the huge impact of cognitive enhancements: “Imagine a researcher invented an inexpensive drug which was completely safe and which improved all‐round cognitive performance by just 1%. The gain would hardly be noticeable in a single individual. But if the 10 million scientists in the world all benefited from the drug the inventor would increase the rate of scientific progress by roughly the same amount as adding 100,000 new scientists. Each year the invention would amount to an indirect contribution equal to 100,000 times what the average scientist contributes. Even an Einstein or a Darwin at the peak of their powers could not make such a great impact. ” Even outside the academic community, imagine a drug that improves the efficiency of all employees and workers around the world by just 1%. This would roughly means adding more 1 trillion dollars of production every year to the world gross product. This would be equivalent to the addition of an entire well developed country to the world, Germany for instance.


  1. SAVULESCU, J. & MEULEN, Rudd ter (orgs.) (2011) “Enhancing Human Capacities”. Wiley-Blackwell.

  2. Jump up↑ KAPNER, E. (2003) “Recreational use of Ritalin on college campuses”. InfoFactsResources – The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention. Available at:​​hec/​​pubs/​​factsheets/​​ritalin.pdf (accessed 4 Jan 2006).

  3. Jump up↑ TETER, C.J. et al. (2005). “Prevalence and motives for illicit use of prescription stimulants in an undergraduate student sample”, J Am Coll Health 53 (2005).

  4. Jump up to:4.0 4.1 BOSTROM, NICK. (2008) “Three Ways to Advance Science” For Nature Podcast, 31 January 2008. Available at: http://​​​​views/​​science.pdf

  5. Jump up↑ SANDBERG, Anders & LIAO, S.M., (2008) “The Normativity of Memory Modification”, Neuroethics (2008), (1 2) 85-99.

  6. Jump up↑ SANBERG, Anders & SAVULESCU, Julian. (2008). “Neuroenhancement of Love and Marriage: The Chemicals Between Us.” Neuroethics (2008) Vol. 1:31-44.

  7. Jump up↑ BOSTROM, Nick & SAVULESCO, Julian. (orgs.), (2009) “Human Enhancement”. Oxford University Press.

  8. Jump up↑ BOSTROM, Nick & SANDBERG, Anders. (2006) “Converging Cognitive Enhancements”, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 1093.

  9. Jump up↑ SANDBERG, Nick & SANDBERG, Anders. (2009) “The Wisdom of Nature: an Evolutionary Heuristic for Human Enhancement” in: BOSTROM, Nick & SAVULESCU, Julian(orgs.). Human Enhancement. Oxford University Press, EUA.

  10. Jump up↑ BOSTROM, Nick & SANDBERG, Anders. (2009) “Cognitive Enhancement: Methods, Ethics, Regulatory Challenges”, Science and Engineering Ethics, Vol. 15, No. 3.

  11. Jump up to:11.0 11.1 SQUIRE, Larry R. et al. (orgs.) (2008) “Fundamental Neuroscience.” Academic Press. 3a edition.

  12. Jump up↑ DEWS, P.B. (1984). “Caffeine: Perspectives from Recent Research.” Berlin: Springer-Valerag

  13. Jump up↑ BOLTON, Sanford (1981). “Caffeine: Psychological Effects, Use and Abuse”. Orthomolecular Psychiatry 10 (3): 202–211.

  14. Jump up↑ THOMPSON, Rebecca & KEENE, Karen (2004). “The pros and cons of caffeine”. The Psychologist (The British Psychological Society) 17 (12): 698–701.

  15. Jump up↑ NCDT (2011). Report of the 2011 National Coffee Drinking Trends (NCDT).

  16. Jump up↑ ILLY, A. & VIVIANI, R. (1995) Espresso Coffee: The Chemistry of Quality. San Diego: Academic P.

  17. Jump up↑ GREENBERG, J. A. Et al.(2007) “Caffeinated beverage intake and the risk of heart disease mortality in the elderly: a prospective analysis”. Am J Clin Nutr 85 (2): 392–8.

  18. Jump up↑ LESON. C. L. Et al. (1998) “Caffeine overdose in an adolescent male.”. Journal of toxicology. Clinical toxicology Vol. 26 (5–6): 407–15.

  19. JULIANO, Laura M. & GRIFFITHS, Roland R. (2004) “A critical review of caffeine withdrawal: empirical validation of symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and associated features”. Psychopharmacology 176 (1): 1–29.

  20. Jump up to:20.0 20.1 CAIDWELL, John A. et al. (1999) “The Effects of Modafinil on Aviator Performance During 40 Hours of Continuous Wakefulness: A UH-60 Helicopter Simulator Study.” Army aeromedical research unit fort rucker al.

  21. Jump up to:21.0 21.1 CAIDWELL, John A. et al. (2004) “The Efficacy of Modafinil for Sustaining Alertness and Simulator Flight Performance in F-117 Pilots During 37 Hours of Continuous Wakefulness.” Air Force Research lab brooks AFB TX, Human effectiveness Dir/​Biodynamics and protection div.

  22. Jump up to:22.0 22.1 LI Yanfeng, ZHAN Hao, XIN Yimei, et al. (2007) “Effects of modafinil on vestibular function during 24 hour sleep deprivation”. Frontiers of medicine in China, Vol. 1, Number 2, 226-229.

  23. Jump up to:23.0 23.1 BARANSKI, J. V. Et al. (2004) “Effects of modafinil on cognitive and meta-cognitive performance”. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2004 Jul; Vol. 19(5):323-32.

  24. Jump up to:24.0 24.1 MÜLLER, U. Et al. (2004) “Effects of modafinil on working memory processes in humans”. Psychopharmacology (Berl.) Vol. 177 (1-2): 161–9. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name “mull1″ defined multiple times with different content

  25. Jump up to:25.0 25.1 TURNER, D. C et al. (2003). “Cognitive enhancing effects of modafinil in healthy volunteers”. Psychopharmacology (Berl.) Vol. 165 (3): 260–9.

  26. Jump up to:26.0 26.1 MULLER, U. et all. (2012) “Effects of modafinil on non-verbal cognition, task enjoyment and creative thinking in healthy volunteers.” Neuropharmocology: 2012 (In press)

  27. Jump up to:27.0 27.1 GILLEEN, J., et al. (2014). “Modafinil combined with cognitive training is associated with improved learning in healthy volunteers—a randomised controlled trial.” European Neuropsychopharmacology : The Journal of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 24(4), 529–39. doi:10.1016/​j.euroneuro.2014.01.001.

  28. Jump up↑ http://​​​​provigil-drug/​​side-effects-interactions.htm

  29. Jump up↑ YESAVAGE, et al. (2002). “Donepezil and flight simulator performance Effects on retention of complex skills” NEUROLOGY 2002; 59:123–125.

  30. Jump up↑ YESAVAGE, et al. (2002). “Donepezil and flight simulator performance Effects on retention of complex skills” NEUROLOGY 2002; 59:123–125.

  31. Jump up↑ POHL, Rüdiger (orgs.). (2005) “Cognitive Illusions: A Handbook on Fallacies and Biases in Thinking, Judgement and Memory”. Psychology Press. pp. 61-78

  32. Jump up↑ BUSS, David(orgs.). (2005) “The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology”. Wiley, New Jersey. pp. 739-740.

  33. Jump up↑ BOSTROM, Nick & ORD, Toby. (2006) “The Reversal Test: Eliminating Status Quo Bias in Applied Ethics”. Ethics 116 (Julho 2006): 656-679.

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