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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 18, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Columns2014-2015

Pills cannot boost brainpower, despite popular belief

In the past, the idea that we only use 10 percent of our brains has been perpetuated by the media. Recently, movies like 2011’s “Limitless” and 2014’s “Lucy” have spread the idea that, because we only use part of our brains, miracle pills that allow us to use all our brainpower will create super humans. Recently, researchers have attempted to create a way for people to work endlessly, have immense focus and remember every moment of their lives. The release of brain enhancing drugs called “nootropics” tried to bring these futuristic plots to fruition, but have not completely succeeded.

Though the idea of nootropics was introduced in 1972, it hasn’t been until the past year that they have been more widely recognized and used. One of the most popular of these mental-performance drugs is called Neurofuse and promises to “unlock your brain’s potential.” The drug’s website boasts effects impacting and improving memory, energy, focus and overall well-being. The cocktail consists of a mixture of 13 different supplements, antioxidants and vitamins that work together to release hormones and neurotransmitters and, in turn, increases processing speeds. What the website never explains, though, is how all these chemicals actually interact to produce such spectacular results.

Basically, these nootropics are like an extreme Adderall, which makes them like steroids for your brain. They are amped up versions of drugs aimed to aid people with deficits in attention. Take someone with no difficulty remaining focused and give them a medication created to fix problems with attention, and of course there will be a noticeable change. It may even seem like a miraculous change.

Maybe these drugs are helping brain productivity in some way, but the problem is no one really knows. An even larger issue is that no one is aware of the long-term effects of taking nootropics. It is possible that they do actually have an impact on energy and allow for better processing and memory, but until further research has been done there is no guarantee.

What I can guarantee for you is that we do not use only 10 percent of our brain. This myth most likely started when scientists and doctors began removing sections of brains to treat illnesses like epilepsy. Patients who had small sections of their brains extracted were still able to function and learn new tasks in a moderately normal fashion.

However, this removal process is incredibly specific and planned. If the so-called useless 90 percent of our brains was removed, we would be left with a brain the size of a sheep’s and far less ability for high-level thinking, fine-motor movement and task processing. Though not every neuron is firing every minute, each has a purpose and each is used. We wouldn’t have such a complex structure or protect it with bone if we only used 10 percent of our brain.

So while I cannot state if these nootropics actually have a positive effect on a person’s focus and attention, I can say that it is not increasing the amount of our brains that are being used. We already use 100 percent, so no pill can claim that it is causing that.