Stimulant drugs to promote the awake state and cognitive performance: Do they really work?

Paul Carrillo-Mora, Division of Neuroscience, Instituto Nacional de Rehabilitación “Luis Guillermo Ibarra Ibarra”. Mexico City, Mexico Yesenia Lugo Rodríguez, School of Psychology, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Mexico City, Mexico Kenia F. Franyutti-Prado, Internal Medicine Departament, Hospital General Dr. Fernando Quiroz Gutiérrez, ISSSTE, Mexico City, Mexico Marlene Rodríguez-Barragán, Division of Neurological Rehabilitation, Instituto Nacional de Rehabilitación “Luis Guillermo Ibarra Ibarra”, Mexico City, Mexico Nelly G. Cervera-Delgadillo, Social Service on Research, School of Medicine, UNAM, Mexico City, Mexico

It is increasingly common for healthy people to seek means to improve their alertness, or to try to get better their performance in some cognitive functions; this with the aim of increasing their performance and productivity in the academic or work environment. Several stimulant drugs have been used for many decades and have recently become very popular especially among young people. However, general practitioners and even specialists are rarely informed of their real benefits or potential adverse effects. This review provides an updated overview of the effects (positive and adverse) of some stimulant drugs that have been used to maintain alertness or improve cognitive performance in healthy subjects. For stimulant drugs, the positive effects improving the subjective symptoms of sleep deprivation are well established. However, the cognitive effects of stimulant drugs are still highly variable and inconsistent, since there are few studies that have been carried out with adequate methodological design. In addition, there are several adverse effects, from mild to severe that can be observed and there is a concern of potential addiction effect to some of them. Some stimulant drugs can improve alertness, but their positive effects improving cognition are not yet fully proven.

Keywords: Stimulant drugs. Alertness. Cognition. Sleepiness. Addiction.