There is an upward trend in the misuse of ADHD drugs as cognitive enhancers to improve productivity. Researchers warn against their use by people who do not have the neurodevelopmental condition.

A new study suggests taking these "smart drugs" can reduce efficiency and can do more harm than good.

"Students or professionals may misuse ADHD medications believing that they can enhance focus, concentration, and productivity even if they don't have ADHD. Often, they are hoping to gain a competitive advantage whether it's for academics, work, or sports. Sometimes these medications are used to aid in working longer hours," said Pat Aussem, vice president of consumer clinical content development for the nonprofit Partnership to End Addiction, reported HealthDay.

In the latest study, researchers evaluated the impact of three ADHD medications – methylphenidate (Ritalin), modafinil (Provigil), and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) – on the problem-solving capabilities of 40 participants without ADHD. The participants were aged between 18 and 35.

During the trial, the participants were given an optimization task that involves finding a solution to a virtual knapsack problem with a set capacity. The task was modeled to replicate complex decision-making and problem-solving in everyday life.

The findings suggest people who were on ADHD medications showed increased motivation to finish the task. They were "more eager to engage in the task, and were faster in making an effort to accomplish the task." However, the medication reduced the efficiency and accuracy of the participants who also took more time and effort to complete the tasks.

"Although the use of these kinds of stimulant drugs in people without ADHD may be increasing their motivation in complex problem-solving tasks, they decrease the quality of the solutions, so their productivity is decreased," said Elizabeth Bowman, a lead researcher.

According to the study, dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) caused the largest decrease in productivity. People who were on methylphenidate (Ritalin) took around 50% longer to complete the knapsack task.

People with ADHD have lower levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are responsible for attention, focus and impulse control. ADHD medications are prescribed to improve dopamine levels in the brain.

However, when these medications are used as enhancers by people without the condition, it can disrupt the balance of the chemicals in the brain, causing overstimulation. Researchers warn the misuse of these pills can even lead to conditions such as increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure or heightened anxiety.

The misuse of ADHD pills as "smart drugs" can reduce efficiency and can do more harm than good. Photo Courtesy of Pixabay