Smart Pills: Tech Flash

 In emerging tech, Neuroscience, Tech Flash

Smart Pills: The Technology

In this addition of Tech Flash, we will be looking at smart pills. These little nuggets of intelligence are beginning to make headlines with rumored users such as Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson. We want to see if this is intelligence making of the future or a simply another fad drug. Enter into a new world of learning.

A Brief Introduction to Smart PillsCup of coffee being replaced by smart pills

Listen. We’ve all been there. It’s 1am the night before a final exam. You’ve been crushing the red bull or coffee, whatever your caffeine pleasure. Literally glued to the back table of the library cramming for Philosophy 101. As a budding physicist, you’d rather eat dry wall than study Kant. So why not short circuit the learning process with smart pills?

Science behind the Smart Pills

The industry has been around for some time, so I won’t attempt to date it. Various drugs have been looked at as smart pill candidates from Ritalin to Adderall, amongst others. If those drugs look familiar it’s because they are commonly used in treating attention deficit disorders (ADD). Coincidentally, that’s what this topic is basically all about.

As we’ve discussed before, synaptic plasticity is the key behind the learning process. As you are learning a topic, new connections are being made across synapses, the junction between neurons. In this case, the prefrontal cortex operates as the control system. It takes on information regarding the topic you’re study. However, it also takes in unwanted noise regarding other topics. Smart pills attempt to alleviate this unwanted noise.

It’s Sunday morning. You’ve just sat down with some coffee and are attempting to read some news. Uh oh. Here come the kids. Party time. “I need a drink…”; “He pushed me!”; “(uncomprehensible screaming)”. Then a strange thing happens. Paw Patrol comes on the TV. Suddenly, it’s silent and you can focus on reading the news. Smart pills are Paw Patrol for your brain. Thanks, Rider.

Smart Pills: Why they stay

Some of the potential benefits of smart pills seem very obvious. The good news is, studies continue to generate data on various drug candidates. Scientists are also becoming more familiar on how the brain works. If you take these two concepts in tandem, you could argue that the drug combinations will continue to be tailored to enhance the positive impact of smart pills.Smart pills in all shapes and sizes

This may then push demand higher. After all, the benefits have massive potential. Increased focus can lead to higher data retention while dramatically reducing the time it takes to learn a topic. Said another way, if you can learn a topic faster than before, I’d argue that you now can apply skills faster to solve problems in your daily life. This frees up time both at work or at home to focus on other more important things, such as spending time with family or friends.

Smart pills could also enable growth and innovation. Imagine an increase in people expanding their mental abilities in other areas and cross pollinating those fields. Of course this already happens today. An example is electronic music, which combines traditional instruments and digital signal processing to create new sounds. Or molecular science and food, producing new types of textures and flavors in ordinary food. Good or bad, it’s innovation which I’d argue is necessary for our society to thrive. Smart pills could potentially create a new breed of thinkers that may push the innovation envelope. This could take ideas like virtual reality or 3D printing to a whole new level.

Honestly, the most potent stimulus smart pills have is the competitive edge. This has already become an ethical topic in universities with students trying to get ahead with use of such pills. There will always exist a set of people who will look to get ahead. It’s the human competitive spirit. If the potential of smart pills continues to grow, there will always be some market for them.

Smart Pills: Why they fade

Unfortunately for smart pills, the risks are quite abundant. There has been little substantial proof to show these pills are truly effective. There are some data that suggest they can improve focus, but it’s hard to discern the real impact they have on the mind. Not to mention the fact that users may actually mix and match drugs in an attempt to maximize potency. This begins to sound more like drug addiction on some levels.

There is no minimizing that drug addiction is a clear risk. While some of the side effects of these drugs is known, one could see how dependency could become an issue in trying to keep up in an ultra competitive world. Smart pills that use Ritalin or Adderall are some of the most common that are abused. It’s a serious risk and one that should keep many potential intrigued customers away from the market.

The Effects of Ritalin Misuse

 From Visually.

 

Although smart pills have been tested for many years, it seems there has not been any definitive conclusions regarding the long term impact. This goes for the positive or the negative. The risk/reward factor here seems to be quite high. If the positive returns are more subjective and you can’t quite quantify the long term impact, I’d say these drugs raise a major red flag. As noted above, drug addiction is a possibility, not to mention mood swings, depression or other drawbacks from messing with the chemistry of the brain. There is some speculation that smart pills could even limit your lifespan. All in all, there is too much unknown swirling around smart pills and the long term impact to your health.

Smart Pills Takeaway

The potential of what smart pills could provide is tantalizing. Plenty of people are looking for a competitive edge whether in school, business or life. Smart pills may just be the edge people need to get ahead, and more importantly, get ahead faster. After all, if your lifespan is to be shorten, you best be maximizing the time you do have.

I’ve never taken smart pills. In fact, I’ve never even taken Adderall or Ritalin, so I cannot provide any true insight to the impacts of such drugs. However, I do have experience with folks who suffer from ADD who have experienced positive results from controlled dosages. The general description has been a heighten sense of focus and composure. It’s safe to say there is a positive impact in regards to focus and attention. But those unknown long term ramifications would still concern me in the end.

People will be drawn to smart pills whether through fad, competition or celebrity endorsement. Scientists will still chase the holy grail because no matter what there will be some sort of market for these pills. As such, the technology behind these pills will continue to be developed and ongoing trials will attempt to bound all the consequences.

Nonetheless, I believe this particular trend will fade. There are far too many risks that outweigh so few proven benefits. People may experiment with it just to have a story, but I believe smart pills lack the staying power necessary to be mainstream. The only caveat would be if somehow the science behind these pills improves to a point where the benefits outweigh the risks. With the understanding of the brain as it is today, it seems unlikely this will happen any time soon.

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