Source: Guardian
Date: 27 January 2006

Alzheimer's drug could make everyone brainier

  • Smart pills could be on sale within 10 years
  • Specialist warns of nausea and dizziness side-effects

    Polly Curtis, health correspondent

    A new entry may soon be added to school-pupils' jotter full of excuses: "Sorry sir, I forgot to take my mind pills." A new generation of "smart pills" known as nootropics which could make people think sharper and remember things better could be available in chemists within a decade, education specialists at a Bristol University meeting heard this week. The drugs include prescription-only medications normally used to treat Alzheimer's disease and dementia in older people which some studies have suggested also improve memory and thinking processes in fit adults.

    A study published in the journal Psychopharmacology of the affect of the Alzheimer's drug Donepezil on 30 healthy male students conducted in Germany last year found that taking the drug for 30 days significantly improved short term memory and some long term memory faculties.

    Paul Howard-Jones, the conference's organiser at the Graduate School of Education, said: "This is science fact not science fiction. There is likely to be a big market for these drugs and as educators we need to be more informed about it. What are the ethical implications and questions? Will there be pressures to use them in the future?"

    The drugs are already available on the internet, circumventing prescription controls. Sites based in America advertise a range of prescription-only pills for sale including Hydergine, the treatment for Alzheimer's for as little as $15.10 (£8.48) for a month's supply and deprenyl, a Parkinson's disease drug, for $45 a month. One website, Offshore Pharmacy, is registered to an address in the Channel Islands, though it says that it does not ship drugs to the UK.

    Roy Jones, an Alzheimer's medication specialist at Bath University, said: "The general thought is that these substances work by increasing brain metabolism, circulation and introduce antioxidants which protect from damage. Any compound used or considered in the treatment of Alzheimer's will have been considered as a smart pill."

    However, Professor Jones said there was some way to go before the drugs are readily and legally available in Britain. "It's much harder to license a drug where there isn't a disease to treat. It's going to be a long time before major companies go into that area. There is a growing blackmarket and demand though."

    Many Alzheimer's drugs have serious side-effects, including stomach pains and sickness, he warned. One participant in the German trials was forced to drop out after experiencing severe side-effects including dizzyness and nausea.

    A spokeswoman for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority warned people against taking any prescription-only drug unless advised by their GP. "Alzheimer's drugs are all prescription-only drugs. If companies want to change the terms of their licence they would have to reapply and do clinical trials and we would oversee the whole process to see it was safe."

    She said she could not comment on any current applications due to commercial sensitivities, but added: "We would investigate any instance where prescription-only drugs are being sold from UK-based websites."

    Smart pills

    A generic term for "smart drugs" which claim to boost cognitive abilities. From noos for mind, and tropos for bend.

    Alzheimer's drugs
    Prescription-only pills such as donepezil designed to slow the effects of Alzheimer's, now sold illegally online to improve brain abilities in healthy adults.

    Prescription-only pills
    Other drugs linked with brain conditions such as modafinil, usually used to help sufferers of narcolepsy stay alert, and deprenyl, for Parkinson's.

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