The Use of Prescription Drugs and Drugs of Abuse for Neuroenhancement in Europe: Not Widespread But a Reality

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Pharmacological neuroenhancement, defined as the misuse of prescription drugs, illicit drugs, or alcohol for the purpose of enhancing cognition, mood, or prosocial behavior, is not widespread in Europe – nevertheless, it does occur. Thus far, no drug has been proven as safe and effective for cognitive enhancement in otherwise healthy individuals. European studies have investigated the misuse of prescription and illicit stimulants to increase cognitive performance as well as the use of tranquilizers, alcohol, and cannabis to cope with stress related to work or education. Young people in educational settings report pharmacological neuroenhancement more frequently than those in other settings. Although the regular use of drugs for neuroenhancement is not common in Europe, the irregular and low-dose usage of neuroenhancers might cause adverse reactions. Previous studies have revealed that obtaining adequate amounts of sleep and using successful learning techniques effectively improve mental performance, whereas pharmacological neuroenhancement is associated with ambiguous effects. Therefore, non-substance-related alternatives should be promoted to cope with stressful situations. This paper reviews the recent research on pharmacological neuroenhancement in Europe, develops a clear definition of the substances used, and formulates recommendations for practitioners regarding how to react to requests for neuroenhancement drug prescriptions. We conclude that monitoring the future development of pharmacological neuroenhancement in Europe is important to provide effective preventive measures when required. Furthermore, substance use to cope with stress related to work or education should be studied in depth because it is likely more prevalent and dangerous than direct neuroenhancement.

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