The IQ Pill and My Prejudice

During my first neuroscience class here at Vanderbilt I learned about memory. It was all mostly the basics. We learned about the Hippocampus,  which is an anatomical area often strongly associated with memory consolidation,  and about neurotransmitters such as Acetylcholine (ACh) that are also thought to be involved. Long term memory is thought to be enabled by the “permanent” activation (phosphorylation) of an ion channel. Leaving out the boring details I will simply say that these permanently open channels lead to increased activity, and in a way are analogous to an open gate, previously blocking a road that was just built. ACh can be thought of as a kind of  helpful assistant. The gate will be shut again if the road is never used, but it will take a bit of time for that to happen. I think it most important to introduce the gate-keeper. An enzyme called Phosphodiesterase (PDE) that basically removes the phosphate group from the “gate”, which is what was keeping it open in the first place, and in doing so closes the gate. With all that being said, I can get to my point: memory enhancing medication.

I should say that these drugs are not quite a possibility yet. There are drugs beginning their trials, usually for things related to dementia such as Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) or Alzheimer’s. So essentially some of these drugs are PDE inhibitors. With our gatekeeper not doing his job because he is being inhibited, the gates remain open, and the memories still readily retrievable. This has many great medically relevant possibilities as I am sure you have already gathered. I does raise an important question though. With doctors able to prescribe medication for “off-label” uses, as the article says, will it become a new alternative to Ritalin or Adderall? For my Biology and Chemistry classes the thought of a memory enhancer is certainly tempting. I am not sure if this is a pill that would have to be taken regularly. I am sure that its effects would last at least a day or two. I think that the most likely abuse of it would not simply be to take it on a regular basis while working hard on your studies, but to take more than the prescribed amount the night before and cram. While I have lived here I have seen people employ this tactic. Whether or not it would really work with the memory-enhancing pills I do not know. Honestly I hope it wouldn’t. I spend hours and hours studying, so someone with money who decides to have that edge would offend me. Perhaps I simply value hard work the old fashioned way like the ballet instructor in “Dancing on Air”, or perhaps I am simply jealous that I would not be able to afford such enhancements. I think that my feelings toward these people would be righteous. I would not hold such a grudge on those who consistently worked very hard and are most likely smarter than me. I am not saying that this is logical, but I wouldn’t be bothered as much if I knew they they had at least earned most of it. I am looking forward as a future physician, and perhaps neurologist, to having these medications available to help those with ailments. I think that the benefits far outweigh the costs of possible abuse, especially with the impending surge in the elderly population due to the Baby Boomer generation

Here’s the link to a short, interesting article in which I got some of my information:

-Carl W.

~ by cswilkins on April 2, 2010.

One Response to “The IQ Pill and My Prejudice”

  1. You raise an important issue of abuse of these potentially life-altering drugs (life-altering for people with dementia). But this comes with any new drugs, in my opinion. I’m sure there are people who abuse Ritalin and Adderall now. If people want something bad enough, they find ways to beat the system to get it. But you’re right I think the benefits outweigh the potential abuse.

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