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'Smart Drugs': do they work? Are they ethical? Will they be legal?


Beyond pharmacological approaches to the treatment of memory loss that results from Alzheimer's disease or stroke, there lies a broad diagnostic penumbra of 'age-associated memory impairment'. New research that offers to attain the ancient goal of improving our cognitive ability raises an important issue — the use, by healthy people, of such pharmacological tools as cognitive enhancers. Here, I review the history and effectiveness of such supposed 'nootropics', and the ethical, social and legal issues raised by their potential use in disease and in the enhancement of 'normal' cognition.

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I thank J. McGaugh, E. Giacobini and P. Giese for comments on earlier drafts of this review.

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Alzheimer's disease

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Encyclopedia of Life Sciences

learning and memory

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Rose, S. 'Smart Drugs': do they work? Are they ethical? Will they be legal?. Nat Rev Neurosci 3, 975–979 (2002).

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