Perhaps you've seen news segments about how growing numbers of college students are abusing off-label drugs like Adderall, which is used to treat attention deficit disorder, and the anti-narcolepsy drug Provigil, in hopes of boosting their focus and ability to cram for exams. And they're not the only ones. In a recent informal survey in the journal Nature, about one in five scientists who responded admitted to experimenting with nootropics, a controversial class of drugs that are believed to boost brain performance by altering the availability of neurochemicals, increasing brain cell metabolism, improving oxygen supply to the brain, or stimulating the growth of neurons [source: Maher].
As such "brain doping" becomes more common, new nootropic chemicals -- some available without a prescription -- are emerging. One such product, Onnit Labs' Alpha Brain, contains ingredients that supposedly boost the brain's levels of the naturally-occurring neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Atlantic writer Ari LeVaux, who recently experimented with taking Alpha Brain, reported that after taking the substance, he had unusually vivid dreams and awoke earlier than usual the next morning feeling more refreshed and alert. LeVaux also noticed that he was "slightly more organized, [with] a curious sense of emotional stability." While the experts that LeVaux consulted told him that there wasn't any evidence that occasional use of nootropics carried any risks, there isn't much information yet available about the longer-term effects of habitual use [source: LeVaux].