Cognitive enhancement by drugs in health and disease

Trends Cogn Sci. 2011 Jan;15(1):28-36. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2010.11.002. Epub 2010 Dec 9.


Attempts to improve cognitive function in patients with brain disorders have become the focus of intensive research efforts. A recent emerging trend is the use of so-called cognitive enhancers by healthy individuals. Here, we consider some of the effects - positive and negative - that current drugs have in neurological conditions and healthy people. We conclude that, to date, experimental and clinical studies have demonstrated relatively modest overall effects, most probably because of substantial variability in response both across and within individuals. We discuss biological factors that might account for such variability and highlight the need to improve testing methods and to extend our understanding of how drugs modulate specific cognitive processes at the systems or network level.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain Diseases / drug therapy
  • Brain Diseases / psychology*
  • Central Nervous System Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / pharmacology


  • Central Nervous System Agents
  • Neurotransmitter Agents