Nootropics are drugs used to either treat or benefit cognition deficits. Among this class, methylphenidate is a popular agent, which acts through indirect dopaminergic and noradrenergic agonism and, therefore, is proposed to enhance performance in catecholamine-dependent cognitive domains such as attention, memory and prefrontal cortex-dependent executive functions. However, investigation into the efficacy of methylphenidate as a cognitive enhancer has yielded variable results across all domains, leading to debate within the scientific community surrounding its off-label use in healthy individuals seeking scholaristic benefit or increased productivity. Through analysis of experimental data and methodological evaluation, it is apparent that there are dose-, task- and domain-dependent considerations surrounding the use of methylphenidate in healthy individuals, whereby tailored dose administration is likely to provide benefit on an individual basis dependent on the domain of cognition in which benefit is required. Additionally, it is apparent that there are subjective effects of methylphenidate, which may increase user productivity irrespective of cognitive benefit. Whilst there is not extensive study in healthy older adults, it is plausible that there are dose-dependent benefits to methylphenidate in older adults in selective cognitive domains that might improve quality of life and reduce fall risk. Methylphenidate appears to produce dose-dependent benefits to individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, but the evidence for benefit in Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia is inconclusive. As with any off-label use of pharmacological agents, and especially regarding drugs with neuromodulatory effects, there are inherent safety concerns; epidemiological and experimental evidence suggests there are sympathomimetic, cardiovascular and addictive considerations, which might further restrict their use within certain demographics.
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