Psychostimulants and cognition: A continuum of behavioral and cognitive activation

Suzanne Wood, Jennifer R. Sage, Tristan Shuman, Stephan G. Anagnostaras

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

197 Scopus citations

Abstract

Psychostimulants such as cocaine have been used as performance enhancers throughout recorded history. Although psychostimulants are commonly prescribed to improve attention and cognition, a great deal of literature has described their ability to induce cognitive deficits, as well as addiction. How can a single drug class be known to produce both cognitive enhancement and impairment? Properties of the particular stimulant drug itself and individual differences between users have both been suggested to dictate the outcome of stimulant use. A more parsimonious alternative, which we endorse, is that dose is the critical determining factor in cognitive effects of stimulant drugs. Herein, we review several popular stimulants (cocaine, amphetamine, methylphenidate, modafinil, and caffeine), outlining their history of use, mechanism of action, and use and abuse today. One common graphic depiction of the cognitive effects of psychostimulants is an inverted U-shaped dose-effect curve. Moderate arousal is beneficial to cognition, whereas too much activation leads to cognitive impairment. In parallel to this schematic, we propose a continuum of psychostimulant activation that covers the transition from one drug effect to another as stimulant intake is increased. Low doses of stimulants effect increased arousal, attention, and cognitive enhancement; moderate doses can lead to feelings of euphoria and power, as well as addiction and cognitive impairment; and very high doses lead to psychosis and circulatory collapse. This continuum helps account for the seemingly disparate effects of stimulant drugs, with the same drug being associated with cognitive enhancement and impairment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-221
Number of pages29
JournalPharmacological Reviews
Volume66
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes

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