Use and propensity to use substances as cognitive enhancers in Italian medical students

Marcella Pighi, Giancarlo Pontoni, Arianna Sinisi, Silvia Ferrari, Giorgio Mattei, Luca Pingani, Elena Simoni, Gian Maria Galeazzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


International media has paid attention to the use of substances by healthy subjects to enhance cognitive performance. Medical students are liable to use cognitive enhancers (CE) with the aim of improving academic performance. The study explored use and attitudes toward the use of CE in Italian medical students. The authors anonymously surveyed 433 medical students of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia with an ad hoc 36-items questionnaire. CE were broadly defined as any substance taken with the purpose of improving cognitive functions, from readily available beverages and substances, such as coffee, tea, energy drinks, and supplements to prescription only medication, such as psychostimulants and modafinil. Response rate was 83.8% (n = 363). While the majority of the students (74.7%; n = 271) said that they had used substances to improve cognitive functions, only 2 students (0.6%) reported the use of prescription-only medications in the last 30 days. Main reasons for not taking prescription-only drugs were concerns about safety and side effects, reported by 83.3% of students (n = 295). A positive attitude toward use was held by 60.3% (n = 219) subjects. The surveyed Italian medical students used many substances as CE, but this did not seem to apply significantly to psychostimulants. A multivariable analysis showed that the following variables were related to the propensity to use substances as CE: male gender, self-reported memory impairment, concerns about worsening of cognitive performance, lifetime use of at least one illegal substance, use of any substance (both legal or illegal) in the last 30 days.

Original languageEnglish
Article number197
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 9 2018


  • Cognitive enhancers
  • College students
  • Medical students
  • Neuroenhancement
  • Psychostimulants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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