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Not so smart drugs

MagazineApril 1997 (Vol. 8 Issue 1)Not so smart drugs

Many parents and doctors have been trying out "smart drugs" like piracetam on Down's children, claiming they are perfectly safe

Many parents and doctors have been trying out "smart drugs" like piracetam on Down's children, claiming they are perfectly safe.

But in its entry in the Compendium of Data Sheets and Summaries of Product Characteristics (Datapharm, 1996-7), manufacturer UCB warns that piracetam, used chiefly for muscle spasms in epilepsy (myoclonus), but also for speech or memory impairment and dyslexia, has caused hyperactivity, insomnia, an increase in weight, sleepiness, nervousness and depression. The manufacturer also warns against abrupt withdrawal of the drug as it "may, in some myoclonic patients, induce myoclonic or generalized seizures". UCB also recommends that the patient's general condition should be closely monitored, and that the patient should be well hydrated and urine flow monitored, since the drug is almost exclusively excreted by the kidneys.Although we have no idea how this applies to humans, in rats, piracetam appears to interfere with prolactin secretion during stress (Br J Pharmacol, 1996; 117: 502-6).

In another study comparing the use of piracetam and ginkgo biloba extract with the memory training, attention and perception was better improved with the ginkgo group, suggesting that herbal therapy might be employed instead (Life Sci, 1994; 55: 2057-66). Although the piracetam family exhibit fewer adverse effects than other, older epilepsy drugs, central nervous system effects have been observed (Drug Safety 1994; 11: 37-67).

Although there are many studies of piracetam on children with attention deficit disorder, there are few studies on children with Down's syndrome.

Some of these warnings are that much more worrying when you consider that many of piracetam's enthusiasts are giving their children a drug that is basically illegal, that has never been approved for what they are using it for, that they themselves have imported from Europe or Mexico and that they are administering to a child often without the watchful supervision of any doctor.

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