Understanding the relationship between safety beliefs and knowledge for cognitive enhancers in UK university students

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BACKGROUND: Cognitive enhancers (CE) are prescription drugs taken, either without a prescription or at a dose exceeding that which is prescribed, to improve cognitive functions such as concentration, vigilance or memory. Previous research suggests that users believe the drugs to be safer than non-users and that they have sufficient knowledge to judge safety. However, to date no research has compared the information sources used and safety knowledge of users and non-users.

OBJECTIVES: This study compared users and non-users of CE in terms of i) their sources of knowledge about the safety of CE and ii) the accuracy of their knowledge of possible adverse effects of a typical cognitive enhancer (modafinil); and iii) how the accuracy of knowledge relates to their safety beliefs.

METHODS: Students (N = 148) from King's College London (UK) completed an anonymous online survey assessing safety beliefs, sources of knowledge and knowledge of the safety of modafinil; and indicated whether they used CE, and, if so, which drug(s).

RESULTS: The belief that the drugs are safe was greater in users than non-users. However, both groups used comparable information sources and have similar, relatively poor drug safety knowledge. Furthermore, despite users more strongly believing in the safety of CE there was no relationship between their beliefs and knowledge, in contrast to non-users who did show correlations between beliefs and knowledge.

CONCLUSION: These data suggest that the differences in safety beliefs about CE between users and non-users do not stem from use of different information sources or more accurate safety knowledge.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0244865
JournalPloS one
Issue number1 January
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


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