Mostly Harmless “Smart Drug” — But No Endorsement (Yet)


Even I – a supposed expert — have only scraps of information on this drug.

I remember a wonderful professor in medical school, who introduced me to her mother, who had some problems with dementia.  Mother had improved greatly, it seemed, in a loving homey institution on a medication called “Centrophenoxine” — which I have since learned is also called “meclophenoxate” or “Lucidryl.”

The French national society for neurophysiological research got some kind of a patent, on this drug which they had developed, in 1959.  I have never heard of it used in the States, at least not yet.

The professor’s mom was a charming woman and a fashionable one, who had no signs at all of Alzheimer’s to my brief if informal conversation. Admittedly, she met me only once, so we did not know what she would remember later.

I have since found it on various lists of “smart” drugs, from people, like the Life Extension Foundation and others, who list drugs simply too delicious to be available in the United States, but which are helpful in many delightful ways. This one, it is alleged, to make you smarter.

The drug is NOT on the National Institutes of Health list of drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s. The drug is apparently an ester of dimethylethanolamine (DMAE) and 4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid (pCPA). DMAE is a natural substance. As such, nobody is going to patent it. It occurs in the brain and appears to help folks and folks take it. There is foreign research but in the good ole USA, research is driven by commercial potential.  No patent – no profit.

I did find some folks who have done a good job of pulling everything together. Sounds cheap and easy to get this molecule — from fish. The other molecule this is esterified (read “connected” to) is a really neat molecule. PCPA is a synthetic compound that resembles a variety of plant hormones called auxins. Auxins, or plant hormones are especially special to me, because they were the subject of my first science project. Who could afford to raise animals – especially in suburban Boston?

These chemicals are crucial in plant growth.  A slight increase in the cells in a plant stem that are opposite from the sun, causes a plant stem to grow toward the sun.  A lot of this stuff — my parents sprang for a bottle — and you have, in the cheap and dirty potato tissue cultures I maintained, a wild increase in cell replication that looked for all the world like some kind of a tumor.

Yes – I was the child genius who gave a potato cancer.  Aren’t you glad I wasn’t using animals now?

My discussion of the analogy got me, at the time, some  pretty good press coverage for an extremely cheap science project. At that time I had no idea that chemicals of this sort could have any place in humans. If they caused cancer in people, it would have been figured out long ago.

The people who have done the best job of putting together clinical information on this drug, is the American Academy of Anti-aging Medicine. There are numerous vague and poorly documented references to this drug as one of the earlier “nootropic” drugs — that is, a drug that is supposed to make you smarter, presumably without side effects.

It seems to be sold as a supplement.  It is distinguished on the above sales page by the list of companies (such as South Africa) to which it is not supposed to be delivered.

There are bits of research that suggest this might be good stuff. I have not yet been able to determine where it is prescribed, where it is a supplement. There is enough evidence, both experimental and histological, that this might actually be a good drug.  It has some caveats, like avoiding in the psychiatrically seriously ill, avoiding the hypertensive, but it is “generally recognized as safe,” according to several, but I am not sure where.

The drug appears to survive, according to most websites, as something that has a robust mythology. Maybe that is true of all drugs.

At this stage, it is not something I recommend – either to treat Alzheimer’s type dementia or as a “smart drug.”

However, I’m keeping my eyes open on this one.  If I find anything new and exciting, I will make sure to post it here.

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