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Could a brain-boosting supplement affect your driving?

It's possible. A recent study by Harvard Medical School found that many over-the-counter supplements, particularly those meant to boost memory or brain function, contain potentially dangerous, unapproved drugs.

It appears that the manufacturers of some brain-boosting supplements are breaking the law. It's illegal to market foreign pharmaceuticals as supplements in the United States. Yet the researchers found that some memory supplements:

  •  Contain pharmaceuticals that are approved in other countries but not the U.S.
  • Contain higher doses of those pharmaceuticals than would ordinarily be prescribed
  • Contain a mixture of drugs that could interact in unknown ways
  • Are inaccurately labeled

The researchers analyzed 10 supplements that they bought online. All advertised that they could enhance memory, sharpen mental focus and more.

All 10 were openly labeled as containing drugs that are only available by prescription in countries including China, Russia and Germany. However, those drugs are not approved in the U.S.

"I have gotten used to the fact that foreign drugs are being sold directly to consumers as supplements," commented a Harvard Medical School professor who has also found unapproved drugs in other types of supplements. "But I was surprised by how many different drugs are being sold in these products."

What drugs did the researchers find?

The 10 supplements contained piracetam, a foreign prescription drug. Piracetam and its analogs are not approved in the U.S., but doctors in Asia, Europe and Latin America prescribe them to treat dementia, brain injuries, strokes and other neurological issues.

The supplements were labeled as containing piracetam, but several also contained analogs of the drug. The supplements contained between two and four times the typical medical dose of these compounds.

On top of the piracetam and similar drugs, some of the supplements contained picamilon and phenibut. Picamilon is a Russian drug intended for neurological conditions, and the FDA has already warned supplement manufacturers that it is illegal to sell picamilon as a supplement. The same goes for phenibut, another Russian drug used to treat anxiety and sleep issues.

These drugs have serious effects. For example, they can increase or decrease your blood pressure, sedate you, cause insomnia or agitation and even put you in the hospital. And again, several supplements contained several times the normal dose that would be prescribed by a doctor.

A spokesperson for the supplement industry contended that these products are illegal and do not represent the overall brain health supplement category.

Many pharmaceutical drugs can affect your driving, and it seems likely these could do so. If you were taking an over-the-counter supplement when you were arrested for DUI, talk to a lawyer immediately.

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