Neuroenhancement drugs are those kinds of drugs that help in improving one’s cognitive ability. This also has an improvement in the emotional functions of an individual. The use of this kind of drug is mainly seen by the youth or students who need help performing better. In this article, I have aimed to discuss the legality of these Neuroenhancement Drugs and the various kinds of laws related to drug control present in India.


Pharmacological neuroenhancement can be defined as “the use of drugs and other interventions to modify brain processes to enhance memory, mood and attention in people who are not impaired by illness or disorder”.[1] Stimulants, such as methylphenidate (better known as Ritalin®), modafinil, selegiline and donepezil, as well as some tranquillizers such as beta-blockers or anxiolytics, are commonly prescribed as medication for particular diseases attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, anxiety disorders), but are then often used without a doctor’s prescription, or for reasons other than prescribed.[2] It basically uses medicines or drugs that work as a cognitive enhancer and helps perform better at work, enhance mood and stress levels and is mostly used so people could feel better and perform better.

There have been various studies which have mostly focused on college students and an increase in the use of neuroenhancement drugs can be seen, for example, the ADHD medication used by students is the most frequently used drug which is second to cannabis. They prefer using these as Neuroenhancement Drugs (ND) helps enhance their cognitive ability during exams indirectly increasing cognitive performance and regulating anxiety. Nootropics also known as ‘cognitive enhancers’ are drugs that some people use in an attempt to improve memory, increase mental alertness and concentration as well as boost energy levels and wakefulness.[3] There are lots of these pharmaceutical drugs like ones for treating narcolepsy or even insomnia and helping those be focused who have any sort of attention disorder.

While these neuro-enhancing drugs can be used to improve any type of cognitive performance, it is important to remember that there are always losses with any gain. Though Nootropics or other cognitive-enhancing drugs do give some results they may also cause other side effects like that of fatigue, procrastination, headache, nausea, etc.[4] The positive and negative effects of a particular drug are different for everyone and differ from one person to another and the drug’s duration of effect is not very long-lasting and only remains until the drug is present in the body. Some of these drugs may cause dependence and can have a range of side effects. They can be particularly harmful to young people as their brains continue to develop into their mid-twenties.[5]


“An Act to consolidate and amend the law relating to narcotic drugs, to make stringent provisions for the control and regulation of operations relating to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.”[6] This act defines an addict as: ” a person who has a dependence on any narcotic drug or psychotropic substances “.[7] This act abolishes any cultivation, engagement, manufacturing, possession, sale, consumption, dealing, etc. of the mentioned drugs like cannabis, coca plant, leaf, etc.[8] The various stages of possession to manufacturing to the sale of the mentioned drugs have been explained in detail under the act.

However, opium puppies and medicinal opium are one of the few plants legally grown and managed by the Government of India. Opium cultivation is permitted in the notified tracts in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.[9] Hence, accordingly, various plants and drugs have different punishments accorded to them. Whoever, in contravention of any provision of this Act or any rule or order made or condition of the licence granted hereunder, cultivates any coca plant or gathers any portion of a coca plant or produces, possesses, sells, purchases, transports, imports inter-State, exports inter-State or uses coca leaves shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years or with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees.[10] Thus, punishment to do with the mentioned substances have a particular punishment for a particular wrong. The possession, sale, usage, and production might be given a different kind of punishment than one is for transporting, importing, or exporting as mentioned in the act.


Though Neuroenhancement drugs help enhance a person’s cognitive performance of a person there may be various psychological and physiological side effects. There is also a lot of dependence on these drugs, which can lead to dependence and addiction, which can severely affect the mental health of the person.

An online survey contained where 55 independent variables which were further divided into 5 groups of sociodemographic variables, psychological variables, study-related psychosocial variables, general psychosocial variables and health behaviour-related variables.[11] The question presented was, “Have you ever used the following substance(s) without medical necessity, to enhance your cognitive performance or to better handle your studies (not for reasons of enjoyment)?”[12] The results showed that cannabis was the most used substance and it also showed the symptoms of people consuming it. Few had symptoms like depressive symptoms, absenteeism’, ‘social support from fellow students, self-criticism, etc.

The Drugs and Cosmetics Act, of 1940[13] it is mentioned that it regulates the import, manufacture, distribution and sale of drugs and cosmetics and establishes a framework for the control and regulation of these products, intending to safeguard public health and prevent the use of substandard or spurious substances. It was enacted to ensure the safety, efficacy, and quality of drugs and cosmetics available to the public. The Act establishes the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) as the primary central regulatory authority.[14] It is responsible for approving new drugs, clinical trials, licensing manufacturing facilities and overall regulation of drugs and cosmetics in India. State Drug Regulatory Authorities are established at the state level to enforce the provisions of the act within their respective jurisdictions.

Many of these neuro-enhancing drugs are legal in India and can be obtained from pharmacies. But there is a system of getting the drugs by prescription for a lot of them, and it seems to be a bit difficult to get them over the counter. For example, Ritalin, which goes by a different name in India and is used to treat ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)[15]can only be bought with a prescription written by a psychiatrist. Therefore, depending on the type of drug being used and whether it is available over the counter, the legality of most Neuroenhancement drugs will vary. In this type of situation, there are several laws (above mentioned) that deal with the punishment for the use of a particular type of drug.

Author(s) Name: Smriti Rangan


[1] Victor R. Preedy, Neuropathology of Drug Addictions and Substance Misuse (first published 2016, Academic Press, volume 3) Pg 651-659

[2] Stéphane Deline et al., ‘Use of Neuroenhancement Drugs: Prevalence, Frequency and Use Expectations in Switzerland’ (2014) 11(3) National Library of Medicine <> accessed 24 May 2023

[3] ‘Nootropics’ ( Alcohol and Drug Foundation, 10 November 2021) <> accessed 24 May 2023

[4] Ibid 3

[5] Ibid 4

[6] The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, s.61

[7] The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985

[8] Ibid 7

[9] ‘Licensed Cultivation of Opium’ (Department of Revenue, 17 February 2017) <> accessed 24 May 2023

[10] Ibid 7

[11] Patrick D Gajewski et al., ‘A Systematic Analysis of Biological, Sociodemographic, Psychosocial, and Lifestyle Factors Contributing to Work Ability Across the Working Life Span: Cross-sectional Study ’ (2023) (7) National Library of Medicine <> accessed 24 May 2023

[12] Sebastian Heller et al., ‘Potential risk groups and psychological, psychosocial, and health behavioral predictors of pharmacological neuroenhancement among university students in Germany’ (2022) 12, 937 scientific reports <> accessed 24 May 2023

[13] The Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940

[14]  Ibid 13

[15] ‘Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)’ (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 August 2022) <> accessed 24 May 2023

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