As a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, memantine has been proven effective and safe. However, because of its reported cognitive-enhancing effects, it has also become a “smart drug” of choice by those seeking to improve their studies, work, and clear-headedness.
Some who use memantine feel it gives them a much-needed boost, making it easier to learn, get things done, and work more efficiently. But are these effects really proven? Can people become dependent on the drug?Little research has been done on recreational use of memantine. But learning more about the drug, including how it works and its possible side effects, can help to unveil more about the potential for memantine addiction.
Memantine is a medicine approved to treat moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Namenda is a brand-name version of the drug, marketed by Allergan.
It is used to treat moderate to severe dementia in Alzheimer’s patients. It doesn’t cure Alzheimer’s disease or slow or halt its development. Memantine is prescribed to reduce dementia symptoms.
Memantine is taken orally as an immediate-release tablet, oral solution, or extended-release capsule.
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It’s helpful to have some knowledge of neurotransmitters and how Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain to understand how memantine works.
Neurotransmitters may be considered chemical messengers. They send signals between the nerve cells. The nervous system uses neurotransmitters to transmit messages from neuron to neuron or from neuron to muscle.
Glutamate is one such neurotransmitter, and it plays an important role in learning and memory.
Usually, glutamate networks with the NMDA receptor which is located on the surface of nerve cells. The NMDA receptor normally allows calcium to enter a cell. The exact amount of calcium allowed to enter a cell is very important. Excess calcium can be lethal and create cell damage.
The cause of Alzheimer’s disease isn’t fully understood, and research is ongoing. However, it is thought that the disease is triggered by harm to the nerve cells in the brain.
When a nerve cell is damaged, it may release excessive glutamate. This can cause too much calcium to enter the cells, which can result in more damage. This damage causes a decline in memory and cognitive function.
Namenda blocks glutamate from reaching NDMA receptors, which stops excessive calcium from entering cells and instigating damage and toxicity.
Memantine is known and most commonly used as a drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease. However, research has been done — and is currently ongoing — regarding its use for other conditions.
Memantine could potentially treat:
Opioid addiction and withdrawal symptoms. Based on the theory that neuron inflammation and degeneration may be related to opioid addiction, studies were conducted to see if memantine, with its neuroprotective effects (prohibiting toxic levels of calcium), would reduce opioid addiction symptoms. The 2013 research study concluded that a low dose of memantine may provide supplemental therapy for chronic opioid addiction.
Bipolar disorder. Based on the theory that supersensitivity to dopamine receptors may cause mania that is then followed by desensitivity to those receptors, which causes periods of depression, a 2014 study was done to see if memantine, through its effects on the neurotransmitters, would block the hypersensitivity as well as the resulting depression. Though the researchers agreed more evidence was needed, their early results indicated that memantine might be a helpful treatment for those who weren’t tolerant of the standard mood stabilizers prescribed.
Binge eating disorders. In a Boston University School of Medicine study, rats were trained to binge eat. Soon, they engaged in compulsive, risk-taking behavior in order to reach junk food — behavior the control group of rats, who were not trained to binge eat, would not engage in, like running into a bright area to get to a bowl of junk food; rats are nocturnal and avoid bright areas. However, once medicated with memantine, the binge-eating rats exhibited less compulsive and risky behavior.
Because of its reported capabilities for increasing cognitive function, memantine has developed a reputation as a smart drug — a drug that is used recreationally to improve a user’s cognitive function, such as their ability to think or express themselves more clearly, or to study or complete work more efficiently. Smart drugs are also known as nootropics or cognitive enhancers.
Although the idea of memantine being used a smart drug was being discussed as early as 2006, the recreational use of memantine is still relatively new. There has not been adequate research to accurately estimate the number of individuals who use the drug for this purpose or research on its effectiveness as a cognitive-enhancer in those without Alzheimer’s disease or another condition.
However, online discussion groups focusing on nootropics and “biohacking” do indicate that there is significant off-label use of memantine and that individuals are able to attain the drug without having Alzheimer’s disease.
Some users claim memantine helps to relieve their ADHD or depression symptoms, but there is not yet enough research to support these claims. There is also not enough data to fully understand the possible side effects or dangers of using memantine for these conditions.
Common side effects of memantine may include:
If an individual is displaying more serious side effects after taking memantine, these symptoms may be signs of a dangerous reaction. Seek emergency medical assistance immediately if any of the following reactions are suspected:
Allergic reaction: Symptoms may include inflammation of the tongue, lips, or face; rashes or hives; and/or breathing problems. Users who are allergic to memantine should never take it again; doing so could be fatal.
Mental disturbance: Seek help if hallucinations or suicidal thoughts are present.
Hepatitis: Signs of inflammation of the liver may include yellowing of the skin and/or whites of eyes.
Pancreatitis: Signs of inflammation of the pancreas may include nausea and extreme stomach pain.
Congestive heart failure: This is indicated by swollen feet and ankles.
Combining Memantine with other drugs can be undesirable or even dangerous.
Some drugs and substances known to interreact with memantine include:
Glaucoma drugs: Some may increase the level of memantine in the body, and thus increase side effects.
Heartburn drugs with sodium bicarbonate: These may also increase memantine levels, increasing side effects.
Parkinson’s disease medications: Some work in a similar way to memantine, and they could increase side effects.
Anesthetics: Some anesthetics, like Ketamine, work in a similar way to memantine and could increase side effects.
Cough medications: Some cough medicines, like dextromethorphan, could increase side effects.
The above list does not list every memantine drug contradiction. Users should consult with a doctor and ask about any medications they are currently taking.
Certain groups that may want to avoid memantine use, who should certainly consult with a doctor before using it, include:
Individuals with kidney or liver problems. Kidney or liver problems may cause the drug to stay in the body longer, increasing side effects.
Pregnant or nursing women: There hasn’t been research to ensure that memantine is safe for an unborn fetus or if it passes through breastmilk.
Seniors: Elderly individuals may process the drug more slowly, resulting in it staying in the body longer, increasing side effects.
Children and adolescents: There hasn’t been any research conducted to ensure that memantine is safe for children. It shouldn’t be given to individuals under the age of 18.
Research has shown memantine to be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. There haven’t been indications that users with Alzheimer’s disease become addicted or dependent on the drug.
Because there is minimal research on memantine being used recreationally, there isn’t information available on whether non-Alzheimer’s patients can become physically or physiologically dependent on the drug.
With any smart drug or cognitive-enhancing drug, however, there is the risk of psychological dependence. A user may feel that a substance or drug is improving their mental condition regardless of its actual effects and feel inadequate or unsettled without it. This is especially true of users who have underlying emotional issues, display compulsive behavior, or have addictive or extreme personalities.
After abruptly stopping their use of memantine, some Alzheimer’s patients exhibited a distressing discontinuation syndrome as well as a decline in cognitive function. For this reason, Alzheimer’s patients who are stopping their use of memantine are usually advised to do so gradually, with medical supervision to ensure that their cognitive function is not declining as a result.
Because there is no research on memantine being used recreationally, it is unknown whether non-Alzheimer’s patients will have the same side effects when abstaining from the drug.
Recreational memantine users should consult with a doctor, especially if they have been taking the drug long term, taking higher doses, or have a history of mental illness or depression.
Again, there is not adequate research on recreational use of memantine, or of memantine dependency by non-Alzheimer’s patients. Therefore, there is little information on treatment options.
It is clear, however, that treating a memantine problem or addiction will likely depend on the individual and their underlying issues that may have caused their (psychological or otherwise) addiction to memantine.
If, for example, an individual began using memantine to counteract their ADHD symptoms, the individual may benefit from counseling and a “deeper dive” into feelings of frustration about their disorder, as well as perhaps medications that have been proven to treat their underlying symptoms effectively.
When choosing a detox center, seek out a facility with trained staff who can provide the medical and emotional support needed to overcome the obstacles of memantine withdrawal, which may be mostly psychological as well as somewhat physically unpredictable.
Look for a treatment center that can provide a comprehensive therapy program to address any underlying issues as well as feelings of stress from withdrawal.
Memantine has been proven a safe and effective drug for treating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. However, its use as a recreational smart drug has not been researched, and its cognitive-enhancing effects have not been proven in individuals without Alzheimer’s disease.
Long-term side effects of recreational memantine use are also unknown, as is the drug’s potential for abuse and dependence in these individuals.
Memantine’s interactions with other drugs can be serious and even dangerous.
Recreational users of the drug should consult with a doctor or treatment center to strategize a cessation plan.
Namenda (Memantine). Alzheimer’s News Today. from https://alzheimersnewstoday.com/alzheimers-disease-treatment/approved-drugs/namenda-memantine/
(March 2013) Low-Dose Memantine Attenuated Morphine Addictive Behavior Through its Anti-Inflammation and Neurotrophic Effects in Rats. Shiou-Lan Chen. J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. National Institutes of Health. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3611110/
(December 2014) Memantine: New Prospective in Bipolar Disorder Treatment. Giulia Serra. World J. Psychiatry. National Institutes of Health. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4274590/
(February 2015) Beating the Binge. Barbara Moran. Boston University. from https://www.bu.edu/research/articles/beating-the-binge/
(June 2006) Memantine: The Next Trend in Academic Performance Enhancement? Ken S. Ota, OMS III. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. from https://jaoa.org/article.aspx?articleid=2093334
(December 2018) Memantine, Oral Tablet. University of Illinois, Chicago, Drug Information Group. Healthline. from https://www.healthline.com/health/memantine-oral-tablet
(November 2018) Highlights of Prescribing Information: Namenda. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2018/021487s025lbl.pdf
(June 2009) Two Cases of Discontinuation Syndrome Following Cessation of Memantine. YT Kwak. U.S. National Library of Medicine. PubMed.gov. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19490142