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OK, so scientists have found a great new substance: That substance makes you think ten times as fast! The advantages are obvious. However, as every medicine, this pill will have side effects.

There are obvious side effects like that a faster-thinking brain will likely also have a much higher energy consumption. However, there may also be less obvious side effects from the mere facts that you're still communicating with other humans who have a normal thinking speed, and interact with a world (including your own body) that didn't speed up with your own thinking.

So my question: How would your thinking speed-up affect your life? Could those side effects even be so severe that you'd not want to use the pill, except possibly for rare extreme conditions?

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    $\begingroup$ Head Overheating $\endgroup$ – Joshua Mar 14 '15 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ Extensively considered in science fiction, such as Weber "In Fury Born" and Keyes "Flowers for Algernon". (Both of these are well worth the read) $\endgroup$ – Ben Voigt Mar 14 '15 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ Makes you tired faster. Source: caffeine. Also, see Limitless. NZT has a side effect of killing you if you stop. $\endgroup$ – Chloe Mar 15 '15 at 0:53
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    $\begingroup$ The brain does a lot of stuff other than thinking; am I correct in understanding that this drug speeds up only thinking while not affecting other functions? $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Mar 15 '15 at 3:43
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Several modern works of fiction have focused on this question, including Wired and the movie Limitless, which itself was based on another book called The Dark Fields.

Both of them start with a premise that's fundamentally rooted in reality, which is that the road from scientific discovery to mass production is a very long one, and quantities would initially be very scarce. This would quite likely create cut-throat competition of the most literal kind.

Making us 10x smarter would probably not make us any less selfish, which means that there would be a strong motivation for early users to try to cut off access by anyone else, in order to preserve their advantage. Moreover, with extreme intelligence they would likely have no trouble manipulating politicians, media, or even organized crime into unwittingly doing their dirty work for them.

There might be real side effects at first, but if you took a team of neuroscientists and geneticists and supercharged their own brains, even for a short time, they could almost certainly devise ways to improve the drug to eliminate or at least regulate those side effects. Something like this happens in both of the aforementioned plots. In a rational-but-selfish world, normal people would probably be deterred from taking the pill due to a general lack of availability, extraordinarily high expense, a ton of misinformation regarding the real effects and side effects, and a potentially legitimate concern over the quality (as there is with many illegal drugs today - the drug itself might be almost completely safe in its pure form, but you can never really trust the source to be giving you that).

Presuming there were already-intelligent, informed observers who believed they could reliably obtain any quantity of this miracle drug, the main side effect would be painting a giant target sign on your back. You'd be chased around the world by people either (a) wanting to find out your source, (b) trying to stifle the supply and prevent a "leak", and/or (c) morally or religiously opposed to everything you're doing. Being 10x smarter might not be preferable to having 10,000x as many enemies.

There could be physiological side effects, but one thing that probably wouldn't happen would be amphetamine-like symptoms. Amphetamines work by ramping up certain neurotransmitters; they don't literally make the user's brain faster, they are still operating at roughly the same 20 Hz as everyone else. A drug that could literally increase intelligence (AKA "thinking speed") would probably alter glial cells, like astrocytes or Schwann cells. Messing with these could be very dangerous, as we already know of several disorders related to them.

Peripheral neuropathy seems like a likely candidate for a temporary or permanent "comedown". This includes fairly scary conditions such as Guillain–Barré syndrome, Vasculitis, or something more straightforward like kidney failure.

Of course, you might be less lucky and suffer damage to the CNS rather than the PNS. Migraines, epilepsy, bipolar disorder or Alzheimer's - with a drug that causes major physiological changes in the brain, pretty much anything is fair game, even conditions that are thought to be genetic.

It would also probably force your body to consume enormous amounts of energy; our relatively slow "clock speed" is very efficient, which is why it's so successful, but operating 10x faster could very well require 10x as many calories (Wired had the protagonist tearing through boxes of donuts after coming down). This could lead to short-term hyperglycemia and long-term diseases like diabetes or even cancer.

There are lots of potentially serious side effects. As far as things like becoming a workaholic or becoming bored with people around you - I don't buy it. The massive caloric intake required to support it, and the fatigue associated with increased neural activity, would probably require more sleep, not less. It's not an amphetamine. There's also this thing called the hedonic treadmill, the theory (backed by quite a lot of evidence) that no matter what happens in our lives, we tend to return to a sort of happiness equilibrium. This works both ways, of course; it means that taking this pill probably would not, in the long term, make you any happier, no matter what you're able to accomplish; although it could make you a lot unhappier if its effects are temporary and you run out. Then you're essentially just a drug addict.

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    $\begingroup$ 10 x faster thinking isn't the same as 10 x smarter thinking. Many considerations end up with the same conclusion regardless of the amount of time spent. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Mar 14 '15 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Dronz: Yes, it is the same. It really is. Look at some of the research that I posted as a comment on the original question. Our cognitive abilities are essentially the sum of what we've learned and are able to recall; the faster we can learn and recall, the "smarter" we are. Even creativity and imagination are essentially functions of how quickly we can generate and evaluate ideas. $\endgroup$ – Aaronaught Mar 14 '15 at 22:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Aaronaught: Again, this just isn't so. If it were, then a person who now uses say 1 hour of thinking to produce a really dumb idea after, would be able to think for a further 10 hours, and then realize that it really was a dumb idea. Yet this seldom seems to happen in the real world. Also, the amount available for recall is only tenuously related to the speed of recall. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 16 '15 at 0:06
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf: Really, why do you persist in speculation and analogies when we have actual science? Even if there are certain problems that require arcane knowledge that cannot be deduced from a person's current skills and memories, if you can learn and retain information 10x faster than anyone else, it isn't going to take you very long to catch up. But it's a stupid analogy anyway because time is almost always the limiting factor for our ability to solve complex problems. Ask any engineer how a product got so buggy or hard to maintain - 9 times out of 10, "not enough time" is the answer. $\endgroup$ – Aaronaught Mar 16 '15 at 0:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Aaronaught: Seems to me that you're the one persisting in speculation &c, when we have vast amounts of actual experience to the contrary. How often do people with stupid ideas ever change them? Nor is "lack of time" the real reason for buggy products (though it may be an excuse): it's more often things like management insisting on unworkable designs or the use of fad languages. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 16 '15 at 17:43
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Best Weight Loss Solution!

Ironically, the pill may well be used at first mostly for its high energy consumption as a weight loss pill.

Japanese Workoholics Now Working 23-hour Days

If one hour of sleep can subjectively rest you as well as 10 hours of non-pilled sleep, humanity has just gained anywhere between 7 and 70 more hours per week! 23-hour workdays quickly follow.
EDIT: As a commenter astutely observed, the workoholics might still need to take powernaps every few hours throughout the day: Couches and blankets become de rigueur at work!

Pill Drought Around Universities During Exam Season!

People would procrastinate even more, if they knew that they can do weeks worth of studying in one day.

Mind-Machine Interface Sales Soar!

Bored teens are now installing sexting apps directly into their brains, claim spoken words and fumbling around physically are 'so totally low-band'.

Despondent 40-year-olds finally leave parents' basements to go into the nutrient vats and live online.

Living in the real world is not only boring (imagine waiting for a subjective 40 minutes for a red light to change) but laggy. Since the pill does not similarly upgrade muscles and ligaments to move ten times faster, even walking becomes a hassle, as pill-poppers literally change their minds mid-step and end up falling on their faces. Dealing with 'normals' is like talking to molasses. Imagine spending a subjective 20 hours in a 2-hour mandatory company meeting on some inane topic - you'd literally want to tear everyone's faces off.

The only solution is to live online, where pill-poppers can live at 10x subjective acceleration and zip around as fast (or slow) as they wish, communicate quickly, and actually get stuff done.

Caveat: Neuron Synchronization Issues

Obviously, and this should go without saying, the question is not realistic. A realistic approach would ask how a tenfold speeding of neural function would work. It can't, at least not with natural neurons, since some neurons already work close to their capacity. Neurons with different functions fire at different speeds naturally, so only speeding some 10-fold is much, much more likely to result in a seizure than in upgraded functionality and perceptual speedup. Actually speeding up a biological human 10-fold would have to be worked out from the base genetic code and basic protein cascades up to muscle tissue and blood sugar transfer, and would thus be a completely different species by the time you're done.

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    $\begingroup$ Do the workaholics have to be from Japan in order for this to work? What about other workaholics? Is there some reason they can't benefit from this as well? Is this drug being developed only to benefit those from Nippon? MR. PRESIDENT! WE MUST MOVE AT ONCE TO CLOSE THE BRAIN SPEED-UP DRUG GAP!!!! $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis Mar 15 '15 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ Surely you'd also need to sleep 10x as much if you used the pill the rest of the day, canceling out the sleep advantage? Except now you need to sleep for 0.8 hours out of every 2.4 hours. $\endgroup$ – immibis Mar 16 '15 at 8:35
  • $\begingroup$ Depends on if you only take the pill before sleep. Otherwise, 30 minute powernaps every couple of hours are probably a must! $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Mar 16 '15 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ Could use a discussion of side-effects $\endgroup$ – AecLetec Mar 25 '15 at 2:13
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FEAR

For one thing, the psychological effects of being trapped in a body too slow to obey your commands would be pretty terrifying. Paralysis and helplessness is a pretty huge fear amongst most humans, and even though you'd probably be acting significantly faster than everyone else, to the person taking the pill it would still seem like their body was completely unresponsive to their commands.

BOREDOM

Irritation and boredom might also form a part of the drawbacks. Imagine seeing a film like a pigeon does - you can see every frame of the movie, so it would be like the FPS dropping out on you. How many games have you dropped for a day, a month, or that even now sit unplayed because of FPS or resolution issues? Talking to people would require you to listen for aaaaaages to get through what they're saying, and you'd have to talk at what seems a glacial pace in order to make yourself understood (or else, you'd be talking at ten to the dozen).

Since this pill doesn't enhance your hearing or eyesight, you might actually feel like your senses are -worse-, since you have so much more time to appreciate their tiny failures. That sign you can't quite focus on in the distance instead becomes a green and white haze that lingers in your vision.

PAIN AND PLEASURE

Pain, also, would be vastly magnified, as would sickness. Imagine stubbing your toe on a doorway and having it hurt for days, or coming down with a cold and feeling snuffly for a month. Much like the irritation, you would perceive everything happening for 10x as long, especially given that it now takes you, as far as you're concerned, 50 minutes to wash that chilli powder out of your eye.

On the other side, 5 minutes of pleasure suddenly feels like 50, so you're probably not impressing anyone with your ahem stamina. Pleasurable feelings like eating ice cream or taking a long bath would be enhanced, as long as you don't get brainfreeze or soap in your eye.

TRAINING

To address the extreme conditions, I imagine people amongst whom this would be in high demand would receive special training, like neurosurgeons, soldiers and extreme sports enthusiasts. Overcoming all of the above issues would be difficult, and even once training has been provided I doubt they'd be eager to experience the effects. If we develop a resistance to the effects, as is common with most drugs, you'd want to save the effects for when you need it most.

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    $\begingroup$ Why does everyone seem to think that speeding up cognitive processes would somehow alter one's perception of time? It's completely absurd. For most people, time appears to pass much more slowly while engaged in challenging physical or mental activity. Psilocybin and LSD cause an extreme sense of time dilation in users, but don't speed up cognitive processes at all. Cognitive ability and the perception of time are on completely independent axes. $\endgroup$ – Aaronaught Mar 14 '15 at 23:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Aaronaught unless there is some non-physical wallclock time that we can observe, the only measure of times we can develop are relative to the computational speed of the brain. Thus, at first, we would naturally perceive time as moving much much slower. However, to your point, it would not be unreasonable to assume the brain would account for this, and rapidly adjust its concept of time to match the change in cognative rate. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Mar 15 '15 at 4:43
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon: We actually have tons of different neurons that fire at rates from <1 Hz up to 200 Hz, so there isn't really one computational speed, and our brains are already doing a fantastic amount of work to coordinate all of these various "stopwatches" into one, which is highly susceptible to distortion. To use a corollary, if you record audio at a high sampling rate, what you get is more accurate but not slower (unless you try to play it back at a lower rate). $\endgroup$ – Aaronaught Mar 15 '15 at 18:12
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Your closest analog would probably be amphetamine. Used as a performance enhancer, amphetamine use can:

...result in modest improvements in performance on working memory, episodic memory, and inhibitory control tests in normal healthy adults.[57] Therapeutic doses of amphetamine also enhance cortical network efficiency, an effect which mediates improvements in working memory in all individuals.[24][58] Amphetamine and other ADHD stimulants also improve task saliency (motivation to perform a task) and increase arousal (wakefulness), in turn promoting goal-directed behavior.[24][59][60] Stimulants such as amphetamine can improve performance on difficult and boring tasks...

The side effects for therapeutic doses are fairly minimal, but in higher doses things get pretty dangerous pretty quickly.

Physically you're looking at side effects like:

  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure or low blood pressure
  • Reduced blood flow to extremities
  • Sexual side effects in males (erectile dysfunction, frequent erection, prolonged erection)
  • Stomach pain, loss of appetite, nausea, and weight loss
  • Teeth grinding
  • Ticks

Given your scenario psychological side effects may be more of a concern:

  • Apprehension
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Grandiosity
  • Obsessive behaviors
  • And at the extreme, psychosis (paranoia, delusions)

It seems that many of the psychological side effects depend on the personality of the person and the dose taken. You may be able to work that into your story in some interesting ways. As in while some users may become high functioning, productive members of society others become dangerously: irritable, paranoid, and delusional.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good comparison, but some of the physical side-effects feel kind of out of place when it comes to a drug like the questions implies. Some of them (increased heart rate, teeth grinding, ticks) seem logical. While other (pain, loss of appetite) don't seem to apply to something that only affects the mind. I'd upvote if you filtered those that don't apply or if you explained some of them. (This is mostly for physical effects. $\endgroup$ – 3C273 Mar 15 '15 at 0:05
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    $\begingroup$ @3C273 Most anything that would affect the mind would probably effect the body as well. Even stimulants as mild as caffeine can effect appetite and blood pressure. $\endgroup$ – apaul Mar 15 '15 at 2:00
  • $\begingroup$ OP is looking for some Adderall, eh? $\endgroup$ – Mazura Mar 16 '15 at 6:24
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BIOLOGICAL

Your brain is working at 10 times the speed, but the rest of your body isn't. Your respiratory and digestive systems are still working at the same speed, glucose and oxygen can diffuse only so quickly from the capillaries, and your heart cannot keep up with the amount of blood the brain demands.

The consequence is that you will experience constant dizziness and lightheadedness as a result. Not very pleasant.

SOCIAL

This pill makes you think 10 times faster. Just think of the applications. Students will be using it to cram studying for tests, white-collars will be using it to get work done earlier, and parents will use it to finally have some free time in their lives. Eventually, all of society will depend on it. This can have a couple different end results:

  1. Everyone uses the pill. The rest of society adapts accordingly to be 10 times faster. This means longer work hours, heavier assignment loads, etc. Eventually, nothing has changed.

  2. Law of supply and demand kicks in. With the tremendous demand, companies making the pill are free to jack up their prices as much as they choose, forming a monopoly on the pill market. Only the rich can now afford the pill. Gap between rich and poor continues to increase.

  3. Sports associations ban the pill, deeming it as a performance-enhancing drug. Schools consider its usage as academic doping and start expelling students. Eventually, the pill has become taboo and is now seldom used, with its users being looked down upon for cutting corners.

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    $\begingroup$ Or use becomes so common that the mechanisms of society adapt to make full use of the new capacity. Miss your pill; you're suddenly too dumb to start a car, make a phone call, etc.. (Hey, that's what's happening to me...) $\endgroup$ – DJohnM Mar 15 '15 at 5:38
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    $\begingroup$ That's the most interesting ramification to my mind, @User58220; I picture trying to merge onto the (now normal) super-speed freeway after forgetting your morning dose. $\endgroup$ – Josh Caswell Mar 15 '15 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ +1, very interesting. People that can't handle the drug due to a quirk of their physiology would be a new class of disability. $\endgroup$ – user243 Sep 19 '15 at 8:38
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Another side effect I haven't seen mentioned yet: Epileptic seizures.

Epileptic seizures are the result of excessive signalling in the brain synapses, causing it to "overload". This seems to be a likely side effect of a drug that enhances brain speed. Every pill could carry a risk of seizure. Anticonvulsants might help, but they should have to be taken before the brain pill, so without knowing if they are needed, and they have side effects of their own. They are also only effective about half the time (up to 70% if you take several types at once). You could increase the severity of your pill-caused seizures to lower the efficiency even more, of course.

Regardless of side effects, I imagine there will be a group of speed-thinking junkies that continue to use after several severe seizures and with an eroded brain.

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I'm speculating a little here but is it possible that increasing the brain activity could result in a deterioration of the brain cells? It's like increasing the voltage on a computer's components. Yes, you increase their productivity; but at the cost of damaging them faster. Overstimulation could lead to the death of cells. It will take some time before giving negative effects. Losing cells could have different effects depending on which area is most affected. Having memory problems is a possible consequence.

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The brain is still an unknown machine, but there are many researches that can give us some thoughts about the way electrical signals run from one neuron to other neurons.
Apart from medical side-effects which can only be assumed, let's imagine how such a drug will makes you think faster: by lowering the barrier that electrical signals must traverse through synapses.
A given signal, which should traverse only to specific neurons, could reach new neurons that it shouldn't reach! This could lead to either of some thoughts that might look illogical (illusions, paranoia, sense of threat, sense of divinity, etc), or some electrical storm very close to Epilepsy.
Also, specialized areas from brain would be accessed by unwanted signals leading, for example, to physiological complications, like heart-beat problems.

Assuming that there are no medical conditions, let's not forget what a person with faster brain might feel: everything around him/her is moving way too slower than usual, everybody will speak too slow, the person itself will speak faster because thoughts are coming faster.
I think, a person with artificial fast brain will be bored soon, in a normal world...

Still, a faster brain doesn't imply geniality because geniality itself is the result of a special construction of neuronal formations. Such construction can't be obtained overnight, so a normal person with a fast brain could be a normal person with a fast thinking, but not with better thinking.

Regarding the amount of energy that such a brain might consume: despite current beliefs that we use only 10-15% of our brain, the reality is that over 90% of the brain is accessed all the time, in waves. Is the organization of neurons which makes the processing power of the brain. Giving so, a faster brain will have high frequency waves, therefore it will consume more oxygen and sugar (glucose).

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Addiction. Pretty obvious psychological addiction forming for this.

Down time. The 'low' of normal time could cause depression, again-the above addiction.

Sleep/Dreams. The mind uses dreams to unwind, so 10x brain possible requires 10x sleep cycle to recover??

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As apaul34208 suggested, some of the effects will be like (meth) amphetamine use.

It's also a bit like what many users of cocaine report, though I suspect it may be more a matter of putting to sleep one's usual inhibitions and self-criticism, so that one regards oneself as brilliant during a high, but sober minds would tend not to agree.

Thinking ten times as fast may not mean thinking ten times as well. Thought speed is an advantage in some contexts but not in others. And, as the brain and nervous system regulate many other things besides thoughts (such as body functions), I would expect such a drug to have many undesirable side-effects which would accumulate over prolonged use.

There are some existing sci fi works on this subject, and at least one recent film I've seen (Limitless). In that film, it's an addictive black market drug which has cumulative bad side effects, and is used in high-stakes corporate and political contexts. The users feel very superior and tend to become megalomaniac and paranoid of other users, and so start using their abilities to out-scheme each other.

Caffeine, anxiety, mania, focus, flow and various other common conditions can have a person thinking ten times as fast as others, or more. This can be effective but tends to be most useful for one person focussing on one task, rather than trying to communicate or work with others, and it often goes along with neglecting attention to other concerns.

I would expect your drug to be popular with people who have unreasonable time constraints for intellectual solo work, but to tend to socially isolate and imbalance them and affect their mental and physical health. They may tend to develop ego complexes where they are disappointed with their performance unless on the drug, and the usual effects of tolerance causing increased doses to be required to achieve the same effect over time, compounding the problem and leading in some cases to resentment of newer users. I can see short-sighted employers grinding through their employees by requiring performance that can only be achieved by drug abuse.

Users may tend to look for the best applications of the advantage the drug confers, which might be gambling and other high-stakes contests where the drug would give a decisive advantage.

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I'd say side-effects would depend a lot on the mechanism on which the pill works.

The pill shuts down part of your brain - adrenaline like effect

I thought the speed was mainly limited by the path of neurons we need to traverse. Shorter paths -> faster thoughts and faster reactions. Try to react as quickly as a shrew (tiny mammal with very short neuron pathways). I thought we actually already use this in case of emergency. E.g. if adrenaline rush is high enough, you basically shut of part of your brain so you can react way faster. You basically think less about consequences and more about immediate actions to get to safety and stuff. Side effects tend to be: hazy or no memory, not necessarily good long term decisions (think about people in crisis situations). You can steer this to a certain extent by lots of training (hence we have all the seemingly pointless droning exercises for fire safety and military -> reinforce the good path instead of leaving it to instinct).

Faster neurotransmitter release

Going on the same vein that the path length is part of the problem, we just sidestep it here by changing the speed going over the path length. Changing the speed of electricity itself seems not very likely for a pill. So I'd opt for the pill somehow affecting the speed at which neurotransmitter is released and spreads, for example by replacing the neurotransmitter with some other chemical with slightly different properties. This chemical would still do its job as a neurotransmitter, but would transfer faster in intracellular space. There could be a wide range of side effects. Neurotransmitter plays a role in learning and memories so that could be affected. Given its faster spreading, it may also cause adjacent neurons to fire accidentally causing all kinds of random effects such as minor or major psychological disorders and or motor control issues. I doubt you'd get an increase of a factor 10 in thinking speed this way though.

For ideas:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurotransmitter

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glutamic_acid

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epinephrine

Disclaimer, I'm no neuroscientist (not even a biologist), so I may get some stuff wrong. Feel free to correct me in the comments.

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Sorry, this is partly physical side effects, but mostly societal. With that said, to business:

What if using this drug could cause permanent and irreparable brain damage? The EVE chronicle 'Inferno' talks about a drug that causes the brain to work tremendously fast... for about an hour, then they're done. Demonstrably alive, but completely unresponsive.

Maybe the more of the substance is taken, the stronger the effect, but also the greater the risk of an adverser reaction meaning you spend the rest of your life drooling and eating through a tube. Perhaps people would take large doses of this drug to try and scoop discoveries from others. Perhaps research organisations would push their employees to take larger and larger doses, so that they perform better, but they just sweep the casualties under the rug, pay off the family and carry on as normal.

Alternatively, what if only the discoverer of the drug knows about the side effect, but doesn't care - selling Think-U-Fast makes them money. Or someone at the manufacturing plant knows and wants to tell the world, but died in an unfortunate accident at a company event. He drank too much, crashed his car. What a shame.

What if - sort of like in the linked story - the effects were known, but there was often pressure from others to take the drug and burn out for the benefit of others. "Don't you want Johnny to go to college?". "But we could cure Alzheimer's!". Maybe there are people taking the drug to try and find a way to prevent or cure the side effect before they run out of time.

What if the drug only manifested the side effect in combination with other substances? Perhaps it's only harmful when taken with paracetamol, but also causes headaches. What do you take for headaches?

Or maybe the drug is illegal. You don't necessarily know what the quality of the stuff you buy is, and sometimes the dose is too large. Or impurities from cooking it up in a caravan in the middle of the desert trigger the effects. That said, if you can't do anything at all then you certainly can't buy more, so perhaps the quality control would be better.

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It's been proven that by taking time to slow down though we make 'better' and more intelligent decisions. The wisest people are usually the most composed, and 'slow moving' also.

So what if it makes you think 10 times faster? Just ask an anxiety suffer with adrenaline 24/7 pushing their thoughts to overload, thinking too much on something can be more counter-productive. The only place it would be seriously helpful,(besides in some mental disorders) would be for solders at war where their own reaction time could mean life or death ultimately, which is what speed was originally made for.

Faster thinking does not equate to better thinking.

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  • $\begingroup$ The "faster thinking" you speak of is not really a faster thinking (you cannot speed up your brain in the real world) but a speedup by taking "shortcuts". To make a computing analogy: The pill would overclock the processor, while the "faster thinking" is making a program faster by removing checks and special-case handling. A faster processor doesn't make the program less reliable, while removing checks and special cases may speed up the program, but will cause incorrect results when encountering non-typical data. $\endgroup$ – celtschk Sep 6 '15 at 6:44
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As usual, answers get upvoted if they are fun, regardless if they touch the real world (as if world was powered by magic).

Brain uses about 20% of body's oxygen and sugar. So we need to assume that body will need 10 times of these resources when functioning 10 times faster, because it will need to create 10 times amount of electric potential to fire neuron synapses. Assuming brain is powered by physics, not magic.

It means body will need 200% MORE of oxygen and glucose. You will not be able to sleep during such heavy breathing extortion, and you will have to drink energy drinks constantly to provide glucose. You would need to watch your sugar levels as if you have diabetes. If you let your sugar level slip too low, you get hypoglycenia, manifesting effects like lethargy, amnesia, ataxia, all the way to coma.

Your only hope would be if pill's effect dissipate quickly, so you can get short burst of speed when you need it for short time, then slow down and deal with re-balancing your sugar levels to normal. It will be hassle, but maybe worth to some people some time - not too often. If you overdo it, you can get consequences of diabetes. One of nasty ones would be to go blind. Not fun at all.

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    $\begingroup$ A lot of the brain is not involved in thinking, and even for those parts which are, certainly some of the consumed energy is going into simply living (that is, keeping the cell working replacing/repairing membranes and organelles, repairing DNA damage, etc.) Therefore I highly doubt that the energy consumption of the brain as a whole would grow by a factor of 10, or even close to it. $\endgroup$ – celtschk Mar 18 '15 at 19:48
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    $\begingroup$ Small detail in your calculation: if your brain uses 20% and you multiply that by 10, your total resource usage would be 280% of normal (e.g. 20%*10 for brain + 80% for body), or 180% MORE than normal. I'm sorry, I don't want to nitpick but I just can't help it :P (it doesn't even matter because other effects will probably have a greater influence). The observation of increased energy usage is a pretty important one though. I don't know enough about brains to have any clue on how accurate it is otherwise. $\endgroup$ – HSquirrel Mar 19 '15 at 7:56
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Irresistible urge to scrape the ground after defecating. Users of this drug sometimes have broken or bloody fingernals because they can't feel like they've completed a trip to the bathroom without acting out a primal instinct to dig or scrape.

Losing track of people A Global ID system keys on each individual's unique physiological signature to track movement and control the population, serve them ads, and predict marketing trends. A side-effect of this drug is that it changes an individual's signature and allows criminals and others to evade the system.

Causes video displays to moire People on this drug can often be spotted because when they walk by video displays, a moire pattern can be seen. Other effects on cheap electronics might be seen as well, such as activating children's toys or having audio devices pick up sub-vocal speech and broadcast it at awkward times.

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  • $\begingroup$ The first item is fascinating... $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Mar 25 '15 at 0:19
  • $\begingroup$ @SerbanTanasa Indeed. Yet the link is not entirely clear to me, perhaps I missed something? ;) $\endgroup$ – fantasia Sep 6 '15 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ Are these just random suggestions for possible side-effects of a drug? I don't see how a brain acceleration pill would disrupt nearby electronics. $\endgroup$ – user243 Sep 19 '15 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ I must have left out a few steps of my thinking: Looking for side effects of a drug that speeds up my brain, I imagined electrical impulses zooming around faster, making an electromagnetic field grow past the confines of the skull far enough and strong enough that it interacts with nearby electronics, adding a possible plot device and/or some humor $\endgroup$ – mcgyver5 Sep 21 '15 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ thinking on the first one was similar. I imagined a drug that sped up my thinking but at the same time woke up some ancient instinct that gave me an irresistible urge to cover my crap with dirt, even though I'm in a modern bathroom. So I literally lean over and scratch the tile with my fingernails to ease the terrible feeling that urge creates. $\endgroup$ – mcgyver5 Sep 21 '15 at 14:00
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Other answers have dealt with thinking ten times faster as the biological processes being ten times faster.

I would look at it as being able to be aware of and control more thoughts at the same time.

When we think about a problem, eg. try to solve a sudoku, we might be consciously trying to determine whether a square should be a one or a five. What if the pill allowed the person to consciously figure out the contents of 10 squares at the same time?

As the human brain is doing an awful lot of work besides our conscious thoughts, that in itself would not require faster biological processes, merely super focus.

The effect of such a pill would be great when solving sudokus, but when you don't have anything particular to focus on, then it will be torture.

Side effects would include paranoia, schizophrenia and self-induced lobotomies.

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