INTRODUCTION: In 2015, the Australian Army commissioned a systematic review to assess the evidence on effectiveness and safety of pharmacological and biotechnological products for cognitive enhancement specifically in Army personnel.
METHODS: Searches for studies examining biotechnological and pharmacological products in Army populations were conducted in December 2015. Cochrane CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL and PsycINFO were searched without date or language restrictions. WHO's International Clinical Trials Registry Platform and ClinicalTrials.gov were searched to identify ongoing trials. Studies meeting inclusion criteria were evaluated for risk of bias using Cochrane's Risk of Bias tool. Due to heterogeneity of findings, meta-analysis could not be conducted. Findings were synthesised narratively and by vote-counting method.
RESULTS: Sixteen pharmacological enhancement products were evaluated in 22 randomised controlled trials (RCTs), involving 1284 personnel. Only three of the studies were published since 2010. The interventions evaluated were varied, including supplements (eg, carbohydrate), stimulants (eg, caffeine) and hormones (eg, melatonin). Generally, caffeine provided an improvement in performance compared with placebo on 5/7 reported cognitive outcomes, followed by levothyroxine (four cognitive outcomes) and prazosin (three cognitive outcomes). Performance results were mixed (finding an improvement and no effect in comparison to placebo) for caffeine and melatonin on two outcomes. No evidence was found pertaining to biotechnological products. Studies rarely reported safety outcomes (eg, adverse events and addiction).
CONCLUSION: Findings from this review need to be interpreted with considerable caution. Future studies should include outcomes such as acute and long-term adverse events, and should evaluate cognitive performance using cognitive tests that are specific to the Army population.