This advertisement for Ritalin comes from a 1966 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Ritalin, or methylphenidate, is widely – and controversially – prescribed to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The drug is an amphetamine-like stimulant which blocks reuptake of the neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) in the prefrontal cortex. This seems paradoxical given that it improves concentration and reduces impulsivity in hyperactive children, and exactly why it is an effective treatment for ADHD is still unclear.
In the 1960s, ADHD had not yet been characterized, and Ritalin was prescribed instead for mild depression. The ad is of particular interest because it warns that Ritalin “should not be used to increase mental or physical capacities beyond physiological capacities”. So it seems that the non-medical use of Ritalin for cognitive enhancement has a long history.
(From a new medical anthropology blog called Somatosphere, where you can see a much larger version.)