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Nootropics

Nootropics can help increase your memory, boost learning ability, improve your mood and assist overall brain function. 

What are Nootropics?

Nootropics are a class of substances that improve brain function. Also referred to as neuro-enhancers, cognitive boosters, or memory enhancers. Nootropics can be natural or synthetic.

Experienced bio-hackers often make a distinction between nootropics and smart drugs. For our discussion and to help you understand what they are and how they’re used, we’ll cover the latest in nootropics research.

Nootropics are used to improve focus, motivation, memory, mood, and cognition. Each of these depend on different processes in your brain. And different substances can be used to affect each of these functions.

This idea of altering brain function is not new. Our ancestors were using herbs and alcohol to alter brain function for the last few thousand years.

Origin of the word ‘Nootropic’

The term “nootropic” is relatively new. Romanian psychologist and chemist Dr. Corneliu Giurgea synthesized Piracetam in 1963. And coined the term “nootropic” in 1972. It is derived from the Greek nous (“mind”) and trepein (to bend).

Definition of Nootropic

Dr. Giurgea gave us a list of five criteria that a substance must have to be considered a ‘true’ nootropic.

A true nootropic:

  • Enhances memory and the ability to learn
  • Assists brain function under disruptive conditions such as lack of oxygen and electroconvulsive shock
  • Protects the brain from chemical and physical toxins like anticholinergic drugs and barbiturates
  • Increases natural cognitive processes
  • Must be non-toxic to humans, nor stimulate or depress the brain

Most of the time, when you hear the term ‘nootropic’ used, people loosely mean “cognitive enhancer”. A substance or compound that improves memory, increases cognitive processing speed, boosts alertness, concentration and focus, or a combination of these qualities.

Nootropic Synonyms

With the rapidly growing popularity of nootropics and other cognitive enhancers, you will come across many terms generally referring to the same thing. And it can get confusing especially for someone new to nootropics.

Nootropics are commonly referred to as smart drugs, brain drugs, memory enhancers, neuro-enhancers, cognitive enhancers, intelligence enhancers, racetams, nootropic supplements, brain supplements, neuroceuticals, nutraceuticals, and cognition-enhancing supplements.

Natural vs. Synthetic Nootropics

You can boost brain power in a variety of ways. Your end goal will often dictate if you should use a natural or synthetic nootropic. Let’s illustrate this with some examples.

First we’ll look at a synthetic nootropic, and then we’ll look at a natural nootropic. These are only two of dozens of nootropics in each category.

Dr. Giurgea’s piracetam is a cyclic derivative of GABA. GABA is naturally produced by your body. (But because it is not “natural”, piracetam cannot be sold in the USA as a “dietary supplement”. And since piracetam is not approved by the FDA for medical use, it also cannot be sold as a drug.)

Piracetam has been shown to support memory, learning capacity, reduce mental fatigue, and improve concentration. It is sold as the prescription drug “Nootropil” in many European countries.

Acetylcholine is a chemical messenger that allows neurons to communicate with each other. It is vital for memory, focus, concentration and mental alertness. But piracetam is not the only way to boost acetylcholine function in your brain.

Your body naturally makes acetylcholine from healthy fats in your diet. Good sources of choline – the precursor to acetylcholine – include:

Milk

Cheese

Eggs

Soy Lecithin

Fatty fish

Beef (esp. liver)

Almonds

Cauliflower

Pistachios

Spinach

Wheat germ

spirulina

 

So there is no best source for nootropics. Natural and synthetics work. Some work better than others. And everybody’s body really is different. It often depends what you’re trying to achieve.

Do Nootropics Really Work?

There is no question nootropics work. But opinions vary across the board how well they work. Decades of clinical studies and nootropic user comments and reviews show improvement in many areas. It depends on the person and the specific nootropic.

Users report the ability to:

  • Interpret and retain complex information
  • Learning is faster and more efficient
  • Signal to noise ratio gets better
  • Emotions are affected generally in a positive way
  • Anxiety levels drop
  • Sociability can be affected either way.

Dosage can influence the desired (and undesired) effects of many nootropics. With some of the newer nootropics (smart drugs in particular) the jury is still out on how well, or even if they work.

This includes stacks put out by companies who either don’t disclose individual dosage of each ingredient. Or companies who have poor quality control over, and amount of the ingredients used in a capsule.

The underlying lesson is research and experimentation. Read what others say and research clinical trials. But always remember more is definitely not better.

For an in-depth dive into how nootropics work including influencing brain energy, signaling, cell health & repair, cerebral blood flow, brain waves and fatigue, see my post on:

How do Nootropics Work?

Nootropics can affect your brain by influencing brain waves, cerebral blood flow, cellular energy, hormones, neurotransmitters, neuroplasticity or growth factors.  

Dozens of natural and synthetic substances have nootropic properties. Each can affect one or more of several categories affecting your brain. Nootropics work by affecting:

  • Brain energy
  • Brain cell signaling
  • Brain cell health & longevity
  • Brain blood supply
  • Brain Waves
  • Brain fatigue
  • Brain repair

What Can Nootropics Do for Me?

Referring to a section near the beginning of this article, the right nootropics can help you:

  • Interpret and retain complex information
  • Learning is faster and more efficient
  • Signal to noise ratio gets better
  • Emotions are affected generally in a positive way
  • Anxiety levels drop
  • Sociability can be affected either way

Nootropics may also help to repair years of damage to your brain, and possibly find a healthier alternative to ADHS meds.

Are Nootropics Addictive?

A true nootropic as defined here (a natural method of boosting brain performance), are safe and generally non-addictive. Some nootropics can give you long-term benefits even after you stop using them.

Smart drugs which are typically pharmaceuticals can be addictive. Particularly those acting as stimulants.

Nootropics generally have very few side effects, are non-toxic when taken at recommended doses, and do not cause withdrawal symptoms once you stop using them.

Nootropics vs. Smart Drugs — What’s the Difference?

Smart Drugs are not the same as nootropics even though some may have similar benefits.

A smart drug is typically a prescription pharmaceutical used to treat the symptoms of ADHD or narcolepsy.  They are central nervous system stimulant drugs. And the most commonly prescribed are Adderall (dextroamphetamine) or Ritalin (methylphenidate).

Adderall, Ritalin and other stimulants are very powerful drugs. And can include side effects such as decreased appetite, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, sleep problems, and cardiac issues. Dependency and addiction is a growing problem with their use.

Two other smart drugs of note are Modafinil and Adrafinil. These are wake-promoting agents that have a different chemical make-up from stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall. But exhibit similar side effects in many people.

Nootropics are described as having the characteristics of enhancing learning and memory. It should protect the brain while increasing natural cognitive processes. And should not be toxicnor stimulate or depress the brain.

You could think of a nootropic as food for the brain, while a smart drug is exactly that — a drug for the brain.

Nootropics are generally made from plants, or made up of ingredients from plants. Or are purified components or extracts of plants.

Nootropics are generally safe if you use them as recommended. You don’t want to go overboard with Vitamin D, Melatonin or Zinc because it could cause problems. Likewise, follow directions on the label and get advice from experienced nootropic users.

Many clinical studies have been done on nootropics over the last 40 – 50 years establishing their safety. 

Are Nootropics Legal?

In the USA, nootropics are generally classified as “dietary supplements” or “research compounds“. And can be purchased and used legally for personal consumption.

Smart drugs like Ritalin, Adderall, and Modafinil are prescription “drugs” and require a prescription from a licensed medical professional.

 

Dietary supplements are available in the USA without a prescription. And in many other countries. However, please check the status of any particular nootropic and their classification in your country.