Nootropics, pronounced, nō-ə-ˈtrō-piks, are chemicals that stimulate the cognitive effects of the human brain. It is an umbrella term that encompasses supplements as well as drugs that produces similar results.
The term was coined by Dr Corneliu Giurgea, a Romanian chemist and a psychologist in 1972. It comes from two Greek words, nous meaning mind and trepein meaning to bend. It was also he who invented the first nootropic, piracetam.
Nootropics are also known by other names such as cognitive boosters, memory-enhancers and neuro-enhancers. These can be either natural or synthetic.
Natural sources can be found in food components such as cheese, eggs, beef liver, cauliflower, fatty fishes, and milk. They are also found in dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, spirulina, coffee and nuts especially almonds and pistachios. Synthetic nootropics are those chemicals synthesized in labs such as piracetam.
How do they work?
A straightforward answer is, they stimulate the brain and makes it smarter. However, there is a physiological and chemical explanation behind the effects of nootropics.
Some compounds work by stimulating acetylcholine. For the uninitiated, it is an organic chemical found in the brain and the nervous system of humans. This chemical is a neurotransmitter that assists in the communication between neurons. Acetylcholine is a crucial component for concentration, focus, alertness and memory functions of the brain.
Synthetic nootropics boost the production of acetylcholine in the nerve cells. On the other hand, natural nootropics help to release choline, which is the precursor of acetylcholine in the body.
Different natural or synthetic nootropics affect the brain differently in different people. But fundamentally, they stimulate cerebral blood flow, neurotransmitters, hormones, and cellular energy. Each compound can affect one or more of the following areas in the brain.
- Signaling – It enhances the signaling mechanism of the brain by stimulating neurotransmitters such as glutamate, dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters influence functions such as appetite, mood, emotion, stress management, attention and memory.
- Energy – It increases the energy output in the brain by adding more fuel to ATP. ATP or adenosine triphosphate is the main source of energy in the brain cells.
- Waves – There are four states in which the human brain can exist; alpha, beta, theta and delta. The alpha state is achieved when there is meditation, trance, relaxed focus, and playing music or sports. Nootropics help to increase the alpha waves in the brain.
- Repair – The brain cells undergo constant repair throughout the life of an individual. Nootropics assist in this function by getting rid of free radicals that accelerate ageing. They also increase the production of BDNF or Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, which is a protein that encourages the growth of new nerve cells and reduces the death of brain cells.
- Blood supply – Up to 15% of the oxygenated blood that flows from the heart is used by the brain. Reduced level of blood can cause severe health conditions such as stroke. Use of nootropics helps to maintain steady blood flow to the brain.
- Cell health and longevity – Neurogenesis, or the birth of new neurons, occurs throughout an individual’s lifetime. Nootropics are known to enhance this regenerative process of the brain.
- Fatigue – Brain fatigue can be a result of stress which is directly related to the endocrine system. Nootropics can assist the endocrine system, which will have a positive effect on the brain.
What are the characteristics of nootropics?
The characteristics of nootropics adhere to the criteria that were first established by Dr Giurgea in the 70s, and they still remain the same. It is quite fitting considering that he was the pioneer of these substances. There are five main criteria that uniquely identify a nootropic from others, such as a smart drug. This will be elaborated further on in the article.
- It intensifies the brain’s memory and also the learning potential.
- Magnifies the cognitive ability.
- Safeguards the brain from physical and chemical toxins like barbiturate and anticholinergic drugs.
- It helps the brain function smoothly under abnormal circumstances like electroconvulsive shock or deficiency of oxygen.
- It must not be toxic for use by humans. It must neither stimulate the brain directly nor cause depression.
How is it different from smart drugs?
A lot of materials online as well as others group nootropics with smart drugs. However, as discussed above, the characteristics of nootropics clearly do not define smart drugs. There are some very definite similarities in the benefits, but they are not the same. Consider the reasons.
- Nootropics posses the characteristics of intensifying memory as well as learning. Smart drugs are typically ones that assist in energy and concentration.
- All nootropic substances can be cognitive enhancers, but smart drugs are not all confined to this category.
- Nootropics enhance brain function by stimulating neurotransmitters. On the other hand, smart drugs primarily stimulate the central nervous system.
- Nootropics have the ability to protect the brain while enhancing cognitive skills. Smart drugs are typically very powerful stimulants and can cause multiple side effects such as anxiety irritability, heart issues and lack of sleep.
- Smart drugs are almost always prescription drugs used in the treatment of narcolepsy or ADHD. Nootropics may or may not be prescribed. They are also available as supplements and can be sourced naturally through food.
- There are lesser chances of nootropics becoming addictive. However, smart drugs, especially stimulants, can be addictive and has been a topic of serious discussions.
What are the benefits of nootropics?
The benefits of ingesting nootropics, whether it is synthetic or natural, can be very subjective. Different components in different drug or supplement can produce different results in different individuals. Nevertheless, the benefits of these supplements include:
- Increased focus.
Ingestion of nootropics enhances focus and the ability to hold attention span for longer. A natural nootropic, caffeine, when used in conjunction with L-theanine, causes this effect and so does CILTeP with ginseng.
- Improved memory.
Apart from the increase in memory, elderly folks have benefitted a lot from these substances. Nootropics such as piracetam, creatine, and certain choline sources are known to potentially prevent and decelerate the effects of Parkinson’s, dementia as well as Alzheimer’s. On the other hand, younger individuals can use it to boost their memory. There are different substances for short-term memory enhancement and some that offer long-term results.
- Reasoning skills.
It is not uncommon for people who use nootropics to experience an increase in their reasoning ability. There is also an increase in the ability to interpret complex information and retain it for longer.
Creativity skills also witness substantial boost as well as problem-solving. Iodine and creatine are especially effective for these purposes.
- Less anxiety.
Nootropics such as L-theanine & caffeine as well as ginseng are popular in reducing anxiety. This is a direct result of alleviating the mood of the user. This has been proven in different studies over the years. The effects of these substances are long-term as well as short-term.
- Reduced fatigue.
Rhodiola and creatine are two very effective nootropics for relieving fatigue. Use of nootropics dramatically increases the level of energy. They do this by enabling efficient energy synthesis or blocking specific receptors in the brain. As a result, users can work efficiently for longer durations.
This can be particularly beneficial for individuals who work out rigorously as well as athletes. Intake of nootropics such as acetyl-L-carnitine can improve mitochondria, known as the powerhouse of the cell, and its functions. It can result in a significant increase in energy.
- Improved gut-health.
Recent studies have proven that there is a close relationship between the gut and the overall health of a person. It is a known fact that the human brain is very closely interconnected with the brain in the gut. Imbalance or malfunction of the gut is responsible for causing a number of problems such as abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea. These ailments can influence anxiety, depression, as well as a brain-fog.
Use of nootropics has been known to significantly improve and balance gut health, which in turn heals the brain functions.
Which is the best nootropic for me?
Ask this question to any nootropic expert, and the answer will be, it depends. The reason is that all of the supplements and substances work differently. Every individual has a different genetic makeup, and that include the chemicals in the body. Something that relieves anxiety and brings calm may not have the same result on another.
But the primary deciding factors are what exactly do you need it for, and what is it that you do? You could be a stay at home person, a student, a corporate magnate or a senior member who needs a little help remembering the grandchildren’s name. Perhaps you need it to have more concentration for the upcoming exam, or maybe relieve your social anxiety. The reasons are many.
In general, though, some of the best nootropics on the market currently are:
- For enhanced memory.
A good memory is not just helpful in passing the exams; it is one of the most functions of the brain. Nootropics have been proven to increase memory skills. In fact, it is one of the primary reasons why they are so popular. These substances can be used in isolation or as a stack, meaning using more than one at a time.
DHA or docosahexaenoic acid, CDP-choline, PQQ or pyrroloquinoline quinone, also known as methoxatin, phosphatidylserine or PS, co-enzyme Q10, BioPerine are some of the best nootropics that boost memory as well as learning.
Natural alternatives to these include pine bark extracts and the B group of vitamins.
- To relieve anxiety.
Some of the best nootropics to relieve anxiety, whether they are social or otherwise, are aniracetam, ashwagandha, phenylanaline, tryptophan, L-theanine and phenibut. These substances work by acting as beta-blockers and reducing the level of anxiety.
Natural alternatives to these substances include omega 3 and magnesium supplements through food. Dark chocolate and ginseng are also great for relieving anxiety.
- To get motivation.
The hormone dopamine is mainly responsible for motivation in a person’s attitude. Use of nootropics causes increases in the levels of dopamine, which can make the most timid of persons feel motivated.
Oxiracetam, nefiracetam, iodine, phenylpiracetam, piracetam, resveratrol and sulbutiamine are some of the best known motivational substances.
Natural alternatives to these substances are Rhodiola Rosea, which is native to Russia.
- For depression.
It is often described as being caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Nootropics have long been known to potentially reduce and relieve depression. However, it is essential to know that these substances must not be used in conjunction with other prescription drugs for depression.
Coenzyme Q10, Mucuna Pruriens or L-DOPA, N-Acetyl L-Cysteine or NAC, N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine or NALT, phenylalanine, uridine monophosphate, sulbutiamine, and noopept are some of the best-known nootropics that may work in assisting those with depression.
Natural alternatives to these substances include turmeric, St. John’s wort, magnesium, kava, Lion’s Mane Mushroom, and Ginkgo Biloba.
These statements have not been evaluated by the food and drug administration (FDA). These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
How to stack, I’m a beginner.
Stacking or nootropic stack means using more than one substance at a time to get the desired results. It is done so that the use of one makes the other more effective than usual. It was discovered by neurohackers through trial and error. They learned that by stacking piracetam with CDP-choline or alpha-GPC made piracetam every effective. There was a significant improvement in memory, concentration and learning capabilities of the user.
In the beginning, it is best to take the advice of an experienced person in the field. It is because some combinations or stacks may cause undesirable side effects. These may include but is not limited to, irritability, insomnia and depression, in severe cases.
In addition to that, the effects of some nootropics are cumulative when consumed on a daily basis. In such cases, the body does not get enough time to flush out the toxins or the byproducts of the ingested substance.
Learn how to stack your nootropics safely and without breaking the bank.
- Equip yourself with knowledge.
Before you can start successfully stacking, get yourself acquainted with the characteristics of what defines a nootropic. This is a very important step as you don’t want to confuse a smart drug with a nootropic. Without knowledge, you are putting your health at risk. Unintentionally stacking the wrong drug can have disastrous, if not fatal, consequences.
- Understand how they work.
Most nootropics are either water-soluble or fat-soluble. While ingesting a water-soluble supplement can be easily digested, a fat-soluble one needs a little more help with the use of oil. Consider taking fat-soluble supplements with oil or after your meals.
- Consider the purpose.
Perhaps the most crucial reason why you are planning to stack in the first place was that you need it for something. Is it to improve concentration, focus or attention? Is it to help combat social anxiety or perhaps you need to sharpen your memory. Or are you depressed perhaps? Whatever the reason, make sure that you clearly outline why you need to stack nootropics. This will enable you to look and find the right combinations as well as the correct ratio.
- Use accurate measurements.
While creating your stack, it is easy to get carried away, especially in the beginning. However, you need to remember that the correct measurements are crucial to reap the best results. Make use of the measuring scoop that came with the packet. If the manufacturer did not provide one, use a digital pocket scale from the American Weigh Scales.
If you are adamant about creating your own capsule, make use of the Capsule Machine from Capsule Connection. It is very affordable, and you get an accurate measure with every use.
- Use professional stack.
If the idea of stacking appeals to you but the process prevents you from experimenting, default to pre-stack nootropics. These are very high-quality stacks prepared in labs and are very potent. These nootropic stacks are also more cost efficient than purchasing each supplement individually.
Some beginner friendly stacks to try out are:
- Caffeine stacked with L-theanine. It produces excellent results with concentration and cognition without the jittery feelings of caffeine.
- When you stack Huperzine-A with a choline supplement like alpha GPC, reduce the dosage of choline supplement. It is because Huperzine-A can raise acetylcholine in the brain significantly.
- To improve decision making and other cognitive behaviors of the brain, add nootropics such as CDP-choline, N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine or NALT, lion’s mane mushroom, pine bark extract and B group of vitamins to your stack.
- Adding DHA or Omega 3, L-theanine, piracetam, phosphatidylserine or PS, huperzine-A, and noopept to your existing stack improves memory. It works for both short-term memory and long-term memory.
- For a boost of energy add these nootropics to your stack. Co-enzyme Q10 and ubiquinol, pramiracetam, phenylpiracetam, noopept, rhodiola rosea, creatine, alpha lipoic acid and Acetyl L-Carnitine or ALCAR. Apart from increasing energy levels, they also work to motivate the user.
- When nootropics such as phosphatidylcholine or PC, resveratrol, pramiracetam, turmeric, PQQ, DHA or Omega 3, and CDP-choline are added to stacks, they help to repair the brain cells. It is very beneficial after an unfortunate event like a stroke, poisoning and other injuries. They also assist in the maintenance of neurons, tissues and blood flow in the cerebellum.
- To combat depression or anxiety, add these nootropics to your stack. Ashwagandha, sulbutiamine., B group of vitamins, bacopa monnieri, lemon balm, rhodiola rosea, aniracetam, CDP-choline, and alpha GPC. These substances work by balancing out neurotransmitters that are responsible for causing depression. They give relief from metal fatigue and exhaustion.
Side effects of nootropics.
Nootropics are mostly made from plant ingredients, so they are safe. Consider the characteristics of nootropics. One among them is that it must not be toxic for human consumption. This renders the question of side effects of nootropics irrelevant.
However, it is a drug, after all, and it must be taken with caution. The best and the safest way to use it is to carefully read the instructions on the label. This will educate you about the dosage and, in rare cases, possible side effects.
As mentioned earlier in the article, it is also important that you refrain from consuming nootropic supplement if you are under prescribed medication for depression or anxiety.
The only nootropic component that has a report of aside effects is racetams. Some users report experiencing headaches while using this substance. But the frequency is quite negligible, and it can be easily counteracted. To get rid of the racetam headache, use a high-quality choline supplement like Alpha-GPC, Cognizin or CDP-choline.
In general, nootropics have had no history of adverse side effects or a case of overdosing. When it is used for the intended purpose and within the right dosage, nootropics are very safe to use.
Are they legal?
Most nootropics are plant-based derivatives and are also available as supplements. Therefore, the majority of them are legal in most countries.
Canada and Australia allow the sale and consumption of nootropics. China, along with the rest of Asia, has a slightly relaxed attitude to these substances. Japan, however, has a more restricted law regarding nootropics. The United States, as well as the United Kingdom, allows the legal sale, consumption, and possession of almost all nootropics. The rules of legality concerning nootropics in Europe are complex. Some are sold as prescription drugs, while others are banned.
However, the legality issue pertains to the general public only. These rules may not include athletes, whether of the traditional or competitive category. It is always wise to refer to the guidelines set by the local leagues as well as the World Anti-Doping Agency before participation.
As evidenced throughout the article, nootropics are excellent natural supplements to enhance brain activity. Although they are not a miracle pill, it is easy to see why they are becoming so popular by the day.
They are a powerful addition to improve life significantly and result in more production. They are also known to have anti-ageing properties, and they decelerate cell digression. All these spectacular results without the possibility of any side effects. It is no wonder that nootropics are sought after by both young and old.