Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

What are Nootropics?

The Oxford dictionary describes nootropics as drugs which are “used to enhance memory and other cognitive functions.” The term “nootropic” was first used by Cornelieu E. Giurgea, a psychologist and chemist . The term can be broken into two parts, coming from Greek words “nous” meaning mind and “trepein,” meaning the act of turning. In the year 1972 that the term was first used. The very first nootropic to be developed was PIRACETUM, and is considered to be the safest nootropic, while still providing effective results (source- www.NootropicsInfo.com)

Nootropics are also known as “smart drugs,” which are supplements for the brain which enhance the cognitive abilities of the brain. They are extremely useful in making us feel more energized , focused, and also help us to retain a lot more than our mind would usually permit us to. Apart from the above benefits, nootropics also help us to concentrate much better on our ventures.

What are Nootropics?

Are Cognitive Enhancer Supplements and Nootropics the Same Thing?

NO. The brain supplements or cognitive enhancement supplements are not synthetically produced, whereas the “smart drugs” such as nootropics are. The supplements can be a variety of things to be consumed for energizing our brains, like minerals, vitamins, amino acids, or even certain herbs. On the other hand, nootropics are those enhancers, which are synthetically manufactured by various companies. Cognitive enhancement supplements are generally supposed to be used on a regular basis for the purpose of a healthier cognitive ability. These do not have an immediate effect. However, nootropics, being synthetically produced, have a faster action capability, and are thus more popular among the users. Thus, it can be said that nootropics fall in the category of cognitive enhancers, but all cognitive enhancement supplements do not fall under the category of the smart drugs.

Types of Nootropics

Before we try to know how nootropics work or how effective they are in their functioning, we must first try to understand that there are numerous nootropic drugs which are consumed by the people for their benefits. The people generally using (and abusing) these are college goers, people working in the technology sectors, and other ambitious people who might need or desire an extra boost for a better performance. Classifying the nootropics may lead us to dividing them into seven kinds/classes of nootropics. The following are seven different kinds of nootropics found and synthesized:

  1. Natural nootropics
  2. Racetams
  3. Choline
  4. Vitamin B Derivatives
  5. Ampakines
  6. Peptides
  7. Smart Drugs

The above mentioned drugs are discussed below in greater detail:

Natural Nootropics: They are more safe Nootropics than others on the list discussed, as these nootropics are derived from plants and herbs, offering only natural benefits, without affecting the brain or its workings in any way. Natural Nootropics are extremely safe and appropriate for the ones who are about to try these out for the very first time.

Racetams: This was the first kind of nootropics (Piracetam falls in this group), and also known as the most popular type of Nootropics. These drugs have a Pyrrolidone nucleus, and are responsible for the improvement of cognition by stimulating Glutamate receptors, and also making the brain release acetylcholine. They are also neuroprotective in nature, a quality making them even more popular.

Choline: Choline is a water soluble nutrient which acts like vitamin. This macronutrient is essential for normal brain development, functioning of nerves, a healthy metabolism and so on. Most people are deficient in this macronutrient, and they are taken with other nootropics, especially Racetams. They are responsible for increasing the dopamine levels and also increase the ability to learn and have a better memory.

Vitamin B Derivatives: These kinds of nootropics are highly effective in treating Alzheimer’s disease and fatigue. Vitamin B derivatives are also useful in making us more energetic and alert. The usage of Vitamin B derivatives can be traced to Japan, where they were first used for the treatment of the people residing there who were deficient in the nutrient named Vitamin B1. This type of nootropic drug also increases the cognitive potential by improving memory. This it does by affecting the Choline and glutamate levels in the brain. This type of nootropic also affects the dopamine levels (responsible for the feel good factor), but not to that extent that one would be addicted to them.

Ampakines: Ampakines are supposed to be one of the newest kinds of nootropic and these kind of drugs enable improved cognitive abilities by increasing the glutamate levels in the blood (this neurotransmitter affects synaptic plasticity, and so it helps in learning and retaining things that we learn). However, this type of nootropics is much more expensive when compared to other drugs. Also, these, can be used as a replacement or substitute for the more popular energy stimulants like caffeine without the side effects associated with it.

Peptides: Although Racetams are more popular and supposedly more effective than Peptides, a particular type of this cognitive enhancer, ‘noopept’, is taken to be more effective than the drug Racetam. Peptides nootropic improve learning capabilities, alertness, and memory and are also responsible for giving motivation to the self. These nootropics are taken in comparatively lesser amounts than the others, and are supposed to be more effective and beneficial even after their limited consumption. ‘Noopept’ stimulates the Nerve Growth Factor, and is responsible for the maintenance of neurons and the nerve cells of the brain.

‘Smart Drugs’: Although these drugs are used the most, and to an extent, even abused by persons, smart drugs cannot be always considered as nootropics due to the side effects that they posses. “Smart drugs” also affect the people if used regularly or in high levels. For example, Adderall are drugs that serve the same purpose of improving the cognitive abilities, but due to the numerous negative effects, it is not considered as a category of nootropic drug.

How Do Nootropics Function & What Are Their Uses & Effectiveness?

While there is no particular answer to the above question of how exactly nootropics work , as there exist a number of nootropics, the workings of these smart drugs and their influence can be traced to some extent. Nootropics tend to affect the neurotransmitters (chemicals transmitting nerve signals between neurons in the brain) and synaptic receptors of the brain. Nootropics affect the system of receptors and neurotransmitters, and increase their efficiency thus helping in improving cognitive abilities and cognitive function.

Uptake of Oxygen and Flow of Blood: Nootropics also improve the usage and uptake of oxygen and the flow of blood. Due to such increased ability, the functioning of the brain also gets better . The supply of oxygen and blood is quite necessary, as these are essential of a feeling of well being, as well as improved performance in relation to cognitive abilities . Thus, the use of nootropic drugs is quite popular with the people from the various walks of life. Some drugs like piracetum also improve the glucose levels, making the brain function more efficiently in a more natural way.

Nootropics Help Us Fight Stress: We all experience stressful days in our life, when productivity becomes low, and we face hurdles. While some amount of stress is required for better productivity, when the levels increase from eustress to that of distress, it becomes really difficult to work or function effectively. Excessive stress may also impair brain health, leading to low levels of brain chemicals. Stress may also reduce the size of the hippocampus, which is crucial in preparing the brain for a ‘fight-flight’ response when a situation is perceived. Certain nootropics may support stress resistance by regulating the cortisol hormone, i.e. the hormone which helps mediate the stress. Nootropics also effectively maintain homeostatic hormonal balance and fill up the neurotransmitters that are lost to stress. Adaptogens are anti-stress nootropic supplements which serve the above purpose.

Nootropics Benefit Neuro-Regeneration: Our brain has millions of neurotransmitters which decay as and when we start aging. These cognitive enhancers called nootropics help the brain to regenerate neurotransmitters by boosting NGF or similar growth factors. Nootropic also maintain the cell membrane and the flexibility.

Nootropics help with Information Processing: Nootropics are extremely beneficial in helping our brain to process the information that it receives from the external world through our senses. Nootropics also helps our learning capabilities.

Nootropics Benefit Mood & Composure of Mind: Since the Nootropics affect the dopamine levels to a very mild extent, they also affect our mood, and make it seem pleasant when we need to handle our work with a composed mind. Nootropics also keep our mind refreshed.

Nootropics Benefit Concentration & Attention: When acetylcholine levels are increased by the use of certain nootropic drugs like Racetams and Cholines, then the above mentioned purpose is served. Our attention levels increase and also we find it easier to concentrate and focus on our task in hand. All this leads to a healthier mind and greater productivity.

Nootropics Give Us Clearer path of thought & Increased Productivity As mentioned earlier, with the use of different kinds of nootropics, we get to make different parts of our brain healthier, and in turn also make ourselves accomplish more than we could have done without them. Also, since nootropics affect the serotonin and dopamine levels, we feel refreshed and more energized after a long day’s work.

What are the Side Effects of Nootropics?

One should be aware that a central quality of nootropic drugs is that they should be harmless in nature. This was propagated in the beginning by the founder of these drugs, Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, who developed the Piracetam drug.

Nootropic drugs are essentially supposedly harmless if they are taken in the right quantities and for the right purposes. What generally causes a trouble is that, people do not take proper medical advice before taking Nootropics and often use them according to their whims. Leaving those cases apart, nootropics are developed for the benefit of the health of brain and its protection.

Various kinds of drugs have been discussed in the previous sections, and in reference to that, it must be said that “smart drugs” are not essentially nootropics. Although they function in the same way as nootropics do, they are associated with a number of side effects, such as intestinal problems, headache and so on.

Nootropics are to be designed such that they function even when the person taking them is ill and must protect the brain from any kind of attack from other chemicals and other physical troubles. Nootropics are supposed to be nontoxic and beneficial for the people consuming them.

Some of the potential side effects of nootropics drugs include:

Chemical Alterations in the Brain: Some researchers have found out that use of nootropics have lead to chemical alterations including the expansion or shrinkage of the brain size, which is dependent also on the amount of the nootropics consumed.

Affects the Circadian Rhythm: Nootropics like Provigil are responsible for the disturbance caused in one’s bodily activities. One might even become dependent on nootropics if they keep consuming them for a very long time and on a regular basis.

Sleep Problems: Excessive usage of nootropics is bound to take a toll on the user, as their sleep patterns might be affected by the usage of them.

GI Tract Problems: Nootropics can cause GI side effects such as nausea, diarrhea and abdominal discomfort. Reducing the dosage of nootropics helps in combating this side effect of theirs.

Fatigue, Headache and Insomnia: Headache is one of the common side effects of nootropics which occurs as our brains start work harder after taking these medications. Insomnia can occur as a side effect of a nootropic medicine if the medicine is taken close to bedtime. Nootropics can also sometimes produce fatigue in the user. The good news is all these side effects can easily be overcome by making some changes in your schedule, dosage, or adding some other medicine to counteract the side effects of nootropics.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, we can say that nootropics are quite beneficial, safe and effective medicines which can be used to give our brain the extra power it needs. Nootropics are being used by millions of people all over the world with excellent results. The side effects of nootropics are very less and mild and can be easily counteracted if they are taken according to the instructions and as per your doctor’s advice.

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: April 23, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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