Nootropics are a group of supplements which are known to enhance cognitive ability, such as improving concentration and boosting memory power. These supplements are popular as study aids for these reasons, and this is why they are often classed as ‘smart drugs.’ But smart drugs can cause adverse effects with long-term use, such as dependence and addiction, whereas to be classed as a nootropic, a substance has to be safe, it has to have neuroprotective qualities, and there must be little or no side effects associated with taking it.
Many nootropics work in a similar way; they enhance the speed of communication between the brain neurons and they balance the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. Some of them can even stimulate the growth of new neurons.
The Difference Between Nootropics and Smart Drugs
A nootropic is available without a prescription, and they can be synthetic or natural. Nootropics boost cognition and have a protective effect on the brain. Studies from the last 40 years have shown that they have a positive effect on metabolism, aging, and concentration.
But to be classed as a nootropic, a substance must benefit cognition but have no adverse side effects. They are meant for use to boost mental function, protect the brain from cognitive decline, and increase mental energy with regular use.
A smart drug is a prescription drug and it can be used as a medication or for off-label reasons. The most commonly prescribed smart drugs are Ritalin and Adderall, which are both classed as stimulants. People use them to boost energy and focus but they can cause considerable side effects due to their ability to alter brain chemistry.
These drugs can cause independence and addiction, they can affect appetite, the heart rate and blood pressure, and even mood. Long-term use of stimulants can cause physical and mental health problems.
Where Did Nootropics Come From?
The term nootropic was first used in 1972 by a Romanian chemist. The name comes from Greek words meaning ‘mind’ and ‘turn.’
The original nootropic was piracetam, which was developed by Belgian pharmacologists in 1963. They classified nootropics as substances that could boost cognitive ability but had low toxicity even with long-term use.
It appears that Piracetam and other nootropics can improve the function of the brain, but without any of the negative side effects of stimulants.
Piracetam is one of the most well- known nootropics and it’s part of the Racetam class of nootropics along with Aniracetam, Phenylpiracetam, Pramiracetam, Oxiracetam, Nefiracetam, Coluracetam and Nebracetam. These are all synthetic substances that have been created in a lab, but there are also some very effective herbal and natural nootropic supplements available on the market. Some examples of these are fish oil, bacopa monnieri, and liquorice.
What Are Nootropics Used For?
They are mainly used to treat cognitive, motor function, or developmental deficits like Alzheimer’s disease and ADHD. However, they are increasingly being used to achieve other aims, despite considerable concerns about their safety for these uses.
Nootropics are being increasingly used by students to increase productivity, despite the fact that there is a lack of evidence of safety when they are used long-term. Studies have suggested that between 5 and 35% of college students have used nootropics to enhance their focus, concentration and educational performance at some point.
How Do Nootropics Work?
They boost brain function by promoting the production and function of neurotransmitters in the brain. The neurotransmitters’ job is to enable the brain’s neurons to communicate with each other. When the neurotransmitters are more efficient, the neurons can communicate better, so concentration is improved, memory is better, the mood is lifted, and you’ll have the ability to do considerably more mental work. Some nootropics can even cause new neurons to develop.
Some nootropics can cause the blood vessels in the brain to dilate, and this increases blood flow to the brain. This means that your brain gets more oxygen, nutrients, and glucose, which explains w2hy nootropics can give you an almost laser focus for long periods of time. The brain needs a huge amount of energy to function, and it accounts for around 20% of your energy expenditure.
Performing mental tasks, learning new things, concentrating on your work, and remaining alert during the day uses up a lot of energy, so it makes sense that your brain will function even better if the blood flow to it is improved.
Supplements that are known to boost the energy supply to your brain cells include like Acetyl L-Carnitine, Caffeine, Creatine, and Ginkgo Biloba, and they can all enhance focus, mental energy and clarity of thought. It’s easy to see why these are so popular with people who are studying.
Nootropics can also slow or prevent the decline of brain cells and many demonstrate a neuroprotective effect. This is very significant as people are living much longer now, and diseases associated with the decline of the brain cells and cognition, such as Alzheimer’s disease are on the increase.
The Most Popular Nootropics
Every nootropic works slightly differently, so you can choose the one that best meets your needs. You can also mix and match them to make a stack, where different compounds can complement each other and the effects of each are enhanced. Here are some of the most popular nootropics:
Racetams: Racetams are a class of nootropics including Piracetam, Aniracetam, Pramiracetam, and Oxiracetam. They work by boosting the levels of the neurotransmitters in the brain and also increasing the levels of other important brain chemicals like glutamate and acetylcholine. Studies have found that they can improve cognitive function, prevent damage to brain cells and that they increase communication between different areas of the brain.
Choline: You’ll often find choline in a stack with racetams like Piracetam and Aniracetam. Taking choline supplements increases the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain. Racetams cause an increase in demand for acetylcholine, so adding choline to a stack can enhance results you get from using it. Studies have found that taking a choline supplement can improve performance in memory tests, and it also plays an important role in the protection and health of brain cells.
Pyritinol: Pyritinol has antioxidant effects, so it boosts the health of the brain. Its main benefit is that it drives extra glucose to the brain, so you can concentrate for long periods of time.
Studies have shown that keeping your brain topped up with glucose can improve focus and concentration.
Vinpocetine: Vinpocetine has been found to be one of the most effective nootropics for improving blood flow to the brain. This is because it causes the blood vessels to dilate. This results in better concentration, mental energy, and motivation.
The best nootropic for you is one that meets your needs and one that does not cause adverse effects. You might need to try a few before you find the one for you.
Maybe you’re looking for something more natural to improve your concentration and general mental function? Natural nootropics are becoming more popular as people are looking to turn away from the potential toxicity and side effects of synthetic supplements and medications. While synthetic nootropics like Piracetam and Aniracetam might be considered safe, you don’t need synthetic substances to get a brain boosting effect. And just because they are natural, it doesn’t mean that they are any less effective. You can combine them with other natural nootropics to make them even more effective too. Here are some of the best natural nootropics;
This herb grows in the wet climates of North America and India.
It is a small, white flower which has 5 petals and it has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine. The ancient Indian culture found that it boosted cognitive ability and memory, and they also used it to treat epilepsy. Bacopa is also a potent antioxidant and for this reason, it has been used in a number of anti-aging products.
The compound that gives it its medicinal properties is the bacopa saponins alkaloid. Studies of the compound have shown that it can improve memory, help you retain information, and recall information faster.
This needs to be used long-term for the best effects, and since it only really improves memory and it has not been found to improve concentration, it works best in a nootropic stack.
Huperzine-A is a natural compound that is extracted from Fir moss which grows in Southeast Asia. While Huperzine-A has been used for its nootropic benefits for centuries, the way it works has only been recently discovered.
Huperzine-A blocks the production of acetylcholinesterase, which is a chemical that breaks down the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine when there is too high a concentration in the brain. Huperzine -A can affect the concentration of acetylcholine in the brain by inhibiting the action of receptors that control the production of this chemical.
Higher concentrations of acetylcholine in the brain leads to improved cognition, improved ability to learn and better memory. Acetylcholine also plays a role in protecting brain cells from damage as well as being essential in the production of new brain cells. Some users take Huperzine-A with a synthetic choline-based nootropic to get the best results from both complementary supplements working together.
Ginkgo Biloba is a species of tree which is thought to date back millions of years. It is native to China, and it has been used as a food source and for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. The leaves of the ginkgo tree contain compounds called terpenoids and flavonoid glycosides which act as monoamine oxidase inhibitors which are known mood boosters. Ginkgo is also known to improve the circulation throughout the body, protects organs from damaging free radicals and it might prevent the formation of blood clots according to preliminary research.
Ginkgo Biloba has been shown to be effective at improving cognition in patients diagnosed with dementia, particularly the memory and concentration. It’s not as strong as some of the other nootropics, but it can be very effective when added to a nootropic stack.
The Lion’s Mane mushroom, also known by its scientific Hericium erinaceus, is an edible mushroom that grows in North America. The mushroom was often used in Chinese medicine to regulate blood sugar and fat levels, and as a potent antioxidant that treated many ills.
Capsules made from the mushroom are often used to treat stomach problems like ulcers.
A 2009 study also found that taking the mushroom as a supplement could improve cognitive ability.
Other studies have added weight to this theory by suggesting that the mushroom boosts the secretion of a protein that is important for the growth and maintenance of the brain’s neurons, which boosts the health of the brain long-term.
Natural Nootropic Stacks
Each natural nootropic can, of course, have some benefit when used alone, but you can generally get better results if you combine several nootropics together in a stack. This is likely to bring about a more comprehensive improvement in focus, memory, recall, and overall cognitive ability. You can either buy each ingredient separately to create your own customised stack or you can buy a ready-made stack of natural nootropics to suit your needs.
Phenylethylamine, or PEA, is a natural chemical found in the bodies of humans and other animals that you might not even realise is a nootropic. It is known as ‘the love drug’ and it’s found in chocolate, so it’s responsible for that feeling of pleasure you get from eating it.
Researchers have recently been investigating the cognitive enhancing and mood boosting effects of Phenylethylamine HCL supplements.
Nootropics often lift the mood and boost brain power, but with Phenylethylamine, these effects are even more pronounced. It boosts the production of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain and it boosts focus and concentration and relieves depression and anxiety. It can also give a real boost to mental energy.
As well as this, phenylethylamine is best known for its role in falling in love and sexual desire. Dopamine is linked to feelings of pleasure, and the brain’s reward system. Norepinephrine is linked to increased attention, increased heart rate, and the ‘fight or flight’ response.
Phenylethylamine & Chocolate
In the 1980’s, a book came out which explained the ‘chocolate theory of love.’ Chocolate contains a lot of Phenylethylamine and the book linked this to the way chocolate makes us feel after we eat it. There is more of it in dark chocolate too.
This is why the substance became known as the ‘love drug.’ The substance could apparently lift the mood and cause the same changes in brain chemistry as someone who is in love.
The effects of Phenylethylamine mimic the feelings of infatuation that you get when you fall in love, like an elevated mood and a racing heart. For this reason, some people even take it to experience a high.
How Does Phenylethylamine Work?
The main way the supplement works is similar to other nootropics. It is easily absorbed into the bloodstream and can also easily cross the blood-brain barrier. To make sure it absorbs as well as possible, it’s a good idea to use a larger dose to make sure that enough reaches the brain to have a therapeutic effect.
Phenylethylamine works by stimulating the receptors for both Dopamine and Norepinephrine, so the production and release of both are increased. It also works to block the action of chemicals that can lessen the concentration of them in the brain.
The major benefits of this substance are that it lifts mood and gives you a feeling of wellbeing.
Due to increased level of dopamine and norepinephrine, many uses of the substance will experience a natural high which can feel very good. They can also experience a rise in blood pressure and heart rate, similar to the feeling you get when you’re falling in love.
The production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine can be stimulated by Phenylethylamine. This chemical is known to play an important role in several cognitive processes like memory, learning capacity, and recalling information. It may improve attention span, mental clarity, focus, and concentration.
Phenylethylamine Side Effects
The substance is considered to be generally safe as it occurs naturally in the body, but there are some side effects that are associated with excessive use. These tend to be mild and include headaches, heartburn, nausea, constipation, insomnia, and dizziness. If these effects occur, reduce the dose or cease using it for a few days.
Phenylethylamine Recommended Dosage and How to Use It
The usual recommended daily dosage for PEA is between 250 and 1,000 mg per day. Most users Will take doses somewhere in the middle of this range. When you first start taking it, start with the lowest possible dose that will have a therapeutic effect, until you get used to it and see if it gives you any side effects. You can buy it in pill or powder form and you can use it alone or with other nootropics in a stack.
People who are taking medication like MAOIs for depression should not use this supplement.