Often when drugs are developed to treat certain health conditions, researchers discover that they have other properties that make them well-suited for other purposes too.
Nootropics are drugs that were originally developed to treat conditions like ADHD and narcolepsy, but their properties mean that they make ideal ‘smart drugs’.
When taken as a supplement, nootropics can enhance cognitive ability. They are known to boost memory and concentration, and so they are popular among students when they are studying for exams, and even when they want to boost their energy for partying.
Nootropics are referred to as “smart drugs” because they have the ability to boost intelligence, focus, and mental energy.
Some other drugs that have similar effects can cause negative side effects if they are used for a long period of time or if they are abused, but generally, nootropics are safe, neuroprotective and there are little or no side effects associated with use.
Many nootropics work in a similar way to each other. They increase the communication between neurons in the brain, promote healthy brain cells, and balance the levels of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers in the brain. Neurotransmitters control mood, focus, concentration, and energy so it is important that they are operating as they should in the brain.
All about nootropics
The first nootropic, Piracetam, was invented in 1963 by Belgian pharmacologists. They found that the active compound boosted cognitive ability but was it not toxic, unlike other brain stimulants.
Piracetam is one of the best-known nootropics and is part of the Racetam family along with Aniracetam, Phenylpiracetam, Pramiracetam, Oxiracetam, Nefiracetam, Coluracetam and Nebracetam. These are all synthetic compounds made in a lab, but there are also a number of effective herbal and natural nootropic supplements available.
How do nootropics work?
Nootropics work by increasing the levels and signalling ability of the neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in the brain, and when they can send their signals more efficiently, overall concentration will be better, mood will be better, you will have a better attention span, and more capacity for mental work. Eventually, nootropics cause an improvement to the health and functioning of your brain as well.
Some nootropics are vasodilators, which means they increase the blood flow to your brain. This supplies the brain with more oxygen, nutrients, and glucose, which it needs when you need to focus for long periods.
The brain requires a large amount of energy to function optimally, sustain consciousness and to remain focused. It uses 20% of your energy expenditure, despite making up only 5% of your total weight.
When you are performing mental work, and having to stay focused and alert, this uses up a lot of energy. By improving brain circulation, and the flow of oxygen to the brain, you will notice that your memory and focus is better, and that you are able to sustain concentration for longer periods.
Some natural nootropics supply the brain cells with energy, and they are popular, as they act on the brain immediately. These include L-Carnitine, Caffeine, Creatine, and Ginkgo Biloba.
Nootropics can also help to protect the brain against the effects of age-related degeneration. They can stimulate the growth of new neurons, which could prevent disorders like Alzheimer’s disease from developing.
What are nootropics prescribed for?
ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a condition which presents with behavioural symptoms such as the inability to pay attention and focus, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
The condition is usually diagnosed in childhood, and symptoms tend to become more noticeable when a child has to interact with others under different circumstances and in different settings, such as when they start school. Most cases of ADHD are diagnosed in children between 6 and 12 years old. Symptoms can become less pronounced as people get older, though adults can continue to experience problems like anxiety and sleep disorders. Adults are not generally diagnosed with ADHD, and if they are, it is likely they have had it since childhood and it has been misdiagnosed as something else.
Symptoms of ADHD
The main symptoms of ADHD are the inability to pay attention or focus on anything, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Some people might not have all of these symptoms however.
Symptoms in children and young people
Many children with the condition are diagnosed before the age of 6. The most noticeable signs are:
Being easily distracted
Being unable to listen to instructions and take direction
Inability to order tasks
Doing things without thinking
Interrupting other’s conversations
Obviously, these symptoms can cause problems for a child at school, and they often lead to issues with discipline and underachieving.
Symptoms in adults
The research into adult ADHD is lacking, but what is known is that because it’s a developmental disorder, the condition always appears in childhood. Adults with ADHD might display different signs, such as depression and anxiety. However, by the age of 25, around 15% of people with ADHD still exhibit all of the symptoms they had as children, and 65% of people are affected in some way, even if they don’t have the full range of symptoms. Adult ADHD tends to show as inattentiveness, rather than hyperactivity. Adults may demonstrate the following symptoms:
Inability to finish tasks
Inability to focus on tasks
Mood swings and irritability
Engaging in risky behaviour
What causes ADHD?
The exact cause of the condition is unknown, but it tends to run in families, and research has found that there are differences in the brains of people who have ADHD compared to those who don’t. Some other possible contributing factors to the development of the condition include:
Being born prematurely
Being subjected to smoke, alcohol, or drug abuse while in the womb
Treatment for the condition is focused on relieving symptoms so that it has less of an effect on daily life. The usual treatments are either medication or therapy, or a combination of the two.
There are five types of medication licensed for the treatment of ADHD, though the 2 most common are methylphenidate and dexamfetamine. Medication won’t cure ADHD but it can help those with the condition to be calmer and more focused. Low doses are given initially so that side effects can be monitored. Side effects tend to be more pronounced at higher doses.
Therapy can be useful in combination with medication regime, and it can help with any anxiety or behavioural disorders that might develop along with the ADHD.
Therapies that might be offered include
Those with ADHD are encouraged to talk about their condition and how it affects their lives. It can help people to cope and live with their diagnosis.
This teaches children with the condition about what is appropriate behaviour, and it rewards good behaviour, and withdraws privileges for bad behaviour.
Parent training and education programmes
These programmes teach techniques to parents about how to play and work with children to improve their attention and behaviour.
There are other lifestyle factors that may improve symptoms of ADHD, however more research is needed as to whether they are actually effective.
Some studies have shown suggested that there is a link between certain types of food and worsening symptoms. Some food additives and colourings, and caffeine can make hyperactivity worse. Keeping a food diary may help to identify anything that may makes symptoms worse.
Research has suggested that supplementation with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids might help those with ADHD, but further study is needed in this area before any definitive conclusions are drawn.
Narcolepsy is a rare brain disorder that can cause a person to fall asleep at inappropriate times. The brain can’t regulate its sleeping and waking patterns, and this make sufferers feel sleepy throughout the day, and they can also fall asleep without any warning.
Narcolepsy doesn’t usually lead to serious physical health problems, but it can have a huge impact on everyday life and it can be difficult to cope with emotionally.
Symptoms of narcolepsy
excessive daytime sleepiness: feeling groggy through the day, and having difficulty concentrating and staying awake
sleep attacks: falling asleep suddenly, no matter where they are
cataplexy: temporary loss of muscle control which results in weakness, usually in response to experiencing emotions such as anger or excitement
sleep paralysis: a temporary inability to move or speak when waking up or falling asleep
excessive dreaming and night waking
What causes narcolepsy?
Many cases of narcolepsy are caused by a lack of the brain chemical hypocretin which is responsible for regulating wakefulness. A deficiency of the chemical is believed to occur because the immune system mistakenly attacks the cells that make it in the body. The exact cause of narcolepsy is unclear, though possible triggers that are being investigated include hormonal changes, stress, and infection.
Who’s affected by Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a rare condition. It’s difficult to know exactly how many people have narcolepsy because many cases are thought to go unreported or undiagnosed. Men and women appear to be affected equally by narcolepsy, although some studies have suggested the condition may be slightly more common in men. The symptoms often begin in the teenage years, although the condition is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40.
How is narcolepsy diagnosed?
Make an appointment to see your doctor if you suspect that you have narcolepsy. They will ask about your sleep and your symptoms. They might check for other conditions like sleep apnoea, restless legs, or an underactive thyroid gland, which could produce similar symptoms to narcolepsy, such as daytime fatigue. You might be referred to a specialist sleep disorders clinic for assessment.
There’s no cure for narcolepsy, but making lifestyle changes to improve your sleeping habits and taking medication can help to reduce the impact the condition has on your daily life.
Taking frequent naps throughout the day is a good way to manage excessive daytime drowsiness. This might not be practical when you’re at work or school, but your doctor or sleep specialist may be able to come up with a realistic sleep schedule that will help you get into a routine of taking naps.
Keeping to a strict bedtime routine can also help, so you should go to bed at the same time each night whenever possible, and wake up at the same time each day.
If your symptoms are particularly troublesome, you may be prescribed medication that can help reduce daytime sleepiness, and improve your sleep at night. These medications are usually taken as daily tablets, capsules, or solutions that you drink.
How do nootropics help with ADHD and narcolepsy?
In cases of ADHD, nootropics can have a calming effect, and they can increase focus and concentration.
When they are taken for narcolepsy, they can reduce daytime sleepiness and improve the quality of sleep at night.
What are nootropic stacks?
So we know that nootropics can boost cognitive ability. But if you have never delved into the world of nootropics, the choice can be confusing.
There are many different types of nootropics, which affect the brain differently, and so produce different effects and benefits.
Many nootropics are used as standalone treatments, but by combining different nootropics into what is known as a stack can increase their potency and the range of benefits.
Taking them as stacks can also help to offset any side effects that may be experienced by taking a single nootropic.
An example of this is that there are some racetams that work by increasing the activity of the chemical acetylcholine in the brain. This requires an increase in choline, which is a precursor to the chemical. Many people are deficient in choline to start with, so a choline supplement may need to be taken along with the racetam to reduce side effects of choline deficiency, which usually presents as headaches.
Every nootropic has its benefits and its downsides, and it can be confusing, and sometimes expensive to put together a stack to suit you. But stacks could save you money overall.
Here are the pros and cons of nootropic stacks:
Using a stack is cheaper. Nootropics can be expensive and are often cheaper to buy in bulk.
You can easily change the dose of each substance according to your needs.
You know exactly what is in your stack and how much of it you are taking to get the optimal results.
Having a number of different supplements to take every day can be inconvenient. It also takes time to prepare the supplements if they are in powder form. Taking them in capsule form can be more convenient.
The best nootropics for focus, relaxation and sleep
Want to focus better? Try these stacks:
Nootropics are known for their ability to boost cognitive function. One of the most well-known benefits is improved focus and concentration. When you have an important deadline to meet, or an exam to work for, there are some particular nootropics that can help to mentally stimulate you and make you more productive.
Aniracetam or Noopept used with Alpha GPC or Citicoline (or any other source of choline)
Racetams and choline sources can enhance your attention and focus. There is little chance of developing a tolerance or side effects. To get an extra boost, you could always add caffeine or Sulbutiamine to your stack.
Only use this stack as needed, and have adequate time off from it to get the most out of using it.
Aniracetam and Noopept stimulate glutamate receptors, which boosts focus because glutamate is involved in the function of your memory and concentration.
Pramiracetam and Alpha GPC or L-theanine
This is one to use if you are more used to nootropics, as pramiracetam is more potent than aniracetam. Pramiracetam helps to you to ignore distractions and to focus on the task you’re doing. This stack also has a neuroprotective effect.
Phenylpiracetam with Centrophenoxine or Alpha GPC
Phenylpiracetam is a modified version of Piracetam, and is often thought of as being more potent. Some studies have suggested that it is up to 60 times stronger, and that the supplement might boost physical performance as well as mental performance.
Reported benefits include an increase in memory and learning capacity, improved focus, concentration, and a boost in mental energy.
As well as this, Phenylpiracetam is thought to also boost stamina, improve your mood, reduce anxiety and stress, help with sleep deprivation and improve problem-solving skills.
There is a potential for building a tolerance with this supplement, so use it in cycles, as needed. Combining it with the suggested nootropics in a stack will go some way to alleviate reported side effects too, which are headaches and stomach upsets.
Want to feel calm and relaxed? Try these stacks:
It’s hard to cope with things in life when we are permanently in an anxious state of mind. Try these stacks to feel more relaxed.
L-Theanine, glycine, magnesium and omega 3
This stack will reduce anxiety, but won’t sedate you like anxiolytic drugs. Magnesium and omega 3 will take a few weeks to take effect, but the L-Theanine and glycine’s effects are generally felt within 45 minutes of taking the dose.
Omega 3 has been shown to reduce the stress response, and magnesium also has this effect as well as lowering blood pressure. L-theanine is an excellent non-sedating sedative which has an effect within 30 minutes, and glycine has a calming effect and promotes good sleep.
Aniracetam, bacopa, and selank
This stack can both enhance cognition and reduce anxiety. Aniracetam has been shown in numerous studies to reduce anxiety. Bacopa boosts memory after long-term use, and can reduce anxiety and depression within 2 weeks of commencement. Selank is not very well-known, but it is an effective anxiolytic and has been shown in studies to be as effective as benzodiazepines in reducing anxiety. Effects can be felt in as little as 30 minutes, but there is the potential for a tolerance to develop, so it should only be used as needed.
Struggling to sleep? Try this stack
Phenibut, Theanine, and 5-HTP
This is excellent for calming nerves, and it has the welcome side effect of promoting good sleep if you need some help in that department. It should be used as needed because long-term use will result in the development of a tolerance.
Phenibut is a potent anti-anxiety supplement which can easily cross the blood brain barrier. It takes a few hours to take effect, then it acts on the brain for around 8 hours. This is not compatible with alcohol and should only be taken twice per week.
Theanine reduces anxiety and produces a calm state of mind. It enhances the effects of Phenibut really well.
5-HTP is the precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. A deficiency of serotonin can lead to depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Taken before bed, 5-HTP promotes serotonin and melatonin production which will help you get a good sleep. Don’t take this if you are on antidepressants which are categorised as SSRIs or MAOIs. aiding a good night’s sleep.