People who use nootropics report feeling more alert, lucid, and peppy. Do these things actually work?
These are nutritional supplements that users claim can double or triple their brain capacity and clarity.
There is evidence that nootropics can improve memory and brain performance in people with healthy brains.
However, they are not for everyone as some evidence warns they could be habit-forming.
What are nootropics?
Nootropics are substances that can improve cognitive functions such as memory, focus, alertness, and brain stamina. They have an enhancing effect on brain performance and have been shown to improve creativity, motivation, quick thinking, and mental clarity.
They are also called smart drugs, memory enhancers, neuro enhancers, cognitive enhancers, focus pills, and intelligence enhancers, and brain boosters.
The word “nootropic” was coined in 1972 by a Romanian psychologist and chemist, Corneliu E. Giurgea.
To date, there is no scientific consensus on what constitutes a nootropic.
Do nootropics actually work?
There is some evidence that nootropics can improve memory and cognitive function in healthy people.
However, much of the research is not yet conclusive and there is limited scientific evidence to support the lofty claims made about their efficacy.
The exact way that nootropics work is not fully understood.
They are thought to improve cognitive function by increasing the supply of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, protecting the brain from damage, and helping the brain grow new cells.
- A 2015 review of clinical trials found that Ginkgo biloba, a popular nootropic supplement, had a small but significant positive effect on cognitive function in healthy adults aged 60 and over.
- Similarly, a 2016 review of studies concluded that the herb Bacopa monnieri may help improve memory and attention in healthy adults aged 18-35.
However, more research is needed to confirm these findings.
Some people believe that nootropics can enhance cognitive performance, while others contend that they are not beneficial enough to consume for extended periods.
The long-term benefits of nootropics, especially after one stops taking them, remain debatable.
Nootropics may also interact with certain medications, so it is important to speak to your doctor before taking any if you have any existing health conditions or take medication regularly.
If you are healthy and well-rested, you may not experience any notable benefits from taking these brain boosters.
Are nootropics safe?
Nootropics are generally considered safe when taken at recommended doses.
However, as with any supplement, some people may experience side effects based on the dose, individual sensitivity, and tolerance threshold.
Nootropics are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States, so it is important to talk to a doctor or healthcare provider before taking them.
There is also some concern that these substances could be abused by people who are looking for a competitive edge in mental functioning.
Some persons may form an addiction to these medications. They may not respond as effectively as they did at first and may need to increase the dose to achieve the same results.
Some nootropic abusers may overwork or overplay themselves to “toxic productivity” and into serious ill-health.
Some scientists believe that there is no such thing as a true nootropic, and that the term is simply a marketing gimmick. Others believe that nootropics do exist, but they are not as effective as they are claimed to be.
If you’re considering starting a nootropic, do your research and talk to your doctor first to make sure it’s safe for you.
What are the risks and side effects of nootropics?
The use of nootropics is not without its risks. There are a few documented negative effects associated with taking these smart drugs.
The most common side effects of nootropics include headaches, nausea, gastrointestinal upset, anxiety, irritability, and insomnia.
Some people may be sensitive to certain ingredients and experience severe negative effects such as intractable headaches, hyper-excitability, or gut movement issues after taking brain enhancers that contain high amounts of caffeine.
In addition, some nootropics can interact with other medications or supplements you may be taking and can have unwanted side effects. Be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any nootropics.
Drugs that were originally intended to treat neurological and psychological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), are now frequently misused by students as ‘brain doping’ substances.
Remember that nootropics are not a “miracle cure” and they will not make you smarter or more successful overnight.
Before starting any nootropic, it’s important to research the individual ingredients in it.
If you’re unsure about whether a particular supplement is right or safe for you, it’s always best to speak with your doctor or a qualified health professional before taking anything.
What are the different types of nootropics?
Nootropics can be natural, over-the-counter formulations, or prescription products.
Natural Herbal Nootropics
- Ginkgo biloba
- Panax ginseng
- Rhodiola rosea
- Bacopa monnieri
- Panax (Korean) ginseng
- Maritime Pine Bark Extract
- L-theanine (green or black tea)
- Gotu Kola, also known as Centella Asiatica
- Medicinal Mushrooms – Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Natural Non-Herbal Nootropics:
- Fish Oils
- CDP Choline
- Vitamin B-12
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Over-The-Counter (OTC) Nootropics:
- S-Adenosyl Methionine
- Sulbutiamine (Synthetic Vit B1)
- Racetams – piracetam, pramiracetam, aniracetam, oxiracetam, fasoracetam
- Modafinil (Provigil)
- Amphetamines (Adderall)
- Methylphenidate (Ritalin)
Some ADHD medications, like Adderall, Concerta, and Strattera may have overlapping effects (improving focus and reducing impulsiveness) as those by nootropics.
Studies have found that children with ADHD improved their symptoms after taking who took omega-3 supplements, and iron and magnesium supplements.
Vinpocetine and Piracetam have also been found to improve ADHD symptoms in children. It has led to some people to believe that nootropics may help improve symptoms of ADHD.
Free alternatives to nootropics:
Do not expect a nootropic to fix your cognitive capacity if you are taking yourself through 4 hours of sleep and 16 hours sitting on a chair each day.
Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of rest, sunshine, and social love are basic requirements for good physical and mental health.
Try these free alternatives to nootropics:
- Social Connections
Who takes nootropic medications?
People who use nootropics are:
- Senior and elderly people to stay mentally sharp and energetic.
- People in high-stress jobs to stay performance-oriented.
- Military personnel for overcoming combat fatigue.
- Biohackers who want to optimize brain capacity.
- Scientists to improve mental performance.
- College students to study for exams.
Why are nootropics popular?
Nootropics are popular for enhancing mood, motivation, memory, focus, mental energy, and clarity of thinking. They may also reduce anxiety and confusion.
According to AARP’s 2019 Brain Health and Dietary Supplements Survey, more than 25% of Americans aged 50+ take supplements to improve their brain health.
Who should consider taking nootropics?
Nootropics can be helpful in improving cognitive functions in people with healthy brains, like white-collar professionals, students, and people who play brain sports like card games and board games.
There is some evidence to suggest that nootropics can help those with certain mental conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. However, more research is needed to confirm these effects.
What are the benefits of using nootropics?
Nootropics are designed to improve cognitive functions, like memory, focus, and concentration. They are often used by people who want to improve their brain capacity and get more out of their working or studying hours.
There is some evidence to support the efficacy of nootropics in increasing NGF (Nerve Growth Factor) & BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) and improving communication between the two hemispheres of the brain.
How long do nootropics take to work?
Usually, nootropics could take anywhere from one day to three months for their optimal effect to take action. However, there are many smart drugs that have a quick impact, within hours.
In the case of Noopept, results are usually felt minutes after ingestion.
- Establishing Natural Nootropics, 2016.
- Rhodiola rosea as a putative botanical antidepressant, 2016.
- Probable Nootropic-induced Psychiatric Adverse Effects, 2015.
- Ginkgo Biloba for Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease, 2016.
- Nonmedical Use of Stimulants Is Associated With Riskier Sexual Practices and Other Forms of Impulsivity, 2018.
- The efficacy and safety of animal-derived nootropics in cognitive disorders: Systematic review and meta-analysis, 2021.
- Nootropic drugs: Methylphenidate, modafinil, and piracetam – Population use trends, occurrence in the environment, ecotoxicity and removal methods, 2019.
After reviewing the evidence, it seems clear that nootropics can have positive effects on cognitive function, particularly in terms of memory and learning.
However, it is important to remember that these substances are not magic pills – they will not make you smarter overnight. Instead, they are tools that can be used to help you reach your full potential.
If you are considering using nootropics, you must do your research and choose a product that is right for you. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and not all products are created equal. Read the authentic reviews and make your own decision.
3 Powerful Nootropics:
Make sure to consult a healthcare professional before taking any substance, natural or otherwise.
[Statements in this article have not been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Please refer to our Medical Disclaimer.]
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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