Generally speaking, a nootropic is a substance that has the ability to enhance your cognitive function. It can be used as an aid to increase your memory capacity as well as your recollection abilities. At the same time, it is also a great friend when you are experiencing motivation and concentration problems, mood swings and basically everything that is in any way related to thought and cognition.
Nootropics will be found on the market under many names which go along the line of smart drugs or cognitive enhancers, and generally do their job by altering the neurochemicals released by the brain. At the same time, no nootropic will have the same function. Just as some may alter said neurochemicals, others will go for the neurotransmitters or simply stimulate neurogenesis. The main idea is that nootropics are substances that are supposed to induce positive changes in the brain waves, supporting the daily needs of the individual.
The term derives from the Greek words nous which means “mind” and trepeinwhich loosely translates as “to bend” or “to turn.” A nootropic will have to change the structure of the transmitters within your brain, and it is something that many doctors have attempted to reproduce. You can imagine that this intelligence enhancer would work wonders when it comes to mentally damaged patients such as those suffering of Alzheimer’s, which is exactly why these products are in continuous development.
A History of Nootropics
It may seem as if nootropics are relatively new under the sun, but it is actually quite the opposite. While they may have only become popular in recent years, the evidence to the use of nootropics actually dates back to nearly 10,000 years ago. Its usage spanned through many cultures and nations, regardless if it was in the present or in the past.
It is pretty unclear how and when exactly it was discovered that a certain plant or fruit had the ability to alter our thoughts and moods. The ancient man who found these plants merely realized that their usage would promote a change in the way they perceive reality.
Drawings on the walls of cavemen also brought evidence that they were early users of these plants. Researchers compared these pictures with the ones made by present humans in mind altering states. What they were impressed to find out was that the patterns matched. Turing Instabilities allowed us to discover this; it’s a neural pattern that is observed under the hallucinogenic influence.
Cavemen apparently used these brain supplements as part of their rituals. They allowed them to make meaningful images that could only be seen during their mind-altering state. Every enthusiast of today’s smart drugs can attest to that. The earliest “psychonaut” dates as back as the prehistoric times. Researchers from South Africa found bowls that were used for preparing these hallucinogenic drugs, as well as tubes for inhaling the fumes or the powder. That process of inhaling the drugs is well-known – however, I found it amazingthat this process dated back to such an ancient time. The objects were dated somewhere between the years 100BC and 400BC.
Over time, modern research became more familiar with the process. For example, we learned how to refine plants such as tobacco and turn them into more potent substances such as nicotine. Chinese people used Gingko Biloba while the Indians would become known for their Ayurvedic adaptogens. Theories regarding psychedelics started flying around, and scientists attempted to use substances like Piracetam to introduce a state of relaxation and stress reduction.
Dr. Corneliu Giurgea from Romania was the first ever to coin the term nootropics. He categorized them and made an exact definition of nootropics, which would eventually lead to today’s experiments with aniracetam, oxiracetam and so on. Today, nootropics are used by many people, from students to programmers and entrepreneurs to enhance their cognitive abilities. In a time when everything seems to be going at such a fast pace, it would be nice to zone in with your own mental clarity while managing to ignore the distractions going around you. Many see nootropics as the key to mental acuity and productivity.
Characteristics of Nootropics
When nootropics first found their way in modern medicine, scientists attempted to define them until they have reached today’s criteria. InDr. Giurgea’s opinion, in order for a substance to be classified as a nootropic, it will first have to prove that it can do the following:
- Enhance the individual’s ability to learn and memorize certain things from their daily lives.
- Help improve the functions of the brain when faced with disruptive conditions. Generally, such conditions will be defined as hypoxia (low amount of oxygen) or a case of electroconvulsive shock.
- The nootropic substance should be able to protect the brain from physical and chemical assaults. For instance, such attacks could be in the form of barbiturates and anticholinergic drugs.
- It should prove capable of increasing the neuronal firing control mechanism efficacy from the cortical and also sub-cortical areas of the human brain.
- The nootropic substance should not show any signs of being sedative or over-stimulatory. It shouldn’t possess any side effects, and it generally has to be as non-toxic as possible.
One of the most commonly consumed cognitive enhancers is caffeine. I think that, at this point, every person – coffee addict or not – can attest to the energy boost they receive when they consume the liquid. At the same time, many people argue that caffeine is not a nootropic, but more of a cognitive enhancer which only functions on a short term. Long story short, a cognitive enhancer is supposedly something that can alter your state of mind for a particularperiod, without usually encouraging the apparition of side effects.
At the same time,Giurgea’s original definition of nootropicswas enhanced by Dr. Skondia’s classification. Overall, his classification is following a metabolic approach, attempting to prove that a nootropic substance should do the following:
- The nootropic substance should have no clear-cut vasoactivity (vasoconstriction and vasodilation).
- It shouldn’t change the basic rhythm of the EEG.
- It should be able to cut across the blood brain barrier.
- It should show signs of metabolic activity within the human brain.
- It should have little or no side effects.
- A substance that has been classified as nootropic should undergo clinical trials which should attest to the cerebral improvement.
The biggest differences between these two definitions are the following: Dr. Giurgea believed that a nootropic is a substance that can enhance the memory and learningcapacities,while Dr. Skondia believes it should improve the metabolism of the brain by means of oxygen or glucose update. For example, a racetam (piracetam, oxiracetam, pramiracetam, aniracetam) would fit snuggly in their definitions of nootropics; however, many other cognitive enhancers wouldn’t. As a result, we could say that while nootropics can be classified as cognitive enhancers, there are also many cognitive enhancers that can’t be classified as nootropics.
Reaching the Middle Grounds
Both researchers were obviously extremely helpful with their definitions. However, they do not really mirror each other, and there are many characteristics that are left in the gray area – characteristics that have nothing to do one with oneanother. For example, both vinpocetine and GinkgoBilobaare able to cross the blood-brainbarrier, they can enhance the memory, and none of them sedate or stimulate the brain. But still, they both have vasodilator properties and can directly influence the blood flow going towards the brain (as Skondia’s criteria predict). So are they, strictly speaking, part of the nootropics category? Not really. Practically, however, it is almost certain that they are nootropics.
In my opinion, I believe nootropics should be able to do the following:
- A nootropic substance should be able to enhance the human’s cognitive functions while protecting/repairing the brain.
- In order for a substance to be categorized as a nootropic, it should barely have any side effects and no tolerance.
If the substance fits into the first criteria but fails to meet therequirements of the second one, then it is more than likely a sedative or a stimulant. Both of these can be cognitive enhancers, but I do not believe them to be part of the nootropics family.
When to Take the Drug
Many of the people opting for nootropic drugs will all expect different results. When they take the tiny pill, they will want all of their problems concerning work, school or general anxiety to go away. This approach makes many people take nootropics without knowing how they can help, and generally ending up with an overdose. No matter what your problem may be, it is always recommended that you educate yourself regarding what they can help you with.
Combined with yourdiet, you may or may not need to increase your nootropic intake. For example, if your diet is lacking in organic meat, you may want to add more choline in your diet to enhance your cognitive abilities. Before you take on a nootropics treatment, here’s what you should keep in mind about the product:
- The Goal
Before you take any drug, make sure that you have your goals clearly outlined in your head. Just because you heard from someone else that it is a cognitive enhancer, it doesn’t mean that it’ll be useful for you as well. Many people who are part of the nootropic community will ironically (but mistakenly) mix compounds that will promote a set of opposite hormones/neurotransmitters. In the case of college students, mixing compounds for alertness and memory enhancement may be useful. There are a lot of students that are already regular consumers of amphetamines such as Adderall or Ritalin. That’s right, amphetamines. As you will keep reading this book, I will tell you about the alternatives to amphetamine which are natural, but safer and just as effective.
- The Quality of the Product
With all the junk foods and whatever else you may be ingesting, the quality of the nootropic drug shouldn’t be lacking – it needs to be as high as it can be. At the same time, there are some very good nootropics on the market that have yet to be regulated by the FDA. This means that it will fall onto the buyer (and the seller) to be as honest and transparent as possible. Do some research on the company and look around for a third party testing where the product is applicable – but make sure that they work independently. You’ll want an unbiased second opinion.
There are many other sources where you can find high-quality drugs. Regardless if they’re online (forums) or at the shop next to you, you will want to get proper feedback from customers to ensure that the product you are ordering is of high quality.
- The Tracking Change
This is one of the things you need to pay most attention to. Indeed, a smart drug will require a great load of evidence before you test it, but you will only be able to figure out its worth through continuous usage and self-tracking methods. There are numerous ways for you to track your cognitive enhancement, which literally make this a no-brainer. You need to follow your changes; otherwise, you may simply result in overworking your organs, altering your hormone function and neurotransmitter for basically no reason. If you see little to no changes towards the good, you may want to discontinue the drugs because supplementing the nootropics holds its disadvantages.
What I recommend is that you do some research regarding the dosage on the Internet. They will all differ depending on the individual, but generally, the golden rule of using nootropics would be to begin with a dosage that is lower than the recommended one. There are rare cases when dosages should be higher than what is advised, which is why you will need to do your homework properly.
Types of Nootropics
While nootropicsseem like a category in itself, you will be surprised to find out how many of them actually fit in there. Some of them may be familiar to you while others will be part of groups that you may have never heard of before. Some have been around us for decades while others may have appeared on the market just a few years ago. Here are the types of nootropics that you may want to know about:
- Research chemicals
One of the most common categories of chemical nootropics is the racetams.This line started with Piracetam and then was closely followed by Oxiracetam, Aniracetam, Pramiracetam, Phenylpiracetam, Nefiracetam and all of the other racetam-ending terms. Personally, I am a great fan of theBulletproof coffee, so imagine my surprise when I heard that Dave Asprey had been using aniracetam and piracetam for years. Even Tim Ferriss admitted that he used piracetamand phenylpiracetam, so I was even more intrigued. I have been apparently using nootropics for years, but I had no idea of it.
Piracetam, the Big Kahuna and grandfather of the racetams, is a cognitive enhancer that has the ability to improve your memory retention. At the same time, it has also proved useful in providing neuroprotective properties. Oxiracetam and Aniracetam work as piracetam on steroids: they act faster, have a more stimulating effect and can even ease your problems of nervousness and anxiety. For the moments when you become really brave, you can also try coluracetam and phenylpiracetam, but keep in mind that these are not for those who are faint at heart. The racetams work very well when combined with choline supplements (various human and animal studies were done in the last 40 years which prove my point). Capsules of these can be found online from vendors. You can even find other prepared compounds such as noopept and so on.
- Stimulant Nootropics
Stimulants include caffeine and various amphetamines such as adderall/ritalin. One of the most popular stacks used is represented by caffeine plus the natural L-theanine. This stack utilizes compounds present in coffee and green tea. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Many of us already have plenty of experience with these two; however, if you arrange for the most effective dosage, you can optimize the benefits further. The dosage will be dependent on your toleration of caffeine, but a starting point would usually sit somewhere between two parts of l-theanine and one part of caffeine. The caffeine will work by promoting wakefulness, attention and alertness, while the l-theanine will help mitigate most of the side-effects brought over by caffeine. They’re like the yin and yang of drugs, aren’t they?
- Natural/Herbal Supplements
- Chinese Nootropics
Sure, smart drugs and nootropics are relatively new concepts, but remember when I dated this to the ages of cavemen? Well, traditional Chinese medicine still uses some of their ancient tricks, and you can still see the Wall Street Financial traders finding them during their practices. Here are the most popular ones:
- Panax (Asian Ginseng): This drug has a calming and relaxing effect that can improve yourlearning abilities. At the same time, it was also proven useful to relieve anxiety and stress. Look around for berry extract and root, since they’re high in ginsenoside (the active ingredient).
- Gingko Biloba: Just like the panax, this can also relieve stress and anxiety. It has antioxidant properties which can improve the quality of the memory.
- Polygala: There aren’t many modern studies that prove polygala has memory enhancing and neuroprotective properties. However, it is still one of the top 50 fundamental herbs that are generally used in Chinese medicine.
These natural nootropics can be just as effective and even more so than the “wonder pill” you find in drug stores. It’s no wonder that our ancestors manage to live such long and healthy lives.
- Ayurvedic Nootropics
Similar to the Chinese culture, the Indian folkswere also early in putting nootropics to use – before actually knowing what they were made of. As a result, they brought us the following:
- Ashwagandha: Commonly known as Indian ginseng, this herb can improve the focus and concentration, as well as reduce the anxiety of the individual.
- Bacopa Monnieri: This herb is very useful for improving the cognition simply because it reduces anxiety – making you see things more clearly. Since it is a soluble fat, traditional families mix it with ghee.
These are only two examples, but there are countless herbs which can help you relieve your problems of the mind.
You may be taking all supplements existing on the market, but if you aren’t getting the nutrients that you need, well… you won’t get too far. You will need things such as EPA/DHA to keep on to your brain health (you can try krill oil). At the same time, zinc and magnesium can also be very useful if you seem to have a deficit.
Before undertaking a nootropic treatment, you ought to do some research first and analyze it based on your tolerance. If you have any underlying condition that may react with the compound, you need to be extra careful with the dosage. An appointment to a specialist wouldn’t be a bad idea since they will be able to tell the correct dosage you need for it to take effect.
- Choline Nootropics
Choline is that substance which you’d call the “VIP” member of nootropics. It’s a supplement that acts as a nutrient, but also as a brain booster that enhances your cognitive abilities. As a nootropic, choline works alone as well as in other combinations (such as with the research chemicals, a.k.a the racetams). Its use can enhance your memory, cognitive function and focus, but also prevent certain physical conditions such as hepatitis, asthma and even cancer!
Choline is acetylcholine’s precursor, which is also known as a very strong cognitive enhancer on its own. Just like its ancestor, choline can amplify and enhance the effects of other nootropics, which is why people look to add it in stacks.
Knowledgeable nootropic users won’t ask themselves if they should add choline; they will ask what source of choline they can add, and which could serve them best. Because just like with other nootropics, choline-based nootropics will take various forms depending on the user’s personal preference.