I spent nearly 15 months preparing this piece. I do my best to stay up-to-date with all things health and wellness and I kept coming across the term nootropics. It wasn’t that often that I come across a term that I am so completely unfamiliar with so I was naturally intrigued.
It turns out that the term was coined nearly 50 years ago and comes from the Greek words for mind bending (nous and trepein). Simply put, nootropics are smart drugs concocted from naturally occurring compounds that purportedly improve cognitive function with minimal side effects. Does it sound too good to be true? Yes.
However, my accountant father began using one of the more popular smart drugs to help him get through tax season and had nothing but good things to say about it. That led me to initiate my own experiment which ultimately lasted for well over one year.
I was drawn to fully research nootropics out of necessity. I was holding down two jobs, struggling to get through college, all while trying to maintain some semblance of a social life and sanity. It just seemed like there was not enough time in the day or energy to make it through it for that matter.
Smart drugs seemed to offer a way out. Personal accounts from around the world suggested that they could offer improved memory, increased motivation, boosted energy, and overall amplified functioning. But could some naturally occurring cognitive enhancers with little to no side effects really exist? Could I find a way out of using potentially harmful and addictive prescription drugs? I had to find out for myself.
What are Nootropics?
Nootropics are nonpharmacological supplements used for their enhancing effects on memory, motivation, and overall cognition. Unlike many other supplements and drugs, nootropics are designed for healthy people to give them an extra short term boost in performance.
Brain-enhancing compounds have been used since ancient times but saw a major resurgence in the medical field in the 1960’s. They say that necessity is the mother of invention and I believe that is what has propelled smart drugs into the forefront of so many clinical trials and animal studies. We live in an increasingly competitive world which requires tremendous intelligence, dedication, and vigilance to succeed. In fact, I believe this is what has led to the Adderall and Ritalin epidemic on college campuses.
Prescription drugs can be expensive, hard to obtain, and addictive, while many modern nootropics avoid these issues altogether. Nevertheless, there is now a wide-variety of both synthetic and natural nootropics, some of which contain the same drugs as popular pharmaceuticals.
Keep in mind that several of these smart drugs are actually used to treat medical conditions, such as narcolepsy, dementia, and ADHD. However, there are those natural nootropics which tend to be considerably safer than their synthetic counterparts. I think it’s safe to say that amino acids, adaptogenic herbs, and medicinal plants are going to be less dangerous than pharmaceutical drugs known to be addictive and harmful to the nervous system.
Nevertheless, I wanted to find out for myself what each of these smart drugs has to offer and if the rumors have any truth to them.
As nootropics are nonpharmaceuticals, there is always potential risk in using psychoactive drugs without any oversight. Therefore, I do not recommend anyone try to replicate my experiment by any means. Although many of these smart drugs appear to be safe alternatives to harsh pharmaceuticals, the research is still quite limited and you may do yourself more harm than good. In fact, misuse of amphetamine-based drugs can lead to heart failure and other serious conditions.
I began my research with Modafinil primarily because it is arguably the most popular nootropic and because it was what I had access to first. My father was first given Modafinil by a buddy who ordered the cognitive enhancer online from India.
It’s important to note that Modafinil is one of the most researched smart drugs and has been used to treat narcolepsy and other sleep disorders. As a wakefulness promoter, Modafinil has shown promise in giving sleep-deprived individuals the freedom to live a more normal life. Not surprisingly, several foreign militaries have expressed interest in Modafinil as a replacement for amphetamines for their sleep-deprived troops.
While Modafinil has been FDA-approved for 20 years, clinical trials are still somewhat inconclusive. Moreover, animal studies suggest that Modafinil may have addictive properties and can lead to headaches and nausea. Here’s what I found after about a month taking the trendy nootropic.
My trial with Modafinil began with little apparent success, as I felt no immediate effects for the first 10 days. However, I started to feel less sleepy during the afternoon, which had usually hampered my midday productivity. I noticed that while I was clearly more alert and attentive, I had no jittery feelings. In a way, Modafinil allowed me to overcome some of the barriers that come with such an overwhelming, busy lifestyle. In other words, it didn’t propel me above any threshold of normal human capabilities; it merely mitigated the effects of my tiredness and hectic schedule.
I then became aware of another synthetic nootropic similar to Modafinil, called Adrafinil. This smart drug was notably less available that Modafinil and is practically the same drug. In fact, I discovered that Adrafinil is converted into Modafinil in the body, essentially adding an unnecessary extra step.
Armodafinil and Modafinil are nearly identical, though the slightest molecular difference enables the former to last significantly longer. In short, these two compounds are comprised of the same chemical components but they are built as mirror images of each other. Consequently, I felt this was the perfect choice for the second phase of my experiment.
I can safely say that Armodafinil works. However, its effectiveness also has its drawbacks. Its long-lasting enhancing effects kept me awake even more than I wanted. While my daytime productivity was at peak performance, I had trouble turning off and getting to bed when I was finally ready to end my day. Armodafinil is definitely not a nootropic I would recommend for regular use.
Creatine is a rising star in the smart drug world primarily because it is a naturally occurring substance in the human body. Many of you may be familiar with the amino acid since it is common in the fitness and bodybuilding communities. Although creatine is primarily used for advancing muscle mass, recent studies suggest it may be effective in treating a damaged brain and nervous system.
I started my creatine trial taking about 7 grams per day for 6 weeks. I liked that creatine had no side effects but I felt almost no enhancing effects, at least in terms of improved memory, energy levels, and overall brain function. Nonetheless, I did notice that my stress levels were noticeably diminished which had its own positive consequences. My mood was better and so was my sleep schedule and eating patterns.
It’s safe to say that I’m a skeptic, so I had low expectations for the next stage in my trial. I wanted to explore more natural nootropics and I eventually came across a plant extract called Ginkgo biloba. Ginkgo comes from an ancient species of tree native to China and is used in many countries as an effective dietary supplement.
I commenced this phase my taking 200 mg of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 daily for 8 weeks. I began to notice the effects about 2 weeks in and saw no negative side effects. Ginko was able to improve cognitive function, particularly in my time management abilities and memory. I felt sharper, more on the ball, and less stressed.
Some studies theorize that ginkgo works by moderating blood pressure and decreasing stress hormones, but there is still little conclusive evidence. Nevertheless, I found that it worked for me and I would happily recommend daily use to anyone looking to balance their hectic life.
Methylphenidate is the generic name for Ritalin, one of the most widely circulated pharmaceuticals in America, primarily used to treat ADHD. I didn’t use Ritalin in my study because I wanted to stay away from these types of drugs.
Methylphenidate works as a stimulant by increasing noradrenaline and dopamine levels in the brain and has been found to provide legitimate results. However, it has a significant association with addiction, tolerance, and unpleasant side effects. In addition to loss of appetite and stomach pain, Methylphenidate is known to induce difficulty sleeping and headaches. Additionally, there have been many recorded instances of psychosis, heart arrhythmias, hallucinations, and high blood pressure when taken in high doses.
Don’t let the numbers fool you; Although Ritalin is one of the most prescribed and widely-available smart drugs on the market, there is enough evidence to suggest it may do more harm than good. Yes, Ritalin has been proven to boost short term memory, attention, and brain function, but these types of prescription drugs are risky.
There’s no denying that amphetamines improve cognitive function in healthy people and those with ADHD, but at what cost? Human and animal studies confirm that these smart drugs are highly effective at boosting alertness, memory, and inhibitory control, but the side effects are real and quite serious.
Experts warn that abuse of stimulants like #Adderall & #Ritalin are surging across the country. The coordinator for the National HIDTA Assistance Center, explains, "We have to pay attention to this one. It’s very big, and it’s growing very rapidly.” https://t.co/oujKYBbDyZ @WebMD— Caron Treatment (@CaronTreatment) November 8, 2018
Adderall is one of the most abused drugs in America, particularly on college campuses. Like Methylphenidate, Adderall works by increasing noradrenaline and dopamine levels in the brain, prompting a significant increase in brain function. Besides for reducing appetite, increasing focus, and boosting short term memory, Adderall is shockingly easy to obtain.
It’s important to understand the risks of amphetamines such as Adderall, especially in light of their Schedule II government status. As such, these cognitive enhancers are known to have a high potential for abuse and may lead to severe psychological dependence. Likewise, many studies have shown Adderall to cause low sex drive, excessive sweating, and anxiety.
Although many people don’t realize it, caffeine is also considered a naturally occurring nootropic. As the most common psychoactive substance on the planet, caffeine is used by billions of people to promote wakefulness, alertness, and short term improved cognitive function.
Caffeine works by targeting the nervous system effectively blocking the neuromodulator responsible for promoting sleep. While caffeine is an unscheduled drug, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it has addictive properties. Moreover, the universal nootropic has been found to increase blood pressure and jitteriness and may have a negative effect on anxiety disorders. Nevertheless, most people agree that these side effects are negligible in light of the positive effects and overall low risks.
Most people associate nicotine with cigarettes, but it’s actually one of the more effective naturally occurring nootropics. Clinical research has proven that nicotine stimulates alertness, boosts motor function, and enhances short term memory. However, nicotine is not completely harmless.
While there is no direct correlation between nicotine use and an increase in cancer risk, the addictive smart drug may have negative effects on the cardiovascular system. Nevertheless, there is still no conclusive evidence to suggest that nicotine alone poses any legitimate long term health risks.
- Nootropics are classified as supplements which ostensibly improve concentration, memory, motivation, and overall cognitive abilities.
- These so-called “smart pills” are often considered healthier alternatives to popular prescription meds like Ritalin and Adderall.
- While many people are turning to nootropics because they are viewed as safer and less addictive, the evidence doesn’t fully corroborate these claims. In fact, studies have shown that “smart pills” only boost cognition mildly at best.
- Although they may be safer than the over-prescribed pharmaceuticals, you’re better off getting more sleep and maintaining a balanced diet.
- Nootropics are widely available in America and online, though it’s recommended to purchase them from reliable vendors. I suggest Nootropics Depot, which has a solid track record for their reliability.