Nootropics, or smart drugs, have become incredibly popular in recent years, although they have technically been around forever. Nootropics are substances, both natural and synthetic, that help to enhance human performance.
Most commonly they are used to improve cognitive function: memory, verbal fluency, mental clarity, and so on. However, the nootropics definition nowadays may include substances that enhance emotional and physical ability.
There are many different types of nootropics. This article will explore the usage, benefits, and safety profile of nootropics, as well as clear up some misconceptions about them.
WHAT ARE NOOTROPICS?
Nootropics are often referred to as smart drugs. They are generally used to enhance a person’s mental performance, whether that means giving a boost to their problem-solving skills, improving memory, or increasing the connections between brain cells.
There are many different types of nootropics and they all work differently.
Some work by improving the function of a chemical known as acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter, a brain chemical, that is involved in memory and executive functioning. By improving the way we respond to it, nootropics can improve our cognitive abilities.
Others function as stimulants by increasing the function of the nervous system. This can improve focus and allow people to study for extended periods.
NATURAL NOOTROPICS VS SYNTHETIC NOOTROPICS
Nootropics can be either natural or synthetic.
Natural nootropics are found in nature or are made from products found in nature. Herbs like ashwagandha and rhodiola, for example, are considered nootropics. These plants have been used for thousands of years to improve memory, focus, and energy levels.
Synthetic nootropics are often much more potent than natural nootropics. This is a double-edged sword. They can often produce results much more quickly and obviously, but they are also more likely to produce side effects.
Since many nootropics are developed each year, there is also a lack of research surrounding some of them. Many nootropics simply don’t have long-term study data available and thus one can’t be sure about the safety of daily usage.
However, many synthetic nootropics supplements — such as those found in the –racetam family, like piracetam and aniracetam — are generally well-tolerated in the short term.
EXAMPLES OF NOOTROPICS
There are hundreds of supplements that would be considered nootropics. Here are a few examples of common ones.
- Caffeine is the most widely-consumed substance on the planet and is considered nootropic because of its energizing and focus-boosting benefits.
- L-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid that can reduce anxiety and improve brain function. It’s found in green tea and is the reason that the drink can provide stimulation without the jitters associated with coffee.
- This is the most common nootropic in the -racetam family, a synthetic series of nootropics designed to improve cognitive performance.
- Ginseng is an adaptogen herb that’s been used for thousands of years to improve memory, focus, energy, and mood.
- Modafinil is a ‘wakefulness-promoting agent’ that provides energy in a much more sustained fashion than stimulants like caffeine.
- This is another adaptogen herb, quite a powerful one. It helps to improve energy, focus, creativity, and mood.
If you’re considering using nootropics and supplements then you’re probably interested in the many benefits attributed to them. Here are a few examples of nootropics benefits that you may experience.
One of the main reasons that people use nootropics is to enhance their memory. Some nootropics can be used to enhance both short- and long-term memory. It is not uncommon to hear of people using nootropics and remembering things that they haven’t thought about in years.
Some nootropics can enhance focus. Most nootropics with this benefit tend to have a stimulating effect on the body. Caffeine, for example, can help to extend focus for a few hours and would be considered nootropic when used for this purpose.
Some nootropics are also used to help people manage their mood and emotions. Many have used nootropics for depression and anxiety. Some nootropics provide both cognitive and emotional benefits. Aniracetam is a good example of this.
The line is blurred in regards to what constitutes a nootropic in this regard, however.
Benzodiazepines, for example, are prescribed drugs that excel at getting rid of anxiety. However, they are very detrimental to cognition and can cause serious memory loss as well as addiction, neither of which are nootropic effects.
Some nootropics can help people enhance their creative output. Psychedelics such as psilocybin are especially useful in this regard. Psychedelics, especially in low doses, are highly nootropic and can also increase focus and energy.
Some of the more stimulating nootropics can be used to improve motivation. Coffee, once again, is a good example of a nootropic that can perform this function.
MANAGING AGE-RELATED CONDITIONS
Because of their cognitive and emotional benefits, many people have used nootropics in order to offset age-related conditions like dementia. These conditions are known to cause memory loss and confusion, both of which are issues that nootropics can correct.
ARE NOOTROPICS SAFE?
You can’t really say that nootropics are safe or unsafe. There are so many different substances that could be categorized as nootropics that it’s impossible to generalize. However, most of the nootropics that are generally available are fairly safe.
There are some exceptions to this rule, however, and it also depends on how you define safe. Phenibut, for example, is a very powerful nootropic that is often used for managing anxiety.
However, it is notorious for causing serious physical dependence quite rapidly and the withdrawal symptoms are quite severe, which some people might consider unsafe.
Furthermore, a lot of nootropics are relatively new and therefore cannot be confirmed to be safe in the long term.
Some substances can produce subtle changes when used over a number of years that can culminate in health problems later on. Because of this, it’s recommended not to use nootropics consistently, but instead to cycle them.
Cycling means using a nootropic for a short time, like a week or two, and then stopping its use. Most people cycle between several different nootropics. To really ensure the safety of a cycle you’ll want to make sure that you’re cycling between nootropics that don’t have the same effects in the brain and body.
The best way to ensure the safety of your nootropic use is to remain aware of the risks and use them cautiously. Follow your cycles and journal your results. If you notice any emotional, psychological, or cognitive disturbances after using a nootropic, stop.
NOOTROPIC MYTHS & MISCONCEPTIONS
There are a few myths about nootropics that should be cleared up.
1. NOOTROPICS MAKE YOU SUPERHUMAN
Nootropics can improve your performance but they shouldn’t turn you into a superhuman. If they produce benefits that are so significant that they make you perform beyond your wildest dreams, then you should be cautious about how they might be affecting you in the long term.
For example, amphetamines might fall into this category. Amphetamines can certainly produce superhuman qualities by eliminating anxiety and self-doubt while providing hyper-focus and euphoria, but the result of this is neurotoxicity and potentially permanent damage to the dopamine system.
2. ALL NOOTROPICS MAKE YOU SMART
While nootropics are still referred to as smart drugs, some substances that are commonly called nootropics have limited cognitive benefits. Some people refer to stimulants or mood boosters as nootropics.
3. NOOTROPICS ARE SYNTHETIC DRUGS
Some nootropics are synthetic, but many are natural. Nootropics are not exclusive and do not have to be specifically synthetic or natural. They also do not produce the typical high associated with recreational drugs and, except for a few exceptions, generally don’t produce serious addictions.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON NOOTROPICS
Nootropics are a fantastic way to improve your mental performance. However, they should be used with caution. Abuse of any substance, nootropic or otherwise, can create undesirable side effects and biological changes.
Natural nootropics are much older and better-researched than synthetic ones, although synthetic nootropics may provide more specific benefits. Study individual nootropics to decide which ones best suit your needs.