How Effective Are Nootropics and Smart Drugs?
Imagine a pill you can take to speed up your thought process, improve memory, and increase productivity. If this sounds like the best life hack, you are not alone. There are pills that promise this, but whether they work is difficult. Here are the most popular cognitive enhancers available and what science actually has to say about them.
When you hear about nootropics , which are often referred to as “smart drugs,” you probably imagine something like the scene above from “ Limitless,” where the Bradley Cooper character becomes brilliant after taking a strange pill. The medications and supplements currently available do not have that strong potency, but the concept is basically the same. Many nootropics have promising benefits, such as improving memory, focus, or motivation, and there is research supporting specific uses. But the most effective nootropics like Modafinil are not meant to be used over the counter to treat a specific condition. In fact, the recreational use of nootropics is hotly debated among physicians and medical researchers. Many are concerned about the potential adverse effects of long-term use, as well as the ethics of using cognitive enhancers to gain an advantage in school, sports, or even daily work.
However, none of this stops entrepreneurs and their clients from experimenting and buying magic pills. In 2015 alone, the nootropics business grossed over $ 1 billion , and websites like the nootropics subreddit , Bluelight forums and Bulletproof Exec are popular and filled with people looking for easy ways to boost their mental performance. Still, this bizarre world of Philip K. Dick-style smart drugs is a difficult pill to take. To dive in and explain, I spoke with Kamal Patel, director of the evidence-based medical database Examine.com , and even tried several commercially available nootropics myself.
Most Research Supporting Caffeine and L-Theanine Consumption
Without a doubt, the two most popular nootropics are compounds that you have probably taken many times: caffeine and L-theanine . Both are found in coffee and green tea, but in small amounts compared to the available nootropic doses.
We’ve talked in great detail about how caffeine affects the body , but the basic idea is that it can improve your motivation and concentration by enhancing catecholamine signaling . However, its effects may wane over time as you begin to develop a tolerance for caffeine. Research into L-theanine, a common amino acid , shows that itpromotes neuronal health and mayreduce the frequency of cold and flu symptoms by strengthening the immune system. One study published in the journal Biological Psychology found that L-theanine decreased the psychological and physiological response to stress, which is why it is often taken with caffeine. In fact, in a systematic review of 11 different studies published in the Nutrition Review in 2014, researchers found that using caffeine in combination with L-theanine increased alertness, task switching, and attention. The review authors note that the effects are most pronounced during the first two hours after taking a dose, and they also note that caffeine plays an important role here, as high doses of caffeine have been found to have a greater effect than high doses of L-theanine.
While these two compounds may not be as exciting as super pills that instantly unleash your brain’s full potential, they currently have more scientific evidence to back them up. And, as Patel explains, they are both relatively safe for healthy people of all ages. Patel explains that the combination of caffeine and L-theanine is the most basic supplement (or combination dose) because L-theanine can help reduce the anxiety and jitters that can occur when drinking too much caffeine.
A 100mg caffeine dose (half a No-Doz or one cup of strong coffee) with 200mg L-theanine is what the nootropics subreddit recommends in the newbie FAQ , and many nootropic sellers like Peak Nootropics offer the same. … In my experiments, I used a ready-made combo from Nootrobox called Go Cubes . These are essentially gummy coffee cubes (not as rough as it sounds) filled with the same starter dose of caffeine, L-theanine, and a few B vitamins added to the mix. servings – not all at once), I felt more alert and energetic, but less nervous than my usual three cups of coffee every day. I’ve noticed enough difference over the past two weeks that I will be looking for L-theanine supplements to take with my daily coffee.
Piracetam and Choline May Be Good, But We’re Not Sure Why or How
Racetam , particularly piracetam , ingredient popular nootropics , dispensed without a prescription , are synthetic stimulants intended for improving brain function. Patel notes that piracetam is the progenitor of all racetams, and the term “nootropic” was originally coined to describe its effects. However, despite its popularity and how long it has been in existence and used, researchers do not know what its mechanism of action is. Patel explained that the most famous hypothesis suggests that piracetam enhances neuronal function by increasing the fluidity of membranes in the brain, but this has not yet been confirmed. And Patel clarified that most of the research on piracetam is not done with the target market of nootropics in mind, young specialist:
Most of the research is done on people who DO NOT buy nootropics. Similar to older adults, people with overt cognitive deficits, etc. This is similar to some muscle building studies, but in a more extreme way. For example, there are studies of certain compounds that increase muscle growth in elderly or wasting patients, and nutritional supplement companies are using some of this research to support their supplementation.
However, there are many studies indicating its benefits. One studypublished in the British Journal of Pharmacology suggests that brain function in elderly patients can be significantly improved after taking piracetam regularly. Another study published in the journal Psychopharmacology found that piracetam improved memory in most adult volunteers. Another,published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology , suggests that it may help students, especially students with dyslexia, improve their non-verbal learning skills such as reading ability and reading comprehension. Basically, researchers know this has an effect, but they don’t know what and how, and more research is needed to determine it.
So I decided to give it a try.
For several weeks I have been taking doses of piracetam (about 1600 mg three times a day) and have noticed a slight change in my focus. It was easier for me to sit down and continue writing, I was not distracted by research, and this significantly improved my results in the Crucible in Destiny.
However, when I didn’t combine this with Choline , I got what users call a “racemate headache.” Choline, as Patel explains, is not a true nootropic, but it is still a pro-propellant compound that many take along with the other nootropics in the stack. It is an important nutrient that humans need for functions such as memory and muscle control, but we cannot manufacture it and many Americans do not get enough of it. The headaches I experienced were not very painful, but they were uncomfortable enough, so I stopped taking piracetam on my own. However, even without the headache, I didn’t really like the level of attention that Piracetam gave me. I didn’t feel present when I drank it, even when I tried to mix caffeine and L-theanine. Even though I felt like I could focus and get my work done faster, I made more and more small mistakes in my writing, like missing words. Basically, it felt like my brain was moving faster than I could.
Modafinil is the most promising, but it cannot be obtained without a prescription
Of all the smart drugs in the world, modafinil is most often considered the best. It is a powerful cognitive enhancer, great for increasing alertness, and has very few mild side effects that most healthy users will never experience. And no, you cannot have them. Sorry. Modafinil is a prescription drug used to treat disorders such as narcolepsy , sleep disturbance during shift work , and those with obstructive sleep apnea .
As with other nootropics, how they work is still partially a mystery, but most research indicates that they act as a weak dopamine reuptake inhibitor . Simply put, it increases dopamine levels in the same way as cocaine, but to a much lesser extent. However, the improved reward system it creates in the brain makes it, according to Patel, the most powerful cognitive enhancer available; and he notes that some people go from sloth to superhuman within an hour or two of taking it.
But perhaps the biggest difference between modafinil and other nootropics like piracetam, according to Patel, is that studies on modafinil show greater efficacy in young, healthy people, not just the elderly or those with cognitive impairments. This is why it is great (and often prescribed) for military personnel who are on an intense tour, or for those who cannot get enough sleep for physiological reasons. One study by researchers at Imperial College London andpublished in the Annals of Surgery even found that modafinil helped sleepless surgeons better plan, redirect their attention, and be less impulsive when making decisions.
So what’s the catch? Well, for one, it could potentially be addictive. Anything that affects dopamine levels, maybe. And Patel says there are still some long-term studies on this, so we don’t know how it will affect your brain chemistry in the future or after long-term regular use. Also, you cannot get it very easily or legally if you live in the USA. It is classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance . This is where Adrafinil comes in.
Adrafinil is a prodrug of modafinil, which means it can be metabolized to modafinil to give you a similar effect. And you can legally buy it anywhere. But there are a few downsides. Patel explains that it takes a lot more to achieve the same effect as Modafinil, wait longer for it to work (45-60 minutes), there are more potential side effects and there are no other benefits from taking it. …
I have had some successes with nootropics, but your experience may be different. And since I’m not a scientist or a doctor, it’s hard for me to say for sure how much they helped. They worked? Or did I really want them to work? As Patel explains, it is important to distinguish the placebo effect from the real effect, especially with nootropics:
Something like creatine will help you get more reps consistently in the gym. With nootropics, you can easily fool yourself into believing that they help your thinking. Ideally, you need to test yourself. Take a seemingly identical nootropic pill and placebo pill for a couple of weeks each, and then see the difference. Of course, only a third party knows the difference.
Most research on these nootropics suggests they have some benefits, but as Barbara Sahakyan and Sharon Moraine-Zamir explain in Nature , no one knows their long-term effects. And we don’t know how long-term use can alter your brain chemistry in the long run. Researchers are getting closer to what makes these substances do what they do, but very little is known right now. If you want to make your own limitless fantasy come true, do your research first and proceed with caution.