Nootropics – Are These So-called Smart Drugs The Real Deal?

Brain Enhancement in A Pill Form? Seriously?

We live in a demanding world where we are being asked to do more (and more and more!). It’s no surprise that people are looking for a way to boost brainpower. And, as to be expected, Americans want brain enhancement to come in the form of a pill or some other easily accessible substance. (Hard work and diligence? Who has time for all that!?) This is where nootropics come in.

These so-called smart drugs have been around for years. But, their popularity has increased since Dave Asprey introduced his Bulletproof Diet to the world. Many credit Asprey as the leading pioneer in the world of “biohacking.” This includes the use of nootropics.

Biohacking is defined as “the activity of exploiting genetic material experimentally without regard to accepted ethical standards.” But, this is no longer what the Average Joe or Jane thinks of when they hear the term.

According to Asprey, biohacking is “changing your environment from the inside-out so you have full control of your biology; using your body as your personal laboratory, finding the exact hacks that work for you.” He also refers to it as “the art and science of becoming superhuman.” Asprey promotes nootropics for this very purpose.

What Are Nootropic Drugs?

Drugs that boost your brainpower, give you energy, and have almost no side effects? Sounds like science fiction, right!? Not according to the hundreds of companies that have started marketing nootropic supplements.

Nootropics belong to a relatively new classification of drugs often referred to as “smart drugs” or “brain pills.” They are supposed to enhance cognitive functioning and improve brain performance. This is now called tapping into your “true brain.”

To keep it simple, let’s just consider them brain enhancement drugs. Many people swear by them. This includes those in high-powered  jobs like corporate lawyers, brokers on Wall Street, and start-up entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.

But, do they work? More importantly, are they safe? And…..what’s with the goofy-sounding name? Nootropics are the ultimate biohack to unlock your true brain….or they are a really bad idea. Let’s explore the subject.

What Do Nootropic Supplements Do, Exactly?

Nootropics were developed in 1964 by a Romanian psychologist and chemist named Dr. Cornelius E. Giurgea. The word is a combination of two Greek words: nous (or “mind”) and trepein (meaning “to bend”). So, you could say that nootropic substances are “mind benders.” Pretty cool – that is, if they actually work.

Nootropics are bound in nature and have been used by different cultures around the world for centuries. Caffeine and nicotine are good examples. (Energy drinks or cigarettes, anyone?)  However, Giurgea designed the world’s very first synthetically designed nootropic. It was a medicine called “Piracetam,” which was created to treat motion sickness.

Unexpectedly, Giurgea observed that Piracetam showed benefits in the areas of mental performance, memory, and information processing. As a result, he used Piracetam as a model to establish the criteria for what makes something nootropic. (You might like to know that Piracetam is now often prescribed to slow down dementia).

Under these criteria, a true nootropic enhances brain cognition, but it also offers some degree of mental protection. This means that a drug should not harm the brain during cognitive improvement.

Here are a few of the ways that nootropic supplements supposedly benefit the user:

  • Increase the ability to get information through learning
  • Resist disruptive mental conditions (like anxiety and depression)
  • Improve memory
  • Help ease the transfer of information through neural networks
  • Enhance resistance to physical or chemical brain injury
  • Improve higher brain functioning
  • Have little or no side effect

Let’s be honest. Every human being on the planet could benefit from having a better-working, higher functioning brain (especially the idiot driver who can’t seem to manage the simple task of traveling along the freeway!). Maybe Giurgea was on to something when he synthesized the world’s first chemical nootropic. Either that, or we’re all in big trouble.

The Ingredients In Nootropic Supplements: Nothing Fancy  

The main desired benefit of brain drugs is cognitive enhancement. This can mean anything from better concentration to processing information faster. Anything that makes the mind work more efficiently. There are illegal nootropics and there are supplements sold online or over-the-counter. We will talk more about these in a bit.

In the meantime, let’s talk about what legal brain enhancement supplements are made of. Basically, smart pills include several ingredients designed to boost brainpower. Most ingredients are all-natural, although some are chemically synthesized.

The best nootropics should be a synergy of natural products that cause little or no side effects. But, it is important to recognize that many companies use unspecified chemicals in their brain pills. Quite often, when you buy something for cognitive enhancement, you don’t know what you are going to get.  

Generally, smarts drugs sold over the counter might include the following:

  • Vitamins (like B12)
  • Herbs
  • Amino acids
  • Caffeine
  • Folic acids
  • Ginkgo biloba
  • Minerals like magnesium
  • Green tea extracts
  • Fungi

The thing is, every brand is different. Each offers its own special concoction of ingredients to promote higher brain functioning.

The Growing Popularity of Brain Pills Has Bred Scam Artists and Bunk Products

Right now, nootropics are big business. They are especially appealing to workaholics who want to excel in their chosen field. It’s not surprising that high-level executives and big-idea entrepreneurs believe that tapping into their true brain will give them an edge. And, buying into the concept of biohacking means buying the latest brain enhancement drugs – which don’t come cheap.

With nootropics trending (thanks in part to Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Diet), smart drugs are a money-maker. Hundreds of companies want to capitalize on the public’s interest in brain enhancement. As you can imagine, this feeding frenzy has led to many scams born out of unethical business practices.

With this in mind, you cannot always trust a company’s claims about cognitive enhancers. Vendors will go out of the way to highlight the potential benefits without testing their products to see if they actually work. Furthermore, many unscrupulous merchants simply don’t care if their products are safe. They are looking to make a quick buck – consequences be damned. Remember this if you go shopping for brain enhancement drugs: buyer beware!

The Top Nine Best Nootropics List

We won’t bombard you with a complete list of nootropic supplements – there are literally hundreds. That said, it is useful to take a look at some of the most popular brain pills on the market today. Plus, we will include a few illegal substances people are using for brain enhancement and explain why you shouldn’t use them.

Some of these drugs are specifically used as nootropics. Others have been appropriated for new uses in the wake of Asprey’s biohacking movement. Either way, very few (if any) of these drugs have benefits that outweigh the risks. Moreover, there is no evidence that they actually have any real effect. We will examine some pros and cons in more detail below.

Note: these brain enhancement drugs have been listed in no particular order.

#1 Modanifil (also known as Provigil)

Modanifil reportedly increases focus, motivation, and memory. When it comes to nootropics, this drug has the most research behind it with some proven effects. It has been prescribed by doctors in the U.S. since 1998. It is given to patients who struggle with conditions like narcolepsy and sleep apnea.

According to an article in Scientific American, researchers concluded that this brain pill may affect “higher cognitive functions—mainly executive functions but also attention and learning.” However, Modafinil also causes insomnia, headaches, and stomach issues in some users.

You should know that you can’t go to your local drug store and get your hands on Modanifil. You must have a legitimate medical condition for which the drug is prescribed. In other words, you can’t go see your primary care physician and say, “Hey, doc! I want me some brain enhancement. Gimme some Modanifil!” It just doesn’t work that way. Plus, you should also know that Modanifil is not cheap. A one month’s supply costs about $400.

#2 Aniracetam

Aniracetam is used to improve memory, enhance concentration and sharpen mental alertness. It is also used to treat Alzheimer’s, ADHD, anxiety disorders, depression, motion sickness, and sleep disorders. Also, some say Aniracetam is an anti-aging agent.

You can buy this brain pill over-the-counter in most health food stores. You can also buy it from an online distributor. It costs about $30. There have been few health studies on the side effects or potential health risks for this pill. Plus, there is absolutely no evidence that this supposed cognitive enhancer actually works.

According to Very Well, a 2002 report was published in the journal CNS Drug Reviews. Researchers looked at the findings from animal-based studies. They determined that this smart drug shows promise for managing PTSD, ADHD, Autism, and some sleep disorders. However, the researchers noted there is currently “no convincing evidence” that Aniracetam is effective in treating any of these conditions in people.

#3 Adderall (and other amphetamines)

American high school and college students love this prescription drug. They call it their favorite “study buddy.” Adderall has long since had a reputation as a brain pill. Like Modanifil, this smart drug must be obtained with a legal prescription from a doctor. It is a type of amphetamine or speed that is usually given to those who have ADHD or narcolepsy. On average, a prescription of Adderall costs about $100 a month..

In addition to this legal smart pill, many report that crystal meth is one of the best smart drugs. Some compare high doses of Adderall to this dangerous narcotic. It allows a user to stay up for days without sleep or food and creates a laser-focus type of concentration. Do we need to tell you that this is not a good idea?

Crystal meth causes addiction, which leads to complete devastation of the individual. It also rots the teeth, breaks down organ function, creates skin problems, and can cause mental psychosis. There may be some truth to the idea that meth promotes higher brain functioning. But, it is a temporary high that causes major problems in the long run.

#4 L–theanine

This all-natural substance is an amino acid found in green tea leaves. It is usually sold in a powder form or capsule and it is available at health food stores or online. L-theanine is reported to improve memory, enhance the ability to acquire information, and induce a calming, relaxed state of mind.

If you plan on using cognitive enhancement drugs, this is probably the best place to start. It is natural and contains only mild stimulants so it is essentially safe. Plus, it doesn’t seem to produce any real side effects. In fact, this may be the only true nootropic on this list. Remember, Dr. Giurgea set the criteria that a smart drug should have little or no side effects. Almost every other item on this list does have some drawbacks.

L-theanine ranges in price. It can cost anywhere from $12 – $100 depending on the quality, quantity, and purity. Many people say that to get the greatest benefit of this brain enhancer, it should be mixed with caffeine.

#5 Nicotine

Yes, that’s right. Some people use nicotine (the addictive ingredient in tobacco) to increase mental capacity. It is supposed to increase mental alertness and increase mood and energy. You probably already know that nicotine is a highly addictive substance. It will get you hooked quick.

Nicotine has been used for centuries as a natural stimulant by cultures around the globe. Before the advent of cigarettes and cigars, people used to chew on nicotine leaves. While nicotine does not cause cancer, it is still a substance you want to stay away from.

If you insist on using nicotine, you are better off using a vape instead of smoking a combustible tobacco product. Or, you can always chew nicotine gum, use a patch, or try the lozenges.

#6 LSD (Also known as “Acid”)

Channeling their inner Jimi Hendrix, some people have started using LSD as a nootropic. Individuals will take 1/10th of a recreational dose to boost creativity and improve mood. They call it micro-dosing. LSD makes you hallucinate. It also sparks creativity and awakens a part of the true brain that is not usually tapped into.

LSD lasts for up to 12 hours. This can be quite unsettling to the unsuspecting user. There is no way to “turn off” a trip. Once you have taken the drug, you are going to be in “la la land” for awhile. If you’re thinking about taking this drug to work more efficiently, you might want to think again. Being at work high on this drug is not a good idea. You simply don’t know what will happen when you take it.

Of course, we should also remind you that LSD is illegal. If you get caught with it, you will be arrested and be charged with a felony.

#7 Bulletproof Coffee

Once again, we mention Dave Asprey. People are going bonkers over his Bulletproof Coffee. According to Asprey, this is “a high-performance drink that has a massive impact on your energy and cognitive function.” Keep in mind that this guy is a tech entrepreneur, not a nutritionist or medical professional.

This special trademarked coffee recipe includes the Bulletproof Coffee, one or two tablespoons of Brain Octane Oil (also sold by Asprey), and a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter (yes, butter in coffee seems weird). People who are after the best nootropic on the marketplace say nothing compares. The product has gotten rave reviews online. Many say it ratchets up their performance and gives them the energy boost they are looking for.

To get started, you can buy a Bulletproof Coffee starter kit online for about $34. This includes 12 ounces of the original whole bean coffee and 16 oz of the brain octane fuel. Asprey recommends one cup a day, first thing in the morning. But, this starter kit won’t last you long and if you use this stuff everyday, you’re looking at a pretty pricey habit.

#8 Caffeine     

Americans love their coffee. How else did Asprey’s Bulletproof product become so popular? It’s not a far stretch to get people to invest in a product they are already using. Especially if the “new and improved” version will make you work harder and be more productive.

It should be no surprise that caffeine is used for cognitive enhancement. Like nicotine, people have been using this stimulant nootropic for centuries. It gives the body an energy boost and sharpens mental focus. The problem is, caffeine can wreak havoc on the physical body. It can cause insomnia, jitters, irritation of the stomach lining, increased heart rate and respiration, and other negative consequences. Plus, it is highly addictive.

Many people chase a caffeine buzz all day. They get pumped from the stuff, then they crash. So, they use more caffeine to get that amped feeling again. Because caffeine puts a pep in your step, many nootropic supplements are loaded with the stuff. Be careful. Too much can cause heart problems.

#9 Unfair Advantage

This is another Asprey brainchild. We mention it because, like Bulletproof Coffee, it is one of the top-selling smart drugs on the market. Unfair Advantage is a name-brand nootropic with a nifty marketing design. It claims to give its users “a quick, body-friendly burst of brain-enhancing energy.” The jury of the scientific community is still out on that one. However, many online reviews for this brand have been favorable.

Unfair Advantage is said to support mitochondria, which are considered a cell’s power plant. The product uses two ingredients. CoQ10 is supposed to drive cellular energy production. The company’s patented ActivePQQ™ affects PQQ. PQQ is an antioxidant micronutrient that protects the body’s cells from damaging free radicals.  It is unclear whether this product has any notable side effects. A month’s supply costs about $54.

Want to know what users are saying about the nootropic products they have used? Check out this Reddit forum.

The Potential Drawbacks of Nootropics

Many swear by brain pills and other substances as a way to unleash the full potential of the human brain. However, many medical professionals say that tinkering with the brain’s biochemistry is risky business. They are concerned that nootropic supplements are dangerous. Let’s talk about the safety of brain enhancement drugs.

Using nootropics is messing with your mental neurotransmitter systems, pure and simple. This can lead to a variety of side effects: anxiety, depression, and Serotonin Syndrome, to name a few. And, of course, the potential for addiction is a major concern in using these smart drugs. Plus, we don’t know if messing with the mind through biohacking could lead to mental health issues.

The main concern with using nootropics is in the unknown long-term impact. There have been no studies to determine if brain pills will have an adverse effect on the body long term. This means that using these cognitive enhancers could potentially result in heart disease, cancer, or other fatal illnesses. (Don’t forget, people were smoking cigarettes for decades before anyone knew they caused cancer!)

Think Twice Before You Stock Up On Cognitive Enhancement Drugs

Much of the hype surrounding nootropic supplements comes from the desire to solve social and personal problems with pharmacological options. There is absolutely no credible evidence that cognitive enhancement drugs actually work. Some argue that what we’re seeing in people who swear by these drugs is the placebo effect. A placebo is anything that seems to offer a real medical solution but doesn’t. It is quite possible that people think better using brain pills because they think they will make them think better! (Read that sentence ten times fast!)

Maybe cognitive enhancement is just a crafty marketing ploy used to drive consumers to spend tons of money to boost brainpower. Most medical experts agree that the effects of smart drugs could be achieved through adequate physical exercise, healthy sleep, a proper diet, vitamin sufficiency, and stress reduction.

So then, are any nootropics good for cognitive enhancement? The short answer has to be: we’re not sure. No clinical studies have proven the benefits of this classification of drugs. If this is the case, why waste your money?

Weighing In On Brain Biohacking

The takeaway is this: without long-term studies of nootropics side effects, there is no way to know the consequences of using them. Is this worth the risk?

The best-case scenario is that nootropics do no harm and give you an edge in cognitive performance. There are several worst-case scenarios, however. You could end up addicted to dangerous drugs in the pursuit of cognitive enhancement. You might experience ungodly side effects. You may get physically ill or mess up your mind – and who knows what else. Think about it. Is it really worth the risks?

These supposed smart drugs should be approached with a healthy dose of caution. Here at Northpoint Recovery, we do not support any supplements that have not been approved by the FDA. There are no known nootropics that have been FDA approved. There has to be a reason for this.

If you have questions about cognitive enhancement drugs – or you think you may have an addiction to prescription nootropics, supplements, or any kind of brain pill – contact us. We’re here to help.

Nootropics – Are These So-called Smart Drugs The Real Deal?

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By |2018-12-29T00:30:27+00:00July 1st, 2018|

About the Author:

Bethany Heinesh
Bethany Heinesh is a professional writer and proud Marine Corps veteran who specializes in mental health advocacy. Bethany is passionate about empowering people to break free from the bondage of addiction so they can create a beautiful life in recovery like she has. Bethany has a Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations with a Minor in Religious Studies from the University of Houston and a Master of Arts in Administration-Communication Arts from the University of the Incarnate Word.

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