Given an option, which would you choose? Double your good looks, double your bank balance, or double your intelligence? If you are like most people, you will probably choose to double your intelligence and use your intelligence to improve your bank balance and your looks.
The quality of our lives largely depends on our brain. We try to improve the functioning of our brain by reading self-help books, by taking vacations, by going to bed on time, by meditating, and by doing all those things that our grandma told us. But, unless we have a diagnosed mental condition, we usually leave our brain alone and don’t feed it any special “stuff” through our mouths. But, what if there was a supplement you could take that in little time will make you smarter? What if you could actually play Bradley Cooper’s role from Limitless in real life?
Lately, there has been a lot of interest in “smart drugs”, a new breed of supplements that promises to awaken your inner Einstein, and keep him up for hours and hours, with minimal side-effects. They go by the name nootropics. The word is derived from the Greek words nous, meaning ‘mind’, and trepein meaning ‘to bend’. They can be thought of as supplements you can use long-term to improve your cognitive performance with little to no side effects. In other words, something that can be ingested to primarily improve mental capacity to learn, focus, remember, solve problems, reason, evaluate, make decisions, etc. Note that these smart drugs don’t provide any high. Going by this definition, supplements like vitamin B12 and caffeine are also nootropics, though cognitive development is just one of their many effects. Stimulating, prescription-only drugs like Adderall and Modafinil are also nootropics. But, we know enough about Adderall and caffeine, and the FDA is also okay with them. They are not uncommon, like the ones we are going to talk about here — like piracetam, or L-tyrosine, or Bacopa monnieri. I have assembled a list of not-so-known-to-everyone class of smart drugs and compounds that are quite popular in the Internet circuits. If Hollywood has cocaine, Silicon Valley has nootropics.
Let’s begin with the Internet’s favorite smart drug, racetams. It’s a class of drugs that share a common chemical structure called pyrrolidone nucleus. Most popular racetams include piracetam, noopept, pramiracetam, aniracetam, and oxiracetam. Piracetam was first synthesized in 1964 by a Romanian psychologist, Corneliu E. Giurgea. His agenda was to come up with something that would enhance learning and memory, protect the brain against various physical or chemical injuries, and possess very few side effects. This generation’s brain-hackers discovered racetams and have been devouring them to “upgrade” their brains and careers. Racetams are easily available online and have a huge fan following on the Internet. Users report that racetams improve their learning capacity, concentration, memory, and attention/focus. Aniracetam, one of the popular racetams also has anxiolytic properties. According to this, it can temporarily diminish social inhibitors making it easier for shy people to come out of their shell. In other words, it improves their social skills. But, maybe you won’t need aniracetam if you master Ten handy skills to gain the edge in your social life and The art of persuasion – Six ways to get them to say yes.
Several studies have been conducted on racetams but a definitive conclusion on its efficacy remains to be determined.
According to this study from 2011
Our findings indicate that aniracetam (a nootropic compound with glutamatergic activity and neuroprotective potential) is a promising option for patients with cognitive deficit of mild severity. It preserved all neuropsychological parameters for at least 12 months, and seemed to exert a favorable effect on emotional stability of demented patients.
This study from 2006 suggests
Taken collectively, these results support the view that nootropic drugs act as positive modulators of AMPA-sensitive glutamate receptors in neurons.
This one from 2001 concludes
Piracetam given as add-on therapy seems to be an effective, sustained, and well-tolerated treatment of myoclonus. In patients with progressive myoclonus epilepsy, the efficacy of the drug increased during the first 12 months of treatment and then stabilized.
- In the US, racetams are uncontrolled and unregulated, which means you don’t need a prescription to purchase them.
- It is legal to purchase and possess them, but under the FDA rules, they cannot be marketed as a supplement for human consumption.
- Amazon no longer stocks any kind of racetam — no one seems to know why.
- It is reported that in some countries like Australia and Russia, piracetam is available as a prescription-only drug under the brand name nootropil.
Availability and Consumption
- As of 4/15/2015, racetams can be purchased online in the US. You can find it on ebay as well.
- It comes in white powder form with varying degree of water solubility.
- Water-soluble racetams like piracetam are taken with water.
- Fat soluble racetams like pramiracetam and aniracetam don’t mix with water and are usually taken with milk.
- They all taste bad.
- Going by the “Internet cred”, piracetam seems to be the most recommended one for its cognitive enhancement effects.
- Not everyone responds favorably to racetams.
- It is often recommended to try each racetam for two weeks until you find the one that works for you. Or maybe, it just won’t work for you if you are not a responder to those chemicals.
- Users report that racetams tend to improve cognitive function, memory, concentration, and focus/attention.
- Aniracetam can also help with reducing anxiety.
- They are generally well tolerated, but they are not free from side effects. Anxiety, insomnia, irritability, headache, agitation, nervousness, tremor, and hyperkinesia are occasionally reported.
- US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health — search for any racetam. There seems to be a good number of studies done on piracetam and aniracetam.
- Examine.com on racetams.
- Erowid on racetams.
- Active community on this and this subreddit.
PS. A google search in the US for “nootropil” reveals that Amazon wants you to believe that it sells Nootropil. However, Nootropil is nowhere to be found if you click on the Amazon sponsored link.
Noopept is like piracetam on steroids – it is reported that it is 1000 times stronger than piracetam, which means its effective dose is much smaller. It is the brand name for a N-phenylacetyl-L-prolylglycine ethyl ester, which is a synthetic alternative to piracetam. Noopept is not a racetam, but it is generally grouped together in the racetam family because of similarity in their mechanisms of action. However, users have reported that people who had success with piracetam found noopept to be ineffective, and vice versa.
In the nootropics community, noopept is considered to be the strongest and most effective nootropic legally available. Its effects are similar to those of piracetam, but highly pronounced. It also works as neuroprotectant, which means that it can protect the neurons in the brain from damage (Reference.)
examine.com on its memory enhancement properties:
Mechanistically, single doses of noopept at 0.5mg/kg (as well as 28 days of chronic dosing at the same dose) noted increases in both NGF and BDNF mRNA concentrations in the rat hippocampus, with a greater relative increase in NGF and no apparent tolerance developing over 28 days. The authors hypothesized that the increase in these factors (neurotrophin factors) is associated with chronic improvement in memory associated with Noopept, as some trials noted greater improvements following chronic dosing (rats and humans) while neurotrophins are known to be associated with long-term memory enhancement
- Like racetams, it is not regulated and it’s available legally without a prescription. However, it is not approved for human consumption (dietary or medical) by FDA.
Availability and Consumption
- As of 4/15/2015, you can easily purchase noopept online. It is also available of ebay.
- Noopept is usually taken sublingually. The powder is not water soluble.
- Its effects are similar to those of piracetam – improved learning, memory recall, and focus – but more pronounced because of its higher strength.
- Reported side effects include asthenia, dizziness, agitation, restlessness, headache, heart palpitations, and lack of appetite.