Nootropics are substances that enhance cognitive functioning while simultaneously being neuroprotective or extremely nontoxic. Nootropics, also known as smart drugs, are therefore cognitive enhancers, but not all cognitive enhancers are nootropics as some cognitive enhancers are not neuroprotective while others may be toxic, i.e. stimulants like Adderall. The word nootropic originated in 1972 and was coined by Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea. One of the first nootropics to be discovered was Piracetam. Piracetam is now one of the most popular nootropics available. Piracetam mainly enhances memory and learning, but users often report a variety of different benefits ranging from enhanced color perception to increased motivation to increased creativity.
Not all nootropics are synthesized in labs, in fact there are many natural nootropics available today including Rhodiola Rosea, Panax Ginseng, St John’s Wort, Bacopa, and many others.
It is important to realize that nootropics are not magic substances that will turn you into a genius overnight. Instead, they act in subtle ways to enhance your cognition in everyday activities. Probably the two most popular reasons for taking nootropics is to enhance performance in school and work. Indeed, many nootropics improve memory and learning, and concentration.
For academic performance, the most popular nootropics are the racetams and noopept. These nootropics enhance memory, learning, and focus. For work, modafinil is considered the number one nootropic.
Why take nootropics?
Nootropics are undoubtedly becoming a part of our everyday lives. Millions, if not billions, of people ingest a nootropic every single day: caffeine. Caffeine promotes wakefulness, increases attention, and decreases fatigue. Many take caffeine in order to increase productivity. Caffeine’s is probably the world’s oldest and safest nootropic. It enhances cognition without harming the brain, plus caffeine has been found to not only protect the brain, but also other organs like the pancreas, kidneys, and even the heart.
Caffeine is just one example of a nootropic, there are literally hundreds more, each that serve different functions. For example, one nootropic, like Piracetam, may enhance memory and learning while another, like Aniracetam, may decrease anxiety. There are many reasons to take nootropics, some of which include:
- Enhancing memory
- Enhancing learning ability
- Enhancing creativity
- Enhancing verbal fluency
- Enhancing social skills
- Increasing motivation
- Decreasing anxiety
- Decreasing brain fog
Some of you may be skeptical about these smart drugs and that’s alright, but it’s important to note that there are currently no nootropics available that can turn you into a genius. Does caffeine make you super smart? Of course not, and neither will any of the current nootropic drugs available.
Whether you want to take natural or artificial nootropics, the choice is up to you. Many are taking these substances today to get an edge in school and work. Indeed, with the introduction of computers, humans are able to work faster and smarter than ever before in history. But, having access to this wealth of information alone isn’t enough. You need to be able to learn many concepts and understand them in order to utilize them creativity. That’s where nootropics come in. By enhancing memory, learning, focus, and creativity, these substances can allow you to get ahead of the competition.
Nootropics are very popular in the Silicon Valley.
How do nootropics work?
There are a number of ways in which nootropics work and while there is no one mechanism of action to explain how nootropics works, many of these drugs share three common characteristics.
1. Many nootropics mediate neurotransmitters found in the brain. Neurotransmitters are like messengers that tell you to do a certain task. For example, one worker might be told by his boss to print out a report while another worker might be told to go home for the day. The brain functions in a similar manner, however, the workers, or neurons, specialize in a few tasks only and so only one boss, or neurotransmitter, can have control over them. There are many neurotransmitters in the brain, but the most important ones and the ones which nootropics target are:
- Dopamine – Implicated in motivation, drive, reward, attention, learning, memory
- Norepinephrine – Implicated in motivation, concentration, focus
- Serotonin – Implicated in mood, overall well-being, satisfaction
- Glutamate – Implicated in learning and memory
- Acetylcholine – Implicated in learning and memory
Improving the amount or expression of these neurotransmitters is what some nootropics accomplish.
2. Improving blood flow to the brain and thereby improving oxygen supply. The brain is much like a car engine when it comes to energy consumption; the bigger the engine, the more gas is required to supply energy to the engine. The brain uses a tremendous amount of energy, in fact it uses up to 20% of your body’s total juice. Even if you’re not thinking hard, it still uses a ton of energy. Therefore, improving blood flow to the brain will assure that it’s getting enough oxygen to supply the energy it needs.
3. Improving Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) and Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Both NGF and BDNF are very important for neuron survivability as well as encouraging new neurons and synapses to grow and differentiate. These growth factors also play a role in long-term memory. Increased levels of NGF and BDNF leads to an increase in neurogenesis, the formation of new neurons. The implications new neurons have on the brain are as follows:
- Improved memory and learning
- Improved cognition
- Increased memory capacity
- Reducing interference between memories
Getting started with nootropics
First of all, if you drink coffee, tea, pop or energy drinks then you have already started taking nootropics as all of these contain caffeine. Caffeine is one of the safest and most effective nootropics available today. The fact that caffeine is widely consumed around the world means that anyone, anywhere can start taking nootropics.
Getting started with nootropics is as easy as drinking a cup of coffee everyday in the morning. Though, you should follow some guidelines to ensure that your experience with a nootropic goes smoothly.
- Choose only one nootropic – Take one nootropic at a time to see what effects that nootropic alone has on you.
- Be patient – Not all nootropics are like caffeine in which the effects are almost instant. Some take 2 to 3 weeks before you start seeing any results.
- Measure your results – See below on how to track your progress
- Try another nootropic by itself – Different nootropics will affect you in a different manner.
- Add the first nootropic to the mix – Some nootropics are synergistic with one another. For example, caffeine with L-Theanine taken together produce a synergistic effect which results in wakefulness without the feeling of being stimulated.
Ways to track your progress with Nootropics
There are many sites and programs for helping you to measure your results with each nootropic you take. However, you must use the site or program for a prolonged period before you start taking a nootropic otherwise you will not be able to compare the before and after results.
- Cambridge Brain Sciences – A free site that features multiple tests and test types which plots your results on a graph and also compares it to other people’s results.
- Dual N-Back – A free program that improves your working memory and fluid intelligence
- CogniFit – Similar to Cambridge Brain Sciences, CogniFit is a free site that features a variety of brain tests such as memory and focus.
- Cognitive Fun – Another brain games site that’s completely free to use.
- Quantified Mind – A brain game site that allows you to test many aspects of cognitive performance.