Nootropics 101: Everything You Need to Know

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For over five decades, nootropics, also known as smart drugs and cognitive enhancers, have quietly existed in the realms of scientific research and medical applications. Originally developed to address cognitive deficiencies and assist individuals with neurological disorders, their presence remained relatively unknown to the wider public. However, in recent decade, there has been a remarkable surge in the commercial use and popularity of these substances.

What was once a niche area of study and application has now captured the attention and curiosity of individuals seeking to optimize their cognitive abilities and enhance their mental and also physical performance. The increasing availability and marketing of these substances, combined with the ever-growing interest in biohacking and self-improvement, have contributed to the widespread adoption of nootropics outside medical settings.

Before delving into what nootropics are and what are not, it’s worth asking:

What has caused this growing buzz around cognitive enhancement and the widespread use of Nootropics?

Table of Contents

What are nootropic wallpapers

What influenced the nootropics buzz

In this fast-paced digital age, the average human attention span is ironically shorter than that of a goldfish!

Our modern way of life has been profoundly shaped by the technological marvels born from the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Factories and enterprises sprouted, luring people away from tranquil rural landscapes into crowded, polluted urban jungles.

While this shift promised an improved standard of living, it also ushered in unhealthy diets, mounting stress within the modern workplace, and a disregard for natural well-being. With limited physical activity and insufficient rest, it’s no wonder that our collective attention span has dwindled.

Recent research has shown that the average human attention span has dropped as a direct result of technology and innovations. This has increased demands for labor productivity, leading people to seek ways to increase their brain strength and work efficiency, leading to the use of cognitive enhancers such as nootropics.

Nootropics can help counteract attention deficit and speed up mental processes, lower stress but they also offer other benefits to improve overall performance.

Historical nootropics

A Ginkgo trees lane
Exercise or meditate with nootropics - Ginkgo

Humans have been using herbs and various substances for medicinal purposes, altering the mind, and connecting to spirituality since ancient times. The origins of natural nootropics can be traced back prior to recorded human civilization.

The earliest evidence of nootropic use can be found in traditional Chinese herbalism, Ancient Egypt, and Greece. Our ancestors collected plants from their surroundings and utilized them in their traditional mind-altering practices.

One example from this era is the use of coca leaves, which were chewed and brewed by South Americans for energy and alertness. Kava drinks, used for mood and socialization, may be a factor in the laid-back lifestyle of Pacific islanders. Peyote, used for amplifying emotions during religious and communal ceremonies, has been utilized by native Americans for at least 5,500 years.

Ayurveda, the ancient science of life, is a comprehensive system of health care that includes its own nootropics, known as Medhya Rasayana, such as Bacopa Monnieri, Ashwagandha, Celastrus paniculatus (an intellectual herb), and more.

Other well-known herbs and substances from ancient times include green tea, Rhodiola, Eleuthero, Ginseng, Lion’s Mane, and Cat’s Claw. These botanicals, along with many others, may now be considered nootropic herbs for advanced brain function, and the modern extraction methods have further enhanced their potential and efficiency.

nootropic definition

what is nootropics?
Dr Corneliu Giurgea

The term “nootropic” is derived from two Greek words: “nous,” which means mind, and “tropein,” which means to bend or turn. The first nootropic compound, Piracetam, was synthesized by Belgian pharmacologists C. Giurgea and V. Scondia in 1963. In 1972, Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea coined the term “nootropic” to describe substances that improve cognitive functioning.

According to Dr. Giurgea, nootropics are safe, well-tolerated substances that are suitable for healthy individuals to take.

He determined that nootropics can be taken for long-term use.

  • Nootropic should enhance memory and learning
  • Improve brain function under disruptive conditions
  • Protect the brain against physical or chemical injuries
  • Improve cortical/subcortical neuronal control mechanisms
  • Possess few or no side effects and have extremely low to no toxicity.

The modern definition of a nootropic has changed over time. It was once only referred to as a specific type of drug that improved cognitive performance, but today it is used to describe any substance that enhances cognition. According to Merriam-Webster, a nootropic is defined as “a substance that enhances cognition and memory and facilitates learning.” However, this definition does not mention side effects or neurotoxicity. By Dr. Giurgea’s original definition, some of these substances might not be considered nootropics.

Nowadays, a substance is considered to be a nootropic only if it improves cognition and neuroprotection and does not pose a threat of neurotoxicity when used appropriately. So, while the modern definition of nootropics has broadened, the core principles of Dr. Giurgea’s definition still remain relevant in determining the safety and efficacy of these substances.

Types of nootropics

Nootropics are indeed a diverse group of substances that include supplements, herbs, extracts, medicines, and nutraceuticals. They are often referred to as smart drugs, brain boosters, memory boosters, neuroenhancers, drive drugs, or study drugs.

Nootropics can be classified into two main forms: pharmaceutical-like cognitive enhancers and natural mental performance boosters.

  • Pharmaceutical-like cognitive enhancers: typically refer to prescription medications that are designed to enhance cognitive function. Examples of these include medications like Modafinil, Ritalin, and Adderall, which are often prescribed for conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy. These drugs can improve focus, attention, and alertness in individuals with certain cognitive impairments.
  • Natural mental performance boosters: encompass a wide range of substances derived from natural sources such as herbs, plant extracts, or specific nutrients. Examples of natural nootropics include caffeine, ginkgo biloba, omega-3 fatty acids, bacopa, certain vitamins and minerals. These natural options are often marketed as dietary supplements and are claimed to enhance memory, concentration, and overall cognitive function.

It’s important to note that the efficiency of nootropics, whether pharmaceutical or natural, may vary from person to person. The effects of these substances can depend on individual factors such as genetics, overall health, and lifestyle. 

It’s always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplementation regimen, especially when considering pharmaceutical-like cognitive enhancers.

 

How nootropics work to Enhance our Cognitive Function

Nootropics target the brain areas to enhance cognitive functions and are helpful in the treatments of certain disorders. They work by:

  • increasing neurotransmitter levels
  • improving blood flow to the brain
  • protecting neurons from damage

In the realm of treatment, nootropics are used to address cognitive or motor function problems associated with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and ADHD. These substances aim to improve the quality of life for individuals with these disorders.

Additionally, nootropics have gained popularity in the community for cognitive enhancement. People turn to these substances to enhance memory, attention, motivation, and creativity, while reducing mental fatigue, stress, and depressive mood. However, it’s important to note that individual responses to nootropics can vary, and consulting with healthcare professionals is advisable before use.

In academic settings, stimulants and other nootropics have been used to increase productivity. However, the long-term effects of these substances on healthy individuals are still being studied.

While nootropics offer potential benefits, it is crucial to consider personal characteristics, drug qualities, and the social context when using them. 

Responsible and informed usage is key in optimizing their potential advantages while minimizing risks.

Nootropics benefits

Nootropics can be categorized based on their effects on memory, focus, stress and mood, sleep, energy, neuroprotection. These substances or supplements are used to enhance cognitive function and promote overall brain health.

Memory Enhancement:

Nootropics are known to positively impact memory by improving intercellular communication and neurotransmitter production essential for brain health. Memory-enhancing nootropics, like piracetam, aniracetam, and oxiracetam, increase blood flow to the brain, promote neuroplasticity, and enhance acetylcholine production—crucial for memory formation. They benefit individuals of all ages, potentially mitigating age-related cognitive decline.

Focus and Attention:

Some nootropics are geared towards boosting attention and concentration. Compounds such like caffeine, modafinil, and phenylpiracetam enhance mental clarity and productivity. By increasing the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, they optimize attention and mental alertness.

Mood Support:

Nootropics, like Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, and amino acids such as L-Theanine and 5-HTP, are studied for their mood and stress support potential. These substances may alleviate anxiety, depression, and enhance overall well-being by regulating neurotransmitters and reducing stress.

Energy and Mitochondrial Health:

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), PQQ (Pyrroloquinoline quinone), Nicotinamide Riboside (NR) and Nicotinamide Mononucleotide (NMN) are nootropics known to boost energy and support mitochondrial health. They improve cellular energy production, physical endurance, and may reduce fatigue through antioxidant properties.

Sleep Enhancement:

Nootropics can indirectly improve sleep by reducing stress and anxiety. Melatonin supplements regulate the sleep-wake cycle, while L-Theanine promotes relaxation. Valerian root, a natural extract, has sedative properties and may reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.

Neuroprotection and Brain Health:

Nootropics like Bacopa Monnieri, Phosphatidylserine (PS), and blueberries are associated with neuroprotection. They enhance cognitive function, promote the growth of brain cells, and protect against age-related cognitive decline.

Are nootropics addictive?

The discovery of the original family of nootropics, racetams, by Dr. Giurgea has paved the way for a documented system of nootropic effects. This system is based on a combination of scientific research, human studies, and anecdotal evidence from individuals who have been using nootropics for years.

Despite the low risk of addiction associated with nootropics, it is important to avoid self-medicating with either herbal supplements or research chemicals. Interfering with one’s biochemistry can lead to harmful consequences.

Nootropics, the cognitive enhancers, offer a tempting solution for focus and energy-related issues. However, their legal and health landscape is complex. Smart drugs, whether regulated or not, have the potential to affect our well-being. Their usage varies across cultures, with some being prescribed while others are banned in sports. In the realm of brain chemistry, caution is essential.

Before venturing into nootropics, consulting a healthcare professional is a wise step for your cognitive journey. The professional can perform tests to ensure that the usage of nootropics is safe and appropriate for the individual. Participating in a culture of responsible usage is essential for maximizing the benefits of nootropics.

What are the side effects of nootropics?

It is important to note that many substances labeled as nootropics have the potential to cause significant negative side effects. For example, Adderall and Modafinil, commonly used smart drugs among students and high-performing individuals, have differing levels of harm associated with their usage. While Adderall is considered dangerous, Modafinil is considered to be somewhat safer.

Despite being popular as cognitive enhancers among the nootropics community, these stimulants carry a multitude of potential side effects such as anxiety, insomnia, nausea, twitching, and even the possibility of developing amphetamine psychosis with Adderall. Moreover, these drugs can lead to a dependence and tolerance with prolonged use, resulting in withdrawal symptoms.

However, there are many safe herbal nootropics that can provide similar benefits without the risk of harmful side effects. Thus, it is advisable to avoid relying on these potentially dangerous drugs and opt for safer alternatives instead.

nootropics market

The man jumping in the exercise

In 2022, the Nootropics market was categorized into several product types, with the following segments holding the largest market share:

  1. Attention and Focus: Nootropics designed to improve attention, concentration, and focus were a prominent segment in the market. These products aim to enhance cognitive abilities related to sustained attention and mental clarity.

  2. Memory Enhancement: Nootropics targeting memory enhancement were another significant segment. These products aim to improve memory function, including both short-term and long-term memory retention and recall.

  3. Mood and Depression: Nootropics catering to mood enhancement and addressing symptoms of depression were also a notable segment. These products aim to support emotional well-being, reduce stress, and improve mood regulation.

  4. Sleep and Anxiety: Nootropics focusing on sleep quality and anxiety reduction formed a substantial market segment. These products aim to promote restful sleep, alleviate anxiety symptoms, and enhance relaxation.

  5. Others: The “Others” category encompassed various additional product types that contributed to the Nootropics market. This category may include nootropics addressing specific cognitive functions, overall brain health, or unique formulations targeting specific consumer needs.

It’s important to note that market dynamics can evolve over time, and the segmentation and market share may have changed since 2022. For the most up-to-date information on market trends and specific product segments, it is recommended to refer to recent market research reports or consult industry experts in the field of nootropics and cognitive enhancement.

Trends, Growth Drivers, and Challenges

The global nootropics market is projected to reach USD 29.24 billion by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 15.0%. The market is driven by the increasing demand for brain boosters and smart drugs, particularly among students and professionals looking to enhance focus and memory. The COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed to the market’s growth, with consumers turning to brain-health boosting supplements and online sales of nootropics.

Organic nootropics with natural ingredients like Brahmi and turmeric are witnessing a surge in demand. However, challenges such as high costs, limited evidence of effectiveness, and potential adverse effects hinder market expansion. Despite this, increased investment in R&D, a growing adult population, and the rise in demand for brain boosters are expected to drive market growth.

Capsules/tablets are the most popular form of nootropics, and online distribution channels are gaining traction. North America leads the market, followed by the Asia Pacific region, which exhibits the highest growth rate. Key players like Onnit Labs and Reckitt Benckiser Group plc. are actively launching new products to meet the increasing demand and stay competitive.

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Conclusion

In the era of nootropics, where cognitive enhancement is on the rise, responsible use and informed choices are paramount. Navigating this new frontier of brain-boosting substances requires mindfulness. While these compounds offer potential benefits, the age-old wisdom of maintaining a healthy, productive mind still holds. Let’s remember that even in this modern pursuit, our attention span should surpass that of a goldfish. Use nootropics judiciously to reach your cognitive goals.

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