Nootropics 101 – Introduction:
Before we get into the nitty gritties of these amazing wonders that we’ve now come to know as ‘Nootropics’, let’s just take some time to unwind a bit, and truly fathom this amazing breakthrough in science.
We all have heard of (and know of) the very cunning and wise detective Sherlock Holmes. How did he always seem to manage to strip off tiny bits of information that most peoples’ minds always leave out? How could he think beyond limits? And most of all, why did he always seclude himself when he was thinking the hardest?
Can all of this happen in real life?
Are nootropics the explanation for super-humans or people who acquire a sudden increase in intellectual performance?
Well, we’re here to answer all your questions and also to distinguish between facts and mythologies. So, what are nootropics exactly, and how do they work to enhance your brain’s cognitive abilities?
Grab some popcorn if you will, because the following article has some mind-boggling information explained in ways you can easily comprehend!
SIDE NOTE: While this article explains the basics about nootropics, we also have another article with a massive list of nootropic substances which you can read here: (Opens in a new tab) >> Ultimate List of Nootropics <<
Nature’s Curious Gift To Us: The Brain
For all we know, the brain is an essential organ. But what is it that makes it the hub of everything going on in our body and what is the framework?
Our brains are divided into 3 main parts:
It forms the cerebral hemispheres associated with the cerebral cortex, which contains all kinds of complex information!
All of us have brains with the same basic structure, but why are we all so different from one another?
The answer lies in the cerebral cortex, it makes you unique!
Fun fact: Only one of your cerebral hemispheres is rendered dominant or active, so if you’re left-handed then it’s likely that your right hemisphere is the dominant one! Vice versa goes for right-handed individuals.
This phenomenon is due to the decussation of fibers (they swap directions as they travel down from the brain).
It is the hub of audio and visual information, you can think of it as a relay station!
Associated with many involuntary actions such as breathing, maintaining balance while standing, and learning motor skills to successfully execute them.
Brain Machinery: The Neuron
Our brains are equipped with massive amounts of neurons, the basic cell structure of the brain.
Neurons are not ordinary cells, they have unique structures but let’s not get too complicated.
They do have the same inner components like the mitochondria, Golgi apparatus, and such, mimicking the basic cell framework. These neurons are responsible for relaying information at super-fast speeds!
They have long dendrites and axons.
What are axons and dendrites, you ask?
Just think of them as extensions or arms of the neuron, which hand over the information from one cell to the next until the cycle is complete.
The Nourishing Bath: CSF
The cerebrospinal fluid or CSF is the nutrient-based liquid or medium that bathes your entire brain.
It is responsible for cushioning the brain and providing it with adequate glucose to function.
The father of nootropics was the great doctor, Corneliu E. Giurgea.
Corneliu E. Giurgea was not just a chemist, but a well-known psychologist in Rome!
He discovered the first nootropic known to mankind: Piracetam.
And this happened only half a century ago!
Now Corneliu had certain criteria that determined whether a drug was considered a nootropic or not.
But today, nootropics are any drugs or elements that benefit the brain!
Let us begin by breaking this word down into bits.
Noo/Nous: Greek for ‘mind’
Tropic/Trepein: Greek for ‘turning’
And voila: Mind Turning!
And now that you have a basic know-how of the brain, allow us to simplify the interesting mechanism of action of these wondrous nootropics!
They are as follows:
- They amplify the Mitochondrial efficiency
Mitochondria are powerhouses of the cell. You can relate them to a grid station, which is the hub of power generation.
- They increase the rate of nutrient replenishment to the brain
Remember how we talked about the CSF? Well, the CSF is replenished with nutrients at indefinite intervals.
And since your brain has got the mitochondrial machinery working more efficiently (thanks to nootropics), it will also demand more nutrients. Similar to how physical exercise relates to brain health.
So there we have it!
- Enhancement of neurotransmitter production
We did talk about the arms of the neuron (the axons and dendrites) which allows them to ‘hand’ over the information.
But what do they exactly handover? The neurotransmitters!
We’ll get to the importance and function of neurotransmitters in a bit.
- Sensitizing the neuron receptors further
Better sensitivity, faster transmission!
- Enhanced blood flow
Once the brain starts getting an enhanced blood flow rate, it would make use of it and perform better.
Our body is always battling against some form of oxidative stress which releases free radicals. These free radicals are harmful and can damage your brain cells. So nootropics act as a potent antioxidant to evoke better defense mechanisms!
What Results Can I Expect From These Nootropics?
Allow us to make it more comprehensive for you!
|Nootropics Claim To:||Results:|
|Boost Memory||Enhanced ability to comprehend and store complex data and information|
|Increase in Concentration||Academics have shown signs of targeted focus and learning during studying|
|Amplify Physical Performance||Since it motivates you, you can gear up and perform better during workouts|
|Relaxation & Stress Relief||Emotions are swayed towards positive notes|
|Boosted Creativity||Implore and discover the parts of your mind that were laid back due to excessive stress|
|Alleviates Anxiety||Better sociability|
|Enhance mental alertness||Improved cognition and fine motor skills|
The Nootropic Family
Below, we will be naming some nootropics, both natural and synthetic along with some of their properties.
These mostly come in the form of herbs.
This has a very interesting action on neurons! It increases the branches of the axons and dendrites which results in efficient relays and transmissions, this is proven by a study/research conducted in 2020.
Think of it as a cell with 3-4 arms instead of one!
You might have seen this herb in many green teas.
Although it did seem promising initially with regards to enhancing cognitive abilities, there is still a lack of evidence to support this hypothesis.
Yet another leaf that claims to improve cognition, albeit with little known evidence.
Vitamins & other essential nutrients:
- The B-family vitamins
Namely vitamin B6, B9, B12.
These are essential nutrients that are often added to supplements with claims of improving the mind’s efficiency.
Albeit with little proven evidence.
These are abundantly found in fish oils!
- Vitamin E
This baby is actually an amino acid analog.
Think of it as a child (or derivative) of two parent amino acids!
And it has a synergistic effect with caffeine – the stuff in your coffee. We will get to this amazing and rather intriguing phenomenon called ‘synergy’ in a bit.
The Big Daddy Nootropics: Drugs!
For your ease, we will be tabulating the three different categories of drugs that are considered as nootropics.
*NOTE: For a full list of over 120+ nootropics click here: Big List of Nootropics )
Drugs that follow the Yerkes-Dodson Law: CNS stimulants
Yikes! Now, what is this Yerkes-Dodson Law?
Nobody likes to read heaps of crumpled scientific papers, so allow us to make it easy for you.
The YD law revolves around the basic principles of pressure, and how pressure can make an impact on your efficiency or performance.
Let’s just denote pressure by ‘arousal’, since pressure does have many faces.
And mind you, we’re talking about mental arousal, not the sexual one, necessarily! Mental arousal is provoked when you’re trying to concentrate on something or giving an exam – stuff like that.
Now, arousal is directly proportional to your efficiency- but to a limit, once the pressure levels go too high, you start deteriorating.
The more you get aroused, the better you perform – BUT, within a limit!
Think of it like this: your exam is just around the corner and you haven’t started preparing yet – you get all sorts of butterflies in your stomach and then you actually sit down to study with devoted concentration!
BUT – if these butterflies transition into full-blown anxiety, you’ll probably end up not studying at all or studying without concentration.
So remember, overdosing on these drugs can make the odds go against you!
|Caffeine||We all know this one – it helps you ‘wake’ up, become alert and aids in better concentration|
|Nicotine||Another familiar friend (or foe) – pretty much the same effects as caffeine, but with a bonus of the enhancement of motor skills and memory power|
|Amphetamine||Conventionally used for ADHD and narcolepsy – boosts routine memory and its consolidation also enhances motivational levels|
|Methylphenidate||Also used for ADHD & narcolepsy – boosts short-term memory, episodic memory, and aids in mental alertness & better task performance|
|Modafinil & Armodafinil||The ‘waking’ drugs – they literally ‘wake’ you up! They will also improve cognition|
Smart Drugs that enhance brain cognition: RACETAMS
These include the following drugs;
The reason we have now termed them as nootropics is because their mechanism of action (albeit ambiguous) is associated with promoting brain health and cognition. And even for that, there is little evidence.
For all we know, they are affiliated with the cholinergic mafia; which brings us to our next and very intriguing section.
Neurotransmitters acting as nootropics: Cholines/Cholinergics
Time for a bit of revision – remember how we talked about neurons and how they hand over stuff from one neuron to another.
THIS is that stuff!
But it is definitely not as simple as we have made it sound.
Choline gives birth to Acetylcholine, which makes it the analog of the former.
Now, before naming the individual analogs of cholines – let’s get to know about its nature first.
When choline gives rise to acetylcholine, it is transmitted to the other neuron via a synapse – which can be thought of as a tiny gap between the two neuronal dendrites/axons (or arms of the neurons).
Acetylcholine is a very important nutrient for the brain. Its absence gives rise to diseases like Myasthenia Gravis – and boy, that disease sure does a good job at highlighting the importance of Acetylcholine!
Or the mother of Acetylcholine – the Cholinergics.
Below are the names of some known cholinergics.
Nootropics that serve as cellular components: Phospholipids
For those of you who don’t know, phospholipids are dangly string-like components of our cell.
Not only are they responsible for forming the membrane of the neuron but are also involved in producing critically important messengers. These messengers are the prostaglandins and leukotrienes, which play a crucial role in immune and inflammatory responses.
But here’s a fun fact for you: Our brains are 60% fat!
So next time you call somebody thick-headed – think twice!
Phospholipids, once de-abbreviated, will denote the words ‘phosphorus’ and ‘lipids’; lipids being the fatty component. That being said, it won’t be difficult to fathom the importance of fats, rather phospholipids, for the brain.
Phospholipids are the brain’s fuel!
Nootropics 101: Man (or woman) Vs Nature :
You must have formulated a question by now: Should I be going for mother nature’s cognitive treats or those bottled supplements?
Here’s the thing, there is no doubt that this earth holds so many herbs and plants with therapeutic properties. So many of them are even incorporated into medicines.
There are only two problems, though:
Imagine eating a pile of raw mushrooms – daily.
One day, two days, weeks, and even a couple of months. But how long can you maintain it for?
There will be times you’ll miss out on your regimen or choose to eat some mac & cheese instead.
Even with something as convenient as popping pills can have compliance issues – it is all just human nature, perhaps.
And here comes the more significant part.
Supplements are formulated with precise and accurate doses, so you can take them as per the advice of your physician. And unless you choose to overdose intentionally, it’s really hard to overdose with these smart pills.
Also, the contents inside of a pill will equate to a massive heap of herbs, plants, or whatever substances that you will be required to eat to achieve the cognitive effects at the same level as that of a tablet.
Energy With Synergy; A Unique Phenomenon.
2 ＋ 2 equals 4.
But with synergy, 2 ＋2 equals 5!
Don’t confuse it with multiplication.
So let’s assume you’re taking one nootropic drug, and your physician advises you to take another one along with it.
This adjunctive drug will work by enhancing the potential of the former drug!
In essence, taking Piracetam alone might lend you some nootropic effects. But combining it with Alpha-CDP will boost the performance of Piracetam!
This process of combining drugs to achieve synergy in nootropics is known as stacking.
This is probably why many nootropics supplements on the market contain a wide range / variety of ingredients. You’ll often see nootropic supplements marketed as “Nootropic Stacks”.
Achieving Synergy; Home-made or Premade Nootropic Stacking
You could either google up some nice adjunctive couples to combine them up for synergy (home-made stacking).
Or trust your supplement provider to give you pre-made nootropic stacks. And the odds are pretty obvious: DIY versus a safety controlled lab procedure.
Which one would you choose?
DIY nootropic stacking can be done however as long as you are careful, and do extensive research, as well as properly measure your ingredients to exact amounts!
How Do I Choose The Best Nootropics / Brain Supplements Out There?
As mentioned earlier, different nootropics possess different properties and hence deliver different results.
In essence, you will need to obviate what needs the most attention and care. Whether it’s anxiety, lack of concentration, depression, or any other problem that a nootropic can deal with.
The best way to approach this is to contact your trusted nootropic seller and discuss this with one of their expert vetted members.
Which leads us to our conclusion, there’s no ‘best nootropic‘ out there.
Every nootropic caters to a set of tailor-made needs and hence, proves to be the best one for that specific condition.
Although, what does count is the quality of the nootropic, so make sure you research thoroughly and then choose your pick. Glamorous packaging and impressive advertisements aren’t all there is to determine which one is the best out there.
How Can I Determine Whether I need Nootropics Or Not?
For starters, if that is really your number one question, then you probably don’t need nootropics. Nootropics are for individuals subjected to stress and anxiety, or racing thoughts which in turn impairs their concentration.
It’s also mainly for people with memory and cognitive issues, like ADHD and Alzheimers’ patients.
And in today’s era, a popular use for nootropics is being carried out to boost motivation – which will ultimately help you achieve your goals.
It’s crazy how these virtual feelings can be so powerful!
That being said; if you’re generally a forgetful person (goldfish memory) or someone who needs refinement with fine motor skills, then feel no shame hopping onto the bandwagon. You’re not alone, as millions of people are using nootropics everyday in one form or another.
Nootropics will do you good, in many ways!
So Who Are The Individuals That Need Or Require Nootropics?
Academics & Students
Let’s just admit it, studying isn’t as hard as the concentration it demands.
Nootropics help you focus and retain complex information.
Many top-ranked students consider nootropics, and all for a good purpose!
The Old & Debilitated
Fading episodic and short-term memory is one reason.
Declining motor skills and cognition is the other.
Professional Entrepreneurs and CEOs
These hardworking individuals can’t afford to take a day off from work.
They save our economy, and in return, we preserve their health by nootropics.
If Safe, How Safe Are Nootropics Really?
This question can spark quite a lot of debate.
Are they even safe?
Vaccines undergo a comprehensive three-stage trial (which sometimes takes years) before being rendered safe.
The same does not apply for nootropics.
But the answer here lies in meticulous research and experimentation; of which the results are positively conclusive about the safety of nootropics.
So the short answer is yes, nootropics are safe.
But here’s the catch – they’re only safe if you’re being supervised on dosage and regimens by an expert professional. And for you to take them without any extra concerns or worries, you should always purchase a well-reputed and credible brand.
Not all that glitters is gold, remember that! Be wise when it comes to choosing the right brand.
Are There Any Side Effects Of Nootropics?
Yes, there are. The most common side effects from taking nootropic supplements are:
- Mood swings
- Gastrointestinal problems
However, these symptoms are highly variable.
It all varies from person to person, and their individual sensitivities to specific nootropics.
Some people might not experience any issues or negative reactions at all.
In case of such symptoms, it is highly suggested to consult a physician as soon as possible.
Reality Vs Fantasy: Can Nootropics Change My Life Forever?
Statistically speaking, the nootropics that are actually the real deal will undoubtedly show you results. You will gain the perks of motivation, higher sociability, mental alertness, and streamlined focus.
This usually occurs in a period of 15-45 minutes after you ingest your nootropic pill – which in pharmacological terms is called the ‘onset of action’.
Peeping into the biochemical structure of these molecules will leave you amazed – if you’re a chemist (or a nootro-nerd like myself!).
These compounds are capable of benefiting the brain and protecting it from damage.
BUT, if you have unrealistic expectations, then you might get disappointed.
You won’t become Sherlock Holmes or Albert Einstein overnight, and not even 300 nights later.
Nootropics do not increase your IQ, they only bring to life the components that you already have.
It will however provide that extra fuel to your brain to make your everyday life a bit easier, and your mind noticeably sharper!
In fact, nootropics can GREATLY enhance your capabilities! Just remember… You will not become a superhuman like in the movie Limitless…