What’s the Deal with Nootropics, Brain Boosters and Smart Drugs?
Marvel nearly owns the big screen these days with its reintroduction of Spider-man, Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and other superheroes and their superpowers. We seem to be infatuated with these superhuman characters and their uber-abilities!
As a result, it should come as no surprise that people are looking for that magic pill that will give them an edge—a superpower—if you will. Enter: nootropics, brain boosters, cognitive enhancers and smart drugs. By whatever name you call them, they’re drugs or supplements that claim to boost cognitive powers, enhance creativity and stimulate mental alertness.
But alas, we’re not as trendy or clever as we’d like to think we are, for mankind has sought for and used brain enhancing stimulants for millennia. In fact, you might even be using a nootropic as you read this article, because coffee, tea and sodas fall into this category of brain stimulants.
Dr. Corneliu Giurgea, a Romanian psychologist and chemist coined the term “nootropics” in 1972. In his studies he gave the term some very strict parameters. He indicated that a true nootropic must fulfill five criteria. Nootropics:
- Must generally enhance brain function.
- Improve cognitive performance under stress.
- Protect the brain against harmful substances.
- Increase the efficiency in which neurons fire within the brain.
- Must be non-toxic and pose no harmful side-effects.
For a substance to meet all five criteria is a tall order! For this reason, we’re forced to distinguish between a true nootropic and other so-called smart drugs.
In recent years, a wide variety of individuals have turned to smart drugs to enhance their cognitive powers. Smart drugs have been especially popular with video gamers, college students, and others whose jobs or habits prevent them from getting adequate sleep and who want to elevate their level of cognitive performance.
Smart drugs claim to be able to provide superior and enhanced:
- Clarity of thinking
- Problem-solving ability
- Mental stamina
- Ability to function on little sleep
But the smart drugs that many reach for are prescription drugs that are intended for other purposes. Common smart drugs include: Adderall – a drug to treat attention deficit and ADHD, Ritalin, Modafinil, and Donepezil. An obvious problem with using a prescription drug for a purpose other than its intended one is that often you must obtain that drug illegally.
These drugs are mind-altering and often present unpredictable side effects. A few years ago, researchers at Harvard and Oxford universities claimed that Modafinil was “the world’s first safe smart drug.” But no sooner did they make this claim than users of the drug began reporting insomnia, headaches, and nasty skin rashes. Other side effects of smart drugs include: blurred vision, nausea, and nasal blockage.
Are Nootropics Safe?
If we allow the distinction between a true nootropic as defined by Dr. Giurgea and the so-called smart drugs, the question is, are there safe nootropics? The answer appears to be “Yes,” but needs some clarification. For instance, caffeine is considered a nootropic. Is caffeine safe? Yes, when used sensibly. But overuse of caffeine can cause sleeplessness, jitters, brain fog and a host of other unpleasant side effects. However, when used sensibly, caffeine can stimulate brain function in a variety of helpful ways.
Nootropic Herbs and Supplements
When it comes to the subject of nootropics and smart drugs, natural options are generally safer and more effective than synthetic drugs. But just like caffeine, we must use herbs and supplements sensibly as well. Also, people respond to various herbs and supplements differently, so what may work well for one person may not for another. Similarly, people tolerate specific dosages differently.
Some of the more common nootropic herbs and supplements include: