As our lives get more competitive, more people are asking how to increase their brain function. Nootropics, or smart drugs are becoming increasingly popular as more and more of us look for that added boost. This might be for career advancement or monetary gain, or it may be social pressures (keeping up with the Joneses), or perhaps just the simple realisation that we can do better and could live better lives if our brains functioned more efficiently.
This quest is not new – it is evidenced throughout history from the ancient Greeks onwards. The human brain is an incredibly complex organism, and it is widely recognised that we only harness a fragment of its full potential. Studies suggest that we only use as little as 12% of the brain’s processing power – so we can only imagine the possibilities if we were able to harness the other 88%.
Research into brain function is not new either, but there has been an explosion of knowledge in different disciplines over the past few decades. This expanded knowledge base in medicine, pharmaceutics, psychology, biology, nutrition and the like have encouraged exploration and experimentation into the impact of different substances that affect brain operation and performance. This includes stimulants – both natural and synthetic, and how these affect our neural pathways.
Many of these stimulants are referred to as Nootropics, or nootropic stacks. They are herbs, supplements, or synthetic substances that can enhance brain function—including things like memory and learning. Also known as smart drugs, they have become all the rage lately, as we look for an edge in a competitive world, or seek to delay the ageing process.
One of the results of is the emergence and popularity of the so called “smart drugs” or Nootropics which have been embraced by College students looking to get better grades, to silicon valley entrepreneurs looking for enhance creativity to stock brokers and management types looking to improve their work performance. Older people are keen to delay the atrophy of old age. All have taken to the many variants that are now available.
This Introduction covers what nootropics are, how they work to increase brain function, how you can benefit from them and how to get the most from these supplements. It is intended as an introduction to the subject and not as a definitive review. We encourage you to undertake further research and investigate individual products to determine which will best suit your needs.
Nootropics are primarily known as ‘brain boosters’ that enhance cognitive function, especially memory, creativity, or motivation. They also have preventative properties, which can delay the ageing process.
Even though they are thought of as a ‘now’ product, the term was first coined in 1972, combining the Greek word ‘nous’ (or mind), and ‘trepein’ (or bend). The use of certain herbs to promote brain activity and health has also been in practice for thousands of years.
Today the word is most commonly used in reference to commercially formulated supplements combining mainly natural (and sometimes synthetic) ingredients designed to improve brain power, give better concentration, enhanced focus, faster mental speed and better memory as well as improving long term brain health.
The combinations of ingredients and the ability to concentrate dosages to specifically target neural pathways is one of the new frontiers of mind medicine.
We have long been aware of everyday stimulants such as coffee and the remedial impacts of various herbs and vitamins. Modern science has been exploring the effects of these and how they can be improved, sometimes adding synthetic substances.
The results are a range of new-age supplements that have come onto the market, offering to safely and effectively improve cognitive functioning through a blend of vitamins, amino acids and other essential building blocks for a healthy, well-functioning brain. Memory enhancement is the largest segment, although the promise of reduced age-related declines in brain function is also popular.
The market for these products is growing at an escalating pace as more and more people look to improve their brain’s performance. The global nootropics market is currently estimated to be around $USD2.6b, with over a third of this in the USA. The market is expected to continue growing rapidly, especially in the Asia Pacific region. It is expected to reach $USD6b 2025.
Nootropics and smart drugs include a range of natural and naturally substances as well as synthetic or prescription formulations. Many popular nootropics are referred to as stacks as they combine several ingredients for maximum effect.
Prescription smart drugs, such as Adderall and Ritalin, have the strongest and most significant effects on memory and attention.
Synthetic nootropic supplements like Noopept and piracetam are also widely available, although research on their effectiveness in healthy adults is lacking.
Many natural nootropics are used in alternative medicine, but their effects are typically more subtle and slower acting. They’re sometimes taken in combination to boost their effectiveness. Commonly consumed stimulants such as coffee, tea and nicotine all provide a short term boost to the brain.
Natural or herbal nootropics are any kind of plant derived or plant based compounds that have been shown to enhance cognitive ability and health. Some of the more popular ones include Alpha GPC, Bacopa Monnieri, Cat’s Claw, Creatine, Ginkgo Biloba, Holy Basil, Huperzine A., L-Theanine & L-Tyrosine, Omega 3, Panax Ginseng, Rhodiola Rosea and Vitamins B & E.
Herbal nootropics can be just as effective as their synthetic cousins and you can even stack several of them to boost your results.
The continuing body of research into brain cognition has given us more knowledge about how this remarkable organ works. It has also provided insight into how various substances might impact it and improve its performance.
This has revealed that it is possible to improve the production and flow of cellular energy, blood circulation and flow, reducing inflammation, engaging neural support for a healthier network of cells and the levels of key chemicals in the brain.
In a non-technical sense – it’s a bit like giving your car a service and tune-up – cleaning out the gunk and getting everything working a bit better.
In a more technical sense, most nootropics work by affecting neurotransmitters in your brain like acetylcholine, glutamate, serotonin and dopamine. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that act as information messengers between your brain’s nerve cells, which are called neurons. It is neurotransmitters that give the signals to your brain to tell your heart to beat, and your lungs to breathe, but they also play a crucial role in your cognitive function too.
By altering these neurotransmitters, nootropics can be used to improve the way your brain functions. Some nootropics also act as vasodilators, which work by boosting the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain, and others by stimulating nerve growth in the brain. But all of them have the same cognitive-enhancing effect.
There have been countless studies into nootropics that show that they increase brain function and power, proving the cognitive-enhancing effects that nootropics can have. This has led to nootropics being used for many years by doctors to help treat various conditions relating to the brain such as Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s and ADHD.
But those who aren’t suffering from these conditions can still take them and achieve positive enhancements such as better coordination, mood enhancement, increased learning and memory abilities, reduced symptoms of depression and stress, and increased attention and motivation.
Everyone’s brain chemistry is different, so not everyone will experience the same effects with the same dosage, but the most important thing to realise is that this is not some “pie in the sky” idea. Nootropics do work and can give you a huge number of benefits.
There are 6 widely recognised benefits from taking nootropic supplements:
Natural based nootropics are non-toxic and side effects are extremely rare. They are suitable for everyday use over an extended period of time, and, despite being labelled smart ‘drugs’, they are perfectly safe and legal to use.
It is very unlikely you will experience any side effects when taking natural nootropic supplements, but if you do, you should reduce your dosage immediately. If you continue to suffer side effects, you should consult your doctor. Synthetic, or pharmaceutical products should only be only taken under advice from a medical practitioner.
While nootropic vitamins, herbs, and amino acids are generally safe at the recommended doses and many have been used for thousands of years, it’s important to be wary of cheaply formulated nootropic supplements.
There has been much conjecture about the real advantages of nootropics – just as there has been with the use of vitamin supplements. The industry has certainly had its reputation tarnished by unscrupulous operators and questionable claims and marketing practices.
Nootropics are supplements – so the impact they have will be at least partially dependant on what they are supplementing. A well fed, well exercised body with an active mind is a better base from which to work, so we suggest that to get the most benefit you should:
There appears little doubt that Nootropics truly are able to increase brain function. The bigger question remains – which one? or which combination will suit me best?
Despite the various contentious issues regarding spurious marketing and product claims, the category is very broad and the enthusiasm with which these formulations have been embraced suggests they are a product category which is here to stay. Growth forecasts suggest more and more people are likely to be using these so-called smart drugs in the future, as they seek to increase their brain function.
Will you be left behind? Or part of the pack?