Nootropics, i.e. “Safe” Smart Drugs

Jan 23rd, 2013 by adminadam in articles

Nootropics (say “New-Trow-Pics”) are drugs that provide some form of cognitive enhancement and yet are shown to be, if not neuroprotective, at least non-toxic and safe to use. These drugs work by A) making certain neurochemicals more available in the brain, B) by increasing the brain’s oxygen supply, or C) by stimulating nerve growth.

I first became interested in smart drugs (and subsequently nootropics) when a friend in college told me she took Adderall occasionally to boost her productivity (a non-ADHD-related use). She told me she could easily stay awake for 24+ hours and feel alert, clean her dorm room from top to bottom, write a paper or two, and so on. It should be noted, however, that in speaking of nootropics, we should not include Adderall, because it has numerous potential side-effects that may stem from non-prescription use: addiction, heart problems, depression, nausea, etc. (source: webmd)

A powerful and commonly-used smart drug these days is Modafinil. It is a “wakefulness promoting agent”, meaning it keeps you awake and alert, and is prescribed generally for narcolepsy and other sleeping disorders, in addition to ADD. It is has been used by soldiers on long missions and even by Canadian astronauts serving on the International Space Station. As noted by Andrew McMillan, a Journalist for Rolling Stones (Australia) who experimented with the drug, while it may not be addictive, after three consecutive days on the drug — staying up for 79 out 90 hours:

I felt as though I’m not making sense, and that those around me are acutely aware of this. I feel in control, but my mind is racing faster than my mouth can keep up. … Around 2am, I note that I’ve got an impending feeling of doom going on. Like I’m riding this too far, and it’s about to start doing some serious damage.

After sleeping a full-night’s sleep and erasing some of his sleep debt, he remarks further:

I reflect on how my views toward modafinil have veered between utter devotion to, now, in the cold light of day, a realisation that it’s probably not a good idea to be taking that shit on consecutive days.

Despite the illegality of off-label use in most places, one study in the journal Nature estimated that up to 25% of students at some campuses had taken neuroenhancing drugs like Modafinil in the past year. Many students have reported that it helps them to stay alert and perform — both mentally and physically — and that when final exams approach, the temptation to ‘take something’ can be overwhelming.

It seems that, as it may not be a safe long-term solution to the desire to enhance cognitive function, perhaps it is best to look at other (and more legal) options for those that would like to improve their memory, accelerate their learning, or simply be able to work longer each day. These nootropics should all be milder, safer, and more effective over the long-term, according to my research:

      1. PIRACETAM + CDP-CHOLINE — Piracetam is a safe and effective cognitive enhancer that is thought to restore membrane fluidity of compromised neuronal cells (helping with neuro- transmission, protection, and plasticity). It was first used in the 1960’s to combat motion sickness. Its companion (I’ve listed them together intentionally) is CDP-Choline, which is a choline supplement, so it increases the amount of choline available to the brain. (Choline, or Acetylcholine, more properly, is one of the primary neurotransmitters in your brain; without sufficient choline, your brain can’t function well.) [Read more about both of these substances, including how they work together, at]
      2. ANIRACETAM + CDP-CHOLINE — Similar to Piracetam, being in the “racetam” family, but this is a fat-soluble version, so it won’t dissolve in water. Aniracetam is purported to have an anxiolytic (read: anxiety-reducing) effect as well as the memory and word recall-boosting effects like that of piracetam. [See more here:]
      3. PYRITINOL — Pyritinol is a modified form of vitamin-B6. It is two B6 molecules combined together so that — when broken down by your body — they can easily cross the blood/brain barrier to help with neurotransmitter synthesis. It has been shown to improve reaction time in individuals in time-based tests and is used to help treat dementia in some places in Europe. It has been in use as a nootropic since the 1990’s. (Interesting to note that it is also known as an effective “hangover cure”.)
      4. MAGNESIUM L-THREONATE — While magnesium is apparently one of the most deficient minerals in the American diet, eating foods high in the mineral and taking supplements is unlikely to positively impact your brain for the reason that these forms of magnesium cannot easily pass through the blood/brain barrier. With this challenge and the knowledge that in-brain magnesium is vital to synapse density, recognition memory, and spatial working memory, MIT sought to find a form that can easily get where it needs to go, hence: Magnesium L-Threonate, or MgT. In lab animals given it it led to 18% improvements in short-term memory and 100% improvements in long-term memory. It is currently being tested in human trials.

There we have it — four nootropics for the uninitiated to look into! Please let me know in the comments if you have insights into (or experience related to) these or other cognitive enhancers.