The Lowdown On Nootropics (Aka "Smart Drugs")

Nootropics are an emerging class of drugs that are designed to enhance cognitive function in the form of memory, neuro, cognitive, and intelligence enhancement; it’s the reason they’ve earned the name “smart drugs.” Marketers want to present them as the closest option to experiencing what Bradley Cooper’s character underwent in Limitless when he took the drug NZT, which made him smarter and sharper than everyone else.

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But nootropics are far from NZT; they are part of a larger category of drugs known as performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs) which can also be used for enhancing sexual performance, athletic performance, or muscle building. Here’s the 101 on nootropics …

Not always. Some experts claim that many supps that promote “natural” cognition enhancement contain nothing more than vitamins and herbs, which have not been shown to be effective. Also, nootropics often contain a stimulant,  such as caffeine — like many pre-workout supplement or energy drinks — which provides an energy burst but not the type of brain advancement that a user might hope for. Still, that hasn’t prevented nootropics and PIEDs from becoming trendy and popular, especially with celebrities like Joe Rogan touting his use of them and even creating his own nootropics line.

However, these substances are also being abused because users do not have adequate evidence that they are actually “enhancing” anything, let alone safe to use for a prolonged duration of time.

Next: How Much Nootropics Cost


It varies. Brainspeed Memory will set you back $14.49 for 60 tablets. You can find them on Amazon, but I have yet to actually find a store near my suburban Detroit home that sells a supp labeled “nootropic.” Still,“brain boosting” supplements are not difficult to find online. Rogan’s company Onnit sells Alpha Brain ($30 for 30 pills), which bills itself as “The first ever fully-balanced nootropic. Alpha GPC and Huperzia Serrata maximize acetylcholine levels while other ingredients assist in elevating dopamine and GABA levels, crucial components to remaining calm, focused, and mentally driven.”

Next: The Side Effects


To be classified as a nootropic, the compound must technically have little to no side effects, although headaches are often a common complaint amongst users. Currently, the FDA hasn’t approved nootropics in the United States. As stated on, Piracetam is an intelligence booster and central nervous system (CNS) stimulant with no known toxicity or addictive properties. Since the creation of Piracetam, many pharmaceutical companies have been developing further nootropic drugs, such as Oxiracetam.

Unlike Bradley Cooper in Limitless, don’t expect a miracle or to feel drastically different with some type of mind-blowing laser focus. Some users have reported having more “clarity” and feeling as if their brain is more “organized.” In regards to pills that boost brain power—some users have high expectations, assuming that taking a nootropic will immediately make them as intelligent as Albert Einstein. Amy Arnsten, professor of Neurobiology at Yale Medical School says, “I think people think about smart drugs the way they think about steroids in athletics. With smart drugs, all you’re doing is taking the brain that you have and putting it in its optimal chemical state.” Arnsten investigates how the cells in our brain work together to produce our higher cognition and executive function.

Some researchers point out that these drugs may not be enhancing cognition directly, but simply improving the user’s mind by making work more pleasurable and enhancing focus. According to Martin Sarter, a professor at the University of Michigan, he states, “I’m just not seeing the evidence that indicates these are clear cognition enhancers.” Sarter also says that users may be achieving the drugs’ desired effects because it relieves their tiredness and boredom.

Next: Should You Take Nootropics?


It’s a risk, and risks aren’t always worth the reward. For now, there are too many unanswered questions about smart drugs, especially for young athletes. Think about it — if a drug is used to enhance one dimension of cognition, what then happens to the other parts of the brain? Could there be some possible devastating, deadly side effects years later after one uses smart drugs? Like taking steroids, the short-term payoff could be huge, but is that worth the potential lasting long-term damage?

Stay tuned and stay informed. In the meantime, think smart by eating smarter, exercising smarter and making smarter choices. And by all means, consult your physician to find out what is best for your own mental and physical health.

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Grrrrr. Get ready to get angry, ladies.