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What Are Nootropics and Why Are They So Popular?

Nootropics are substances that act as cognitive enhancers. Sometimes referred to as "smart drugs," these medications, supplements, and other substances may enhance various cognitive and executive functions.

Research into nootropics is still in its infancy. So far, prescription medications have yet to deliver on researchers' and consumers' expectations, and many produce unacceptable side effects. Scientists in labs don't develop natural nootropics. They're plant-based supplements that may also make cognitive enhancement. 

Curious about this developing field? Read on to find out about the current state of pharmaceutical and natural nootropics research, development, use, and legality.

What Are Nootropics? 

Initially, the term "nootropic" was only used to designate nootropic drugs. Since the inception of this unique field, researchers and clinicians have broadened their perspectives to include natural nootropics.

nootropics definition

Any drug or supplement could be considered a nootropic if it:

  • Enhances memory
  • Improves motivation
  • Increases creativity
  • Enhances cognitive function
  • Or enhances other executive functions

Experts are divided in their opinions regarding the ethical and practical implications of prescription nootropics. However, people have been using some forms of natural nootropics for centuries, if not millennia.

Why Are Nootropics Popular?

There are plenty of reasons people want to improve their cognition. Students often use stimulants and other cognitive enhancers in an attempt to enhance their academic performance. Dementia patients may be prescribed prescription nootropics to combat the effects of age-related cognitive decline. 

Some of these uses are approved by the FDA, while others are not. The FDA has yet to approve a prescription nootropic for use in healthy adults. Opponents of nootropics cite current smart drugs' potential health risks and adverse side effects as factors that outweigh their potential benefits.

There is also some concern about the ethics behind pharmacological cognitive enhancement. Opponents believe that access to smart drugs would be inconsistent and could give certain groups an unfair advantage over others.

Prescription Nootropics

Most prescription nootropics were not developed with the intent of enhancing cognitive function. Instead, improved memory, creativity, focus, or cognition are beneficial side effects. Most prescription nootropics are not intended for use by healthy people. They were developed to manage or treat specific conditions.

Prescription Amphetamines 

Prescription amphetamines such as Adderall are some of the best-known nootropics. In low doses, they can improve memory, attention, memory consolidation, recall, task saliency, and inhibitory control in people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Amphetamines also create similar nootropic effects in healthy people. However, their side effects and risk for dependency has led the FDA to ban the sale of amphetamines to non-ADHD consumers.

Prescription Methylphenidate

Methylphenidate, often sold under the brand name Ritalin, is a form of benzylpiperidine prescribed to patients with ADHD. Like amphetamines, it improves memory, attention, task saliency, and inhibitory control in both ADHD patients and healthy individuals. Unfortunately, it can also decrease cognitive function in above-optimal doses.

Prescription Eugeroics

 Eugeroics are technically "wakefulness-promoting agents." The two most common of them are modafinil and armodafinil. Modafinil, sold under the brand name Provigil, enhances sleep-deprived users’ alertness and acts as a mild nootropic. 

When non-ADHD people are given modafinil, it enhances both their reasoning and problem-solving capabilities. Experts believe modafinil may also improve executive function. It is sometimes prescribed for older patients to reduce the impact of age-related cognitive decline.

Over-the-Counter Racetams

Drugs in the Racetam class include aniracetam, phenylpiracetam, oxiracetam, and piracetam. They're often sold over-the-counter as nootropics. However, researchers have yet to gain a comprehensive understanding of the pharmacological mechanisms of these over-the-counter drugs. Companies that market them as nootropics are violating FDA regulations.


Miscellaneous Other Smart Drugs 

To date, no prescription nootropics have been FDA approved for use in healthy individuals. However, a few other prescription drugs show promise in this field, especially when it comes to improving memory, attention, and memory encoding. 

These drugs include:

  • Tolcapone
  • Levodopa
  • Atomoxetine
  • Desipramine

Nicergoline may also enhance cognitive performance. It could improve concentration and attention, reduce reaction times, and improve psychomotor performance.

Promising Research 

Recent research shows that a new class of drugs known as integrated stress response inhibitors (ISRIBs) may have significant nootropic effects. So far, lab tests have focused on safety and efficacy in mice. The results showed that ISRIB administration could reverse the impacts of traumatic brain injury and age-related cognitive decline almost immediately.

Researchers have yet to test ISRIB on human subjects. So far, their focus has been exclusively on reversing the negative impacts of neurodegenerative diseases and acute injuries. However, this drug shows a good deal of promise when it comes to nootropic activity.

Natural Nootropics 

Most people who want to try nootropics stick with nootropic supplements and herbal formulations. They vary in effectiveness but don't require a prescription and tend to produce fewer adverse effects than synthetic drugs.

Kratom Powder 

Certain types of kratom, including all-white vein strains and most green strains, may act as nootropics when taken in small amounts. Users often report feeling more energized, focused, and motivated after using white vein kratom. Just make sure to keep doses small to take full advantage of the herb's stimulating effects.

Coffee and Energy Drinks

Most people don't realize this, but caffeine can technically be considered a nootropic substance. It doesn't make the grade on every official nootropics list, but it deserves a place on any list of natural nootropics. Moderate caffeine intake boosts alertness and attention, especially when consumers are feeling fatigued.

Bacopa Monnieri

Bacopa monnieri is an Ayurvedic herb used to enhance cognitive function. Recently, researchers have discovered that Bacopa monnieri may reduce reaction times, boost information processing, and improve memory. It may also help to reduce oxidative stress in the hippocampus after several months of daily use.

Panax Ginseng 

Panax ginseng root may reduce mental fatigue and improve cognitive performance. It seems to be most effective at boosting performance on challenging mental tasks like performing math in one's head. Researchers have yet to discover how it works in the brain.

Ginkgo Biloba

Physicians have been recommending Ginkgo biloba extract to patients suffering from age-related cognitive decline for decades. Most believe that it works by increasing blood flow to the brain. It may not have the same effects on healthy consumers.

ginkgo biloba

10 Frequently Asked Questions About Nootropics

Consumers need to educate themselves before trying any new drug or supplement, including nootropics. Those interested in furthering their education on nootropics can read on to find the answers to 10 frequently asked questions that could help them make more informed decisions.

1. Are Nootropics Safe?

Many of today's most popular nootropic drugs produce unwanted side effects or have poorly understood risk profiles. Healthy consumers are better off sticking to natural nootropics such as kratom instead of taking smart prescription drugs for off-label uses.

2. Do Nootropics Work? 

Not all synthetic and natural nootropics produce desirable results. Before trying a new over-the-counter drug or supplement, do some research. Check the ingredients and make sure they're both safe and effective.

3. What Are the Side Effects of Nootropics?

Nootropics side effects vary by medication or supplement type. Prescription medications tend to have the most side effects, so they are not recommended for healthy consumers. These side effects can include nausea, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, jitters, unusual dreams, and others.

4. Who Uses Nootropics? 

Prescription nootropics are only used when patients suffer from mental or neurological conditions that impair brain function. Anyone can use natural nootropics to improve focus, memory, motivation, and cognitive function.

5. Are Nootropics Legal?

It is not legal to use prescription nootropic drugs not obtained through a physician. It's perfectly legal to use herbal and dietary supplements or over-the-counter medications. However, manufacturers are not allowed to advertise these products as cognitive enhancers.

6. Are Nootropics Addictive?

Some nootropics can be addictive. Stimulants such as amphetamines are particularly well-known for being habit-forming. Natural nootropics such as caffeine can also be addictive.

7. Can Athletes Use Nootropics?

Certain nootropics contain performance-enhancing stimulants. They are banned under the World Doping Association (WDA) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Most natural nootropics are acceptable for athletes.

8. Do Nootropics Cause Mental Health Problems?

Some prescription nootropics may increase consumers' risks of developing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Those who are prone to mental health problems should avoid synthetic stimulants.

9. Do Nootropics Make People Smarter? 

Nootropics enhance cognitive function, memory, fluid intelligence, problem-solving, and focus temporarily. They won't boost brain function permanently.

10. Are Nootropics Psychoactive? 

Most nootropics are not psychoactive. They act on different areas of the brain and do not generate unusual changes in perception or mood. However, some natural nootropics also have psychoactive effects.

Try Today's Most Popular Natural Nootropics 

Are you interested in trying natural nootropics? Kratom is one of the best nootropics 2021 has to offer, and it's just as good in 2022 and beyond. Austin Vibes sells a comprehensive line of kratom products, many of which are believed by advocates to boost focus, attention, motivation, and other critical areas of cognitive and executive function.

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