As humans, we’re constantly looking for ways to improve, whether it’s through physical performance, reading speed, or even just eating healthier. And when it comes to our cognitive performance, it’s no different. Just take a look at pop culture, with movies like Inception, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Lucy, and TV shows like The Good Place all about human’s obsession with cognitive improvement and change. But if you’ve started to do the research for how to improve things like cognitive performance and focus on a day-to-day basis, you may have come across something called a nootropic, which might be just what you’re looking for. Here’s everything you need to know about them, including how they work, how to pronounce them, and important FAQs.
What are nootropics?
Nootropics, pronounced NEW-TROH-PICKS, are generally referred to as “smart drugs” due to their ability to boost cognitive function. The word nootropic was originally coined in 1972 by Romanian chemist Corneliu Giurgea, after he created Piracetam, a synthetic cognitive drug that’s been shown to boost memory, verbal fluency, creativity, brain circulation, and learning. Giurgea realized immediately what he had done, and is even quoted to have said: “Man will not wait passively for millions of years before evolution offers him a better brain.”
Upon coining the term “nootropic,” Giurgea was quick to determine the parameters for future nootropics, to ensure that people were labelling them correctly. According to the chemist, he state that nootropics should have the following characteristics:
-A nootropic should enhance learning and memory
-A nootropic should improve behavior under adverse conditions
-A nootropic should shield the brain from injury through either chemical or physical needs
-A nootropic should increase the efficacy of the tonic cortical/subcortical control mechanisms
-A nootropic lack the usual pharmacology of other psychotropic drugs (meaning that they should not impair motor function, and should not possess sedative qualities)
-A nootropic must have very few (if any) side effects, and have extremely low toxicity
Though he did technically create a nootropic, what Giurgea really created was a synthetic drug, not dissimilar to ones like Adderall or Ritalin, which are actually considered nootropics. However, because they were engineered and are synthetic, they are also stimulants, and therefore separate themselves from natural nootropics.
That being said, even though the term “nootropic” is relatively new, nootropics have been around for centuries, as many natural ingredients that are used in traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine are considered nootropics. In fact, you may be familiar with some of them already, as Gingko, Bacopa, and Lion’s Mane Mushroom are all classified as nootropics due to their ability to provide cognitive support.
Because there are generally these two distinct types of nootropics, by which we mean the type that come from natural sources versus the synthetic versions, it’s not as easy to say that the same rules, restrictions, effects, and expectations apply to each one. Instead, it’s important to recognize whether nootropics are natural or synthetic and if they’re an ingredient that’s part of a greater supplement (and therefore have additional ingredients in the blend), to best understand their impact and whether or not they’re right for you.
How do nootropics work?
Because the types of nootropic vary, they each have their own specific way of working, but when it comes to natural nootropics, they are proven to boost brain function while at the same time helping make the brain healthier. When you introduce natural nootropics to your body, the blood circulation to your brain increases, providing the nootropic as well as increasing energy and oxygen flow to your brain. In general, natural nootropics work by altering the concentration of existing neurotransmitters in your brain, which, depending on the type of nootropic, can lead to different functions but overall work to increase memory and learning while protecting your brain from potential harm.
Do nootropics give you energy?
Taking a nootropic isn’t the same as having a shot of espresso, but depending on the type of nootropic you take, you can experience boosted brain energy. The type of brain energy provided by nootropics is more for long-term, sustained energy, the kind of energy that you’d want when you’re about to focus on a long, arduous project, as opposed to simply staying awake for an extra hour. Nootropics help boost your brain’s energy by optimizing mitochondrial efficiency, by which we mean that they help create ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is the body’s primary chemical unit of energy. ATP is used for a number of different cognitive functions, meaning that it helps to power your brain.
Some nootropics, like L-Theanine for example, also help to reduce your body’s stress levels, which in turn, helps keep your energy levels stabilized. In the case of L-Theanine, it is able to bind to the same receptors as glutamate, which is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for many of our body’s stress responses. In doing so, L-Theanine is able to suppress those stress responses, which leads to decreased feelings of stress, and therefore, increased energy, as chronic stress in the body can lead to increased feelings of fatigue.
When should I take nootropics?
In general, it’s recommended to take nootropic supplement in the morning with a meal, so they can work and provide you with their benefits during the day, instead of working while you sleep (when you may not need that mental clarity and focus).
Are there any potential negative side effects from taking nootropics?
Though nootropics in general are not normally associated with severe adverse effects, there have been, of course, cases in which people have experienced side effects. This is particularly true with prescription drugs that are also classified as nootropics, such as Adderall, Provigil, Axura, and Ritalin, in which common side effects can include a fast heart rate, high blood pressure, and addiction. However, because these are all prescription drugs, if you are prescribed them then this is all information that your doctor will be able to provide for you, as well as explain how they might work with your individual body chemistry and what you should expect.
In terms of natural nootropics, one in particular, citicoline has been found to cause headache, insomnia, restlessness, fatigue, and GI discomfort, according to one study. That being said, everyone has their own unique body chemistry, and thus, may not experience side effects that others might. If you do begin to experience side effects from your nootropics however, discontinue immediately and contact your doctor if they persist.
Are they addictive?
The short answer: sometimes.
The long answer: By definition, nootropics are not addictive. However, synthetic, prescription drugs that can also be categorized as nootropics, such as Adderall and Ritalin, can form addictions, which can actually be pretty scary. If you’re interested in trying out a nootropic, the safest way to do so would be with one that comes from a natural source, like Lion’s Mane Mushroom or Bacopa.
Are they vegan?
In essence, nootropics are vegan. However, it completely depends on what they are combined with in terms of the rest of a supplement’s makeup to fully determine whether or not the product is vegan. For example, if you take a whey protein powder that has an ingredient like Lion’s Mane Mushroom added in, you would not be taking a vegan nootropic as it had been combined with a dairy-based product.
Can I drink alcohol while taking nootropics?
In general, most nootropics are not known to have serious interactions with alcohol, and should be ok. However, when it comes to stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin, it is not recommended to mix the two. Because Adderall is a stimulant and alcohol is a depressant, mixing the two together can lead to serious issues, such as alcohol poisoning and potentially even heart problems.
In the case of alcohol poisoning, Adderall has the ability to actually dull the symptoms of being drunk, so if you’re drinking heavily and also taking Adderall, you may not even realize how much you’ve had to drink. This puts you at risk for not only over-drinking, but for alcohol poisoning.
Do Nootropics help you sleep?
This completely depends on the nootropic, but there are some that can be absolutely beneficial for sleep! L-Theanine, in particular, is essential for elevating your levels of GABA, or Gamma aminobutyric acid, an amino acid that functions as a neurotransmitter in your brain. When your GABA levels are at a healthy amount, the neurotransmitter can promote brain health, and even dampen nerve activity, which works to improve sleep, increase feelings of calmness and relaxation, and even reduce anxiety.
Because L-Theanine also helps with your stress levels, if you’re the type of person who tosses and turns thinking about an upcoming deadline or the mountain of stress that just seems to keep building, then nootropics could help improve your sleep in this regard as well, as it helps keep anxiety levels under control
Are nootropics psychoactive?
Natural ones are not! Because they are not psychoactive drugs, natural nootropics do not have psychoactive effects like hallucinations and paranoia. Rather, they are herbal brain supplements that can help support cognitive functions such as memory, mood, and concentration.
That being said, synthetic drugs like Adderall and Ritalin are both considered to be psychoactive stimulants, meaning that if you are using this kind of nootropic specifically, you may experience psychoactive effects.
How we use nootropics at The Nue Co.
Our bestselling cognitive supplement, Nootro-Focus relies on a blend of potent adaptogens and nootropics sourced from plants, herbs, and roots to help provide cognitive support, improved energy and focus, and reduced anxiety. The problem with many cognitive supplements is that they generally fall into two camps: there are the cognitive supplements that support your brain temporarily, with instant effect, or those that supposedly support your brain over-time, with little indication that they are actually working day in and day out. Nootro-Focus’s formula uses natural nootropics like Ginkgo biloba, L-Theanine and Lion’s Mane Mushroom and combines them with natural adaptogen Rhodiola to deliver a supplement that not only provides immediate focus and mental clarity, but supports your cognitive health over time. One clinically study showed that, within 28 days, key ingredient Cognizin® (a patented form of citicoline, an essential brain nutrient that powers neurotransmitters) increased ATP brain energy by 13.6% and accelerated brain cell membrane formation by 26%.
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