Nootropics: The Truth About Cognitive Enhancers

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Imagine having the power of doing everything you need to do without ever getting tired, or even needing sleep to recharge. Whether you’re a student currently muddling through college, or a professional who’s got a lot of things on your plate but so little time, the thought may have struck your mind. The good news is, you never have to wonder again. It is, indeed, possible to power through a whole day without losing energy. This supposed superpower is possible through cognitive enhancers known as nootropics.

WHAT ARE NOOTROPICS?

Nootropics are substances that are made to help enhance overall mental performance. These so-called cognitive enhancers help in improving concentration, enhancing learning, and boosting memory and brain function. Most nootropics are quite common and easily bought over-the-counter. In fact, you may have taken some without even realizing it. For example, anything with caffeine, tea, and energy drinks are considered as stimulants—cognitive enhancers that work to raise your heart rate and increase your attention span.

Over-the-counter nootropics include:

Caffeine

Coffee contains caffeine, and caffeine is known as a popular mental stimulant. Caffeine is the most popular drug in the world, used by millions of people to ease fatigue, improve concentration, and increase focus. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you should consume no more than 400 mg of caffeine a day, which is equal to 4-5 cups of coffee. Drinking a cup of coffee a day can be beneficial to your health. But like everything else, caffeine should be taken in moderation because an overdose may lead to certain health risks, like death.

You may also take caffeine in the form of powders and pills.

L-Theanine

Another known nootropic is L-theanine, which is found in black and green tea. L-theanine is an essential amino acid that is not produced by the human body naturally. Aside from tea, L-theanine is also found in some edible mushrooms.

Drinking tea can help improve mental focus. If taken before bedtime, tea can also help people relax and sleep better. The recommended daily dosage of L-theanine is 100-400 mg. Like caffeine, L-theanine is also available as a supplement.

Vitamin B Derivatives

The most common Vitamin B Derivative is Sulbutiamine, a derivative of Vitamin B1 (Thiamin). Sulbutiamine helps in improving memory and alleviating physical and mental fatigue. Vitamin B Derivatives are also used to treat degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Racetam

The most common type of nootropic available is racetam. Piracetam is the first-ever racetam that is still available today. Other examples of racetam include Aniracetam, Oxiracetam, Pramiracetam. Racetams are made up of hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. Like other nootropics, racetams help boost memory, improve focus, increase energy, and enhance learning abilities.

Racetams directly affect acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter responsible for muscle contraction, endocrine regulation, pain responses, and the brain’s sleep functions. In other words, this cognitive enhancer helps the brain process these signals faster to quickly gain responses.

All nootropics are considered as cognitive enhancers, but not all cognitive enhancers are nootropics.

SMART DRUGS AND NOOTROPICS

Although nootropics are usually associated with smart drugs, the two of them have a few differences. Unlike store-bought nootropics, most smart drugs are only accessible through a doctor’s prescription. Smart drugs are generally used for medical conditions that inhibit proper mental functions.

Smart drugs are often prescribed to people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) since it helps improve their cognitive function. Some smart drugs also function as amphetamines—drugs that stimulate the nervous system and improves focus.

The term “smart drugs” came from college students who used these drugs regularly, especially during exams, to help keep themselves awake so they can study all night. Take note that pharmaceutical companies don’t endorse the use of these drugs for this specific purpose, since taking these drugs without a prescription may be dangerous.

Other prescription cognitive enhancers include:

Provigil

Also known as Modafinil, this drug helps reduce extreme sleepiness due to various sleep disorders. Most users use this to keep themselves awake during work hours. Students, for example, use this to stay awake so they can study. Provigil is thought to affect substances in the brain that controls a person’s sleep/wake cycle.

As a prescription drug, Provigil is used to help treat narcolepsy and sleep apnea.

Adderall

Also known as Dextroamphetamine-Amphetamine, this drug is used to treat ADHD by changing the amount of certain chemical substances in the brain. As a stimulant, Adderall helps improve focus and concentration and organizational skills. It is also known to help promote a person’s listening skills.

Adderall also helps you stay awake longer as it is used as a prescription drug to cure narcolepsy. However, people who do not have any sleeping disorders aren’t encouraged to use this drug.

Ritalin

Also known as Methylphenidate Hcl, this medication is also used to treat ADHD. Like Adderall, Ritalin is a stimulant that helps change the amount of certain chemical substances in the brain. It also helps to improve focus and concentration. As a prescription drug, Ritalin is also used to cure certain sleep disorders like narcolepsy.

Namenda (Axura)

Also known as Memantine, this medication is used to treat dementia that is related to Alzheimer’s disease. Although it doesn’t provide a cure for Alzheimer’s, it can help improve memory, increase awareness, and give the user the ability to perform daily tasks and functions. Memantine blocks the actions of glutamate—a brain substance linked to Alzheimer’s disease.  

Common Side Effects

If used without a doctor’s prescription, these drugs may cause some adverse side effects such as loss of appetite, nausea, dizziness, weight loss, diarrhea, anxiety, and even addiction. Other side effects may include hallucinations, sudden loss of coordination, fast heartbeat, agitation, and unexplained fever.

Those who suddenly stop using any of these drugs may also experience withdrawal syndromes. Common withdrawal symptoms include severe tiredness, sudden mood changes, sleep problems, and may even cause depression.   

ADVANTAGES OF NOOTROPICS

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Although heavily seen as a sort of performance enhancer, using nootropics does seem to have some health benefits. The following are benefits attributed to nootropics.

It helps ease symptoms of depression. Depression is a common medical illness that affects a lot of adults. It is a severe condition that causes sufferers to have episodes of unexplained melancholy. Other symptoms include problems with sleeping, sudden loss of energy and intense fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and thoughts of death. Taking antidepressants may have some undesirable side effects. This is why some people turn to nootropics instead. Since most nootropics help with the production of dopamine, they can help alleviate some of the symptoms of depression caused by chemical imbalances in the brain.

It increases focus. Some nootropics are used to medicate ADHD, an attention disorder that affects the attention span and self-control of its sufferers. Nootropics like Adderall allows the brain to release more neurotransmitters that are responsible for sending signals to different parts of the brain responsible for controlling your attention span and ability to remain focused on specific tasks.

It enhances energy. Most nootropics are also used to cure narcolepsy—a sleep disorder that is characterized by sudden bouts of sleepiness. Stimulants like coffee work to keep you awake by raising your energy channels.

It helps you sleep. Although cognitive enhancers are mostly known to keep people awake, some also help you have a sound sleep. An example is green tea.

It boosts metabolism. Nootropics boost your metabolism so that calories can be used faster. By activating adiponectin, a protein that helps burn fat and sugar, you burn calories at an increased rate, thereby helping you lose weight in the long run.

It prevents anxiety. A chemical imbalance in the brain often causes anxiety. Stress causes you to worry, or panic easily. Nootropics work in the same way that anti-anxiety medication does—by regulating GABA level receptors to help you feel at ease. When you use nootropics for anxiety relief, side effects that are commonly associated with anti-anxiety medicines, like apathy and decreased motivation, are mostly avoided.

DISADVANTAGES OF NOOTROPICS

Before you jump into the nootropic wagon, you have to know that using this substance has some disadvantages as well.

May cause poor impulse control. Most nootropics trigger the release of more dopamine into your brain. However, too much dopamine in your system may cause intense hyperactivity, decreased ability to remain focused, and poor impulse control.

May cause problems to the developing brain. Methylphenidate, also known as Ritalin, is known to cause some unwanted issues to users who don’t have ADHD. Using too much of this substance, especially in your late 20’s and early 30’s can drastically change your bodily functions, including your circadian rhythm. It may also cause increased feelings of anxiety and memory and object-recognition problems.

May cause slow-reaction times. Again, as mentioned above, most nootropics are used as ADHD medication. Since the primary goal of ADHD drugs is to lessen the sufferer’s hyperactivity, using it may cause slow-reaction times as some essential neurotransmitters responsible for sending signals to the different parts of the brain are inhibited by the drug.

Yes, we all want to improve how our body works so we could gain the most out of it. But sometimes, pushing our bodies to hit peak performance may not always be a good idea, especially if we turn to substances that we still have little understanding of, as of the moment.

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