Nootropics: History, Usage, and Subtypes
by Brendyn Smith
- Working on large scale biosynthesis of pharmaceutically relevant amino acids.
Today’s competitive and fast-paced world leaves many of us looking for something that gives us the extra edge when tackling life’s demanding tasks. Be it academics, entrepreneurship, a 9-5, athletics, or just life in general, most of us are looking to get ahead as quickly and as efficiently as possible. With the recent insights that modern science and medicine have granted us, high-achieving individuals now have the privilege of exploring interesting ways to hack their neurobiology and cognitive productivity with various compounds known as “nootropics.”
Although ancient ayurvedic and mind-altering medicine has been documented for a few hundred years, the term “nootropic” was first used by Dr. Corneliu Giurgea in 1972 upon his synthesis and discovery of piracetam (the pioneer compound in the world of nootropics). Below is Dr. Giurgea’s original criteria for defining nootropics:
- The substance should enhance memory and ability to learn.
- The substance should help the brain function under disruptive conditions, such as hypoxia (low oxygen) and electroconvulsive shock.
- The substance should protect the brain from chemical and physical assaults, such as anti-cholinergic drugs and barbiturates.
- The substance should increase the efficacy of neuronal firing control mechanisms in cortical and sub cortical regions of the brain.
- The substance should lack a generalized sedative or stimulatory effect. It should possess few-no side effects and be virtually non toxic.
* I personally would classify both stimulants and anxiolytic (anxiety reducing or sedative substances) as nootropics, contrary to Giurgea’s final criterion. I would also classify an ingredient that has brain repairing/protecting properties to be a nootropic as well.
Since the 70’s, modern science has allowed biologists, chemists, and biochemists to unveil the plethora of natural and synthetic ingredients that have favorable efficacy on the central nervous system and the mind.
This blog isn’t meant to go into the breadth of scientific topics relating to nootropics, rather it is an introductory post to help people understand a bit more on the subject. Later posts will likely cover more precise and focused topics on various ingredients and how they work. The rest of this blog will cover what nootropics are and are not, as well as some ingredients classified by subtype to give people content to explore.
What nootropics ARE NOT:
- The limitless pill from the movie Limitless
- A cure for poor work ethic
- A studying replacement
- A replacement for sleep deprivation
- Free of any and all side effects
What nootropics ARE:
- An aid to help you maximize productivity and mental acuity
- Can help improve motivation, memory, and learning
- Relevant for people from all different backgrounds and careers
- Naturally derived or synthetic
- Generally safe and well tolerated
With that I’ll leave a little analogy to help people understand how nootropics can be used. Think of nootropics as a turbocharger on a car engine. Your mind is the engine and nootropics are the turbocharger. A turbocharger in a car doesn’t work unless the engine is already working. Likewise, the turbocharger may not even kick into full gear until it reaches an optimum RPM. Keep you RPM’s too low (have low work ethic) or too high (run yourself into the ground), and the turbos won’t work at optimum levels. Find that sweet “RPM” spot in your life and use nootropics to bring yourself to a higher level.
To finish this post, I’ll leave you all with a pseudo-comprehensive list of common natural and synthetic nootropics out on the market today. Below is by no means a full list. I encourage the use of examine.com and Reddit forums (for general advice) to narrow down your research and learn more about certain ingredients. Understand that the following ingredients work via different mechanisms and have different biological effects. Some may repair brain cells, others may act on neurotransmitter receptors, and another might be a wakefulness promoting agent. Please keep in mind that stacking, or taking ingredients in conjunction with another, may have undesirable side effects. Do proper research before taking any of the following ingredients. That being said, all of these ingredients are generally safe when taken as suggested.
- Bacopa Monnieri
- Lion’s Mane Mushroom
- Rhodiola Rosea
- Pyritinol (similar to Vitamin B6)
- Huperzine A
- Ginkgo Biloba
- Mucuna Pruriens
Synthetic or Pharmaceutical (may require prescription):
*Disclaimer: I or IIFYM do not condone the use of pharmaceuticals without a prescription.