There is a lot of attention surrounding brain enhancing supplements called nootropics. If you have ever seen the movie Limitless with Bradley Cooper, the drug he takes to essentially become superhuman is a nootropic. That pill is what most nootropics strive to be; a supplement or drug that looks to improve and optimize brain function. They help individuals tap into the deeper regions of the brain in order to increase focus, memory, word recall, motivation, mood, and other means of mental performance.
At It’s Roots
Nootropics are often referred to as “smart-drugs.” They are supplements and drugs that are consumed in order to improve brain function. Many of the targeted results include improved memory, focus, attention span, mood, desire, motivation, and anything else related to positive brain function. Another function of nootropics are the prevention of cognitive decline, although this is usually a secondary benefit.
Many believe that the first nootropic was introduced in the 1960’s when Corneliu E. Giurgea created Piracetam. This led to an entire Piracetam family that includes oxiracetam, aniracetam, and more. When looking at the overall function of nootropics, however, we can see that nootropics have been around for quite some time.
Caffeine is a stimulant that has the ability to improve mood, provide energy, increase alertness, and many of the other functions of nootropics. It can be reasonably considered that caffeine, particularly sourced from coffee and green tea, is the OG of nootropics! People have been consuming it to improve their mental state for centuries and it has grown into a world-wide addiction.
Nootropics can vary in their form. Some, like the aforementioned Piracetam family, are synthetically made and were specifically designed for the purpose of neuroenhancement. Other forms come from natural sources such as plant extracts and herbs. If pills and supplements aren’t your thing, certain nootropic effects can be obtained through the consumption of specific foods. Many of the substances that make up Nootropics are originally found in food and then concentrated into supplement form.
A prime example of this is green tea. Green tea contains caffeine, similarly to coffee. However, people realized that the “buzz” from drinking green tea is much more of a focused one than that of coffee. Furthermore, green tea (and matcha) have been traditionally consumed after meals, even dinner. For many people, a cup of coffee after dinner would mean staying up all night and disturbed sleep. Green tea, however, does not usually have this impact. Why? L-theanine.
L-theanine is an amino acid that is found in green tea. It has been found that l-theanine alters the effect of caffeine. Instead of the pumped up, pure energy effects that coffee is known for, l-theanine gives users a sense of calm to go along with the energy. This is extremely helpful for tasks that include sitting down and getting something done (such as writing a blog post!).
How Do You Use Them?
The use of nootropics will vary depending on the individual nootropic. Some have immediate effects and should only be taken when seeking a specific outcome. Others, such as Piracetam, require daily consumption before the results take place. In the case of nootropic based foods, consumption can be regular or done at specific times to obtain the desired effects.
For most people, nootropics are consumed orally through supplementation. It usually starts with the purchase of something simple, like caffeine pills or l-theanine, and leads to full blown experimentation that leaves your medicine cabinet looking the an aisle in Walgreens. Users tend to get a little riskier as they progress and try nootropics that might be a little harsher on the body, although nootropics are touted for their general safety.
There are companies that make combination nootropics. These usually include taking two to four pills made up of multiple nootropics. The downfall of these pills are that you never truly know how much of each you are actually getting and which substance is the one that is effective. Also, if you have an adverse reaction to one of the substances, you will be hard pressed to narrow down which substance it was.
In order to combat the multivitamin-style nootropic, users create stacks. A stack is a combination of two or more nootropics used to achieve multiple results. Stacks are great because you know exactly what and how much of each substance you are getting, and they give you the flexibility to tweak, adjust, and experiment. If you take three separate pills and have an adverse reaction, you can try the pills individually and use the process of elimination to figure out which nootropic is causing you trouble. Stacks allow users to adjust to their individual biochemistry and dose appropriately.
One of the most frequent beginner stacks is that of caffeine and l-theanine. If you are nervous to try nootropics (which you shouldn’t be, but understandable), this is a great place to start. The caffeine gives you a subtle buzz and the l-thenaine really reigns it in. The first time I used l-thenanine I paired it with a cup of coffee. After I took it, I started to work on my car and forgot that I even took it. About 30 minutes later, I started to notice that I was seeing everything in my engine bay clearly and with great detail. It was like watching football in high-definition after watching in standard-definition. Sure I could still see the game fine in SD, but now I could see the guy in the third row eating popcorn.
There are more advanced stacks that will give you different results. It will take some research and self-experimentation to find what works for you, but the results are certainly worth it.
Safety, Push-Backs, and Moral Issues
Many people are hesitant to try nootropics. They consider them unregulated drugs and are fearful of putting substances in their bodies that are not recommended by their doctor. This is an understandable and reasonable thought process and you should certainly do thorough research into the efficacy and safety of anything you put in your body, including those substances recommended by your doctor.
Weigh the risks and rewards and determine if the particular supplement or drug that you are considering is worth taking. Nootropics can do wonders for your brain performance, but certain types and certain dosages can have negative effects. It boils down to the concept that n=1. You can certainly read up on other people’s experiences and look at studies that summarize the effects of a large number of people taking a substance, but you are your own individual with your own biochemical composition. How something responds in your body can be very different than how it responds in someone else’s.
One of the biggest concerns with nootropics is the morality of use. Some equate the use of nootropics to the use of steroids for muscle enhancement. If you are in some form of a mental competition, such as a spelling bee or on Jeopardy!, then we can certainly understand the reservations of use. However, if you are using nootropics to create more, succeed with your work, and become the best version of yourself, then we don’t see the issues. As long as you are cognizant of what you are taking and what effects it has on your body and mind and facing any detrimental effects, we support the use of nootropics. The steroid comparison that any use makes sense, but lacks because steroids have many cons to go with their pros. Unless a nootropic causes an adverse effect, it usually does not have many cons, if any at all.
I first discovered nootropics about a year ago. I don’t always respond great to coffee (read: jitters) so I was looking for alternative options. As mentioned earlier, the first stack I took was l-theanine. It gave me some cool clarity and focus, but I noticed that if I took it daily it lost it’s effects. I suppose my body built up a tolerance to it and taking more didn’t boost the effects.
I no longer take l-theanine for nootropic effects, but do take it before bed and upon waking as a sleep aid, which has been very useful in improving my sleep. I do notice that sporadically consuming matcha will give me a nice, focused buzz. It does not compare to some other nootropics, but it is perfect when I need a little boost late in the day and don’t want to be staring at the ceiling when I am trying to go to sleep.
I have been taking Piracetam along with CDP-Choline (read why here) on and off for the past year. Piracetam is different than many nootropics because you do not feel any immediate effects. It takes about a week or two before you start seeing the results and it is sometimes hard to realize that there are any effects until you stop taking it. Piracetam gives me much better word recall and makes me feel sharper. I know it’s working when I’m crushing Jeopardy! each night. I’ve stopped taking it a couple of times and noticed that I’m just not as quick to find words and don’t have as much mental clarity. Because of this, I plan on having Piracetam and CDP-Choline as a staple in my stack for quite some time.
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is another nootropic that I have experienced with. It is an amino acid and neurotransmitter that is touted for its ability to reduce anxiety and calm you down. I have experimented with GABA at different times throughout the day. When taken earlier in the day, I noticed a greater zeal for life and an overall happiness. Little issues didn’t bother me as much and little positives excited me more than usual. I also noticed that I was much more social and seeking out conversation.
When I took GABA at the end of the day, it was usually to counter act the day’s stress or some mild anxiety. It did relax me a little bit and gave me a little bit of a melting feeling, but it did not completely change my mood. Both times, morning and evening, I would get a brief tingling and flushing feeling. It was similar to the feeling a pre-workout gives you when you get that tingly feeling in your skin. It wasn’t very pleasant but it did pass quickly.
The most recent nootropic that I am experimenting with is adrafinil. Adrafinil is converted into modafinil which becomes the active component that gives you the desired effect. Modafinil is available with a presription from your doctor and is considered much more effective then adrafinil. It is compared to Adderall in that it gives you lasting focus, energy, motivation, and boosts your mood.
I have only been taking adrafinil on and off for a week or so now, but I can certainly say that it boosts mood similarly to GABA. It makes me excited for the little things and makes me generally happy. As far as brain performance goes, I am finding that it is much more effective for me when I take it on an empty stomach. I also find that it is best when paired with some form of caffeine. On its own it is solid, but it really comes into play when you toss a cup of coffee in the mix. In fact, the coffee/piracetam/CDP-choline/andrafinil mixture is writing this article, and my fingers can’t move fast enough!
Not all my nootropic experiences have been great. Oxiracetam is one that just does not work well for me. The first time I took this it made my heart race and gave me an uneasy, anxious feeling. Plenty of people have had positive experiences with oxiracetam and it is known for its more stimulative effects, but it was not for me. That proves a point that I always keep in mind whether I am taking nootropics, experimenting with different foods, or trying a new workout plan. That point is that n=1. What works for you might not work for me, and that’s perfectly fine. Understanding what does and does not work for you is imperative to creating the best version of yourself. Never do something simply because it worked for someone else. Always pay attention to what works for you and use that to your advantage.
Below are some resources that I have found most useful when researching nootropics. It is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it is a great place to start.
What are your thoughts on nootropics? We want to know! Leave a comment below!