What are nootropics? More specifically, what is a nootropic compound?
Why do people always refer to them as ‘smart drugs’? Are they dangerous?
Should we simply write them off as steroids for the brain?
That may sound a little harsh, but a lot of people are relying on sketchy information floating around in the media when it comes to understanding nootropics.
One thing that’s really cemented the impression that nootropics are hard core drugs is the the movie ‘Limitless’.
In the popular film, Bradley Cooper plays a character who’s down on his luck. He accidentally gets his hands on an experimental drug called NZT.
NZT makes him a genius overnight, and before you know it, he’s running for mayor(spoiler alert).
Since Limitless is the main reference point on nootropics for most people, they naturally assume that they’re all pharmaceutical compounds.
Little do they know that nootropics can also be natural substances, and they’ve been in use for a very long time.
That being said, let’s dig into the rich history of nootropics, and get a better sense of what they really are…
What are Nootropics? – Who were the first Neuro-Hackers?
The truth is, the idea of cognitive enhancement has been around long before Bradley Cooper strutted his stuff in front of the camera.
It’s just a concept that didn’t go mainstream until 2011, when Limitless got released.
These are the traditional origins of neuro-hacking from Eastern cultures, but what about modern day research in the West?
According to a scientist in a lab coat, what’s the definition of a nootropic substance?
The term ‘Nootropics’ was first coined by the Romanian psychiatrist Dr. Corneliu Giurgea in 1972.
It comes from the Greek word ‘noos’ meaning mind and ‘tropein’ meaning towards.
In order for a substance to be considered a nootropic, it has to:
- Improve Memory & Focus
- Enhance Speed & Efficiency
- Prevent Brain Damage
- Have Almost No Side Effects
If you distill this down to it’s bare essentials, you could say Nootropics are:
‘A class of compounds that improve cognitive performance with virtually no side effects’.
Now that we know what a nootropic is, why use them?
Benefits of Nootropics – Who should take them?
“Man will not wait passively for millions of years before evolution offers him a better brain.” – Corneliu Giurgea
The motivation to give our brains a boost can vary widely from person to person.
You might be looking to get a leg up on your competition.
Maybe you want to have more mental clarity and energy throughout the day.
Whatever your reasons, nootropics are being used by:
- Working Professionals
- Busy Parents
This list is just a sampling, really. Nootropics are growing in popularity every day.
Still, there are always some skeptics in the crowd, and I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I didn’t at least try to answer their questions.
Some of the more common concerns are whether or not nootropics are effective, or how they enhance brain function…
Do Nootropics Work? – What do they do?
The simple answer to the first question is yes, nootropics work.
What we really want to know is HOW they optimize cognitive performance.
There are 7 main pathways:
- Neurotransmitter Synthesis
- Stress Response Regulation
- Alpha Brainwave Stimulation
I know some of these terms sound like something out of a bad sci-fi novel, but please bear with me.
Vasodilation is simply an increase in blood flow to the brain. When more oxygen and nutrients are delivered to our neurons, brain function is enhanced.
Certain nootropics are building blocks needed to synthesize neurotransmitters, so taking them as a supplement helps speed up signal transmission.
Neurogenesis refers to the stimulation of accelerated brain cell growth. Several nootropics are able to encourage growth hormone release in the brain.
Numerous nootropics are also very potent antioxidants, and can protect our neurons from harmful chemical constituents like free radicals.
Adaptogens are herbal nootropics that can regulate stress hormones. This in turn prevents extreme immune system responses that can do some serious brain damage.
Neuroplasticity is an improvement in the flexibility and structural integrity of brain cell membranes at the synapses. The end result is improved memory, learning, and reasoning ability.
Last but not least, some nootropics encourage a state of Zen by increasing our Alpha brainwave activity. Creativity and problem solving capacities are often enhanced as a result.
That all sounds great, but are there any strings attached? Is there potential to harm yourself just to be the smartest person in the room?
Are Nootropics Safe? – Are there Side Effects?
The best answer to this question is that most nootropics are very safe.
In fact, a lot of them are very common, and get used every day. Caffeine and Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, are both considered nootropics.
That being said, each nootropic is unique, and they all have their own potential side effects.
You won’t hurt yourself by using nootropics, as long as you start off with low dosages, and don’t exceed the daily recommended amounts.
Doing research, knowing why you’re taking a supplement, and consulting with your doctor first are also good ways to achieve best results.
I also favor using naturally derived compounds over man-made substances. As a general rule, anything made in a lab tends to be harder on the body.
Nootropics span the full gamut of supplements we have available on the market; they can be prescription medications, vitamins, natural compounds, or herbal supplements.
Which brings us to our next topic of discussion…
Types of Nootropics – What are the Major Classes?
Personally, I like to put nootropics in one of 3 categories:
The natural nootropics are compounds in the body that, when taken as a supplement, can help us perform better.
Then there’s the synthetics.
These compounds are quite often prescription medications used to treat specific medical conditions.
Adderall, for example, is often recommended for ADHD to improve attention and motivation.
Herbal, natural, and synthetic nootropics are used in various combinations in nootropic supplements.
But they can also be purchased individually to achieve targeted results.
Single Nootropics vs Pre-Formulated Supplements
A lot of neuro-hackers combine solo nootropics, or ‘stack’ them on top of each other to achieve specific effects.
You see, some nootropics are able to support one another so that using them together makes them more effective than if you took them alone.
A good example is caffeine and theanine. Caffeine makes you more alert, and gives you physical endurance, but it can also make you jittery.
L-Theanine is a natural nootropic found in green tea that calms the nerves and helps people focus.
When taken together, Caffeine and L-Theanine make a great nootropic stack.
L-Theanine takes the edge off the caffeine, and the caffeine allows the L-Theanine to provide more energy and focus than if it were taken by itself.
This overall effect of complimenting or supporting one another’s effects is commonly known as ‘synergy’.
It’s also one of the reasons many nootropic supplements contain several ingredients instead of just one…
What is a Nootropic Stack?
The term, ‘Nootropic Stack’, is used to describe a specific combination of nootropics in any one formula.
You can create your own personal stack by purchasing a few solo nootropics, if you want to approach neurohacking as a DIY project.
If you’d like to go that route, I highly recommend you check out DoubleWood.
There’s a banner ad on the right side of all the pages here at nootropicscoach. Just click on it, and you’ll get redirected to their online store.
DoubleWood has straightforward summaries of what each nootropic supplement can do for you, and their products are a good value.
I always recommend Doublewood to anyone interested in custom stacking.
That being said, there are a lot of supplement companies trying to win the ‘Secret Recipe Lottery’ by putting together the next household name in nootropics.
The average number of constituents in most pre-made stacks usually hovers around 10 ingredients, but it varies.
Whether you choose to try nootropics one at a time, put together a custom stack, or prefer the convenience of a pre-formulated supplement is completely up to you.
Now that we know how to recognize a nootropic compound, and how they’re offered to us on the market, let’s wrap things up…
Nootropics – Final Commentary
This article started out exploring the basic question, “What is a nootropic compound?’, but so many other concerns came to light.
Do nootropics actually work? Are they safe? How can we use them for best results? What types of nootropics are out on the market?
One thing is for certain; nootropics is a growing area of interest for a lot of people.
The modern day world places a lot of importance on personal achievement and productivity; we’re almost expected to be ‘Limitless’.
When you give that some consideration, isn’t our newly found obsession with enhancing cognitive performance inevitable?
Let’s be honest; who doesn’t want to be smarter?
Who doesn’t want to ace that next exam? Who doesn’t want to get that promotion at work?
Using nootropics makes life a little bit easier, and allows you to really stand out.
They can help you be your best.
In any case, I hope this post has given you a basic understanding of what nootropics are, and how they can help you.
In my next article, I’ll go over some of the best supplements for cognition, and the specific benefits they can offer you.
Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions at all, please leave a comment below.
Until next time,