Better Living Through Stimulants? Nootropics You Probably Use
There are plenty of supplements and over-the-counter drugs that claim the benefits of nootropics, but there are likely many of these substances that you use or have used in the past.
The most common nootropic used across the globe is caffeine.
Did you know...
Found in everything from coffee and chocolate, to soft drinks and caffeine, this compound evolved in plants to act as a natural pesticide, paralyzing predator insects. Caffeine is also believed to be pleasurable to honey bees, thereby boosting their chances of successful reproduction.
In the middle of the second millennia different cultures discovered the pleasing effects of caffeine in drinks made from tea leaves, coffee beans, guarana berries, and others. It’s estimated that 90 percent of Americans use caffeine every day, and scientific studies proved its nootropic effects.
If you take herbal supplements, you might also be using nootropics if they contain ginseng or ginkgo biloba.
On the other hand:
Unlike caffeine, there’ve been few concrete studies done proving the nootropic effects of these herbs. Still, people swear by their abilities to provide energy, alertness, and a boost to memory.
Another nootropic you might use is nicotine. Whether you get the chemical from smoking, smokeless tobacco, or vaping, it is a dangerous and addictive substance. It also has nootropic effects, specifically, enhancing memory, alertness, and fine motor skills. These benefits are only short-term, however, and likely not worth the risk of nicotine addiction and attendant problems with it.
I know what you’re wondering:
So what ARE nootropics?
Nootropics in a Nutshell
Nootropics are supplements, and sometimes off-label effects of prescription drugs, that claim to enhance cognitive performance and brain health.
In simpler terms: they’re brain-boosters.
This “brain-boosting” effect can impact a number of mental functions, including focus, memory, attention, motivation, and more.
You can see the appeal…
Due to the brain’s complexity and the lack of substantial research on many of the self-proclaimed nootropics on the market today, questions like “what are nootropics” and “are nootropics beneficial” can become complex when you dig deep enough.
Nootropics In Over-the-Counter Supplements
As mentioned above, many over-the-counter supplements contain substances that are considered nootropics. Along with ginkgo biloba and ginseng, there are other natural nootropics such as L-theanine.
L-theanine is a chemical found in green tea that, when paired with caffeine, can help with alertness, multi-tasking, and focus. Of course, a study by the European Food Safety Authority was unable to determine whether L-theanine produced these results without the presence of caffeine, so take it with a grain of salt.
Sage, also known as salvia officinalis, may also positively affect human brain function. However, a chemical known as thujone is found in sage that might actually be toxic to the brain.
But wait, there’s more:
The most popular over-the-counter nootropic category are supplements known as racetams.
Developed as anti-seizure medication initially, patients reported beneficial nootropic effects. Other similar compounds like oxiracetam, phenylpiracetam, and aniracetam are sold as neural enhancers.
Sadly, scientists still don’t fully understand how these drugs work on the brain. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement warning that these are untested drugs and not to be taken as supplements.
Nootropics In Medicine
Racetams may or may not be nootropics, but they were originally developed as a medical treatment for those suffering from seizures. Many medicines used to treat various ailments or conditions are found to have secondary, off-label nootropic effects. This is an important area of pharmacological research because of what it could mean for neurologic conditions.
Here’s the kicker:
Ailments that deteriorate the mind like Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, might be responsive to nootropic treatments. Many supplement makers allege that their products do help prevent these conditions, but there is currently no scientific research effectively backing up these claims.
I know: that makes your choices seem limited and confusing.
There are nootropics that are in use to treat neurological disorders, though.
Tolcapone is a nootropic drug that is used to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. In the late 1990s when it was first introduced, three people died due to complications from liver toxicity. The drug makers took it off the market, but reintroduced it in 2004 to be used in conjunction with other medications.
Kind of scary, right?
L-DOPA is another nootropic amino acid that can permeate the blood-brain barrier. It can increase dopamine in Parkinson’s patients.
Originally introduced in the 1950s, work related to this amino acid won the Nobel Prize in 2000 and 2001.
Atomoxetine--sold under the brand name “Strattera”--is a medication used to treat ADHD in patients over six years of age.
History of Nootropics
Nootropics really started when the Chinese Emperor discovered tea thousands of years ago. Coffee, cocoa, and tobacco were soon to follow.
Then it developed into medications as nootropics evolved throughout the years.
Who Uses (and Sometimes Abuses) Nootropics
Excluding patients who use these drugs or substances under the supervision of a doctor, most people use some form of nootropic. For most of us, it’s simply caffeine in our coffee or nicotine via smoking, vaping, dipping, or smoking cessation products.
Other folks who believe in the beneficial effects of over-the-counter nootropic supplements also use them. Finally, workers in Silicon Valley often take nootropics both to keep up with demanding workdays and in order to improve their cognitive function.
Yet, like any drug, nootropics can be abused.
The demographic that most abuses nootropics--not counting smokers--are college students.
While some users enjoy these substances recreationally, because of the euphoric effects they can provide, the abuse is often more out of necessity and need to focus for long periods of time.
You need to know:
Study after study shows that students will abuse nootropics, particularly ADHD medicines like Ritalin and Adderall, in order to help them study for tests. The drugs have the effect of speed, giving them energy and the ability to work for long stretches. Some also believe these drugs help them focus and better retain information; but abusing these medications is dangerous and could be deadly.
Using nootropics to boost your focus and keep you on track is definitely a viable solution to being distracted or managing concentration issues.
And here’s the but…
But you have to be extremely careful with which nootropics you take. While some are readily available, their effects on the brain and body in the short or long term may not be as well known.
For prescription drugs that can positively impact your concentration, you should never take them without first consulting your doctor as you could be unaware of the side effects they might pose to you based on your age, weight, overall health, or other medications you’re currently taking.
Exploring nootropics as a way to enhance your focus and memory is a good place to start as long as you do your research and consult with your doctor first. If your goal is to improve your brain’s health, you want to be sure you’re not harming it--or your body--in your pursuit of better focus.