Nootropics and Smart Drugs: Brain Boosting Substances?

Nootropics and Smart Drugs: Brain Boosting Substances?

Throughout human history there seems to be a constant search for a silver bullet or pill that will make us faster, stronger and smarter.

Sure, there are more difficult ways of accomplishing all of these goals (through various types of training), but humans seem fascinated with the search for a substance or “hack” that will make the process easier. While this is an age-old search, new options have emerged and gained popularity in the form of smart drugs and nootropics, though many are still not aware of the benefits (and risks) of these substances. The movie “Limitless” increased interest in these substances as the main character finds a smart drug that allows him to become cognitively superhuman, but then faces the unintended consequences of the drug. In short, these are substances that enhance cognitive performance in some way. Some are natural, in the form of herbs or high-dose vitamins, while others are man-made and pharmaceutical. Technically, while “smart drugs” typically refer to any pharmaceutical (or nutritional substance) that increase brain performance, nootropics must fulfill five criteria defined by the man who coined the term, Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea: The substance should enhance the brain in some way. It should improve cognitive performance under stress (such as electrical shock or oxygen deprivation) The substance should have protective properties that protect the brain against harmful substances. The substance should “increase the efficacy of neuronal firing control mechanisms in cortical and sub-cortical regions of the brain.” (1) It should be non-toxic and have no harmful side effects. Tall order, huh? As you can imagine, this limits the number of substances that technically meet the definition of “nootropics,” and as Bradley Cooper’s character found in the movie “Limitless,” substances that offer incredible benefit and seem too good to be true often are. In […]


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