Nootropics have become a bit of a buzzword nowadays. Even though they are still relatively unknown to the general public, the idea of a smart drug is not a new idea. The original definition of a nootropic was any agent that protects the brain against damage, lacks side effects, and enhances learning and memory. Today, this term has expanded a bit to include natural supplements such as fish oil and ashwagandha, and stimulants such as adrafinil and phenylpiracetam.
Many people seek to improve their cognitive ability for various reasons, whether its for reaching their potential, helping them study in college, or getting through challenging work projects. In fact, cognitive enhancers are commonly sought after by executives, programmers, and wall street bankers, due to the demands of their work.
The Truth About Smart Drugs
The reality is that no nootropic or cognitive enhancer s going to radically impact your life. The spectrum of cognitive enhancing drugs and supplements is extensive, and the more aggressive a substance is the more likely it will have abuse potential and side effects.
The classical nootropics such as oxiracetam and citicoline are on the more conservative end of the spectrum, in regards to safety and side effect profile. These “classic” nootropics are characterized by subtle benefits, a lack of adverse effects, and little to no abuse/addiction potential. On the more extreme end of the spectrum, you will find drugs like nicotine, adderall, and ritalin which provide very strong cognitive benefits but also have a much greater risk of side effects and addiction. When people think of a smart drug they typically think of adderall, however many people are rightly turned off by the dangers and abuse potential.
There are some sophisticated smart drugs such semax and noopept which offer a happy medium between the two extremes – characterized by notable benefits, but are not completely free of side effects.
In some sense, it could be argued that there is no such thing as a biological “free lunch”. This means that as cognitive enhancers become more powerful and impactful, the likelihood of side effects increase. While this is not always the case, it’s a good rule of thumb to consider.
The Limitations of Cognitive Enhancement
With movies like Limitless which depict cognitive enhancers such as NZT-48 as a life-changing smart drug, many people misunderstand the limitations of these substances. The idea presented in the film is that we only use 10% of our brain, but by taking this magic pill, you can access 100% of it.
This is one of those myths that has circulated in our society for a long time despite neuroscience proving otherwise. The fact of the matter is that we are already using 100% of our brain, and no drug is going to cause such a radical improvement in intelligence. Furthermore, we currently do not know any way of to improve intelligence permanently. IQ tends to remain the same over a lifetime, with a mild decline that occurs as we age. Once health and lifestyle factors have been ruled out, there is nothing we can do to increase our intelligence permanently.
However, there are certain things you can do to ensure your brain is operating at peak performance. The most important is ensuring sufficient sleep, which is often overlooked and disregarded. Sleep is hands-down the most effective performance enhancer in the world, and sleep deprivation causes numerous cognitive impairments.
After sleep, the next most important things you can do is ensure you eat a well balanced diet that is not high in sugar. Supplementing certain key nutrients such as magnesium and and omega-3 fatty acids may be highly beneficial as well. Lastly, it appears that regular exercise is also key to maintaining a healthy brain, as its able to promote the release of neurotrophins such as BDNF which may be key to optimal cognitive performance.
Which Smart Drugs Are Worth Taking?
If you are seeking something that acts as an occasional “pick me up”, an on-demand boost to energy and focus, something like adrafinil may be a great choice. Adrafinil acts as a mild stimulant that increases wakefulness, alertness, and working memory and does not have serious side effects. It has very low addictive potential and rarely abused. Due to these characteristics, its an excellent alternative to a stimulant such as adderall.
Another great on-demand cognitive enhancer is phenylpiracetam. Phenylpiracetam is a nootropic stimulant that provides a boost to mental clarity and energy with very few side effects. While its boost to cognition is not super strong, it has virtually zero risk of addiction and abuse. As such, it’s a great pick-me-up for days where you expect to do a lot of work, and is effective at improving both physical and mental performance.
If you’re looking for something that works over the long-term through subtle, cumulative effects, there are a lot of reasonable options out there. One of these includes uridine, which is a naturally-occuring nucleoside that raises baseline dopamine levels over the long term and repairs cellular structures. Another very popular choice is alpha-gpc, which is another naturally-occuring nutrient that can elevate levels of acetylcholine – the primary neurotransmitter responsible for regulating learning, attention, and memory.
Overall, there are quite a lot of ways of enhancing cognition, and there is no “best” nootropic or smart drug out there. At the end of the day, your own unique needs and circumstances matter most, and it may take a bit of experimenting to determine which cognitive enhancer is best for you.
To learn more about nootropics, smart drugs, and brain health, please visit my website: The Nootropics Professor.
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