Nootropics, or so-called "smart
drugs," are substances used to increase the faculties
of the mind. The word derives from "noos" or mind and
"tropos" to bend. Proponents claim that these substances
enhance mental performance in a variety of ways, bolstering cognition,
lucidity, memory, mood, oxygen and glucose utilization, blood
circulation in the brain, or a combination of the these or other
Some classic examples of pharmaceutical
The world's best-selling nootropic drug, Piracetam, is purported
to prevent and correct memory loss due to old age, sharpening
memory and improving clarity and attention to detail. It is used
to treat senile dementia and Down's syndrome. A derivative of
the amino acid GABA, Piracetam helps to restore levels of the
neurotransmitter Acetylcholine. It also increases the sensitivity
of muscuarinic receptors, which decreases with age. It brings
about important metabolic modifications in nerve cells, which
results in greater receptiveness and increased use of chemical
energy by these cells.
Aniracetam acts on the central nervous system (CNS), stimulating
the learning process and the memory. Pharmacological studies have
shown that Aniracetam stimulates the functions of certain neuronal
receptors by means of glutamic acid, bringing about memorization
processes (AMPA receptors) and protection of nerve cells (metabotrophic
receptors). Clinical studies have shown specific therapeutic activity
in elderly patients affected by alterations of the cognitive functions.
Both long and short term memory improvement have seen in addition
to learning, attention span, alertness, concentration, reasoning
and absent mindedness.
Chemically, oxiracetam is similar to piracetam, though stronger
in effect. It is one of the more commonly used smart drugs, and
known by a number of names, including CT-848, hydroxypiracetam,
ISF-2522, Neuractiv, and Neuromet. Oxiracetam has had the most
widespread use in Italy, where it was developed in 1988 by ICF,
an Italian drug company. In the U.S., use has not been approved
by the FDA. Smith Kline Beckman Corporation is trying to get the
drug approved for treating Alzheimer's disease. Some research
indicates that the effects of oxiracetam may be greater than those
of piracetam in improving elderly subjects ability to remember
things. Oxiracetam has been shown to be nontoxic, like other nootropics,
as well as safe in dosages that far exceed what the average person
Pramiracetam is similar in nature to piracetam though more potent
and less-well researched. It is said to enhance memory and cognitive
Recent evidence suggests that a European medication called Pyritinol
may be an effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease. When compared
Hydergine and placebo, Pyritinol produced continuous improvement
in cognitive function, which was more pronounced than in the Hydergine
group. Pyritinol is used in Europe for the treatment of a wide
variety of neurologic disorders.
An important anti-aging and nootropic drug, hydergine may help
protect the brain from free radical damage and oxygen starvation.
Hydergine maintains the brain's optimal metabolism of oxygen.
Oxygen is a free radical scavenger and generator. Free radicals
cause age-associated damage, and at optimal levels, oxygen will
neutralize more free radicals than it generates. Hydergine may
also stimulate the growth of dendrite nerve fibers, which may
have a possible link to intelligence. Also, recent studies suggest
that hydergine may reduce Senescent Cell Antigen (SCA), a destructive
auto-antibody appearing more frequently in elderly cells. SCA
damages cells and finally destroys them.
Oral medication used to treat patients with Alzheimer's disease.
Galantamine is in a class of drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors
that also includes tacrine (Cognex), donezepil (Aricept), and
rivastigmine (Exelon). Cholinesterase inhibitors inhibit (block)
the action of acetylcholinesterase, the enzyme responsible for
the destruction of acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is one of several
neurotransmitters in the brain, chemicals that nerve cells use
to communicate with one another. Reduced levels of acetylcholine
in the brain are believed to be responsible for some of the symptoms
of Alzheimer's disease. By blocking the enzyme that destroys acetylcholine,
galantamine increases the concentration of acetylcholine in the
brain, and this increase is believed to be responsible for the
improvement in thinking seen with galantamine. Galantamine was
approved by the FDA in 2001.
Drug used as an adjunct in the therapy of Parkinson's disease.
Due to its anti-neurodegenerative properties it is biochemically
defined as a selective monoamine oxidase type B (MAO-B) inhibitor.
Selegiline was originally developed as an antidepressant. To date
Selegiline has been medically approved by regulatory agencies
for use only in treatment of Parkinson's disease. However recent
testing indicates that Selegiline may have some effect on increasing
sexual response in aging animals, an observed retardation of normal
age dependent deterioration of renal function and of cognitive
abilities, including spatial learning ability.
Centrophenoxine removes lipofuscin, potassium age pigment from
the brain, heart and skin. Appearances of lipofuscin in the skin
are referred to as liver, or age spots. Lipofuscin occurs in much
higher levels in Alzheimer's patients than in their counterparts,
and some theories relate brain and memory function to the ability
of potassium to enter and exit brain cells. As we age, this ability
is reduced and potassium levels rise. Centrophenoxine can also
increase production of brain RNA and aid in a patient's oxygen
consumption and carbon dioxide production.
Desmopressin is the synthetic version of vasopressin, a peptide
hormone found naturally in the brain and is believed to be partly
responsible for the formation of memories. Desmopressin's effects
rapidly improve short-term memory and enhance memory imprinting.
Desmopressin is usually "approved" for the treatment
of diabetes insipidus, (a condition of frequent urination and
extreme thirst). This is because desmopressin is also involved
in this body function. However in some countries, its uses have
been for amnesia, and for patients suffering from mental difficulties
caused by the abuse of narcotics.
Nicergoline is an ergot derivative currently in use in over fifty
countries for more than three decades, for the treatment of cognitive,
affective, and behavioral disorders of older people. It was initially
considered as a vasoactive drug and mainly prescribed for cerebrovascular
disorders. Recent findings suggest other actions which has provided
a rationale for the use of nicergoline for the treatment of various
forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's Disease.
Vinpocetine improves brain energy and blood supply and has been
used as a preventative and as a treatment for stroke and other
brain injury. It acts as a cerebral metabolic activator, which
may improve cerebral circulation and enhance oxygen and glucose
utilization in the brain. Vinpocetine may diminish, or reduce,
disturbances due to hypoxia, or to deficient cerebral metabolism.
It has been noted to improve oxygen and glucose utilization by
brain cells and increase their resistance to damage by hypoxia.
Sometimes also spelled Pikamilon or Pikamilone, this is a Russian
developed nootropic. It is in essence Niacin (vitamin B3) bonded
to GABA. Studies have shown that it rapidly crosses the blood-brain
barrier, however its effects are much greater and broader than
just taking a GABA and Niacin supplement.
One of the most potent nootropic drugs, vasopressin, is a hormone
secreted by the posterior portion of the pituitary gland. While
it may help prevent frequent urination, vasopressin's main use
is to treat memory deficits due to old age, senile dementia, drug
toxicity and amnesia. Whenever a memory is deposited in the brain,
vasopressin regulates the process. It helps select bits of information
from the stream of consciousness and forms this information into
an image, or concept, which is eventually transformed from an
electrochemical impulse into a chemically encoded long-term memory.
Vasopressin's benefits may include enhanced clarity, increased
attention to detail, improved short-term memory and improved memory
imprinting (when taken before an event, one can recall the event
later in much greater detail). Vasopressin is so powerful that
it has been banned in some California colleges for giving students
an "unfair" advantage.
Milacemide is probably the most well studied nootropic substance
that shows improvement in both the young and elderly healthy humans.
Studies has demonstrated improvements in human selective attention,
numeric memory, vigalance, and long term memory. However, one
study indicated no improvements in Alzheimer's patients after
one month of treatment. Interestingly, the memory improvements
appear to be selective based on memory type. Episodic memories
(memories of places and sources of information) were better retained
than semantic memories (facts themselves).
Similar claims have been made for a variety
of stimulants such as: