Nootropics: A Beginners Guide

Nootropics is the term for what many call smart drugs or cognitive enhancers that was coined in 1972 by Corneliu E. Giurgea. This Romanian psychologists and chemists developed this name from the Greek words νους (nouse) meaning “mind” and τρέπειν (trepein) meaning to “turn” or “bend.” Nootropics can be defined as any drug, nutraceutical, food or other substance that can improve one or more cognitive functions. These include executive functions, creativity, memory or motivation.

How Are Nootropics Used?

Nootropics, although more recently understood, have been around for centuries. The most well-known and commonly used class of this drug is the stimulant, specifically, caffeine. They’ve been used to combat fatigue, enhance mood, elevate alertness and improve focus all over the world for as far back as a thousand years ago.


Today, these drugs are primarily used motor and cognitive disabilities caused by disorders like ADHD and Alzheimers. Despite its widespread use, the lake of independent testing has procured much controversy of the efficacy of nootropics for these disorders. Concerns for further research and testing are proposed, despite the increased demand and manufacturing.


Students used nootropics to increase productivity in school. They are taken to help reduce hyperactivity, improve focus and optimize cognitive functions, such as recall and information processing. Prescription stimulants are also widely used in collage, especially competitive Universities.

Types of Nootropics

There are a variety of drugs used for cognitive enhancement. Some are prescription while others can be sold over the counter. Each drug can enhance one or more different aspects of cognitive functions.


According to medical review and analysis of the clinical research involving human use of stimulants provided the consensus that therapeutic (low) concentrations enhance cognitive function. In particular, stimulants appear to act as the direct or indirect antagonist of dopamine receptors, adrenoceptors or both in the prefrontal cortex. High doses were shown to produce cognitive defecits.

Stimulant-Based Drugs:

  • Amphetamineg. Adderall, Detxroamphetamine
  • Methlphenidateg. Ritalin
  • Eugeroicsg. Armodafinil, Modafinil
  • Xanthinesg. Caffeine
  • Nicotineg. Cigarettes, Chew, Snuff


Other drugs, extracts and amino acids also fall under the nootropic category. These have cognitive enhancing functions mostly utilized for improving memory recall and encoding.

  • L-Theanine – Amino acid found in Green Tea. Research shows synergistic psychoactive effects when combined with caffeine that improve attention, alertness and task switching.
  • Levodopa – Amino acid shown to improve memory recall and formation.
  • Tolcapone – Drug shown to help with verbal episodic memory and episodic memory encoding.
  • Atomoxetine – Drug used to improve working memory and attention.

Dietary Supplements

Many over the counter dietary supplements are produced today to help improves brain function. These herbal extracts might help with improve memory, attention and other cognitive functions.

Herbals Supplements:

  • Panax ginseng – Some research suggests this herb can enhance cognitive functions, such as memory accuracy and speed, while performing attention tasks and difficult mental arithmetic. May also reduce fatigue and improve mood.
  • Ginkgo biloba – Herb that may improve selective attention, some executive cognitive functions and long-term memory of non-verbal and verbal material.
  • Bacopa monnieri – Herbal supplement with some research indicating memory enhancing effects.


Racetams are compounds that are sold as over the counter cognitive enhancers. Used to modulate AMPA receptors and cholinergic systems. This provides improvement of important neurotransmitters that help with various cognitive functions.

  • Piracetam
  • Oxiracetam
  • Aniracetam

Side Effects of Nootropics

The primary concern for these types of drugs and supplements is there long term effects. There is still a limited amount of evidence of the efficacy of certain nootropic drugs. These require further study to fill in the gaps in incomplete or inconclusive research. Potential issues include addiction, moodiness, headache and cognitive deficit.


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