Nootropics are relatively new drugs that are often used to enhance cognitive function, memory and learning. They were synthesized in the 1960s and have been used for everything from treating dementia to improving athletic performance. It’s understandable that you might wonder about the safety of these medications.
The majority of nootropics have been found to be safe. In fact, because most nootropics protect brain cells, taking them can actually be good for your health.
The History Of Nootropics
People have used substances to boost mental function, such as green tea, fenugreek, ashwagandha and caffeine, for centuries. However, the term “nootropic” wasn’t coined until the 1970s.
At that time, piracetam was being used to treat motion sickness. Dr. Corneliu Giurgea noticed that the drug had benefits for cognitive function, and he began to study its mind-enhancing effects. He named the chemicals “nootropics,” which is a play on words that mean “mind” and “bend.”
Piracetam is the most studied nootropic. It has a long history, and it is one of the most popular nootropics. Many other nootropic supplements have come to the marketplace since. Some are more extensively researched than others.
Safety And Effectiveness Of Piracetam
Piracetam is a derivative of GABA, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in communication between neurons. The compound has been found to restore cell membrane fluidity, which helps to optimize cell function.
Researchers have found piracetam to be effective in treating elderly patients with cognitive decline. They have studied its ability to protect brain cells in patients undergoing coronary bypass surgery and open heart surgery. The drug has been researched for its capacity to help patients with brain disorders as well as vertigo and sickle cell anemia.
Studies show that piracetam is a powerful:
- Antioxidant – It stops cell damage caused by oxidative stress.
- Neuroprotector – It slows brain cell damage, especially the cognitive deterioration that’s associated with age.
- Neuronal metabolic enhancer – It improves the uptake and utilization of certain brain chemicals.
It’s difficult to find any studies that discuss any negative effects regarding the safety of piracetam. Even when high doses are taken, experts say that piracetam is usually well tolerated.
According to Examine, piracetam affects individuals differently. In general, it is reported to have no stimulating or sedative effects.
It is recommended that adults don’t exceed 4.8 grams daily. One study found no side effects when 50 to 100 mg/kg body weight of piracetam was used to treat breath-holding spells in children as young as five months old. The few studies that used higher than the recommended adult dosage did not find piracetam to be toxic.
When side effects were noted, they were rare and didn’t last long. Some users experienced anxiety, trouble sleeping, fatigue and agitation.
People with blood-clotting issues should be careful when using piracetam. Because the medication has anti-clotting properties, it can interfere with blood-thinning drugs.
Safety Of Other Nootropics
Piracetam is a Class I racetam. Other nootropics in this class include aniracetam and oxiracetam. Nootropics in this family have not been found to deliver serious side effects. Noopept, a similar supplement, has been found to have even fewer side effects than piracetam.
Cholinergics are nootropics that increase the levels of acetylcholine in the brain. These include choline, Alpha-GPC and Huperzine-A.
Too much choline can give users a headache, according to Examine. Alpha-GPC has been found to have low toxicity as a food additive. Researchers have not established a toxicity level for Huperzine-A in humans. However, most users take about 50 to 200 mcg a day.
Modafinil is a nootropic that is available with a prescription in the U.S. and Canada. It was originally manufactured to treat sleep disorders and may have more side effects than some other smart drugs. According to studies, insomnia is the most common side effect of this medication. Although Examine says that a few users have experienced headaches, dizziness, gastrointestinal distress, dry mouth and restlessness after taking Modafinil, these effects are not significantly different than those experienced after taking a placebo.
Phosphatidylserine is a fatty acid that is already present in the brain. Healthline reports that taking phosphatidylserine supplements can support brain health. The compound can reduce the incidence of age-related mental decline. It can also boost memory and thinking skills in healthy people. One study found that soy-derived phosphatidylserine is safe in dosages of 200 mg taken three times a day.
Natural Vs. Synthetic Nootropics
Synthetic nootropics, such as piracetam, are developed in a lab. Natural nootropics, like Ginkgo biloba and Ginseng, come from plants.
According to research, natural nootropics:
- Increase blood circulation and oxygen flow to the brain.
- Reduce inflammation in the brain.
- Protect the brain from toxins.
- Minimize the effects of aging.
- Increase neuroplasticity.
Like synthetic nootropics, natural nootropics work by modulating a variety of neurotransmitters. They help brain cells communicate with one another.
Even natural supplements can have contraindications, however. For example, curcumin has been found to increase levels of acetylcholine and could be considered a nootropic. No human trials have been done to look into curcumin’s toxicity. However, researchers have found that long-term consumption or overdose in rats can lead to oxidative stress, metabolic disorders, inflammation and liver injury. Examine reports that only mild side effects have been experienced when up to 8 grams per day of curcumin is taken on a short-term basis.
In rare cases, Gingko biloba has been associated with subdural hematomas. Ginseng is reported to be safe for human consumption. Uncommon side effects include gastrointestinal upset. Panax Ginseng may not be safe for pregnant women to consume, though.
The Bottom Line
Nootropics are generally considered safe for most people. However, a wide range of brain-boosting supplements is available. Whether you’re considering taking a natural or synthetic nootropic, you should probably explore its specific effects and side effects. You can always check with a medical professional, especially if you have other medical conditions.