Nootropics (also referred to as smart drugs, neuro enhancers, and cognitive enhancers) are substances that purportedly improve cognitive functions such as memory, motivation, attention, and concentration, in healthy individuals. Nootropics are thought to work by altering the availability of the brain's supply of neurochemicals (i.e. neurotransmitters, enzymes, and hormones), by improving the brain's oxygen supply, or by stimulating nerve growth.
The word nootropic was coined in 1972 by a Romanian psychologist and chemist, Corneliu E. Giurgea, from the Greek words νοῦς (nous), or "mind", and τρέπειν (trepein), meaning to bend or turn. Dr. Giurgea proposed the following criteria for determining whether or not a substance fits the "nootropic" descriptor:
- Enhancement of learning and memory function
- Improvement of learned behaviors when conditions are set to disrupt them (e.g. administering an amnesiac)
- Must be neuroprotective
- Must be extremely low in toxicity, with few to no side effects
However, the term has come to acquire a popular meaning that does not require all of these criteria.
There are several classes of nootropics, as well as compounds which fit no specific classification. Once of the most well-known and most-utilized is that of the racetams, the prototypical example being that of piracetam, the first nootropic recognized as such in 1964. The racetams all share a 2-pyrrolidinone cycle. Other racetam nootropics include aniracetam, oxiracetam, phenylpiracetam, and coluracetam.
A second class of nootropic compounds are the synthetic peptides, the most common example being that of noopept. Although not a racetam, noopept is commonly grouped with racetams due to a similar mode of action.
As nootropics science is in its infancy, there are new compounds being synthesized such as IDRA-21, PRL-8-53, unifiram, sunifiram, etc. which do not neatly fit into a structural class. Additionally, side effects, dosages, dangerous interactions and the like are virtually unknown for some of these compounds.
Disclaimer: The effects listed below are cited from the Subjective Effect Index (SEI), which relies on assorted anecdotal reports and the personal experiences of PsychonautWiki contributors. As a result, they should be taken with a healthy amount of skepticism. It is worth noting that these effects will not necessarily occur in a consistent or reliable manner, although higher doses (common+) are more likely to induce the full spectrum of reported effects. Likewise, adverse effects become much more likely on higher doses and may include serious injury or death. The effect is listed and defined in its own dedicated article below:
- Frati P, Kyriakou C, Del Rio A, Marinelli E, Vergallo GM, Zaami S, Busardò FP (January 2015). "Smart drugs and synthetic androgens for cognitive and physical enhancement: revolving doors of cosmetic neurology". Curr Neuropharmacol. 13 (1): 5–11. doi:10.2174/1570159X13666141210221750. PMC 4462043 Freely accessible. PMID 26074739.
- Cognition enhancers between treating and doping the mind (ScienceDirect) | http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1043661808000273
- Gazzaniga, Michael S. (2006). The Ethical Brain: The Science of Our Moral Dilemmas (P.S.). New York, N.Y: Harper Perennial. p. 184. ISBN 0-06-088473-8.
- Giurgea C (1972). "[Pharmacology of integrative activity of the brain. Attempt at nootropic concept in psychopharmacology] ("Vers une pharmacologie de l'active integrative du cerveau: Tentative du concept nootrope en psychopharmacologie")". Actual Pharmacol (Paris) (in French). 25: 115–56. PMID 4541214.
- "nootropic | Definition of nootropic in English by Oxford Dictionaries". Oxford Dictionaries | English. Retrieved 2018-07-19.