Nootropics are what most people call smart drugs or cognitive enhancers. These are simply drugs and supplements, along with some other substances, that supposedly may improve cognitive function. In other words, it’s possible that nootropics may make people smarter.
They do this mainly by enhancing what’s known as executive functions, memory, motivation, creativity, and even focus, in otherwise healthy individuals.
However, despite many substances being given the label of ‘smart drug’ the research is relatively new and the effects of these substances have not yet been proven.
Initially, most of these smart drugs were stimulants such as caffeine that may improve focus or memory retention.
A big part of the rise in popularity of nootropics has come from students. This is especially true of stimulants. College students use drugs such as methylphenidate and dimethylamylamine (and caffeine of course) and this is trickling down to younger age groups.
Students are using these nootropics to help improve their focus and energy so they can study longer, as well as improve their memory retention while studying.
ADHD drugs have become very popular among college students for studying purposes. In self-reporting studies, as many as 35% of college students have reported using ADHD stimulants in this manner.
Side effects are a big concern with any drug and most nootropics have not had any long-term studies so it’s not currently known what the long-term effects might be from abusing these drugs.
Dietary supplements can be marketed as long as they are generally recognized as safe, although they are not allowed to state that the supplement can treat or prevent any condition or disease. A supplement that makes any type of health claim is an illegal act under the law.
Ginkgo Biloba is probably the most recognized natural nootropic dietary supplement. It’s promoted as enhancing cognitive function, although no studies have been conducted.
That being said, marketing for supplements, whether it’s for making you smarter or for losing weight, makes it very clear what their supplements are to be used for, even if they don’t come right out and say it.
In terms of smart drugs, research reviews of clinical human research have shown that certain central nervous system stimulants, in very low doses, have been shown to improve cognition in otherwise healthy individuals. However, high doses of these same stimulants have shown to make cognitive functions worse.
Amphetamines have been shown, again in very low doses, to help improve cognitive functions in both episodic memory and working memory, as well as attention in both healthy individuals as well as those with ADHD.
This is exactly why you’ve seen the rise of ADHD drugs among college students to help them study.
Some other nootropics that show promise include methylphenidate (similar effects as amphetamines), and eugeroics. Eurgeroics show great promise in promoting alertness, especially in people that are sleep deprived. Again, you can see why this would be popular with college and even high school students.
And of course, there are the old standbys, caffeine, and nicotine, both promoting alertness, and attention.
While many of these substances show promise for healthy individuals with regard to things such as memory enhancement, alertness and focus, a lot more studies need to be conducted. Not only to prove their worth but in terms of unhealthy long-term side effects.