A struggling writer takes a mysterious pill that enables him to access 100% of his brain abilities and becomes a financial wizard before entering a new and dangerous world…
The film Limitless released in 2011 starring Bradley Cooper was Hollywood’s take on a new and increasing type of supplementation aimed at improving how our brains function and heightening our relationship to reality – nootropics. Welcome to the Power of Me guide.
Whether at work, school or in the sporting arena - the concept of boosting the brain’s ability to think under stress, stay alert and productive for long periods as well as processing large amounts of information is both interesting and appealing.
This growing trend can be seen in the US and particularly Silicon Valley, where the idea of body and mind/brain-hacking is fairly well established, and products like Bulletproof Coffee are promoted for their nootropic properties to a mainstream health audience. This is often linked to a ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting, both of which have been to shown to have potential health benefits including improving cognitive function.
In the higher education world (no pun intended), one study showed 16% of Oxford students using non-prescription study aids, typically modafinil – the drug Limitless is based on and is prescribed to treat narcolepsy or Ritalin and Adderall, both of which are in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The use of prescription drugs to improve studying certainly isn’t something we would advise or condone but it did make us want to know more about nootropics and cognitive enhancers - what they are, how they work and what scientific backing (if any) do they have.
Nootrpoics can be split into seven distinct categories: racetams, ampakines, choline and acetyl choline intermediates, synthetic b-vitamin derived nootropics, natural nootropics, peptide nootropics and smart drugs. I will come on to talk about this after I have given a brief overview of these other categories.
These are porobaly the most publicised (and abused) type of nootropics. There are two distinct categories of so called smart drugs - amphetamine based medication like Adderall, and eugeroic drugs like modafinil (both mentioned above). These work by stimulating both the body and mind and due to their potency and side effects are only available under prescription to treat specific illnesses and disorders.
Racetams are probably the most popular nootropics and are available without prescription. They increase cognitive function by stimulating the acetylcholine* receptors which can help with memory, learning, focus and motivation. They also have some effect on stimulating glutamic** receptor activity which causes a slight overlap with the ampakine category. There are a 19 different racetams, with five having been shown to have nootropic benefits. They vary in strength, with the strongest, Phenylpiracetam was recently banned by WADA due to its potency.
Ampakines are a new category of nootropic that stimulate glutamate** activity and AMPA receptors in the brain. These receptors act as control channels, regulating and overseeing much of the synaptic transmissions and activity throughout the central nervous system and have been shown to support memory, learning and concentration.
These substances however could cause an elevated level of toxicity which could have negative health consequences.
Choline & Acetylcholine Intermediates
These substances increase the amount of acetylcholine in the brain. Some are more effective than others at doing this, with cheaper sources such as Choline Bitartrate may not cause noticeable nootropic benefits when taken alone. However they may increase the potential effects of racetams. Indeed, a number of nootropic compounds are more effective when taken as part of a ‘stack’, rather than in isolation.
More advanced substances such as Alpha GPC and CPD Choline are more likely to cause noticeable effects. These substances are also good to stack with racetams due to racetams increasing the sensitivity of acetylcholine receptors and then these choline and acetylcholine intermediates increasing the amount of acetyl choline present.
Synthetic B-Vitamin Derived Nootropics
These are created from modifying B-Vitamins and examples are Sulbutiamine and Pyritinol both of which work by improving energy, mood and memory. The potential downside to these compounds is that there effect may be lost over time and so they may need to be cycled as a result.
This is a constantly evolving area of nootropics that are all involved with peptides in some way. This group of nootropics improves the way the brain’s receptors work, but also impact the neurotransmitters, with evidence of improving a range of brain functions including memory, learning ability, reflexes, logical thinking, perception and dealing with negative thoughts.
There is currently a limited number of peptide nootropics on the market, however the development of new strains continues to progress and is considered an exciting area of nootropics.
The Russian-developed Noopept is considered the most potent nootropic available today. It works by stimulating the AMPA and NDMA receptors, which release glutamate, in addition to the ACH receptors, which regulate levels of acetylcholine in the brain. In this respect it works in a similar way to racetams and ampakines.
There’s an extensive list of nootropics that come from natural sources. Some of these compunds have limited scientific research and some are ineffective, however there are some that fall into this category, such as huperzine and Bacopa monnieri a herb that has been used in traditional medicine for longevity and cognitive enhancement, with studies showing it can help reduce anxiety and improve memory formation.
Although there are some potent and even scary compunds that are being used as nootropics, there is also research and anecdotal evidence of some nootropics supporting and enhancing the healthy functioning of the brain without any unwanted side effects and as there usage and research continues, more evidence should eventaully back this up.
However, before even considering nootropics, it’s worth thinking how you can improve your cognition through certain lifestyle changes such as getting better quality sleep, meditation and/or exercising regualrly – all of which are extremely beneficial to improving cognitive function.
*neurotransmitter associated with learning and memory function
**glutamate is the main neurotransmitter in the brain
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. This article is not intended to be used for, or as a substitute for, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a doctor or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have before starting any new treatment or discontinuing any existing treatment. Reliance on any information provided in this article or by The Power of ME is solely at your own risk.