Nootropics are also sometimes called cognitive enhancers and “study” or “smart” drugs. The nootropic category includes common substances such as caffeine and nicotine, in addition to amphetamines and several other substances. Certain medicines and supplements in this category appear to impact focus, concentration, motivation, memory, and cognition.
Nootropics are often commonly referred to as “Limitless” pills. They are so-named after the movie Limitless (2011), in which the lead character takes a drug that dramatically increases his intelligence, motivation, and cognitive ability. While the film is over-the-top fiction, some of these substances do appear to exert effects that significantly impact an individual’s cognition.
The following is a list of several popular nootropic substances and their purported effectiveness and potential for abuse or addiction.
Stimulants are among the most accessible nootropics. Stimulants act in the body to excite the central nervous system (CNS) by interacting with feel-good chemicals such as dopamine. These chemicals can induce feelings of reward, pleasure, and motivation. When released, the individual tends to feel more alert, focused, and energetic.
Stimulants are commonly used in both prescription and illegal drugs due to their potent effects. Persons who abuse stimulants may do so by obtaining them from loved ones, either having been given them or stolen them. Others get them from street dealers or buy them on the Internet’s dark web.
Drugs in this class include Adderall and Vyvanse and are used to treat ADD/ADHD and narcolepsy. They have been studied for potential cognitive enhancement among those who do and do not have ADD/ADHD.
Research from 2015 revealed that low doses of amphetamines could boost cognitive function related to memory, attention, and impulse inhibition. A 2014 review appeared to suggest that amphetamines also helped non-ADD/ADHD youth recall more information.
Unfortunately, amphetamines are known to lead to dependence and addiction when abused. They can also cause various health issues, especially those who use them for non-medical or recreational purposes.
Methylphenidate, or Ritalin, is a prescription drug often used to treat ADD/ADHD. It has been found to enhance cognitive functioning and increase a person’s ability to focus and complete ordinary tasks. Methylphenidate is considered moderately addictive and has a high potential for psychological dependence.
Eugeroics include prescription medication such as adrafinil and modafinil. These drugs are commonly used to treat sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. They have been shown to improve alertness, reasoning, and problem-solving abilities.
While these drugs are not considered to be true stimulants, they can produce some stimulant-like effects. And like stimulants, they have the potential for abuse and addiction, although this potential is relatively low in comparison.
Caffeine and Nicotine
Caffeine is commonly found in coffee, soda, tea, and supplements. It has been shown to increase wakefulness, alertness, focus, and attention. Both caffeine and nicotine among the most frequently used recreational substances in the U.S. and are also prevalent worldwide.
Despite detrimental health effects, nicotine has been found to have some effect on cognitive functioning. Unfortunately, nicotine has an extremely high potential for addiction. It is well-established that smoking cigarettes can cause severe and potentially life-threatening health problems, such as emphysema and lung cancer.
Racetams are a poorly understood class of drugs, especially concerning their effects on the brain. They may have some affinity to bind to specific neurochemicals in the brain, and some appear to have a significant effect on cognition. These include the following:
Piracetam is available in the United Kingdom as a treatment for muscle twitching, but it’s not approved for use in the U.S. It’s marketed as a nootropic, but research regarding the drug’s potential cognitive benefits has not been conclusive. At most, piracetam appears to have a relatively mild effect.
Oxiracetam is a mild stimulant commonly marketed as a nootropic. Studies have suggested it is safe to use but has yet to be approved for medical purposes in the United States.
Phenylpiracetam is an analog of piracetam that was developed in the Soviet Union in 1983. This drug was designed to help cosmonauts manage prolonged periods of stress. Animal studies have also suggested that the medication may improve memory and treat depression, anxiety, and amnesia.
Aniracetam is legally sold as a prescription drug in Europe, but it is currently unregulated in the United States. It is sometimes used in alternative medicine to improve concentration, memory, and alertness. It has also been used to treat ADHD, anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and other conditions.
Dietary supplements are often legal, over-the-counter herbs or pills that may do nothing or appear to have mild effects. Common supplements include ginkgo, ginseng, and sage.
Many other chemicals have been used for their potential cognitive effects. In some instances, chemicals can be combined in formulas called nootropic “stacks,” which are touted to enhance benefits.
Some people even mix and match various chemicals in self-experimentation. However, this activity can be hazardous and is ill-advised. It’s not a good idea to use chemicals in conjunction with each other if there is any uncertainty regarding how they may interact.
Many students misuse prescription drugs for reasons that aren’t related to medical or recreational use. Instead, they use specific drugs to help them study and possibly boost academic performance. Students sometimes misuse these drugs for all-night cramming sessions before an exam. They often report positive outcomes, including improved test scores and grades.
Moreover, ADD/ADHD drugs, such as Adderall and Ritalin, are designed to improve focus and attention. However, even those who don’t have attention problems can experience some of their desirable effects. These may include an increase in alertness, focus, and the ability to recall more information.
Unfortunately, stimulant abuse can lead to numerous adverse effects and undesirable consequences related to a person’s health and overall academic performance. Stimulants can also cause insomnia, which can impair a person’s overall cognitive functioning. And sleep deprivation can lead to health problems such as weight loss, anxiety, and depression.
Also, excessive doses of prescription amphetamines have sometimes been known to induce psychotic symptoms comparable to schizophrenia. Stimulant-induced psychosis is a severe psychological disorder that can develop and should be met with prompt medical intervention. Using prescription medications in this way is considered abuse and may be more likely to lead to dependence and full-blown addiction.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder related to nootropic substances, other drugs, or alcohol, help is available! Addiction is a potentially life-long disease that often requires comprehensive treatment to overcome.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers specialize in the treatment of addiction and co-occurring mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. We offer comprehensive programs in both partial hospitalization and inpatient formats. Programs include evidence-proven services beneficial for the recovery process. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Individual counseling
- Family counseling
- Trauma recovery
- Relapse prevention
- Health and wellness education
- Adventure therapy
- Music and art therapy
- Individual and group therapy
- Aftercare planning
Individuals treated at our centers have many of these therapies incorporated into their treatment plans to address their unique mental and emotional requirements.