With several types of nootropics available, it should come as no surprise that each works in a slightly different way to produce different benefits for the brain. However, all nootropics share basic underlying processes by which they influence systems and chemicals in the brain, making them effective for most users.
Many who take nootropics or plan to take nootropics in the future don’t quite understand these processes. But doing so is vital, especially when it comes to understanding the potential risks of taking these substances too.
Below, we’re discussing the various brain structures and chemicals and how nootropics work in accordance with each. But first, let’s take it back to the basics (basic brain chemistry, that is).
The Basics: How Neurotransmitters and Receptors Work
Before you understand anything about nootropics, you must understand how neurotransmitters and receptors function in the brain.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that allow neurons (or nerve cells) to communicate with one another. By binding to receptors, neurotransmitters activate receptors so they can carry out particular actions in the human body. There are countless types of neurotransmitters in the brain, each of which serves its own unique role in the systems they comprise.
Nootropics target individual systems to increase the efficiency of processes taking place. This improves cognitive functioning in different ways depending on which system is being targeted.
Now, let’s discuss the key systems nootropics target and what effects they can produce.
The Cholinergic System: Acetylcholine
Acetylcholine is essential to countless cognitive functions and plays a role in learning, memory, decision-making, focus, and sensory perception. Because of its large role in a variety of tasks, acetylcholine is plentiful in the brain when individuals consume a well-balanced diet.
Nootropics like Alpha GPC, a choline, as well as citicholine support the development of acetylcholine in the brain. However, when used alone these substances don’t tend to produce optimal effects for users.
Many combine cholines like Alpha GPC with racetams like Piracetam, Aniracetam, Oxiracetam, and Pramiracetam for the best results. Racetams increase the synapses in the brain related to acetylcholine while producing no more of this neurotransmitter itself. Thus, when combined with a choline like Alpha GPC, you’re increasing the production of the neurotransmitter and its ability to work via synapses in the brain.
As such, a stack consisting of both cholines and racetams will improve learning abilities and memory, producing the benefits users seek.
The Glutamatergic System: Glutamate
Glutamate plays an essential role in maintaining brain health, learning, and memory. Glutamate is also converted into GABA in the brain, which is another neurotransmitter directly related to mood (in a positive way, of course!).
The brain cannot function properly without adequate levels of glutamate and when levels are either too high or too low, individuals can develop conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, and autism.
Racetams, peptides, and ampakines, three types of nootropics, stimulate NMDA and AMPA receptor sites to increase glutamate uptake. This can play a preventative role in protecting against the development of these health conditions while improving memory, focus, and energy levels.
Dopaminergic and Serotonergic Systems
Dopamine and serotonin are two of the most influential neurotransmitters when it comes to pleasure and happiness. And while nootropics don’t target dopamine or serotonin systems as effectively as other chemicals, they can be affected by supplements in terms of mood, motivation, focus, reward, and memory.
Smart drugs, particularly Adderall and Ritalin, are known to be addictive because they are amphetamine compounds that stimulate dopamine production directly. As such, you should use supplements like this with caution. There are other supplements that directly impact serotonin, though they aren’t addictive nor are they typically classified as nootropics.
However, it’s worth noting that very specific types of nootropics can affect dopamine and serotonin receptors, though not as extensively as acetylcholine or glutamate.
It’s Important to Understand How Nootropics Work Before Taking Them Yourself
After all, you should want to understand how each chemical can affect your brain structure and processes before introducing nootropics to your body.
With a basic comprehension of neurotransmitters and synapses, you’ll have a more complete understanding of how all nootropics work. However, you should research the effects and processes of each nootropic you’re considering to ensure you know everything you should before consumption.
In fact, doing so ensures you’re getting the benefits you expect as well, making it all the more essential before you create and take your own stack.