Known foremost for their ability to increase attention spans, intensify focus, and aid studying, nootropics are a term people are hearing now more than ever before. But few understand what nootropics actually are, let alone what makes a nootropic a nootropic.
We understand the broad range of cognitive benefits offered by nootropics. And if you’ve ever wondered what they are, how they work, and what to expect should you take them for your own mental capabilities, you’ll find all the information you need below.
Nootropics is an Umbrella Term That Refers to Several Chemicals…
…some of which are natural and others manmade, though all offer a range of cognitive benefits to the brain. The term itself was first coined by Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea in 1972 who created a set of five criteria to determine whether a chemical was a nootropic:
- The substance should enhance memory and the ability to learn.
- The substance should help the brain function under disruptive conditions, such as hypoxia, or low oxygen levels, and electroconvulsive shock.
- The substance should protect the brain from chemical and physical assaults, such as anti-cholinergic drugs and barbiturates.
- The substance should increase the efficacy of neuronal firing control mechanisms in cortical and sub-cortical regions of the brain.
- The substance should lack a generalized sedative or stimulatory effect. It should possess few or no side effects and be virtually non-toxic.
From this list alone, you can see the rigorous set of principles a chemical must meet to be elevated to the class of nootropics. That’s why some even refer to nootropics as “miracle drugs,” since it seems like only a select handful are actually true nootropics in accordance with these discerning standards.
But, Where Did Nootropics Originate?
Dr. Giurgea, a Romanian doctor, first discovered nootropics after synthesizing piracetam, still one of the most popular nootropics today. The word nootropics itself means literally to turn/to bend the mind (nous meaning the mind and trepein meaning to turn or bend).
From this initial discovery, several other nootropics have been identified and classified. Today, there are seven types of nootropics in regular use that stand in a class of their own from other common cognitive enhancers.
So, How do Nootropics Work With the Brain?
Unfortunately for some hopeful users, nootropics cannot instantly boost your IQ or improve your intellect. However, they do boost normal brain functions by increasing the production of and signaling of several vital neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that allow neurons in the brain to communicate and work together. By increasing production and enhancing signaling, nootropics increase the efficiency of the signals already occurring within the brain.
Better memory, improved concentration, better moods, greater mental processing capacities, and generally longer periods of focus.
One of the most significant benefits of nootropics is that through regular use, you can take temporary benefits and begin to alter the functioning of your brain. Specifically, you will begin to improve the synaptic plasticity of neurons. This improves cognitive functioning from a long-term perspective while enhancing cognitive capacities as well.
Of course, different types of nootropics offer different benefits to the brain. Thus while some will improve synaptic plasticity, others will increase blood flow to the brain in a process known as vasodilation. This process improves the flow of oxygen, nutrients, and glucose to the brain, enhancing both memory and focus in the process.
Other nootropics can even slow down the aging process and prevent damage to the brain while stimulating the growth of both neurons and neurites. As such, nootropics prove beneficial for students and older individuals alike.
Alternative Criteria for Defining Nootropics
Although Dr. Giurgea was the first to discover and define a criteria for nootropics, he wasn’t the last. In fact, Dr. V. Skondia offered his own classification criteria as well by focusing on the metabolic effects of nootropics:
- The substance possesses no direct vasoactivity (vasodilation or vasoconstriction).
- The substance shouldn’t change basic EEG rhythm.
- The substance must cross the blood brain barrier.
- The substance must possess metabolic activity in the human brain.
- The substance must have little to no side effects.
- The substance must undergo clinical trials that reveal metabolic cerebral improvement.
The most obvious difference between the two competing definitions is that Dr. Giurgea believed nootropics should enhance learning and memory whereas Dr. Skondia believed the substance should enhance brain metabolism. As such, the theories agree that all nootropics enhance cognitive functioning in one way or another but not all cognitive enhancement drugs can be classified as nootropics.
Explore Nootropic Solutions for Your Cognitive Functioning
In today’s society, taking certain chemicals or supplements can be seen as taboo, especially when they aren’t mainstream. However, society is growing to be more accepting of nootropics for their positive and long-term effects on cognitive health while causing little to no negative (or otherwise unharmful) side effects.
By learning more about nootropics, you can ensure you select the right type for your specific needs while better understanding how these chemicals work with your brain to produce the positive effects revered by many. And, once you use them yourself, you’ll better understand just why doing so is a smart investment in your future.