A Beginners Guide to Nootropics

03/04/2014 Tags: all, beginners, guides

Please note: Because Nootropics are not supplements or approved drugs they cannot be sold as for human consumption. We do not endorse the consumption of any product for sale on our website as they are strictly intended for use in non-clinical scientific research. Not for consumption. As such, all articles and content on this website are strictly for entertainment purposes only.

What Are Nootropics?

Broadly defined, nootropics are substances that have the ability to enhance cognitive performance with few side effects or toxicity issues. There is often some confusion over the terms used to describe these supplements; all nootropics are generally considered to be cognitive enhancers (or smart drugs) but not all cognitive enhancing supplements fit the criteria of a nootropic. Substances like caffeine or amphetamines for example, may provide some benefits to cognition, but often come with the dangers of severe side effects, or problems with tolerance and addiction. Of course, the concept is also somewhat ambiguous and it is important to note that even after the term nootropics was first coined by Dr Corneliu Giugea over 40 years ago, scientists are still in disagreement as to the exact criteria for a substance to be considered a nootropic.


Misconceptions About Nootropics

The way that nootropics are portrayed in the media has led to somewhat unrealistic expectations. This article should help to address a few of these misconceptions.

  1. Nootropics do not give you superhuman abilities.

Nootropics certainly can help you to improve your cognitive performance but not to the extent that you would be considered superhuman, as depicted in the film Limitless. It is a common misconception that we only use 10-20% of our brains and that by using 100% we could become exponentially more intelligent, or even possess psychokinetic abilities. This however, is simply not true as Nootropics work only within the boundaries of normal human physiology.

  1. Nootropics are not a replacement for sleep.

While it is true that nootropics can both improve the quality of sleep you receive and help you to perform better while sleep deprived, it is not a replacement for sleep altogether. Sleep is essential for our survival as humans and there is no adequate replacement for it. In fact, sleep deprivation can be so severely damaging that it has been used as a form of torture, and can lead to death in extreme cases.

  1. Nootropics are not a substitute for working hard.

Many people assume that nootropics will instantly make a genius of them, but this is simply not the case. Students will still have to study and carry out the tasks they normally would, nootropics simply facilitate the learning process, making it easier to remember and understand new concepts.

  1. Stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin are not nootropics.

Again, this is a problem that comes down to the definition of nootropics. While these substances could certainly be considered cognitive enhancers, the dangers of their side effects and the fact that individuals may develop a tolerance to them means that whatever definition of nootropics is considered, these supplements simply do not fit the criteria.

  1. Nootropics are not completely free of side effects.

While it is true that most nootropics are safe when used correctly, as with any supplement they are not completely side effect free. These supplements simply exhibit side effects that are far less common, and usually quite mild compared to those that are seen with the use of other performance enhancers like amphetamines. Furthermore, nootropics show much lower levels of toxicity than other cognitive enhancers.


How Do They Work?

There are literally hundreds of types of different substances that could be considered nootropic supplements. Each of these has slightly different properties and mechanisms that contribute to the brain working more efficiently. Many nootropics work by modulating the level of various neurotransmitters in the brain, which can be achieved for example by providing a greater amount of neurotransmitter precursors, altering the sensitivity of receptors, or by inhibiting enzymes that break down neurotransmitters. Others work by increasing cerebral blood flow, bringing with it a greater amount of oxygen, glucose and other materials needed for neurons to perform efficiently. Some even stimulate the release of substances like nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), types of protein that encourage the growth and repair of neurons, which can lead to greater synaptic plasticity and fluidity in cell membranes.


What Benefits Can Nootropics Provide?

The effects a user will see depends largely on the type of nootropic used, although it is important to consider that experiences are also likely to be highly subjective as everyone has different expectations, and will react slightly differently to a given supplement. Many nootropic supplements can enhance an individual’s capacity to learn and remember information, particularly when concerning the racetam and cholinergic varieties. Individuals commonly observe an improved ability to process, consolidate and recall information, while comprehension of difficult concepts also comes with greater ease. Nootropics can also provide greater levels of attention and the ability to focus on important tasks, with increased motivation to carry them out.

Some supplements appear to exhibit neuroprotective properties, shielding the brain from damage by physical trauma, toxins and neurological diseases alike. Others have therapeutic uses, for example phenibut and picamilon are used by sufferers of depression and anxiety for their anxiolytic and mood brightening effects, while they also appear to improve the quality of sleep and aid with disruptions to sleep cycles.

Nootropics are even used to improve physical performance; atheletes report phenylpiracetam to be an effective pre-workout supplement, helping to decrease recovery time, provide the motivation to carry out more challenging exercise routines, and help the user cope with the stress caused by physical strain.


What Are Stacks?

A majority of nootropics users find it useful to combine several types of nootropic supplement in what is called a stack. This is useful both to potentiate the effects of each individual supplement, as well as compensate for their shortcomings. Racetams for example may enhance activity in cholinergic pathways, increasing the demand for acetylcholine. By supplementing intake of the precursor molecule choline, the user is able to ensure the action of the racetam is not limited, and that they do not suffer from side effects like headaches due to choline depletion.

Another commonly used stack in the nootropic community is the CLITEP stack. An acronym for chemically induced long term potentiation, this stack is designed with the purpose of causing long term enhancements in the signal strength between two simultaneously fired neurons. This has been observed to improve learning and memory mechanisms, no doubt a useful effect for anyone seeking cognitive enhancement.


What Are the Best Stacks for Beginners?

The temptation that many new users have is to immediately start taking multiple nootropics all at once but we would highly recommend against this. While the greatest benefits will be gained by using one or more nootropics in a stack, new users are advised start with a single supplement or simple stack and become familiar with it before adding additional supplements. Below are a few examples of stacks that are ideal for inexperienced users.

  1. Choline and racetam stacks.

As mentioned earlier, it is a good idea to use additional choline supplements with racetams to prevent choline depletion and potentiate overall effects. These types of stacks are relatively versatile owing to the many types of racetam supplements available. However, some users have found the effects of these stacks to be subtle, and it will require some experimentation to gain the most benefits from them. This stack in general is aimed at improving memory and learning capacity, though effects will differ depending on the racetam used; Aniracetam for example has some notable anxiolytic effects, while Oxiracetam provides mild stimulant-like effects.

  1. Theanine and caffeine stacks.

This stack is one of the simplest, and an ideal place to start for many users. Caffeine works by increasing levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine, acetylcholine and adrenaline, combating fatigue and increasing alertness. The addition of L-theanine aids in counteracting caffeine’s negative side effects such as the jitters. Users should note that one disadvantage of this stack is the potential for acquiring a tolerance, and so this stack should not be used more than 2 to 4 times a week.

  1. Huperzine A, sulbutiamine and choline stacks.

This is a good all-purpose stack that covers many areas of cognitive enhancement. The sulbutiamine component of this stack enhances dopaminergic activity to increase motivation, while Huperzine A inhibits acetycholinesterase to increase acetylcholine levels, resulting in better memory, focus and concentration. Choline supplements ensure the huperzine A works effectively and users may prefer different choline supplements depending on their requirements; GPC choline is a good choice for those looking to increase focus, while CDP choline is geared more towards increasing motivation