When most people think of the word nootropics, they typically think of potent pharmaceuticals like Modafinil or Ritalin.
These are in fact, what we call, Smart Drugs. Smart drugs and nootropics are best thought of as two different categories of compounds and should not be confused with one another.
Nootropics should be seen as natural compounds, such as herbal extracts, vitamins, minerals or food sources that are capable of improving cognitive function sustainably over the long term with almost no side effects.
These nootropics are generally supplements, such as our product, Enhance, which you can take to support your brain function in addition to your regular nutrition and lifestyle practices.
Smart drugs, however, are typically prescription drugs, such as Modafinil and Ritalin that are used off label to improve cognitive performance. These compounds are in rampant use across universities and academic institutions by those looking to get ahead.
So what exactly separates smart drugs from natural nootropics?
Take for example, the popular smart drug Modafinil. Modafinil is what is known as a eugeroic, or wakefulness promoting agent. It is often prescribed for narcolepsy or sleep wakefulness disorder.
Many university students, however, take this without a prescription to increase their wakefulness so that they can study for hours on end.
As drugs are specifically developed to treat certain symptoms or diseases, this means that they typically only target one or few pathways or what we call mechanisms of action.
For modafinil, it primarily acts as a weak but very selective dopamine reuptake inhibitor. This means it inhibits neurons from reuptaking dopamine and therefore increases extracellular concentrations of dopamine within these regions of the brain and increases dopamine neurotransmission. This is what gives Modafinil its very clear, potent and noticeable effect.
This is similar to how Ritalin (Methylphenidate) works, however that acts more as a central nervous system stimulant as well but similarly acts on specific dopamine receptors in the prefrontal cortex.
This means that these drugs cause very specific and large changes in the brain’s neurochemistry. Whilst they work quite well in the short term, they can lead to dependency, downregulation of endogenous production of these neurotransmitters over time, as well as massive side effects (irritability, sore stomach, bad sleep etc.)
In short, they’re not very sustainable and can be harmful if misused.
Nootropics, however, are intended to improve several aspects of cognitive function (such as memory, creativity or focus), whilst being neuroprotective, non-toxic and having little to no side effects.
Natural nootropics such as Bacopa Monnieri, are not intended to treat or cure disease, and instead act on many different pathways and mechanisms of action to promote brain health. Bacopa can improve blood flow to the brain, act as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, act as an antioxidant, reduce β-amyloid plaque build-up, and act on neurotransmitters (acetylcholine, dopamine, serotonin). Thus, it has MANY different mechanisms of action, and exerts its effects evenly to provide sustainable brain health and performance gains over the long term. Bacopa in particular has been shown to improve memory over a 6-12-week period.
Another example is L-Tyrosine. L-Tyrosine is an amino acid found in many foods such as meats, cheese, almonds and eggs. L-Tyrosine is used to synthesise L-Dopa and eventually dopamine in the body, as well as other catecholamines (norepinephrine).
You can also supplement with L-Tyrosine as it can act as a nootropic to improve mood and reduce stress. Unlike Modafinil, Ritalin and other smart drugs, L-Tyrosine won’t outright increase concentrations of dopamine within certain regions of the brain, but instead gives your body the building blocks to help create it if required.
Nootropics should be seen as food sources and natural compounds that can sustainably support and enhance the brain.
Smart Drugs should be seen as potent pharmaceuticals that can increase specific aspects of cognitive function in the short term, with a possibility of harsher side effects.
We’re not saying Smart Drugs have no place. They definitely can. They are one tool in a biohacker’s toolkit. They should be treated with respect and understood before being taken, particularly without a prescription from a qualified physician.