If you could take a pill that would instantly make you more focused, increase your brain’s performance and help clear brain fog, would you?
With courses becoming more competitive than ever, less room for failure and workloads increasing, many students nationally and globally are experimenting with various smart drugs and wakefulness agents to “hack” their brain and give them that competitive edge.
These substances, commonly known as “nootropics”, refer to an umbrella term for a range of drugs, food sources, herbal extracts and amino acids that help contribute towards nourishment of the brain and mental performance, with zero side effects. Many users say nootropics are a totally different experience from energy drinks, giving you a mental edge, increased memory and concentration, without the come down or “jitters” experienced with stimulants.
While the use of nootropics is a recently new trend, they have been around for many years with the term first being coined by a famous pharmacologist called Corneliu E. Giurgea in the 1970’s.
He stated that for a substance to be a true nootropic, it needs to enhance learning and memory, protect the brain against physical or chemical injuries and have very few side effects with low toxicity.
A recent study showed that over 30% of students have taken a smart drug at some point in their course to improve study and this momentum shows no signs of slowing down.
If you search anywhere online now, there are endless different types available that all have a different mechanism of action in the brain with the main purpose being cognitive enhancement.
What Do Smart Drugs Do?
Increased Neuroplasticity – If you find yourself reading the same material over and over and struggle to take in information, nootropics are able to help with new synaptic connections in the brain to help keep the learning process on track.
Accelerated Motivation and Attention – Nootropics such as Adrafinil stimulate the release of extra serotonin and dopamine in the brain that provides an energy boost that is accompanied by a raise in alertness.
To understand nootropics as a whole, it is first best to look at the different types that are being taken and their effects on health.
These study drugs can be broken down into two main categories that include prescription analeptics such as Provigil and less potent supplements made up of herbal extracts, amino acids and antioxidants.
At the top of the list in popularity at the moment are wakefulness agents such as “Modafinil” and “Aderall”. Prescribed to patients who suffer with narcolepsy, these high powered stimulant drugs are able to provide their user a lasting plateau of alertness and focus, lasting for up to ten hours after taking doses as low as 200mg, even on an exam day with little sleep.
The key issue with a drug such as Modafinil are the long term health issues and the hazards that are involved in buying these types of medicines from rogue pharmacies online. ‘The internet has resulted in access to a “medicine cabinet” of drugs for all occasions,’ says Dr Bowden-Jones. Regular usage can also come with unwanted side effects such as strong headaches, depression, anxiety, intense hunger and paranoia.
Strictly speaking, these types of agents are cognitive enhancers, but are also not true nootropics and posess no neuroprotective properties.
Dr Farah, from the Centre For Neuroscience has called into question the lack of research in these prescription only drugs making note that the enhancements will differ depending on the biological and physiological traits of each user.
While the research is still unclear on the health risks, it is easy to see why substances like Modafinil, that improve the decision making and problem solving capabilities in stressed individuals, are in such high demand.
That focus and clear mental state is key, say students, who like the fact they’re actually doing something positive for their mind, as opposed to purely getting hopped-up so they can push through all-nighter plateau. And while most of these people would rather not skip their daily dose, missing a day doesn’t have any withdrawal symptoms or ill effects.
The other area of nootropics includes a long list of supplements that are legally available to purchase in shops and online. These supplements are also gaining popularity as a safe and natural alternative to the prescription only substances that work through stimulation action only.
Many of the natural supplements, work in a slightly different way, assisting the growth of nerve cells in the brain and flow of neurotransmitters instead of direct stimulation. These classes include racetams such as Pirecatam, noopept etc, amino acids such as L-Theanine, Alpha GPC and Phosphatidylserine and also herbal extracts such as Lion’s Mane and Gingko Bilboa.
Alongisde these other substances, suppelemts and foods such omega 3 fish oils, coconut oil and essential B vitamins are all essential and healthy sources for optimum brain health.
While these may not be as potent as the prescription medicine, they are far more safer and extremely beneficial to mental health in the long term.
For the likes of Modafinil and Adderall, these drugs play a pivotal role in improving the lives of patients and treating the illnesses they were formulated to treat. However, classing these as “smart drugs” for the health seems a little bit crass.
It is likely that their use will not slow down anytime soon, but for now, the long term health risks most certainly outweigh the rewards.