Are Nootropics Dangerous? It Depends On Who You Ask

Are Nootropics Dangerous? It Depends On Who You Ask

A dangerous new narcotic craze sweeps the nation and congress is powerless to do anything about it.

Or so warns the headline of an article from 60’s tabloid magazine Confidential. The proposed narcotic menace? Simple, innocuous morning glory seeds.

History has shown they chose not to bloom into as much a menace as newsmen pushing scare stories would have had us believe. And as much as things seem to change, it seems they stay the same.

Should you believe the hype?

Increasing interest in the news and media is shown to the topic of nootropics.

Sometimes also referred to as “smart drugs,” true nootropics should not to be confused with potentially neurotoxic and addictive substances like narcolepsy prescription Modafanil, ADHD medications like methylphenidate, or illicit street drugs like cocaine — all of which have been used by college students and businesspeople to power through heavy workloads.

Considering long-term risks versus the short term benefit, however, most of these drugs don’t seem quite so smart after all.

To get to the truth, we have to not only cut through the hype of fly-by-night marketers who claim to offer a Limitless-style super brain pill capable of turning anyone into an instant Einstein as well as the sensationalist headlines of uninformed news media.

Headlines such as Nootropics and the human lab rats of Reddit, at Gizmodo, or the June 2015 attention-grabber, Aussies taking dangerous ‘smart drugs’ to get ahead from The New Daily, continues to expose a disturbing trend in shoddy reporting on nootropics.

Once again, the root issue being a confusion of terms: the authors haphazardly bundle general cognitive enhancers, nootropics and “smart drugs” like modafanil (a prescription strength drug that may have negative side effects that in the long term could outweigh their positive benefits) all into one brain boosting bucket, this attributing any nootropic dangers to the whole lot of supplements.

How to fix the media’s naming problem

It’s best to start simply with what exactly nootropics are (and are not), what they do (and don’t do) in order to expose some instances of the type of misinformation and misconceptions about nootropics.

To answer the question “what are nootropics” we should go back to the beginning, to Romanian neuropharmacologist Dr. Corneliu Giurgea. Giurgea synthesized piracetam and aniracetam (the first true nootropics) as well as coined the term nootropic to describe these new class of compounds.

Nootropics – according to Giurgea’s Nootropic criteria – nootropics are substances that should be neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing without significant peripheral side effects, such as altered blood pressure or heart beat.

It’s a misunderstanding about the actual definition of nootropics and how they differ from other cognitive enhancers or “smart drugs” that leads to some of the confusion.

The Daily Mail is one of the most popular and more sensationalist papers in the UK. In a 2014 article evaluating nootropics use among student, they warn:

“Generations of students have depended on nothing more potent than gallons of black coffee to enable them to burn the midnight oil when studying. But now a far more sinister stimulant is sweeping campuses.”

The real irony here being the double standard. There are ample studies that show excessive use of caffeine runs havoc with the heart and brain. By comparison, piracetam and aniracetam have a lower LD-50 (lethal dose) than water or salt, much less caffeine.

That’s right, piracetam, for instance is safer than salt. (Please, take that with a grain of salt). Which brings us to two equally incorrect assumptions about nootropics that are more likely to be spun by the marketers.

[1] First major misconception about nootropics

Now to say that something is “as safe as” or “safer than salt” can be misleading.

The original “true” nootropics that adhere to Giurgea’s criteria are not known to result in any appreciable negative effects at the advised doses.

But, these are still powerful compounds capable of temporarily altering our neurochemistry and all such tools should be approached with respect (for yourself as well as the drug).

Educating yourself about the actions and interactions of any over-the-counter compounds is of the utmost importance, especially if you’re currently taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications or under a physician’s care for any existing condition.

[2] Second major misconception about nootropics

Another misconception about nootropics is the “Limitless myth.”

Since the movie Limitless popularized the idea of nootropics in the mainstream more and more people have flocked to learn about what these substances are and what they do, hoping to find a “limitless pill” in real life.

Both Limitless and Lucy have been blasted by the legitimate cognitive enhancing and neuroscience crowd for perpetuating myths about the brain (the untrue “you only use 10%” factoid) or confusing the general public about what nootropics are and what they do by offering sensationalized fictions of NZT-48 from Limitless or CPH4 from Lucy, both of which have gained near urban legend-status.

If you’re looking for dramatic results, like learning Russian over a weekend or expect to become a mastermind by swallowing a genius pill, then you may be disappointed. Nootropics, like any other supplement, are just that: a supplement.

In other words, they’re not meant to replace the cornerstone of good mental and physical health which are a healthy diet and regular exercise.

As a supplement to a generally healthy lifestyle however, the subtle increase over time in focus, verbal fluency, memory consolidation and recall, as well as general neuroprotection can be another tool for the students, entrepreneurs, techies and anyone who might benefit from a safe means to achieve a noticeable boost in cognitive processing power.

Always thoroughly research any supplement before adding it to your regimen and always consult with your primary care practitioner before any major change to diet, exercise or supplementation routine.

Especially if you are taking any over the counter or prescribed medications or are currently under a doctor’s care for any pre-existing condition.

Some of the best nootropics for:
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otto - February 27, 2016

If you going take smart pills safely, make sure they are synthesized and bottled in an FDA-approved facility. I don’t think smart pills are dangerous but I do believe they need to be regulated more.


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