What Is A "Nootropic"? | Corpina Nootropics

What Defines a True Nootropic?

There are countless articles on nootropics available to the public, which are featured online or in all sorts of scientific literature.

Many of the substances that are discussed are very simple supplements that are easily obtained, while others are truly powerful drugs that deserve to be in the category of real psychoactive medicine.

In addition, these substances each have side-effect profiles that can range from nothing to headaches and paradoxical mental confusion, and potentially more.

There are a lot of criteria in which nootropics are judged, and the difference in characteristics between substances have and continue to lead people to question whether or not a smart drug is real.

What makes something a true nootropic, and how do we accurately determine the answer to this?


By all known definitions, all nootropics are supposed to be cognitive enhancers – they are supposed to improve the functioning of brain in one area or another.

If you’ve taken nootropics, then you know that they work.

However, there is some debate as to what functions have to be affected for an administered substance to count as a nootropic.

Some people will say that brain metabolism must be affected, while others insist that a nootropic is valid if there are simply observable effects that improve upon one’s thinking lifestyle.

For example, could a chamomile tea be considered a nootropic for its ability to calm a person’s mind, so they can concentrate easier on complex tasks?

The latter group would say yes, while proponents of the first idea would deny this on the grounds that the chamomile doesn’t have a significant effect on metabolism.

On a different note, some people will argue whether a chemical is nootropic simply by potential side effects, even going as far as saying that real ones shouldn’t have any side effects at all!

Classification of Nootropics

Fortunately, for the sake of organization and sanity, there have been some standards made for the classification of nootropics.

Giurgea’s Nootropic Criteria

The first one was defined by the Romanian psychologist Corneliu E. Giurgea, who first synthesized Piracetam in 1964. He made a small, comprehensive list of the features of a nootropic.

He stated that nootropic drugs should have the following characteristics, known as Giurgea’s Nootropic Criteria:

  1. They should enhance learning and memory.
  2. They should enhance the resistance of learned behaviors/memories to conditions which tend to disrupt them (eg, shock).
  3. They should protect the brain against various physical or chemical injuries.
  4. They should increase our ability to focus and pay attention to thinks.
  5. They should lack the usual side effects of other psychotropic drugs (e.g. sedation, motor stimulation) and be non-toxic.

This was used for a while, to great success. Many nootropics were classified using these criteria. However, a new set of criteria — more precise — eventually emerged….

The second and most recent definition of a nootropic was established by V. Skondia in 1979.

It is much larger and more detailed than Guirgea’s classic definition, but reuses many of the concepts behind it.

Skondia’s Nootropic Criteria

The major amendments to the definition included physiologically observable features that usually require more rigorous testing to determine.

According to Skondia’s list, a substance must meet the following criteria to be considered a nootropic drug:

  1. No direct vasoactivity
    1. No vasodilation
    2. No vasoconstriction
  2. No change in basic EEG rhythm
    1. Quantitative EEG: increased power spectrum (beta 2 and alpha)
    2. Qualitative EEG: decreased delta waves and cerebral suffering
  3. Must pass blood-brain barrier
    1. Under normal conditions
    2. Under pathological conditions
  4. Must show metabolic activity in:
    1. Animal brain metabolism
      1. Molecular
      2. Physiopathological
    2. Human brain metabolism
    3. Increased extraction quotients of O2
    4. Increased extraction quotients of glucose
    5. Reduced lactate pyruvate ratio
  5. Minimal side effects
  6. Clinical trials must be conducted with several rating scales designed to objectify metabolic cerebral improvement.

Skondia’s nootropic criteria are more rigorous and therefore more exclusive than Giurgea’s.

However, one point that was agreed upon by both researchers: a true nootropic is safe and displays little to no toxicity.

Under Skondia’s classification, the number of supplements that can be considered nootropic is greatly reduced.

For example, the commonly-used supplement vinpocetine might not be considered a nootropic under this definition, because it acts as a vasodilator, increasing blood flow in the brain.


Which definition of a nootropic is the “right” one?

It depends on how you look at it, of course.

If you believe in sticking with the classical edition, that’s perfectly fine.

If you want to stay “up to date” or feel cutting edge, the Skondia definition also works fine, although it’s a bit more information to juggle around.

All that matters, in the long run, is that you are using reliable information when you decide to invest in a nootropic.

Research and patience are the keys to success in this brain boosting world.

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