Smart Drugs vs. Nootropics


All through human history, it is seen that there has been an instinctive curiosity in humans to find out a magic pill which will make them stronger, faster and smarter. Though humans can achieve all of these goals through various difficult ways such as training, diligence, etc, humans search for a wonderful substance that will help them be smarter easily. Yes, this is an age-old search, but now new options have come out and gained popularity in the form of smart drugs and nootropics. 

People are more interested in such substances when they see in the movie “Limitless”, the main character finds a smart drug which allows him to become cognitively superhuman, but then faces the unintended consequences of the drug. However, smart drugs and nootropics are a current reality today and help you boost your cognitive performance in some way. But, as there are a wide variety of compounds available today that have some research support for cognitive effects, it is also essential for you to understand the risks and benefits associated with the usage, or how they affect your brain. For instance, a common misconception about smart drugs is that they are the same as nootropics.  It is because of the same benefits that people use them for, but ultimately they do not share the same range of effects, mechanisms of action, safety and side effects.

The Differences Between Smart Drugs and Nootropics

In general, a smart drug is a prescribed medicine or off-label drug used mainly to relieve of some kind of mental or cognitive disorder. Two most common drugs – Adderall (dextroamphetamine) or Ritalin (methylphenidate) and some other drugs in the stimulant class are used to relieve of symptoms related to ADHD – though their off-label use is widespread. Although they may promote focus and energy in some people, there are dramatic side effects, to body and brain such as they adversely influence on appetite, mood stability, cardiac function, stress levels and possibly many other unwanted effects – especially on younger brains such as teens and young adults. These types of stimulant can also cause irritability and mood swings, anxiety, sleep issues, and other forms of emotional or cognitive regulation problems. A study says that a popular atypical stimulant “smart drug” includes the narcolepsy agents Modafinil / Adrafinil which can be life threatening, although their effects on cognition beyond wakefulness are not proven, and side effects are rare.
On the contrary, a nootropic is generally a non-prescribed compound, including vitamins, herb, other supplements, natural or synthetic compound that may increase or protect cognition in some way. Not many years it has been on the research, but nootropics have been used for thousands of years as natural remedies for various diseases including its positive effects on focus, attention, effects on aging, and possibly cellular metabolism. This study proves nootropics such things that improve cognition without appreciable side effects, or provides from protection to the brain. In this modern age, nootropics are considered as something used to provide support to peak function, protect against long term risk, and provide daily boost. Nootropic ingredients as well as its full blends allow you for greater and more consistent cognitive effort and flow, without the side effects of a stimulant or other harsh substance.

How Do I Know if a Smart Drug is Safe?

You have to be sure before using a smart drug or nootropic whether it is safe to use for a long time. Keep in mind that small amounts of toxic substances may be beneficial in the short term, but the magic happens when we look at what is happening in the body when we get too much. You know a cup of coffee may be safe, but caffeine in high amounts in that cup of coffee can cause dizziness, anxiety, and even cardiac arrest or death while alcohol may have even worse short and long term toxicity symptoms at non-moderate doses, and some people struggle to keep their dosing moderate. So, be careful about dosing when you are picking substances and compounds, and follow these two simple rules –
1) Read the ingredients in the list first to figure out your demand and don’t take any compounds, substance, or blends of substances that don’t list all their ingredients out in plain amounts.  
2) And don’t chase suspicious research chemicals without much history of use or safety profile.  
Again think about the safety of these two smart drugs named Adderall and Modafinil because both of them act as a reuptake inhibitor, meaning that they can compete with other neurotransmitters for reuptake. Adderall can cause dangerous lows, psychosis with extreme use, rebound fatigue, and depression, even at lower use levels, as the existing research is quite a bit weak on any improvement that Adderall or other stimulants may have on short term memory or cognitive function, and some actually may impair function. Modafinil or Provigil is a smart drug and also used as a nootropic to get rid of sleep disorders, but when combined with a normal functioning brain, can potentially cause increases in cognition and awareness. But, it may affect the histaminergic pathway, which deals with wakefulness and the delicate immune response of the body and can be extremely dangerous to the health of your brain and body.


Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, the man who coined the term nootropic, says that there doesn’t seem to be any neurotransmitter depletion, tolerance or habit forming potential, adverse body side effects, or impaired brain function, from most true nootropics. Nootropics mechanisms lie within the structural connectivity of the brain, the optimization of blood flow and oxygenation, and the fortification of brain regions over long term regularity. Nootropics work more as a super supplement to protecting the brain.  Girugea’s own first synthesized nootropic (in 1964) is still in use today and has been shown to have effects on mitochondrial metabolism, cell membrane fluidity, and functional connectivity in the brain.
Suppose, a particular nootropic, Piracetam cannot be found in nature, however it was originally derived from having structural similarities to – the neurotransmitter GABA and has been shown to positively affect our cell membranes and to have neuroprotective and pro-metabolism effects on cells. The fluidity in our membranes changes with stress and old age, as well as moment to moment as one method of regulating receptor activity. Healthier and more active cell membranes bring us increased activity and cell communication, and hopefully better cognition.
 While you are planning your nootropic or nutraceutical regimen, think in terms of nutrition support to cell metabolism and function, amino acids, natural or near-natural compounds, and avoid bad fats and harsh chemicals which give a quick boost at the cost of later crashing or having other more serious side effects, including excess sugars and caffeine. If something is strongly “felt” dose to dose – if it gets you high, or wired, or sedated, it’s a smart drug, recreational drug, or something that may enhancing some aspect of performance (perhaps at the expense of another), but is definitely not a nootropic.  And finally, nootropics should be sustainable. So decide yourself and take care of your brain – the tools are out there, to support health and shift performance.