Nootropics: What Are Smart Drugs and Can They Boost My Cognitive Performance?

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2020 gave us a lot of time to go inside and work on ourselves. Most of us put our energy into sport or personal training to increase physical and psychological well-being. Others are exploring the world of nootropics - supplements that increase concentration and cognitive performance.

You may have seen the film Unlimited with Bradley Cooper, in which the protagonist becomes a real superbrain for a short time by taking a fictional substance. But do such drugs or supplements actually exist? Nowadays you will find an almost endless selection of different pills and remedies in every small drugstore, which are supposed to increase memory, concentration or mental capacities. But does “brain doping” really work with so-called smart drugs ? We have collected the hard scientific facts about nootropics for you.

What are nootropics?

The word nootropic (plural nootropics) appeared for the first time in research almost 50 years ago, but is still poorly defined. Basically, nootropics are substances that increase memory performance and the ability to learn . This effect can be achieved through various modes of action. Nootropics are said to have  beneficial properties in relation to the growth of nerve cells in the brain . They should also have neuroprotective properties, i.e. protect the nerve cells of the brain from damage, increase blood flow to the brain and regulate various neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that produce feelings of happiness, for example. And that's not all. Sounds tempting doesn't it?

But a distinction must be made here, because there are two types of nootropics: natural substances such as creatine (also creatine ) or ginkgo biloba and prescription drugs such as Ritalin (chemical methylphenidate) or Adderall (an amphetamine preparation). 

Do Nootropics Really Work?

Since numerous studies prove the effectiveness of tried and tested prescription drugs, natural substances tend to receive less attention in research. The development and approval process for new drugs usually takes years or even decades, which is why it is preferred to use the substances that are already known. As a result, there is insufficient scientific evidence for the effectiveness of many over-the-counter nootropics. Studies show that, for example, various vitamin and mineral supplements have no significant influence on the cognitive performance of healthy people, but on the other hand, drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall countfor years one of the top-selling drugs worldwide . In Germany, Ritalin is prescribed against hyperactivity, but is otherwise subject to the Narcotics Act, as it has a high potential for abuse due to its nootropic and stimulating properties. Incidentally, caffeine and nicotine are among the few legal substances that have - proven by scientific studies - nootropic properties . There are hardly any other over-the-counter substances marketed as smart drugs , however .

What are the risks?

If you have studied yourself, then you may be familiar with the feeling of hammering the last pages of the term paper into the keyboard on the last day before the deadline, then chasing the whole work through the printer and with a final sprint shortly before the deadline put in the mailbox. Many students suffer from constant pressure to perform or are simply not very talented in organization. Often, they reach for Ritalin in order to concentrate on studying for hours in exam phases and to be able to beat the sleepless nights in the library more easily. Another abuse potential arises with the use as a party drug. 

But without the correct drug setting by a doctor, effective smart drugs like Ritalin, Adderall or Modafinil can quickly have devastating effects and even death. Known side effects include high blood pressure , cardiac arrhythmias , depression and even psychosis - even under medical supervision. Misuse beyond the therapeutic dosage increases the risk of suffering serious side effects enormously. 

Caution : Even completely legal mind or training boosters can have alarming side effects such as restlessness, muscle tremors, hallucinations and even strokes ; Often amphetamine-like substances in the ingredients are disguised by aliases and chemical structural formulas and thus played down.

How can I naturally improve my cognitive performance? 

Exercise, especially cardio, is the best way to increase cognitive performance naturally and without any side effects . Countless studies prove the many positive effects of sport and exercise on memory , concentration and cognitive abilities . And best of all, all of these benefits don't cost you a penny 

So instead of stocking up on overpriced smart drugs in order to stay mentally efficient, you should concentrate on regular training. The rule of thumb : Physical activities that have a positive effect on your cardiovascular system usually also have a positive effect on your brain. 

Also , make sure you eat a healthy diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have a positive effect on your cognitive abilities and allow your brain enough sleep to always be physically and mentally efficient.