The idea that we can tap into the brain and unleash latent potentials and energy that would other stay dormant is very interesting. Interesting enough that a lot of people are actively looking for information on how to go about it.
We all have phones we use to speed up our everyday activities. Phones that help us send emails, keep in touch with friends, know what stock to buy and what to sell, know if we are losing enough weight or if the dress is just a bit snug about the waist. Yeah! We all have those and they are called smartphones. Imagine a pill you can take to boost your thought process, improve your memory and make you overall more productive. The ultimate Smartphone for the brain right? They actually exist and are called smart drugs.
If you have seen the movie “limitless”, that 2011 American Sci-fi thriller where Bradley Cooper’s character takes this mysterious pill that makes him smarter than Einstein, you will have an idea what these smart drugs might be able to do. Although these drugs don’t work as much as the one in “limitless”, the concept is basically the same. A pill that helps you unlock the full potential of your brain, makes you smart, boosts memory and improves cognitive functions. These smart drugs are called Nootropics.
Nootropics is a broad term for a group of chemicals or compounds that improve cognitive functions in the human brain. These compounds can be naturally occurring or man-made.
Before a drug can be termed a nootropic, it must meet some criteria set up by Dr. Corneliu Giurgea, the Romania doctor who coined the term “nootropic” in 1972.
To be termed nootropic, a drug, compound or substance must be able to:
- Enhance memory and improve learning capabilities
- Help the brain function under disruptive circumstances, such as low oxygen or electroconvulsive shock.
- Protect the brain from physical and chemical abuse.
- Increase the efficiency of neuronal systems in cortical and sub-cortical regions of the brain.
- Possess little or no side effects.
Although there is as yet not rock solid proof of their brain enhancing capabilities, nootropics contains some properties that is scientifically known to improve short term memory, speed up thinking process and improve spatial awareness.
It is not certain how many, if any of the nootropics available on the market meet all of the above criteria, but there are actually cognitive enhancers that benefit in some way the cognitive functions of the brain. A commonly used or interchangeable name for nootropics is Smart drugs. Putting aside the rigid criteria for a moment, nootropics can range from a list of everyday substances like caffeine and Omega 3 fatty acids to more regulated substances.
Caffeine and L-theanine
The two most popular nootropics components or compounds you have most likely taken on countless occasions are caffeine and L-theanine. Both of these compounds are found in coffee and green tea although in much lesser doses than a typical nootropic smart drug.
Caffeine affects the body and improves cognitive functions by increasing catecholamine signals thus improving focus, concentration and motivation. These effects can reduce overtime as you begin to build a tolerance to caffeine. L-theanine is a common amino acid that promotes neuronal health and at the same time boosts the body’s immune system. A study published in the Biological Psychology Journal found out that L-theanine has the ability to reduce physiological and psychological stress. A 2014 review published in the Journal of Nutrition Review found that combining caffeine and L-theanine promotes alertness, multi tasking and attention.
But Exactly how Smart are these Smart Drugs?
Smart drugs (Nootropics and cognitive enhancers) are said to be substance that improve cognitive and executive functions such as memory, motivation and creativity in healthy people. While there are a lot of drugs made specifically to help enhance brain functions in individuals with different cognitive disorders, such drugs might not make people who are already physically and mentally healthy smart. And even if they do, there might be side effects. There are many forms of nootropic available, from different brand of pharmaceutical pills to natural or herbal supplements and functional foods.
Proving that a substance, drug or compound has the ability to improve certain cognitive functions is not an easy task. There is no straightforward system of measurement to find out if there is any cognitive enhancement once a pill is taken. You may indeed perceive an increase in your productivity, which can suggest the efficacy of the drug. But the improved productivity could also be as a result of an improved mood or psychological reaction due to an anticipation of positive results. Furthermore, the use of certain nootropics is associated with some potential side effects such as headaches which cancel out any potential gain in creativity and productivity. No one can be really creative or productive while battling a headache. Even if changes in productivity can be measure in some way, there is no test that can currently accurately measure and quantify creativity.
How Smart Drugs Work
There are several conditions and mechanism that affects the efficacy of a smart drug. Some drugs increase blood flow which helps in supplying oxygen to the brain. Others can speed up communications between neurons through the release of more neuro-mediators. Some smart drugs work by preventing damage to the brain cells and providing the brain with more energy. Most of these effects are almost automatic which makes the efficacy of the drug more immediate. Others such as repair or prevention of damage to neurons and cells happen only after prolong use of the drugs making any changes in cognitive functions much less obvious.
There is currently a large variety of nootropic drugs and compounds on the market, believed to help improve mental health with a good number of students and high activity workers using them to get more stuff done. But it is important to remember that only a few drugs have been scientifically proven to have any association with cognitive improvement or enhancement effects. Most nootropic drugs are relatively safe, but as individual systems differ, so does the potential side effects.