Marc S. Schneider, M.D.
The exciting and growing field of nootropics provides a wide range of benefits from improvements in mental health, to enhancements in mental and athletic performance.
Among the benefits, nootropics have been shown to improve cognition by enhancing one’s ability to acquire, understand, and use knowledge, and they can also stimulate creativity, while perhaps providing the central nervous system the energy to get the creative juices flowing. In the sports world, athletes are seeing drastic improvements in signal processing, concentration, clarity, and diminishing fatigue. Overall, nootropics are allowing athletes to get “In-The-Zone”.
These smart drugs may hold the keys to unlocking limitless human potential. Lets explore:
Table of Contents
- Who Should Take Nootropics?
- Brief History Nootropics
- Notes on Improving Performance
- How Nootropics Work
- Benefits of Nootropics
- Enhance Cognition
- Stimulate Creativity
- Improve Mood and Decrease Stress + Anxiety
- Promote Sport Performance
Who Should Take Nootropics?
To make a long answer short, everyone can benefit from nootropics in one way or another.
That said, not every nootropic is right for every person. For example, athletes should not take nootropics that WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) or USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) have banned, like phenylpiracetam, and pregnant women should avoid nootropics that can hurt a pregnancy, like high doses of caffeine.
Amazingly though, a nootropic like choline is great for both athletes and pregnant women. On one hand, choline can decrease athletic fatigue and improve performance, while on the other hand, it is crucial for brain development.
What if I’m not an athlete and I’m not pregnant?
Well what if I could tell you you could suddenly increase the power and the focus of your mind?
How would that affect your performance as an individual on a day to day basis?
Imagine spending 5 hours cramming for an exam, and everything you studied was right there the next day, at your fingertips. Almost like you had crib notes.
Or perhaps you want to be able to focus better at work. You normally find your mind drifting, staring at that computer screen all day with tedious tasks. Think of how great it would be if you were just zoned in with your full geek on.
This is the promise of the rising class of natural and synthetic nutraceuticals called nootropics. People call them smart drugs, and the promise of this developing field is that they will unlock your creative and cognitive abilities.
But nootropics can do much much more.
They can unleash both your physical and mental human potential. Can nootropics be like plugging Neo into the Matrix? Let’s find out.
Original Photo by h heyerlein
A Brief History of Nootropics
The 1960’s was a period of great experimentation with all sorts of new and psychedelic drugs. LSD, invented by Sandoz chemist Albert Hofmann in 1938, made its way into the culture, and was popularized by Timothy Leary.
Scientists then invented another mind altering drug called piracetam. Originally intended to improve motion sickness, it was eventually tested and used to improve memory. These were the first synthetic nootropics.
Following the successful tests on piracetam, Dr. Corneliu Giurgea then coined the term nootropics, deriving it from the Greek words nous meaning mind, and trepein meaning to bend.
That’s right! Nootropic means mind-bender.
Since then, scientists have continued to test other analogues of piracetam, as well as many other nootropics for safety and effectiveness. Results have remained extremely promising, and these studies have made way for the rise of nootropics in today’s society. We now know that different nootropics will produce different effects, and will last for different periods of time.
With this knowledge at hand, the future for nootropics is bright. Scientists remain steadfast in the thinking that these smart drugs will continue to enhance human abilities, and the idea of limitless potential is closer than ever.
Notes on Improving Performance
The amazing thing about being around highly skilled professionals, be they artisans, surgeons, or athletes, is that they are all incredibly physically skilled. Their skill sets obviously differ depending upon what they do, yet each of their physical skills is impressive to observe.
How did they get there though?
Quite simply, progressing from a beginner to a novice, and ultimately to an expert, is all about repeating the technique until your mind and muscles have ingrained it. There is a neuromuscular connection that gets trained, reinforced, and honed by practicing a task correctly, over and over.
How long does it take to master a skill? Is there a certain number of repetitions?
I’m glad you asked!
Experts believe there is in fact a specific number of reps necessary to become an expert in a particular skill. It doesn’t happen overnight though, and that number will take years to accomplish.Experts believe it takes any athlete, surgeon, or musician at least 10,000 repetitions to become an expert at a skill.Click To Tweet
The physical part is easy though. Everyone knows that. It is the mental side that will make or break someone. Do you have what it takes to reach 10,000 repetitions? Can you get mentally focused, and remain focused on the task at hand? That is the crucial part.
Ok… you’ve done 10,000 reps and you’ve mastered a skill. Congrats!
Does that make you the best in the world? Of course not!
Once you achieve a certain level of expertise in your area of endeavor, performance is about 10% physical and 90% mental.
At the expert level, the physical skills are a given. You better have it, you better practice it, and you better keep it honed like a katana blade.
However, how one commands the mental approach will determine your success.
And what do we mean by the mental side?
There are many components to the mental side including attitude, concentration, recall, controlling nervousness or performance anxiety, clarity, processing of tasks, ingenuity, anticipation and reaction time.
Every expert that I have worked with, be they athletes, entrepreneurs, or tradesmen, all have a similar mental approach. They have a firm belief in themselves, confidence, creativity, motivation, executive function, memory, ability to see the outcome ahead of time. They have a willingness to try, and if they fail they are not dissuaded.
It is the power of their minds that sets them apart. Some may call it cocky, but frankly, I never met a successful individual who wasn’t. That doesn’t mean they have to be braggadocios, most are not, but they are supremely confident.
The difference all resides in the brain.
Enter the field of Nootropics.
How Nootropics Work
The brain works in many ways similar to how a central processor of a computer does. A cpu has a series of transistors, circuits, logic gates, and memory arrays interconnected by electrical wiring.
The neurons that make up the brain have similar interconnectivity, but instead of communicating neuron to neuron electrically, they transmit their signals chemically. Scientists call these chemicals neurotransmitters.
Glutamate, a non-essential amino acid, is the most common neurotransmitter in the brain. Glutamate is excitatory, meaning it stimulates other neurons. It is also used to create the second most common neurotransmitter called GABA, which is inhibitory.
The very first synthetic nootropic, piracetam, has a structure very similar to GABA.
Some neurotransmitters, like beta-endorphin, have a very specific target. It binds to the brain’s opioid receptors. Other neurotransmitters are used more commonly throughout the central nervous system.
Original Photo by Jesse Orrico
Nootropics work by modulating a series of neurotransmitters including the monoamines (dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline) acetylcholine, adenosine and ATP. They can do this by increasing the production of specific neurotransmitters, by binding to neurotransmitter receiving sites so they block the effect of the neurotransmitter, or by up regulating the entire system.
Since the nootropics work by stimulating different neurotransmitters in the brain, their effects can be different. We find many nootropics in everyday foods, and some, we can supplement to our diet.
Think about what this means:
With the right choice of ingredients, we can stimulate our brain to improve its function from many different perspectives.
Lets explore the options.
Ways Nootropics Can Improve Your Mental and Athletic Performance
1. Enhance Cognition
Cognition is the conscious intellectual process of acquiring knowledge, comprehending it and using it. Cognition involves many different facets of brain power:
Cognition is probably the most sought after effect of nootropics, and why drugs such as Adderall are so popular on college campuses.
Adderall works by blocking the re-uptake of noradrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin into the presynaptic neuron, and by increasing the release of these neurotransmitters into the connecting space between two nerve cells.
Nootropics produce a similar cognitive effect.
Many different neurotransmitters play a role in improving ones memory, concentration and focus. Concentrated mental tasks require maintaining and enhancing the signaling that occurs between neurons. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which scientists believe increases the signal to noise ratio of sensory processing, modulates this process.
Improved concentration is helpful for learning new concepts, committing facts to memory, writing for extended periods of time, and most importantly, recall of facts at critical times.
Like that big exam!
Improved cognition effected by nootropics may also be beneficial for those performing their daily work. Business people will often use them for presentations, public speaking, and staying at task on the job. Others find them useful for just staying focused at critical times during their daily routine.
Many natural nootropics have shown cognitive benefit including choline (used for making acetylcholine in the brain), L-tryosine, L-carnitine, pterostilbine, and bacopa.
2. Stimulate Creativity
Nootropics are very popular for their creativity boosting effect. They are popular with artists and creators, and they have become somewhat of the rage in silicon valley.
If your profession depends upon your creativity, you know that finding it on a daily basis may be fleeting.
Sometimes your creativity is there and at other times the creative spark is dull. Nootropics can aid in the creative process and perhaps provide the central nervous system the energy to get the creative juices flowing.
Several different nootropics fall into the creative genre.
Acetyl L-carnitine is a derivative of the amino acid L-carnitine and it can increase acetylcholine and dopamine in the brain. Some have suggested that it stimulates creativity by enhancing right and left brain communication.
The DEA classifies phenibut as neuropsychotropic drug that works like GABA at the GABA B sites in the brain. Currently, Australia classifies it as a poison.
Well if that doesn’t scare you;
What proponents of Phenibut like is that it produces a soothing, tranquil feeling often associated with meditation. It also produces a mild dopamine stimulation that science associates with creativity.
Sulbutiamine is a Japanese designed nootropic based off the B-vitamin thiamine. It specifically targets mental chronic fatigue and reduces psycho-behavioral inhibitions. That is another way of saying it frees your mind for creative thoughts.
Coluracetam is a relatively new nootropic known for sensory enhancement. Coluracetam enhances sounds and vision, lowers anxiety, and modulates creativity. It also increases choline uptake in the brain, thus increasing acetylcholine production.
Microdosing LSD, meaning taking one-tenth (10-20 micrograms) of the normal psychedelic dose of the drug, has become a nootropic means of enhancing creativity. Popular in Silicon Valley, LSD activates 5-HT2A receptors, which enhance glutamate activity. Glutamate fosters interneural transmission and plays a role in learning and memory. At these low doses, LSD elevates mood and creativity and may improve cognition and learning.
3. Improve Mood and Decrease Stress + Anxiety
We have all had the opportunity to visit the dark halls associated with nervousness, anxiety, and depression. For most, these are fleeting states of mood, while for others, this can be a daily issue.
Anxiety can range from mild nervousness, to full blown panic attacks that can be harrowing. These states of mind seem to be chemically modulated by several neurotransmitters, and even certain nutritional deficiencies.
Original Photo by Matthew Henry
Here is how nootropics can improve mood and anxiety.
The neurotransmitters that affect anxiety and depression are GABA, serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. Inadequate GABA levels are associated with anxiety.
Serotonin associates with sleep, mood, aggressiveness, and eating. Lower serotonin levels lead to depression, and many anti-depressive pharmaceuticals affect this pathway.
Noradrenaline is a neurotransmitter associated with stressful situations. People with imbalances in noradrenaline have difficulty with efficient stress management.
Dopamine is associated with our ability to seek reward and fulfillment. Those with dopamine deficiencies lack the ability to seek pleasure, a sign commonly associated with depression.
The amino acid L-tyrosine can improve stress and anxiety.
The body uses L-tyrosine to synthesize neurotransmitters and the hormone thyroxine. It is useful in protecting against anxiety, and also against the effects of stress.
When you experience stress, your brain releases noradrenaline to stimulate your nervous system and increase your energy and mental power. The problem is that it can take time to replenish levels of noradrenaline once your body fully depletes its reserves.
This is for example, why so many people feel sluggish and down after the effects of drugs like Adderall have worn off. It depletes the noradrenaline stores. Tyrosine increases the rate of noradrenaline synthesis so that you are less susceptible to stress and do not experience an energy crash.
The dietary essential fatty acid DHA ( docosahexaenoic acid ), which is one of the Omega-3’s, plays a significant role in cerebral health. This polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) is necessary for the cellular integrity of the neuron.
Omega-3 deficiencies can cause anxiety, panic attacks and depression.
Other nutraceuticals used for improving these mood states are L-theanine, bacopa, L-tyrosine, taurine, choline and 5-HTP. L-Theanine promotes the generation of alpha waves, bringing about feelings of inspiration, fearlessness, and fantastic productivity.
Racetams are also used to improve these states as well as physician directed, pharmaceutical anxiolytics and anti-depressants.
4. Promote Sport Performance
Nootropics have several benefits for the athlete and can aid in what athletes call, getting into the zone.
Sport performance is all about reaction time, reading the field, and facilitating the practiced, ingrained, neuromuscular connections of mind and body. Learning, memory, and focus are tightly intertwined, and affect serial reaction time. This is the time necessary for an individual to perceive a signal input, process it, and react.
The more effectively the athlete reads the situation and reacts physically, the better their performance will be. For an athlete, performing this seamlessly, and without conscious thought, can mean the difference between being a star with a 7 or 8 figure salary, or one struggling to pay the rent.
Nootropics can improve signal processing, concentration, and mind set, as well as enhance neurotransmission that can diminish with fatigue. Athletes must avoid fatigue as it is a real biologic event that lowers the ability to effectively concentrate.
Athletes however must be careful with what they take. Some nootropics are so effective for sport that they are now banned by WADA and USADA. This means athletes in the Olympic Sports, the Major Leagues, Tennis, and the UFC are prohibited from using many of them.
Natural nootropics are not banned from sport though. The most common, caffeine, is a pure central nervous system stimulant that can also potentiate the effect of other nootropics. It is not uncommon for nootropic users to stack caffeine with L-theanine. Interestingly, L-theanine when used alone is a relaxing agent, but when mixed with caffeine, improves cognition and attention.
Creatine is also a nootropic for sport. Besides the pure ATP energy effect that creatine has on muscular performance, it also increases intelligence test scores and memory.
Studies show that choline, in addition to improving cognition and attention, can also decrease athletic fatigue and improve athletic performance.
As mentioned, there are many nootropics with varying affects, and that last different periods of time. These nootropics can aid cognition, learning, memory, concentration, physical performance, and can also decrease performance anxiety. Amazingly, when carefully combined into a single agent, like the formulation in E – Energy, Focus, Limitless, these benefits become amplified for the student, business person, athlete, and artist. We may not yet be able to plug you into the Matrix, but nootropics can help potentiate your abilities, and improve your performance.
Remember… it’s all mental.