What are nootropics?Science 

What are nootropics?

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When the term nootropics was coined as such by Romanian psychologist and chemist Corneliu E. Giurgea in 1972, it is doubtful that he realised the extent to which the drugs that fell under that umbrella would become a heavy hitter in the pharmaceutical market. Based off of the Greek words “nous” and “trepein”, which together loosely translate to “mind bender”, nootropics are known as smart drugs — they are able to enhance your cognitive ability thereby improving your memory and creativity.

In popular media, you may remember the novel Limitless, which has since spun off into its own movie and TV-series. Although the experimental drug taken by the protagonist is not described as a nootropic, it exhibits some of the similar behaviour, admittedly to a much exaggerated level. Improved cognitive and brain function in the series leads to the main character “unlocking” more brain power and being able to process information through a new light.

Whilst that might seem like a bit of a stretch, it has been suggested that nootropics are indeed able to optimize your cognitive abilities – albeit at a much lower than the dramatized series. A debate about these drugs has been raging for years, as doctors, psychiatrists and neuroscientists point towards a lack of clinical data and studies proving that use of nootropics improves your brain function. Despite this, these smart drugs continue to hold a substantial share of the pharmaceutical market, with sales toppling the US$1 Billion mark in 2015.

Known to be a common sight amongst university students looking for an edge or improved efficiency during exam time, nootropics have continued their upward progression throughout international markets, with supplements available in major countries and outlets around the world. But what exactly is in these mind improving drugs?

Most of the main components are natural ingredients such as Huperzine A, a naturally occurring alkaloid found in firmoss which has been investigated in the past as a potential treatment for neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. There are a range of other ingredients that are commonly found in nootropic supplements which have their own cognitive benefits. Compounds such as Choline, Bacopa and GABA all have their own roots within nature and have been known to have some effect on improving mental capabilities.


Overall`nootropics are an interesting mix of sci-fi and science that still remains to be tested on a large scale. Some of the components show signs of promise, but odds are they will fall short of the potential shown in Limitless. Whilst the market improves and tests out various nootropical remedies, it would be worth keeping an eye on in case it becomes a bona fide answer to memory loss or improved cognitive ability.

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