Brain pills!? What the hell are Nootropics?

Brain pills!? What the hell are Nootropics?

Have you seen Limitless?  Bradley Cooper takes a pill that provides him with a four-digit IQ, that allows him to “access and use 100% of his brain.” He pretty much has superpowers because of the brain-enhancing pill he takes.  The fact that he has a four-digit IQ would make him virtually omniscient.

I’ll take a truckload of godlike super pills, please.

Oh, and I would like to touch on the myth that “we only use 10% of our brain.” This myth that has been pervasive throughout society for far too long.  You can read more about it herehere, and here.  Mythbusters also busted this myth on their October 27th, 2010 episode.  You can view the after show of that episode here.

Nootropics are supplements that can aid in brain functioning.  They can help with focus, concentration, clarity, verbal fluidity, and many other aspects of brain functioning.  Nootropic is a blanket term that covers a wide variety of supplements.  Anything from fish oil to amphetamines, to caffeine and dozens more; pretty much anything that can aid in brain functioning could be thrown under the descriptions above and be considered a Nootropic. Anyway, on to Nootropics.  Nootropic (Pronounced No-eh-troh-pic) is a Greek word that means “towards the mind.”  The term was coined by Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, who was a Romanian chemist and psychologist, who also discovered the first Nootropic, Piracetam (Pronounced Pi-rasi-tam).

However, what is interesting is that there seems to be a bit of a gray area with what is and isn’t considered a Nootropic.

Nootropics. Brain food in a gray area.
Ha! Brain food in a gray area.


When Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea first coined the term Nootropic, he also implemented a set of criteria for what can be considered one.  According to Dr. Giurgea they must:

  • Enhance memory and learning
  • Enhance learned behaviors under conditions known to disrupt them
  • Protect the brain from physical or chemical injury
  • Enhance the Tonic Cortical/subcortical control mechanisms
  • Exhibit few side effects and extremely low toxicity, while lacking the pharmacology of psychotropic drugs (Motor stimulation, sedation, etc.)

If we follow these criteria then that takes away quite a few of the supplements that were considered Nootropics.  For example stimulants, such as Caffeine and amphetamines, would not be considered.

I will touch on an array of Nootropic supplements in this blog, but I will focus primarily on  those that are considered “True Nootropics.”  Supplements that will aid in everything from learning, to focus, to speaking in tongues (Not really).  This site, as well as this site, abide by the criteria set by Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea on what is considered a Nootropic, whereas and the medical dictionary by Farlax do not.  That is not to say that any of these sites are wrong in any way, but it is apparent there is not universal agreement on what is and is not considered a Nootropic.  I do enjoy how Nootriment defines them in this post, so give this a read when time permits.A bowl full pills and a person using a spoon.

Speaking of the movie Limitless. Modafinil is the pharmaceutical that the movie was (loosely) based on.  Now, this drug will not provide you with cognitive superpowers, but it has proven benefit that it aids in brain function. It is primarily prescribed to people with Narcolepsy to help with wakefulness and alertness but is also occasionally used in the military for this very benefit.  Because I find this medication particularly interesting, I will go into more detail in a future post.

Back to the Granddaddy Nootropic, Piracetam.  It appears that Piracetam was discovered somewhere around 1950 – 1964 by Dr. Giurgea.  Piracetam is a part of a group called racetams.  Racetams all share the same chemical base and are modifications off of that base.  There is a wide variety of Racetams with varying effects on the body.  I will go into more detail on Racetams in future posts, for now, if you would like more information; check out this article by for some detailed information on Racetams.

I find this introduction to Nootropics by to be a fantastic read, so if you are interested in more in-depth information on them, definitely take a look.

By the way, when trying to make the images for this post, I tried searching for a man screaming at a brain.  Not only do I have a much more questionable search history; I discovered this little gem of a movie.

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