Trending – Nootropics

Are you familiar with products marketed as nootropics? In this post, we explore nootropics and the products that may be sold as nootropics.

What are nootropics?

Nootropics are cognitive-enhancing substances designed and used to boost mental function (1,2).
Nootropics break down into four categories (1):

  • Pharmaceutical drugs
  • Over-the-counter drugs
  • Unapproved drugs
  • Dietary supplements 

Pharmaceutical drugs

These medications are available via prescription only, and many are regulated as controlled substances. Pharmaceutical nootropics are used to treat neurocognitive and neurobehavioral disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer's, narcolepsy, attention deficit hyper disorder (ADHD), and more.  

Over-the-counter drugs

These medications are often marketed to help keep you awake and have active ingredients like caffeine or other stimulants. They differ from dietary supplements because they make health claims that U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) supports. 
The over-the-counter drugs are regulated and labeled under FDA policy (1).

Unapproved drugs

These compounds are often sold and advertised as dietary supplements. However, they have not gone through the regulatory pathway to be used and considered dietary supplements or drugs. 
These include ingredients like phenibut, racetam drugs (piracetam, aniracetam, oxiracetam, etc.), vinpocetine, and more. While manufacturers may sell products containing these ingredients as dietary supplements, the FDA has not approved them, meaning they have not been evaluated for safety, effectiveness, or quality and may be illegal in specific states in the U.S. (1,2).

Dietary supplements

These often contain herbal or botanical ingredients and nutrients like ashwagandha, Bacopa monnieri, Ginkgo biloba, omega-3-fatty acids, vitamin B12, and more that are suggested to help boost cognitive performance. However, they are not drugs approved by the FDA, so we do not know their full potential, if any, to increase cognitive function. 

Do nootropics work? 

Pharmaceutical and over-the-counter drugs have been evaluated for safety, effectiveness, and quality before the FDA's approval to work as intended when prescribed or recommended by a credentialed medical doctor or pharmacist.  
Unapproved drugs' ability to boost cognition is unknown because they have not been evaluated for safety, effectiveness, or quality. While there may be some merit and evidence to their nootropic properties, we do not know if and how they work, a safe dosage, or their potential to be addictive without proper clinical studies (1).
Dietary supplements are regulated as food and not a drug by the FDA. So, their efficacy for use as nootropics hasn't been verified. While dietary supplements may have biological effects, we do not know what, if any, nootropic effects will occur from these ingredients (1). 

Are nootropics safe? 

When used under the guidance of a medical doctor, prescribed and over-the-counter nootropics are safe for use as directed. 
We do not know a safe level to consume unapproved drugs because they have not undergone clinical studies to ensure their safety and efficacy. 
Dietary supplements that have been third-party verified for quality are often safe when used as intended. However, we recommend talking with your doctor and pharmacist to ensure they are safe for use in your specific health situation (1). 

Should I take nootropics? 

If prescribed or recommended by a credentialed medical doctor, you should take your nootropic medication. 
If you are unsure about a nootropic product marketed as a dietary supplement, we recommend talking with your doctor or pharmacist before taking it. 

How do I tell a nootropic dietary supplement apart from an unapproved drug? 

It can be tricky to tell a dietary supplement apart from an unapproved drug. However, dietary supplements will often contain an herbal or botanical ingredient like ashwagandha or Ginkgo biloba. Or, they may contain nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids or B vitamins.
Additionally, reputable dietary supplements will have a third-party laboratory evaluate the product to ensure you're getting what's advertised on the bottle. Common third-party laboratories include NSF International, US Pharmacopeia, Consumer Lab, and more, and will be labeled on the bottle. 
Suppose the product marketed as a dietary supplement contains ingredients like DMHA (octodrine), DMAA, phenibut, racetam drugs (piracetam, aniracetam, oxiracetam, etc.), phenotropil, pramiracetam, vinpocetine, or others. In that case, it may be an unapproved drug (1,2). It's best to consult with a medical doctor or a pharmacist before taking any product with ingredients that you cannot easily verify. 

What else do I need to know? 

Reputable companies with large distribution networks will have information about their drug or supplements publicly available on their websites and ensure their labels contain necessary information. Read labels and pay attention to the manufacturer before making supplement purchases to make an informed decision. 

The good news.

Nootropic drugs are an important tool in helping to improve the quality of life for many people with neurocognitive and neurobehavioral disorders. If you think you need a nootropic to help improve your brain function, you can reach out to a medical professional

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