How Safe Are Nootropics?
Everything you wanted to know how using nootropics safely and effectively
Nootropics, otherwise known as ‘smart drugs’ (drugs that are said to improved cognitive function) are proving increasingly popular, particularly amongst business people, academics, and even high-flying athletes.
But are they too good to be true?
Most of us would take a pill that enhances our cognitive function, allowing us to get more done, more efficiently, if we could say conclusively say that there are no side effects. However, we can’t, right? Well, that’s what we want to explore in this article.
Are nootropics safe?
Do they have side effects?
Is it advisable to take them?
Is there a safe dosage?
Let’s find out!
Nootropics: Side Effects and Dangers
What most of you will be wondering is ‘What are the side-effects? How bad are they?’ There is some evidence that there can be side effects as a result of taking nootropics, and that some of them can be quite serious.
For example, many say that messing with the brains delicate chemistry can have profound effects, such as: serotonin syndrome (a very serious imbalance in the brains neurotransmitters), depression and anxiety, and many of them may be addictive.
Others have even claimed that nootropics could negative affect cognitive function (which nootropics are said to improve) when taken over long periods. One expert compared the use of nicotine to the use of nootropics. Nicotine is shown to improve cognitive function in the short term.
However, in the long term a user will need more and more in order to maintain the same benefit, and thus the brain has come to rely on it to perform tasks, which is surely the opposite of the intention of a nootropic?
There are other cognitive side effects of nootropics: memory loss, the depleting of neurotransmission in the brain (meaning that you brain will not function as efficiently) and brain chemistry alteration, which will in turn affect cognitive function.
Time after time sources main concern is that nootropics alter the brain. This is the point, you may be thinking. Well, yes, to an extent. However the effects that we have mentioned are potentially quite serious, and you are, remember, meddling with a finally tuned machine.
According to the health website Everup, taking Nootropics is replete with dangers. They cite the case of two young men who died when taking too much caffeine powder, one of the most readily available and popular nootropics.
This perhaps shows that the perception that nootropics are safe, natural and not to be compared with pharmaceuticals in relation to their side effects and potential dangers is perhaps misguided. In fact, in relation to seemingly innocuous caffeine, the FDA pointed out that pure caffeine in even small doses can be lethal
Finally, most reviews of nootropics also mentioned that fact that side effects are individual. Of course, you may face the ‘obvious’ side effects like dizziness, migraines and nausea. However, your body will react to your supplement differently to any other, and you may experience different side effects to any other user of nootropics.
Supplement Analyst and Mindlab Pro also outline some further, more minor, side-effects that you should be aware of if you choose to take nootropics.
- Upset stomach
- Lucid dreams
- Difficulty sleeping
- Brain fog
- Increased heart rate
However, according to Mental Health Daily, what side effects you have may depend upon:
- How old you are
- How much you take
- How often you take it
- Which nootropics you take
In regards to this, studies have shown the potential damage that nootropics may cause in healthy juveniles. This shows that perhaps nootropics may be safe, given that your brain is not still developing (i.e. you are not an adolescent), you do not take too much, too often, and you take the supplement that is right for you.
Lack of Regulation and FDA Approval
Nootropics, though they are incredibly popular, are not often researched enough to make any certain statements about their safety or otherwise.
Though some have taken them for a long time with no side effects, there are no studies that support long-term use.
As well as this, nootropics are not regulated in the same way as pharmaceuticals, and as such they do not carry FDA approval and they do not have strict regulation.
This may be reassuring, as natural products do not need to be regulated, perhaps due to the lack of concern over their potential harmful effects.
However, on the flipside, this lack of regulation means that you cannot be sure of their safety, or of the quality of the ingredients that the supplements contain.
The Positives of Nootropics
Obviously, given their popularity, there is also a lot of positive testimony about nootropics. According to Nootriment, to qualify as a nootropic a supplement has to be extremely low in toxicity and side effects tend to be very rare and when they do occur they are really mild.
So, by this definition, anything that is not safe cannot actually be called a nootropic.
The founder of nootropics Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea’s original criteria state that they must actually protect and promote health.
So, drugs that you may assume are smart drugs, e.g Ritalin, do not actually qualify. In fact, some of those that do qualify, such as Piracetam, Aniracetam, Noopept, Choline have been the subjects of a number of studies showing their safety and their lack of side effects.
As well as this, there are claims that, rather than being unsafe, they may actually improve your health over the long term, slowing down the signs of ageing and improving cognition and brain plasticity.
One Neuroscientist and brain expert Professor Barbara Sahakian of the University of Cambridge wishes that these would be more clinical research into nootropics, as she sees the potential value of nootropics.
She says "I'm keen for government to look at this closely because some of them could be useful.
One nootropic, Modafinil, is actually licensed for those who work shifts as it has been shown to reduce accidents.
Sahakian says "Modafinil seems more effective and efficient with lower side effects than caffeine, and there has been a lot of discussion about the safety of young people drinking a lot of Red Bull...if people are going to enhance themselves to stay awake longer it would be better to have safe methodologies."
So, perhaps nootropics may actually be safer than the methods most of us use to stay alert and get through the day. As a result Sahakian believes they should perhaps be more readily accessible. Her research has had some positive results, showing Modafinil has improved cognitive function in both impaired and healthy volunteers.
Check out the images on the right to read just some of our recent nootropics reviews.
What About Nootropic Stacks?
In case you have never heard the term before, a nootropic stack is a combination of two or more nootropic supplements in order to blend the effects of the individual compounds, creating an even greater improvement in cognition.
These are becoming increasingly popular, and any discussion of the safety of nootropics also has to take stacks into account.
Nootropicnation says that it is not always safe to mix nootropic supplements without experience of the individual drugs together. Likewise, ‘stacking’ can in some cases reduce side effects, so may in fact be safer.
For example, racetam and a choline taken together can reduce side effects, as choline helps neurotransmitters used for improved cognitive function work more efficiently. In terms of nootropics and ‘stacks’, the same can be said for both.
Until more research is undertaken, we cannot be 100% about their safety. However, there is lots of testimony a to the safety of both, and generally, opinion seems to suggest their safety.
Mindlab pro Due to the legal state of nootropics, the burden of identifying safe and effective nootropic procedures is largely up to us: the nootropic community. Until clinical research can catch up with the growing field of cognitive enhancement, this DIY identification process will likely be one of trial-and-error.
So, some methods to ensure the safety of your use of nootropics are;
Wait until your brain is fully developed: There is quite a lot of evidence that nootropics can have a negative effect on brain development and plasticity
Know why you’re using them: Don’t just take them because they are the latest fad. Have a clear reason.
Minimize the dosage: Don’t take too much, as this will increase the risk of side effects, if there will be any
Use on an “as-needed” basis: For example, if you have a test to study for. Don’t use them all day, everyday
Cycling off: For example, you could take a week off every month. Our bodies are not designed to take supplements.
Beware of interactions: If you are on other medications, then check to see if it is safe to take your supplement concurrently. This also goes for stacks.
Don’t take them: If you are in doubt, just don’t take them.
So, we have just gone through some of the evidence on whether Nootropics are safe, and the outcome seems to be?
The safety or otherwise of nootropics is dependent upon a number of factors: your age, how much you take, which particular supplement you take, whether you stack, and likely many other factors.
Most authorities say that they are probably safe, but that you need to proceed with caution. One way that you could do this is to rely on other things to improve your cognitive function, such as exercise, meditation, etc, before going for the ‘quick fix’ of nootropics.
Everup puts it well when they ask ‘are they worth the risk?’ and say ‘it’s your call.’ They do caution though that perhaps you should review your expectations.
Let us know your experiences with nootropics in the comments.