Monday, May 7, 2012

My nootropic experience

        The "Nootropics" constitute a wide class of substances, some pharmaceuticals, some vitamins and some nutrients that are claimed to increase a healthy person's mental functioning. The effects of the nootropics run from enhancing memory, boosting mood, increasing concentration, and others. This emphasis on "claim" is strong here as very few effects have been found to occur in healthy people. On a side note: I personally do not consider amphetamine or methylphenidate to be nootropics since even though they allow those with ADD/ADHD to achieve success in school these drugs are primarily remedying a disorder. Nootropics are thought to impart a cognitive benefit to those that are already healthy and while giving amphetamines to a healthy person may allow them to concentrate better or for extended amounts of time as far as  I have heard retention does not increase.  This status of course is arguable and I would be interested in hearing the other side of the debate if anyone could provide point supporting these drugs as nootropics.The term was coined by a Romanian Dr. Giurgea in the early 70's and the popularity of nootropics have waxed and wained since. The prototypical-and as far as I know first-substance to be labeled a nootropic was piracetam. It was the first in a series of "-racetam" drugs which work through a still unknown method of action and are used as anti-epileptics in Europe and possibly other areas of the world. For some reason piracetam was never approved in the US but was allowed to hold "supplement" status meaning it can be sold and used without a doctor's approval. At some point along the line piracetam was claimed to be a cognitive enhancer and began to be relatively widely used. One of the selling points of the drugs was its low potential for toxicity. It is so "untoxic" in fact that daily doses in the 2-5 gram range are recommended. This of course should make anyone even remotely familiar with how the brain and drugs interact a little suspicious.
            About two years ago I became interested in the potentials of nootropics and decided to pick up some piracetam from an online vendor. It was very cheap and came via post in a ziplock bag. Naturally  I can't recommend buying greymarket white powders over the internet but there are always risks inherent in science and I took this one. The powder had an insipid chemical taste that while not terribly strong eventually became unbearable. Every school day I would fill four "00" gauge empty capsules with the powder and take two in the morning and two in the afternoon. There were no subjective effects that could be distinguished from placebo. I continued on this regimen for almost 9 months only taking the piracetam on school days. During the first quarter I took piracetam (spring) I achieved some of the best grades of my college career up until that point. Naturally these results encouraged me to continue to take piracetam. The next quarter (fall) i began taking it again but my grades returned to my normal (B+) range. I continued taking piracetam until my supply ran out (about another 6 months) but my grades more or less hovered around my previous average.
           It was tempting to attribute my boost in grades-however brief it was-to piracetam. But in hindsight the fluctuation in grades was more likely due to my increased interest in my spring classes (that quarter I took abnormal psychology which I had been looking forward to taking for years) and disinterest in my fall classes (social psychology, among others).
           A year later I experimented with a premade cocktail of nootropics that I bought at a supplement shop. If I remember correctly it contained mostly vinpocitine among a few other less powerful nootropics and, this I remember vividly, cranberry juice extract for some unfathomable reason. This mix was costly and again had no noticeable subjective effects nor provided a boost in my grades.
          The nootropics are perhaps the most appealing class of drugs-at least to a certain class of drug user. There often comes a time, especially for those of us in school, where our desire to succeed butts up against our capacity to succeed. The notion that taking a pill will allow us to break through the bonds of our stupidity, the chains that bind us to mediocracy, is incredibly alluring.
          I don't want to discount the possibility of a placebo effect here; I think that the strong anticipation that comes with a first time nootropic user could well cause the drug to work, at least for a short time. This effect would compound especially if the financial cost of the drug is not inconsequential.  As for an objective effect of these drugs, one demonstrated by a well crafted study, I'm very doubtful. After all there must be good reason that the majority of nootropics are wholly uncontrolled in the U.S.
         At the heart of the popularity or at least allure of nootropics-I believe-is a fairly widespread notion that we are not achieving our full potential, that there is some aspect of ourselves that is waiting to be unleashed (independent of hard work) if we can just find the key. My experience with nootropics (so far at least) has made me very skeptical of this idea.

1 comment: