Nootropics : the myth of cosmetic neurology

How to improve memory, and at the same time the speed of thinking and the ability to concentrate? There is an opinion among the people, especially among students, that there are such magic pills – nootropics . Drink them during the session – and everything that you have not learned during the year will easily settle in your minds from one glance at the textbook. Following the students in search of nootropics, “effective managers” exhausted by overworking, people embraced by the idea of ​​self-improvement, and other citizens wishing to “remember everything” scour pharmacies in search of nootropics … 

In the West, the desire of a healthy person to improve their cognitive functions has already received the name – “cosmetic neurology”. And drugs and methods that allow you to improve the nervous system are combined into a group of “cognitive enhancers”, which, in particular, includes nootropics .

What are ” nootropics “?

The term ” nootropics ” was proposed by scientists in 1972 and is the result of the merger of two Greek words: ” noos ” – mind, thought, reason and ” tropos ” – a way, direction. That is, these are drugs that improve memory, learning ability and increase the stability of the nervous system. The first nootropic was piracetam , and since then piracetam-like compounds have been referred to them . 

Often, due to the similarity of the external effect, people confuse nootropics (glycine, piracetam , vinpocetine , nicotinoyl gamma-aminobutyric acid ( Picamilon ), hopantenic acid (Pantogam), cerebrolysin, phenotropil , etc.) with analeptics, which include, for example, methylphenidate , modafinil , dextramphetamine , etc. The difference is in the mechanism of action.  

How do nootropics work?

The main problem with nootropics is that there is no single mechanism of action for different substances in this category. This is the main obstacle to conducting correct research and its recognition as a drug. Moreover, even for long-known drugs, there is no certainty that the identified mechanisms of their action are the only ones.

It is known that nootropics increase the blood supply to the brain and stimulate metabolic processes, which improves the transfer of information between neurons. In this case, the following effects are observed:

  • increased synthesis of ATP, RNA and proteins;
  • improving the supply of oxygen to neurons (antihypoxic effect);
  • protection of cells from reactive oxygen species (antioxidant effect);
  • activation of glucose processing;
  • acceleration of the processes of transmission of nerve impulses between neurons.

Analeptics (from the Greek word ” analepticos ” – restoring) have an exciting effect directly on the centers of the medulla oblongata, or indirectly increase their sensitivity. That is, they work fundamentally differently than nootropics . They are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, insomnia, and other disorders of the nervous system. In nootropics – its “target audience.”

For whom were nootropics created ?

Initially, these drugs were developed for patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, that is, for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders. In these diseases, connections between neurons are “torn”, nerve cells are destroyed and a person, among other things, loses memory. In the course of the first experiments, it was proved that a side effect of taking nootropics is not only to improve memory, but also to enhance other cognitive functions.  

Since nootropics increase the blood circulation in the brain, in some countries (for example, in Russia) they are also actively prescribed in the rehabilitation period after traumatic brain injury, stroke, etc. 

True, recent studies show that if there is an effect, then it is small, unpredictable and uncontrollable. That is, to date, there is no evidence of the clinical efficacy of nootropics for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, stroke, etc., with the exception of their use in one of the types of epilepsy. 

Let’s add: in the United States and other developed countries, nootropics are not considered drugs with proven effectiveness. They are included in the category of dietary supplements, they are not used for treatment and are not even allowed for sale in pharmacies – in contrast to Russia and developing countries, where they are actively prescribed for various diseases of the nervous system, both for adults and children.

Do nootropics work on healthy people?

Numerous experiments show that with regard to improving memory, speed of thinking, etc. nootropics work only on sick people. Rare studies in healthy people show a placebo-like effect. Therefore, scientists believe that the possibilities of nootropics in the field of enhancing cognitive functions are greatly exaggerated. Like a headache pill: it is effective if you have a headache, and completely useless if your head is okay. Even nicotine increases the ability to concentrate more strongly than nootropics . 

Are nootropics safe ?

Well, since nootropics in the usual dose do not give a significant effect for healthy people , why not double it, or triple it, or drink it until the drug works (counting on a cumulative effect)?

Scientists say it’s dangerous. First of all, because not all nootropic drugs have passed clinical trials in people with a healthy nervous system. Tests on animals alone do not give scientists much confidence in their safety. After all, we differ from the rest of the animal world precisely by the brain on which we are going to influence.

F. Gualtieri , one of the developers of a pair of newest nootropics , in an article to be published in April this year in the Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and Medicinal Chemistry , writes with amazement: “12 years after the creation of the unifiram and sunifiram, I accidentally discovered that There are dozens of websites on the Internet that sell them as drugs to improve cognitive function in humans. But after all, only a few preclinical studies have been carried out and it is still unknown how toxic they are in the long term   

Let’s clarify: we are talking about drugs that are 30 thousand times more powerful than piracetam and a thousand times more powerful piracetam-like drugs, such as oxiracetam , etiracetam , etc. What can we say about “fashionable” nootropics that are freely sold in any domestic pharmacy?

Side effects of nootropics include irritability, irritability, aggressiveness, anxiety, sleep disorders, nausea and vomiting. Some of the drugs also have individual characteristics: piracetam , for example, can provoke an epileptic seizure, and in the elderly it increases the manifestations of coronary insufficiency. They can also increase or decrease the effect of other drugs taken concurrently.  

In addition, until now, there have been no long-term studies that would allow evaluating the effect of the effects of nootropics on the human body over the years.

It is also not known what other cognitive enhancers act on. Animal experiments have shown that genetic improvements in learning ability in mice are associated with increased sensitivity to pain. And some analeptics improve concentration, but at the same time reduce the level of creativity. Finally, Alzheimer’s disease demonstrates a strong connection between personality, attitude and memory. Acting on memory by means of chemistry, do we not change the personality of a person?

What should healthy people do?

So, today it is known that:

  • nootropics trigger a number of various neurochemical reactions in the brain tissues that can have a beneficial effect on the functioning of neurons;
  • in patients, the likelihood of a positive effect is higher;
  • in healthy people – lower;
  • the proven pronounced effect of influence on memory could not be obtained in either of those or others.

Pavel Likhachev, neurosurgeon, sales director of the Atlas medical center, in his interview with about cognitive enhancers, emphasizes: “Any drug has indications for use. Use not according to indications (as well as the use of the drug in doses exceeding the recommended ones) is an inappropriate risk in the game with one’s own health. All stimulants deplete the nervous system, plus their effect varies greatly depending on the type of nervous system and the presence of concomitant diseases. 

Conclusion: if you really need to, you can just once. And on an ongoing basis, you need to look for “legal” energy (I write in quotes, because I mean everything that does not “hack” our own “bank” of dopamine and serotonin in the brain) – lovemaking, sports, creativity, and so on. “

Indeed, in addition to nootropics , there are many things that can improve memory and other cognitive functions:

  • Food stimulants: coffee, chocolate – or both, taken together in the form of a mocha latte .
  • Trainings, board and computer games that develop memory.
  • Physical activity, adherence to the daily routine and healthy sleep.

Any of the above points is no less effective in increasing a person’s ability to concentrate and improving memory than nootropics .

Leave a Reply