What are nootropics?
Corneliu E. Giurgea, the Romanian chemist who first synthesized piracetam, developed the concept of “nootropic substance” as early as 1972.  The word “nootropic” derives from the Greek words νους (nous) and τρoπoς (tropos), meaning respectively of “mind” and “change”. Nootropics are therefore natural or synthetic substances that positively alter cognitive abilities; improving, for example, learning, memory, motivation and creativity.
Research on nootropics is aimed at discovering new substances that can improve the cognitive abilities of the brain, and therefore compensate for any neuro-psychological deficits, such as, for example, those related to aging.  – Corneliu E. Giurgea
Often in the media we erroneously talk about “smart drugs” or “intelligent drugs” but lovers of cognitive improvement generally distinguish between nootropics and smart drugs: the former have a very low incidence of side effects, are not toxic to the body and do not cause typically “narcotic” effects; nor the risk of addiction or psychophysical dependence.
The term smart drugs, on the other hand, refers to stimulant substances such as those used in the treatment of attention and learning disorders such as ADHD. They are prescription drugs with greater side effects, as well as an inherent risk of addiction and dependence; they should therefore be used only under medical supervision. This category includes Ritalin, amphetamines and their derivatives, but also the nicotine present in cigarette tobacco.
Nootropic substances are a specific branch of psychoactive substances. According to Giurgea, a substance or drug can be considered a nootropic if it meets the following criteria:
- Improve learning and memory.
- It strengthens mental resistance to conditions that would favor the loss of acquired mental states.
- It protects the brain from physical or chemical damage (such as those caused by a contusion, a neurotoxin, pollution, certain drugs, etc.).
- It increases the effectiveness of the brain control mechanisms in the cortical / subcortical area (improving, for example, reaction times).
- It typically lacks serious drug or side effects, and has very low toxicity.
Today, however, the classification criteria are much less stringent: all substances that enhance cognitive abilities and have a low incidence of side effects are considered nootropics.