How do Nootropics Work and What are the Potential Side Effects?

How do Nootropics Work and What are the Potential Side Effects?

Nootropics are ‘smart drugs’ that are specifically created to help boost cognitive functioning. The brilliant doctor who coined the term Nootropics is known as Dr. Corneliu Giurgea, he coined this term from two Romanian terms ‘bending’ and ‘mind’. According to him it is absolutely normal for human beings to want a better brain. The idea that you can be super intelligent is something we all desire no matter how high your IQ is already. For instance, these drugs are extremely popular in Silicon alley where the most brilliant minds work, it is just evidence that no matter how brilliant we are, we would jump on the chance to become even smarter. Dr, Giurgea famously said ‘Man is not going to wait passively for millions of years before evolution offers him a better brain’. In this article we are going to breakdown how Nootropics work.

The truth is that there is no short answer that will conclusively detail how Nootropics work. In order to get a better understanding of how these cognitive enhancing supplements work we need to understand a variety of issues, let us begin with trying to get a better understanding about the human brain.

The human Brain

When it comes to the human brain there is still so much that is still not clear. In fact according to knowledgeable and experienced experts we only have 10% understanding about the human brain. It is an extremely complex organ and there is so much that is still left to uncover. An adult has approximately 100 billion neurons and this creates trillions of interactions and connections. With that being said, scientists have come a long way trying to understand how all this connections help you function as a human being. It is this knowledge that has made it possible to create ‘smart drugs.

When it comes to using Nootropics, it all boils down to the type that you are using and the ingredients that it is made up of. All Nootropics are intended to have a positive impact on the brain but the type of nootropic will dictate the response that a user experiences. While some will enhance memory, others will improve concentration and improve athletic capability. The first ever nootropic to ever be developed was Piracetam and it is specially formulated to optimise the transmission of neurons into the corpus callosum which is name of the area that connects the two brain hemispheres. It works by systematically boosting the levels acetylcholine which is a fast acting neurotransmitter that is extremely vital for every day brain functions. For most parts, these cognitive enhancing supplements work in conjunction with your brain chemistry. What they do is simply encourage the production of neurotransmitters and also inhibit re-uptake. Just like most antidepressants function. How they are designed to work is what helps to yield positive effects on both cognition and mood.

In case you are unfamiliar with neurotransmitters, they are natural chemicals that play a critical role in the transmission of signals from on neuron to another. According to the specific messages that are received, neurotransmitters will bind to particular receptor sites. Together neurotransmitters and receptors create a functional ‘system’. Essentially, Nootropics specifically target their system therefore enhancing their efficiency will impact cognitive function and cognitive ability.

Let us delve into these systems to offer a more thorough explanation

Acetylcholine in relation to the cholinergic system

This is a system whose function is completely reliant on the cholinergic system which is the key neurotransmitter that affects and influence cognitive function. Acetylcholine plays a key role in concentration, focus, memory and even decision making hence the popularity of cholinergic which specifically boosts the production of this neurotransmitter.  Without the use of supplements, you can obtain acetylcholine through a diet that is packed with choline. It is heavily present in eggs and various animal organs such as brain, liver and kidney. It is also present in various forms of fish species and whey.

Although theoretically it is possible to get enough choline through diet, it means taking at least 5 eggs on a daily basis and animal products which most people are trying to aid in the first place for health purposes. According to numerous studies and reliable medical statistics, most people are unbeknown to them deficient in choline which is what helps to naturally synthesise acetylcholine.

Glutamate in regards to the glutamatergic system

It is a known and proven fact that glutamate is the most abundant excitatory neurotransmitter in the entire nervous system. It plays an important role in ensuring that the brain remains healthy and functions optimally. Additionally, it also plays a key role in aspects of learning and memory. At all times there needs to be a proper balance of glutamate levels in the brain so that it continues working normally.

This neurotransmitter is not commonly affected as dopamine and acetylcholine although these are a few Nootropics that completely and partially rely on the glutamatergic system. For example, Anticeratum helps to reduce glutamate sensitivity and this significantly boosts brain activity.

Dopamine and Serotonin in regards to the Serotonergic and dopaminergic system

Both serotonin and dopamine are key neurotransmitters that play a key role in the use of Nootropics. To start with, these neurotransmitters have a prominent effect on a person’s feelings, mood and therefore general well being. Research has also proven unequivocally that dopamine and serotonin also positively affect one’s ability to focus as well as boosting memory.

Contrary to common conception, not all Nootropics use these 2 systems and actually they are not generally the primary method of action. That said, they play a key role in the effects that Nootropics generally have on users.  Cognitive enhancing supplements that affect serotonin tend to be entirely focused on enhancing mood as a way of improving a user’s cognitive function.

Oxygen and blood flow to the brain

Most Nootropics do not only affect the production and reuptake of neurotransmitters but are also potent vasodilators that help to improve the blood and oxygen reuptake into the brain/. When this happens, the energy of the brain generally increases, this is because the increase of oxygen and nutrients that aid in promoting the feelings of focus and alertness. The more you use your brain, the more nature energy reserves are depleted. Glucose and oxygen are the core sources of energy that help the brain function optimally.

When the brain is sufficiently supplied with the help of vasodilators, cognition improves and as a result a person is less fatigued. When the brain is energetic, motivation is positively is affected therefore providing the user with a more balanced sense of well being. Piracetam, the first ever nootropic to be sold commercially is not surprisingly a powerful vasodilator that boosts glucose metabolism and blood flow to the brain.

Brain Plasticity

Brain plasticity is extremely important when it comes to learning and how the human brains is affected all changes with experience and additional knowledge. All Nootropics in the market have an effect on the user’s brain plasticity by altering the brain synapses. Keep in mind that synapses are responsible for sending signals when a person is communicating. Memory for instance is also involved in the complexity of synapses. How the synapses are linked will determine how well an individual can recall and use information learnt and what is stored in their memory. When the brain plasticity is improved, it is easy for synapses to not only connect but also communicate. Nootropics go a step further by also improving the communication between the two brain hemispheres.

Individual Variation

This is an extremely important factor to take into consideration. Medically speaking, there is substantial individual variation when it comes to the potential side effects of nootropics. While some people vouch that they have used used them for years and have discontinued use without any noticeable setbacks, others are hooked and can barely survive a day without taking them. Just like any other chemical, a person genetics, lifestyle, state of health and level of tolerance will influence how they are affected both in the short-term and long-term.

In a nutshell, Nootropics simply enhance how the grain already works; they do not interrupt or alter. Instead they work in conjunction with the systems in the brain to boost cognitive functioning.Knowing how to take nootropics is just the first step, you also need to be aware of the risk you are taking when choosing to use these smart drugs.

Potential Dangers of Taking Nootropics

Any chemical that we put into our bodies will affect us both in the short term and long term especially when taken consistently over a long period of time. The case is not any different when it comes to Nootropics. Keep in mind that there is individual variation when it comes to using these cognitive enhancers. While one person will experience extremely extreme side effects, another person will not be affected just right even after long term use.

It is extremely important not to assume that Nootropics will help to elevate brain function in the long term. Although most manufacturers claim this, lets us not forget that they are entrepreneurs who care about the bottom-line which is making profit. In this article we will explore some of the potential dangers of taking smart drugs. In this article we cover the most common potential dangers according to research and reliable statistics.

Alteration to the brain chemistry

Based on numerous reliable brain scans, it is clear that all Nootropics work by influencing how the human brain works. These cognitive enhancers specifically affect production and re-uptake of neurotransmitters. Studies have shown that some parts of the brain may expand or shrink when these cognitive enhancing supplements are used for a long period of time and then discontinued. Even Nootropics that are considered the safest can affect how the human brain works hence the possibility of inhibiting some important cognitive functions.

Cognitive Deficits

Some knowledgeable and experienced experts have compared the use of Nootropics to nicotine in that long-term consistent use will lead to significant cognitive deficits. When a person uses nicotine for a short period of time, cognitive function is elevated. On the other hand, long term use of nicotine will not be as effective. This happens because a user tends to stabilise meaning they eventually will need just the same amount of nicotine to achieve what was the normal cognitive function before they started taking nicotine. According to reliable research, the human brain adapts (becomes tolerant) t the particular drug/supplement meaning it relies on it to perform any advanced cognitive tasks.

Cumulative toll on the nervous system

This is not the case with all the Nootropics in the market; it depends on the unique mechanism of action of each. Stimulatory Nootropics such as Provigil that force a user to be alert at all times can take a heavy toll of a person psychologically. Think about it…how Provigil works is by literally forcing the users body to create additional brain energy even when the user is physically fatigued. This ends up disrupting circadian rhythm which uses up energy reserves. The long term side effect is that it could significantly accelerate aging and also alter how the human brain and human body work.


There have been numerous user reports on long term usage of Nootropics; some of these suggest that after consistent long-term use most people cannot perform cognitively without taking these cognitive enhancers. Can you imagine a scenario where you need to take Nootropics to do daily tasks such as working, taking tests and remaining productive on a general scale? There are many stories of persons addicted and dependent on these cognitive enhancers warning new users to proceed with caution and seek natural alternatives before choosing to use smart drugs.

Lack of adequate research

When it comes to commercial cognitive enhancers, there still isn’t adequate research to justify long-term use of Nootropics for cognitive enhancement and brain health. Sure, there are many people who have used Nootropics for a long period of time without any reported detriments. However, the truth remains that there are several risks associated with taking any artificial chemicals to boost homeostatic functioning. We cannot conclusively label Nootropics as unsafe; we must nonetheless keep in mind that the jury is still not out when it comes to exhaustive research.

Impairment to memory


One of the most important brain functions that determine how well you are able to carry out cognitive tasks is memory. A recent Harvard study linked dementia to benzodiazepines and a bunch of other CNS depressant drugs. Granted these drugs are not completely similar to Nootropics, it took a long time before even the most knowledgeable and experienced experts made this important connection. Smart drugs are relatively new to the market as compared to CNS depressant drugs and benzodiazepines and have really not been studied in the long term to ascertain the effect that they have on the body when taken over a long period of time. Although research has not ascertained that memory damage is a sure side effect, most believe that it is just a matter of time.


This is another possible side effect that most experts predict is close to being proven. This is because the human brain is extremely delicate and also influenced by a wide array of factors. This means that taking a drug over a long period of time is likely to depilate certain neurotransmitters that enable this delicate organ to function optimally. When they are completely depleted, it means you literally must continue taking the supplement to maintain adequate cognitive functioning. Upon discontinuation, it will take some time before the brain is able to re-establish homeostatic neurotransmissions


The rule of thumb when it comes to taking any supplement is to ensure that you seek medical attention from a medical practitioner who understands your medical history exhaustively. The obvious reason is because a doctor will tell you whether your body can tolerate the effects of the supplement in question. The other reason is because drugs tend to interact with each other when taken simultaneously. It is important to ensure that you are aware of all the contraindications before deciding to take a nootropic of any kind. Certain adverse reactions can actually be fatal.  The best thing is that this can easily be prevented through researching exhaustively. Talk to a professional who will help you understand what contradictions to avoid.

Quality Concerns

Let’s face it; we live in a generation that is capitalistic and greedy. The market is crowded with unscrupulous entrepreneurs who want to make profit at the user’s expense. Evaluate the supplier and make sure that you are buying from a legit company. Talk to experts, do exhaustive research online. Most importantly look for references from person’s you trust who have used Nootropics before. Don’t believe the hype, focus on the facts!

Sleep Issues


Multiple reliable studies have shown that you can get sleeping difficulties when you take a Nootropic. Sleeping difficulties happen because the brain is unable to naturally shut down and rest. Stimulatory Nootropics force the human nervous system to remain activated.

Effective Tips that significantly minimize the danger that Nootropics have on your system

Just because Nootropics have potential side effects doesn’t mean you forfeit the benefits. To get you started on the right direction here are ways to minimize the potential Hazards of Nootropics

Don’t Rush! Wait patiently until your Brain is developed

Nootropics have become a staple for many college students. This is because of high competition, millennials are extremely ambitious. They want to succeed and therefore work hard. To keep up with schoolwork they become hooked on Nootropics.  This is a tender age between 18 and mid twenty, according scientists the brain fully develops after 25, meaning this young people are not letting their brains develop fully. A Nootropic us supposed to enhance brain function, it can only achieve this in a fully developed brain. Otherwise it will be interrupting brain development by influencing neurotransmitter production and reuptake too prematurely. Although research has not yet ascertained the extent that Nootropics will affect a brain that is not fully developed, experts are sure that Nootropics will negatively affect how your brain works. Simply avoid this risk by waiting until after 25 years to take Nootropics.

Know and Keep in mind why you are using Nootropics

If you decide to take these cognitive enhancers, have a clear reason why you are planning using them. What is your objective? What do you want to achieve? If you go in blindly, you will not be able to use them appropriately, keep in mind that each has different mechanism of action. Choose one that will get you closest to your goal.

Don’t rely on Nootropics, Use them as-needed basis

What increases the risk of damage is consistent and long term use. Only use when you require them and then take a break from them, this will give your brain time to operate normally without any external influence. If you use them aimlessly, you will get to a point where you are over-medicating yourself so that you can function cognitively.

Research, research and research more!

When in doubt, don’t take them!