The Origins of Nootropics, What They Are and Who They're For

  • October 30, 2021
4 minute read

“Mind-benders” have generated a lot of buzz lately. And no, we’re not talking about Christopher Nolan movies. We’re talking nootropics. Nowadays, they’re known by many names ― “cognitive enhancers”, “brain supplements”, and “smart drugs”, to name a few. But what exactly are they, and where did they come from? The Origin of Nootropics Combining the Greek words for “mind” and “to bend/turn”, Dr. Corneliu Giurgea coined the term “nootropic” (pronounced “nu-troh-pik”) in 1972 after stumbling upon the first such compound known to modern western medicine.  While the “original” nootropic, piracetam, was a lab-engineered compound, many nootropics (brain supplements) sold today are natural plant derivatives such as ashwagandha and ginkgo that have served as cornerstones of supplementary medicine for millennia. Nootropics serve as a natural alternative to Ritalin, Adderall and a variety of other drugs. What They Are Despite being a bit late to the party, Dr. Giurgea’s original definition of nootropics still applies. Whether it’s natural or synthetic, a nootropic must: Enhance learning, memory, and focus. Support brain health through stress. Shield the brain from physical and chemical harm. Aid activities such as movement, sleep, and hormone production. Be non-toxic, even at high doses. In short, nootropics boost cognitive performance and brain health while causing minimal, if any, adverse side effects.  What They're Not This definition rules out potentially harmful and addictive “smart drugs” like Adderall, plus whatever pill Bradley Cooper was popping to fight mobsters and make millions in Limitless. How Do Nootropics Work? Every nootropic affects the brain in a unique way. Broadly speaking, however, nootropics influence the levels of neurotransmitters, hormones, and enzymes available to the brain through various means, e.g. improving cerebral oxygen supply, stimulating nerve growth, or increasing alpha brain wave activity. Potential Benefits of Nootropics Learning, focus, and memory. The philosopher Mortimer Adler once quipped that “the purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live.” Plants such as lion’s mane mushroomsand Bacopa monnieri have been proven to help our minds do just that. They aid learning, sharpen focus, and slow down age-related memory loss, in addition to a wealth of other benefits. Energy without the anxiety. How often have you gotten the jitters after drinking a bit too much coffee? Pure nootropics like citicoline and curcumin can boost energy and endurance without making your heart beat out of your chest. They serve as the perfect natural alternative to Ritalin and Adderall. Mood, anxiety, and stress management. Given that the news networks seem to have an endless supply of lemons to throw at us, we could all use some help to make lemonade. Among other advantages, ashwagandha root and rhodiola rootcan help balance mood and improve stress resistance to keep anxiety and depression at bay.  Rest, recovery, and sleep. Roughly 70M Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems.  Supplements like L-Glycineand lemon balm improve sleep quality without excess grogginess. Who Can Benefit? The short answer is anybody that consistently faces stress or wants to take on life with a sharper mental edge. There’s a nootropic out there for everybody, depending on each person’s specific needs. For those taking substances like Ritalin and Adderall, there are plenty of natural alternative to Ritalin and Adderall nootropics to choose from. Should You Take Them? Of course, the foundation of strong mental performance is built upon healthy sleep, diet, exercise, and stress management. We’re not here to pretend that popping a couple pills without otherwise investing in those core pillars will turn you into a superhero. What nootropics can do, however, is provide a powerful complementary boost to your wellness regimen.