When I first got into cognitive enhancement many years ago, I was looking for an edge in mental performance and I have to admit, something to deal with the nagging anxiety that tainted my life.
Conventional medicine doesn’t provide many solutions or options outside of lifestyle changes. Standard medical advice seems to be life-style related such as undertaking regular exercise, maintaining a good diet, not smoking and drinking less alcohol. But I was already doing these things and wanted more.
Well, that’s where nootropics or ‘smart drugs’ came in. So, when I started looking around for a supplement that could help me achieve the performance edge I was looking for - mental focus, clarity and increased memory, I found there were repurposed pharmaceutical options and a few emerging natural and vitamin options. These drugs play an important role in treating illnesses, but their use outside of strict medical supervision can be problematic.
Here’s a brief non-technical run down of the most common pharmaceutical drugs used for nootropics, smart drugs or cognitive enhancement.
Adderall as a nootropic
Arguably one of the most well known nootropic drugs, Adderall is a drug combining amphetamines and is a central nervous system stimulant. Adderall is used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD and narcolepsy.
Some users report positive cognitive enhancement, but the use, especially without medical attention can result in adverse side effects. The side effects of Adderall are many and varied, including mood swings and psychological changes which may include insomnia, anxiety and erectile issues. Eeek, no thanks.
Addiction is unlikely, but if you are self medicating - who knows.
Modafinil as a nootropic
Modafinil is a prescription pharmaceutical used to treat sleepiness, that has been also used as a smart drug.
The jury is still out if Modafinil makes an effective ‘smart drug.’ However, Modafinil is reportedly being used by some military forces around the world to fight fatigue.
Unfortunately, there are a number of side effects from consuming Modafinil, including addiction, headaches, nausea, anxiety, nervousness and even depression.
Methylphenidate as a nootropic
Another prescription only pharmaceutical, Methylphenidate is used to treat ADHD. Methylphenidate is addictive and is a stimulant. Stimulants have been known to cause stroke, heart attack, and sudden death in people with high blood pressure, heart disease, or a heart defect. Nasty.
Does it work as a smart drug? Again, that’s a maybe depending on what studies you read. Business Insider reported of a study that found an improvement for chess players after consuming Methylphenidate and Modafinil. It didn’t make the players super-human like in the movie ‘Limitless’, but they seemed to have gained an edge.
Piracetam as a nootropic
Developed almost ½ a century ago in Belgium and is prescribed in Australia for such ailments as epilepsy. Piracetam is regarded as the granddaddy of nootropics drugs.
Piracetam is no stranger to side effects, which unsurprisingly are extensive and varied, ranging from insomnia and weight gain to nervousness and depression.
Listed as a schedule 4 drug by the Therapeutic Drug Administration, Piracetam is a prescription only drug.
Phenibut as a nootropic
Phenibut is a central nervous system depressant. A neuropsychotropic drug with anxiolytic and cognition enhancing effects, phenibut is used in the treatment of anxiety and insomnia. Again the drug is prescription only in Australia.
Phenibut has an interesting history having been developed in Russia in the 1960s. When I think of Phenibut I can’t help but think of the cold war movie, ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ and brainwashing.
The drug is not approved for clinical use in the USA and large parts of Europe unsurprising given the range of side effects that may include dependence, drowsiness and renal impairment. Yikes.
What you need to consider with pharmaceutical drugs as a smart drug in Australia
Pharmaceutical drugs repurposed as smart drugs to provide cognitive enhancement is fraught with problems.
In Australia they require a prescription to obtain legally on shore. That leaves people vulnerable to buying drugs of questionable quality underground or from foreign websites.
There are legal restrictions around the importation of many pharmaceutical drugs. Similarly, assessing the quality of imported drugs can be tricky, noting the recent media attention on pill testing in Australia and the dangers of using drugs of dubious quality and origin.
In medically recommended doses and under strict medical supervision, the risk of and impacts of side effects are probably limited from the pharmaceutical smart drugs. But, recreational use (which often falls outside of medical dosage and supervision) generally involves higher doses and that can be dangerous and exacerbate side effects.
I’ve always steered clear of synthetic pharmaceuticals for cognitive enhancement. The risk of side effects, the legalities of importing drugs into Australia, the lack of quality assurance and the cognitive performance trade-offs made not using them a no-brainer.
Plus, my beliefs in naturally sourced medicines and practices led me back to my roots in traditional medicine where plant based medicines rule supreme. Mother nature’s gifts are often the healthiest and most effective solutions.