What are Nootropics?


Haven’t heard of the term nootropics before? Fair enough!

The industry is still young, and certainly far from mainstream. While interest has really kicked off in the tech-hubs of America (those Silicon Valley types), its no surprise our slower paced down-under countries, New Zealand and Australia are lagging.

Let’s set the scene with the commonly accepted definition of the term, courtesy of the Miriam Webster dictionary.
They define a nootropic as:
 “a substance that enhances cognition and memory and facilitates learning”
Unfortunately, as often is in the academic world, the Miriam Webster definition is both too limited, and too specific for the practical use in the real world. So for the practical world use case, what does the word "nootropic" mean in the context of consumer products?

Most companies in the nootropics, supplements, biohacking, and personal optimisation industry use the term nootropics to broadly define a supplement that can help the brain in any way. 
Because language is only effective with shared understanding, we say the populist definition is most relevant in the context of buying supplements… like those at Nice Supplement Co!
Under the populist definition, both of our products (L-Theanine+, Lions Mane+) would be classed as nootropics.

What about Smart Drugs?

Nootropics are also often referred to as “smart drugs”.
This is usually in the context of synthesised or prescription substances (such as modafinil and Adderall), but due to the generalist meaning of the term, smart drugs can also apply to any nootropics or plant derived substances too.
A drug is a chemical structure which produces a biological effect in a living organism. A "Smart" drug is a drug which provides a cognitive enhancing effect.
Nootropics vs. Smart Drugs can be a bit of a point of debate in the community, however because both terms are so widely encompassing, splitting hairs at this point seems rather unproductive.
Worth noting though, in the case of the media, the term smart drugs seems primarily referred to when a media outlet is trying to seem "edgy" or damage their reader's impression with the negative associations that come with the word drug. Since the "War on drugs" era this is quite understandable, though certainly misled.

The Origins of Nootropics

In 1964 the Romanian chemist and psychologist Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea synthesised the compound Piracetam, which was shown to boost numerous brain performance factors through its action in enhancing cerebral circulation.
In an effort to classify Piracetam and similar substances, Giurgea created the term “Nootropic” from the ancient greek words “Noos” for mind, and “Tropein” for towards (1972).
The criteria to meet this classification was originally defined as:

1.       Enhances memory and the ability to learn

2.       Assists brain function under disruptive conditions

3.       Protects the brain from chemical and physical toxins

4.       Increases natural cognitive processes

5.       Must be non-toxic to humans, nor stimulate or depress the brain

This criterion gives sets a very narrow standard, and so it’s no surprise that most treat it more like the ideal situation, than the minimum requirement. 

Also worth consideration is that this criteria was specifically designed for the description of Piracetam, and was not necessarily intended all encompassing measure it is used now. There’s still many purists that treat this as the end all be all definition to disregard certain stimulants (eg. Coffee) or claim an elitist position for those that meet this technical criterion for nootropic. Generally these lines of conversation blur more into personal beliefs than outright principles of pharmacology.
Our thoughts?  Its good to consider these merits when weighing up the value of a supplement, but because the term nootropic is already so widely used, practically there’s no real achievement in trying to enforce the classical definition. 

And just if you're curious, under the classical definition, both of our products (L-Theanine+, Lions Mane+) would be still classed as nootropics.

What to consider when choosing your nootropics?

If you see the term “nootropic” crammed in there, then it’s an indicator that it will work on your brain in some way. However, this doesn’t automatically mean that this supplement is worth your time and cash – or that it won’t cause harm.

Your body doesn’t care about some fancy terminology or pretty marketing. What matters is what compounds are in the supplement and how those compounds react with your bio-chemistry in those dosages. So lets take it back to the basics.

Supplement Choice Basics

  1. Determine your goal. 
    Do you want stimulation, motivation, anti-anxiety, relaxation, neuroprotection, working-memory, or long-term memory benefits?
  2. Do your ingredient research.
    This means going past the information on the product page and onto looking at trustworthy information from a third party. Forums, YouTube reviews and blogs can be useful to get an idea of the range of experiences. However, for more accurate evidence for function it's best to look at peer-reviewed research, understand how the compound works and in what dosage and situations. If you're new to this, Examine.com can be a good start point to get your sea legs.
  3. Do your manufacturer research.
    Supplements are treated as a sub-group of food, and therefore is highly unregulated. So when it comes to verifying quality, don't think you can lean on your government regulatory system too heavily. Many aspects are untested. Starting points to look into might be:
    • what are the brand's ethics?
    • where is the product manufactured?
    • what certifications or testing has the product had?

Nootropics are substances that help your brain operate.
Before trying them for yourself, be sure to set your goal, then do your research to assess what nootropic compound (or stack) is right for you, and that you can use it safely.

Further Reading

If you want to educate yourself well and truly on the original definition and considerations, we strongly recommend doing more research past this article.

 An excellent next step would be to read "A Weird Concept with Unusual Fate: Nootropic Drug"  by Doru Georg Margineanu. This paper presents a well educated and carefully researched discussion of the topic.
If you're really interested, we also encourage looking into Doru Georg Margineanu's many other neuroscience and pharmacology related publications.

Keen to try some of our Nootropic stacks?

See LIONS MANE+ in store here.

See L-THEANINE+ in store here.

Alternatively, you can also get all of the Nice Supplement Co. supplements from your local "The Cave Nutrition Store".

Got more questions?

Nice Supplement Co. was built off the enquiring mind - so please, ask away - we'd be very happy to help.

You can see our contact page here.