Smart drugs, or nootropics, are substances that are designed to increase cognitive function. They’ve become increasingly popular in recent years, especially among young adults looking to maximize their performance by enhancing their mental proficiency. In an overwhelmingly information-based world that puts tons of pressure on young professionals’ mental dexterity, this comes as no surprise.
In fact, an emerging contingency of “brain hackers” make it their mission to unlock hidden mental capacity through various means, of which nootropics are a popular option. But pharmaceutical adviser Murali Doraiswamy warns that for young people, “It’s a zero-sum game. That’s because when you up one circuit in the brain, you’re probably impairing another system.” The long-term effects of nootropics aren’t yet fully known, but case studies have emerged that point to some concerning consequences .
What Are Nootropics?
Also known as “smart drugs” or “brain boosters,” nootropics are defined as “any substance that may alter, improve, or augment cognitive performance, mainly through the stimulation or inhibition of certain neurotransmitters.” They’re made of various combinations of natural and synthetic ingredients, and much like prescription stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin, they’re purported to promote wakefulness and improve cognition and focus. Commonly used nootropics include Armodafinil, Citicoline, Piracetam, Ampakines and Cerebrolysin.
Smart drugs are produced by distributors who often combine several ingredients together in a “stack:” a formula designed for specific purposes. They exist in a legal gray area – some nootropics containing certain ingredients are banned in the US. But in general, they can legally be purchased for research purposes and are easily attained online. They’re often sold on websites that appear to be pharmacies and include expert quotes from medical professionals and testimonials from users. Because they’re not sold on the street, and because they often contain natural ingredients, they’re widely perceived as safe and non-addictive – though mounting evidence points to the contrary.
Effects and Risks of Nootropic Use
Most nootropics aren’t FDA-approved, and there have been few conclusive studies on the effects of sustained use. And because nootropics are a mixed concoction of unknown substances, their effects and risks can be as widely varied as the drug combinations themselves. They can include:
High doses of smart drugs can be toxic and cause heart palpitations, tremors, convulsions and blurred vision – they can even be fatal. All of this is compounded by preexisting mental health conditions, which puts users at increased risk for adverse psychiatric effects of nootropics. Smart drug abuse can exacerbate disorders like anxiety, paranoia and OCD.
Smart Drug Addiction and Withdrawals
The drive to increase their performance under pressure, combined with smart drugs’ often short-lived effects, can cause users to quickly ramp up their dosage. This not only increases their risk of toxicity but also leads to dependence and addiction. Suddenly stopping regular nootropic use can cause intense cravings and dangerous withdrawals. One mother recounts her son’s severe withdrawal symptoms from stopping his nootropics: “During the detoxification process, my son shook violently, vomited, wept, pounded his fist against the wall and screamed like a wounded animal caught in a trap. He was completely incoherent and immune to our help. We could do nothing more than stay beside him to make sure he didn’t physically harm himself.”
At The Sanctuary, we understand how hard it can be on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level to stop drug use that has spun out of control. We’ve created our own, revolutionary Integrative Addiction Recovery program that takes a multifaceted approach to treatment so you can fully be recovered.
To learn more about holistic addiction recovery, read our article: Holistically Healing the Mind from Trauma and Addiction.