One of the most common questions we get asked is “Are nootropics safe?” When people first hear that they can improve cognitive functioning, they want to know if it can be done safely. In this post, we’re gonna address that question.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple yes or no answer. Some things that people use for their nootropic benefits are incredibly safe while others can have serious side effects. We’re gonna take a detailed look at which smart drugs have a proven safety record and which ones need more research to be truly considered safe.
Are Nootropics Safe?
That depends on how you define the word “nootropic.” If you go by its original definition, then yes, nootropics are safe.
Corneliu Giurgea first coined the term “nootropic” in the 1970’s. His definition stated that nootropics must be free of serious side effects and have extremely low toxicity. If we’re using the word nootropic in the way that he intended then, yes, by definition they are safe.
But the word nootropic has taken on a slightly different meaning over the past decade or so. Generally, the word nootropic is used now to mean any drug, plant, or substance that improves one or more aspect of cognitive functioning. If we’re using this definition, then no, not all nootropics are safe.
A good example would be something like amphetamines (Adderall, Vyvanse, etc.). Amphetamines unquestionably improve focus, motivation, attention, and learning. However, they are also neurotoxic (in high-enough doses) and can come with a number of serious side effects.
Amphetamines wouldn’t be considered nootropics by Corneliu Giurgea’s original definition of the word. However, a lot of people do consider it to be one and use it for its nootropic benefits.
Some nootropics are very safe while others, like amphetamines, can have serious side effects. So, which nootropics are the safest? And, which ones have the most serious potential side effects?
The Safest Nootropics
There are a number of nootropics that all have excellent safety records. Generally, these are all smart drugs that have been around for decades. They have plenty of research to support their safety and effectiveness.
Several nootropics in the racetam family of drugs have been used safely by thousands of people for decades. Piracetam, oxiracetam, and aniracetam are all very safe. People have been using them since the 1960’s and no serious side effects have ever been reported.
With the racetams, the worst things you have to worry about are headaches and stomach discomfort. These side effects can usually be avoided by taking the racetam(s) with food and also a choline source.
Speaking of choline sources, alpha-gpc and cdp-choline are both considered to be very safe. They are used to boost your own body’s production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter known to play an important role in memory and learning.
These two choline sources both have plenty of research behind them to support their safe use. They are very safe to take on their own and stack well with most other nootropics.
The racetams and choline sources are examples of safe nootropics, but there are others. Always do your research to make sure the nootropics you’re using are safe. You may also be interested in reading this: The Top 5 Safest Nootropics.
Safe, well-researched racetams
Researched in humans
Generally safe for most people
The Least Safe Nootropics
Again, not all of these would be considered nootropics by some definitions. But, many people use them for their cognition-enhancing properties.
As we’ve said, amphetamines are powerful cognition boosters but come with a variety of potential side effects, some of which can be very serious. Increased blood pressure and pulse, anxiety, insomnia, and withdrawal syndrome are all possible with amphetamines.
Modafinil, armodafinil, and adrafinil are all popular nootropics that can have unwanted side effects. Though not as dangerous as amphetamines, these wakefulness-promoting drugs can all cause severe insomnia and anxiety.
Aside from these, any nootropic that hasn’t been extensively studied in humans should be considered risky. Some nootropics have plenty of animal studies to suggest their safety but lack human studies. If safety is your primary concern, you should avoid nootropics that haven’t been studied in humans. While they may be perfectly safe (and likely are, if animal research suggests safety in humans), it’s impossible to know for sure until human studies have been done.
Are Nootropics Safe? Only If You Are
Let’s not forget that nootropics don’t decide which ones you take – you do. If you do your research and only try nootropics that have a good safety profile, then yes, they’re safe. If you take a handful of the first nootropic you come across without looking into it, not so much.
Do your homework. Read up on whatever nootropics you’re interested in before trying them. Talk to people online. See if other people have had side effects.
It’s often a good idea to speak with a licensed physician about the nootropics you plan to take, especially if you are on any medications. Unfortunately, they don’t teach about nootropics in medical school, so most doctors are not familiar with them. You may have to educate your physician about whatever nootropics you’re interested in.
And always start out with a small dose. As a general rule with any substance, the more you take, the higher the risk of side effects. The goal is to find the lowest effective dose. If you start small and are careful, you can minimize a lot of potential risks.
So, are nootropics safe? Some are certainly safer than others, but the best way to improve safety is by doing your research and taking things slowly.
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