Can nootropics increase working memory

Nootrop - Nootropic

Drug, supplement, or other substance that improves cognitive function
Modafinil is a widely used nootropic

Nootropics (/ n oʊ. Ə tr ɒ p ɪ k s / Noh-ə- TROP -iks ) (handling: smart drugs and cognitive enhancers ) are drugs, food supplements and other substances that are used to improve the claimed cognitive function, especially executive functions, memory, creativity or motivation in healthy people. While many substances are purported to improve cognition, research is at a preliminary stage as of 2021, and the effects of most of these agents have not been fully determined.

The use of cognitive enhancement drugs by healthy individuals in the absence of a medical indication spans numerous controversial issues, including the ethics and fairness of their use, concerns about adverse effects, and the diversion of prescription drugs for non-medical uses. Even so, international sales of cognitive supplements have continued to grow over time, exceeding $ 1 billion in 2015.

In 2018, some nootropic dietary supplements were found to have misleading ingredients and illegal marketing in the United States. In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned manufacturers and consumers of potential advertising and marketing fraud involving nootropic supplements.


The term "nootrop" is derived from the ancient Greek words νόος ( nóos ), which mean "spirit", and τροπή ( tropḗ ), which means "a turning point".

Illegal marketing claims

Nootropics are often advertised with unsupported claims even though they haven't been shown to be effective at improving cognition. The FDA and FTC warned manufacturers and consumers in 2019 of possible advertising and marketing scams involving nootropic supplements. The FDA and FTC stated that some nootropic products were not approved as drugs effective for any medical purpose, have not been proven safe, and have been illegally marketed in the United States in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Between 2010 and 2019, the FDA warned numerous supplements manufacturers about the illegal status of their products as unapproved drugs with no proven safety or efficacy at the recommended doses, as well as misleading marketing.

Availability and Distribution

In 2008, stimulants like caffeine were the most commonly used class of drugs. The marketing claims of manufacturers for dietary supplements are usually not officially checked and verified by independent bodies.

In 2016, the American Medical Association passed a policy to ban the prescription of nootropics to healthy people on the basis that cognitive effects appear to be very different in individuals, dose-dependent, and limited or modest at best.

Use by students

The use of prescription stimulants is particularly common among students. According to surveys, 0.7–4.5% of German students have used cognitive enhancers in their lives. Stimulants like dimethylamylamine and methylphenidate are used on college campuses and by younger groups. Based on studies of self-reported illicit stimulant use, 5-35% of college students use diverted ADHD stimulants, which are primarily used to improve academic performance rather than as recreational drugs. Several factors positively and negatively affect an individual's willingness to use a drug to improve cognitive performance. These include personal characteristics, drug characteristics, and characteristics of the social context.

Side effects

The main concern with drugs is side effects, which also apply to nootropics with undefined effects. Long-term evidence of safety is usually not available for nootropics. Racetams - piracetam and other compounds structurally related to piracetam - have few serious side effects and low toxicity, but little evidence suggests they improve cognition in people without cognitive impairments.

In the United States, dietary supplements can be marketed if the manufacturer can demonstrate that the dietary supplement is generally recognized as safe and if the manufacturer does not provide information about the use of the dietary supplement to treat or prevent any disease or condition; Dietary supplements that contain drugs or advertise health claims are illegal under US law.


Central nervous system stimulants

Systematic reviews and meta-analyzes of human clinical research using low doses of certain central nervous system stimulants found that these drugs improve cognition in healthy people. In particular, the classes of stimulants that exhibit cognitive enhancing effects in humans act as direct agonists or indirect agonists of the dopamine receptor D 1 , the adrenoceptor A 2 or both types of receptors in the prefrontal cortex. Relatively high doses of stimulants cause cognitive deficits.

  • Amphetamine - Systematic reviews and meta-analyzes report that low-dose amphetamine improves cognitive functions (e.g., inhibition control, episodic memory, working memory, and aspects of attention) in healthy individuals and in those with ADHD. A 2014 systematic review found that low doses of amphetamine also improved memory consolidation, which in turn leads to improved information retrieval in adolescents without ADHD. It also improves task clarity (motivation to complete a task) and performance on lengthy tasks that require a high level of effort.
  • Methylphenidate - a benzylpiperidine derivative that improves working memory, episodic memory, and inhibition control, aspects of attention, and planning latency in healthy people. It can also improve task visibility and performance on lengthy tasks. At above optimal doses, methylphenidate has side effects that interfere with learning.
  • Eugeroika (Armodafinil and Modafinil) - are classified as "wakefulness-promoting agents"; Modafinil increases alertness, especially in those who are sleep deprived, and makes it easier to think and solve problems in adolescents without ADHD. In a systematic review of small preliminary studies examining the effects of modafinil using simple psychometric assessments, modafinil intake improved executive function. Modafinil may not improve mood or motivation in those with or without sleep deprivation.
  • Caffeine - a meta-analysis showed an increase in alertness and attentiveness.
  • Nicotine - A meta-analysis of 41 clinical studies found that giving or smoking nicotine improved alertness and orientation of attention, as well as episodic and working memory, and slightly improved fine motor skills.


Racetams, like Piracetam, Oxiracetam, Carphedon, and Aniracetam, are often marketed as cognitive enhancers and sold over-the-counter. A recent study found that piracetam supplements sold in the United States were inaccurately labeled. Racetams are often referred to as nootropics, but this trait is not well established. The racetams have poorly understood mechanisms, although piracetam and aniracetam are known to act as positive allosteric modulators of AMPA receptors and appear to modulate cholinergic systems.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration,

"Piracetam is not a vitamin, mineral, amino acid, herb, or any other botanical or dietary substance intended for human use to supplement the diet by increasing total food intake. Further, Piracetam is not a concentrate, metabolite, ingredient, extract or combination. Accordingly, these products are." Medicines under Section 201 (g) (1) (C) of the Act, 21 USC Section 321 (g) (1) (C) because they are not foods and are intended to affect the structure or function of the body These products are new drugs within the meaning of Section 201 (p) of the Act, 21 USC Section 321 (p), as this is not generally considered to be safe and effective for use under the conditions prescribed, recommended, or recommended in their labeling accepted. "


Some of the most commonly used nootropic substances are the cholinergics. These are typically compounds and analogues of choline. Choline is an essential nutrient required for the synthesis of acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter) and phosphatidylcholine (a structural part of brain cell membranes).

  • Citicoline - a compound made up of choline and cytidine. Several meta-analyzes found it likely to be effective for improving memory and learning in the elderly with mild cognitive decline, as well as in people recovering from stroke. There is little evidence that it improves cognition in young, healthy people.
  • Choline bitartrate - Choline bitartrate is a tartaric acid salt that contains choline (41% by weight choline, molecular weight). At least one meta-analysis has found that choline bitartrate is ineffective in improving a measure of cognitive performance.
  • Alpha-GPC - L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine has only been studied in connection with cognitive performance alongside other substances such as caffeine. A more comprehensive meta-analysis is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn about the usefulness of Alpha-GPC as a nootropic.


  • Tolcapone - A systematic review found it improved verbal episodic memory and episodic memory coding.
  • Levodopa - a systematic review found it improved verbal episodic memory and episodic memory coding.
  • Atomoxetine - can improve working memory and alertness when used in certain doses.
  • Desipramine - can improve working memory and alertness when used in certain doses.
  • Nicergoline may improve human cognitive performance, including concentration, psychomotor performance, attention, reaction times, and other indicators of brain function.
  • ISRIB improved spatial and fear-related learning.

The cognitive enhancing effects of pramipexole, guanfacine, clonidine, and fexofenadine were tested, but no significant cognitive enhancing effects were found in healthy subjects.

Psychedelic microdosing is the novel practice of using sub-threshold doses (microdoses) of psychedelics to improve mood and cognition. The effectiveness has not been verified. In a study that looked at the qualitative reports from 278 microdosers, researchers found that users had mixed results. Paradoxically, while some users reported positive effects such as improved mood and cognition, others reported negative effects such as physiological discomfort and anxiety. In one of the only double-blind, randomized studies to date, those given microdoses of LSD did not perform better than those given the placebo on cognitive tasks.


  • Bacopa monnieri used in Ayurvedic traditional medicine to improve memory. Meta-analyzes and clinical trial reviews found evidence that the herb can improve cognition. It is believed that Bacopa monnieri mainly stimulates the branching of neuron endendrites, thus facilitating internal communication. This view is contested, with others suggesting that Bacopa monnieri's nootropic effects are due to its antioxidant and adaptogen status.
  • Panax ginseng - A review by the Cochrane Collaboration found that "there is a lack of convincing evidence suggesting a cognitive enhancement effect of Panax ginseng in healthy participants, and lack of high quality evidence of its effectiveness in patients with dementia. "According to the National Center for Complementary and Inclusive Health," [a] Although Asian ginseng has been extensively studied for a variety of uses, research to date supports that Health claims associated with the herb are not clear. "
  • Ginkgo biloba - An extract from Ginkgo biloba- Scroll is marketed in the form of a dietary supplement claimed to be able to improve cognitive functions in people without known cognitive problems, although there is no high quality evidence to support such effects on memory or attention in healthy people.
  • Salvia officinalis and Lavandulaefolia (Sage) - Some research has found that certain extracts of Salvia officinalis can have positive effects on the functioning of the human brain. However, due to significant methodological problems, no clear conclusions can be drawn. This in Salvia Thujone contained in extracts can be neurotoxic.
  • Centella asiatica - A meta-analysis carried out in 2017 with 11 studies (5 RCTs with placebo, 6 with other herbs as a comparison group), which showed no significant improvement in all cognitive functions, can, however, contribute to improving mood and anger. The total dosages were less than the typical 3 grams traditionally used.


The term "nootrop" was coined by Corneliu Giurgea in 1972 to describe a new classification of molecules that selectively affect the overarching integrative activity of the brain. For a product to be classified as a true nootropic, it must meet Giurgea's five criteria for the category. 1. It should help improve working memory and learning. 2. Supports brain function in hypoxic conditions or after electroconvulsive therapy. 3. Protection of the brain from physical or chemical toxicity. 4. Natural cognitive functions are improved. 5. It must be non-toxic to humans without depression or brain stimulation.

Nutrients and food supplements

A 2015 review found that the use of omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and vitamin E as nootropics did not affect cognitive function in normal, middle-aged and elderly people.

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: DHA and EPA - Two Reviews by the Cochrane Collaboration on Using Additional Omega-3 Fatty Acids in ADHD and Learning Disabilities conclude that there is limited evidence of treatment benefits for both disorders. Two further systematic reviews showed no cognitive-promoting effects in the general population.
  • Folate - no cognitive enhancing effects in middle-aged and older adults without folate deficiency.
  • vitamin B 6 - No cognitive-enhancing effects in middle-aged and elderly people without B6 deficiency.
  • vitamin B 12 - No cognitive-enhancing effects in middle-aged and older adults without a B12 deficiency.
  • Vitamin E - no cognitive enhancing effects in middle-aged and older adults without vitamin E deficiency.
  • L-theanine - A 2014 systematic review and meta-analysis found that simultaneous use of caffeine and L-theanine had synergistic psychoactive effects that promoted alertness, alertness, and task changes. These effects were most pronounced in the first hour after the dose. The European Food Safety Authority reported that there is not enough information to determine if these effects exist when L-theanine is used without caffeine.

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