Nootropics, or “cognitive enhancers,” are natural supplements that enhance brain performance by altering neurotransmitters. Whether you opt for over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, or dietary supplements, there is always a little fear of addiction.
According to the National Library of Medicine, some nootropics for individuals with a history of mental or substance use disorders can have adverse effects and may be potentially dangerous for the brain. Hence, here’s a guide to help discern the differences between a safe nootropic drug and risky pills with harmful side effects.
Are Nootropic Drugs Safe?
Nootropics are predominantly marketed under this umbrella term but contain many drugs. While the FDA approves prescription nootropic drugs for medical purposes, most nootropic supplements are not regulated, and many products can be misbranded.
So it’s pretty tricky to generalize the whole category of nootropic drugs and affirm whether they are addictive or not. Let’s learn about specific nootropics and narrow down our answer to whether they are addictive or not.
Types Of Addictive Nootropics
While some nootropics have the potential to enhance performance, others can have serious side effects and risks such as addiction and substance abuse. Listed below are some of the different nootropics drugs and their side effects.
As the most studied nootropic drug, prescription nootropics can be highly beneficial for improving cognitive performance. Various studies have substantiated their overall positive effects with an increase in the number of prescribed nootropic drugs.
Most prescription drugs are FDA-regulated–the safety and efficiency of the drug are tested through clinical trials. For example, drugs like modafinil, methylphenidate, and other drugs are classified as safe only under medical supervision. According to a study conducted in 2007, nootropics have been associated with improving blood flow to different regions in the body.
Despite medical authorities’ intervention, many students abuse prescription stimulants to achieve academic or athletic enhancement. Students are misusing prescription drugs like Modafinil and Adderall despite a diagnosed medical need to consume stimulants like these. This also leads to serious cases of addiction and substance abuse.
Some other side-effects of taking this drug include:
- Elevated blood pressure
- Insomnia and sleep disturbances
- Blurred vision
Most popular prescription nootropics are illegal to use under non-prescribed circumstances as they can cause serious side effects after consuming unregulated dosages. In addition, people with some type of psychiatric or substance abuse history should not ignore the psychotic effects these drugs can have on them, resulting from addiction problems.
While most nootropic substances are labeled safe when taken in the recommended dosage, there have been instances where people experience addiction symptoms like anxiety, nervousness, and agitation. Caffeine is one of the most popular stimulants in dietary formulations, so it is generally considered safe.
According to the FDA, people should consume no more than 400 milligrams of coffee daily–equivalent to almost 4-5 cups daily. While caffeine can be addictive, it does not have life-threatening side effects. However, studies have shown that when caffeine is coupled with other dietary stimulants like L-theanine, they experience a better rush of energy.
Many nootropic enthusiasts favor a stacking technique–adding a nootropic supplement to their coffee, and may experience a feeling of regression when they return to just plain coffee. Most dietary nootropics do not contain threatening drugs though you should be aware of the inaccurate marketing claims of many supplement brands.
These nootropics are another class of drugs proven to have nootropic effects on the human brain. These can further be divided into two categories:
- Racetams: A class of synthetic compounds that restore the membrane around cells and help them function better. Racetams are synthetic nootropics approved for those with specific health conditions (epilepsy, movement disorders). This drug is not approved by the FDA and can be labeled or sold as a dietary supplement. Speaking with a health professional to know about its dosages is imperative.
- Phenibut: Another drug the FDA does not approve is a “supplement,” which can be purchased from many online sources. This nootropic carries a high risk of addiction and dependency.
These substances are relatively beneficial when taken in moderation. It’s important to weigh the risk versus benefit with your doctor before deciding on its dosages.
What Are The First Signs Of Addiction?
Even though nootropic addiction is rare when consumed moderately under medical supervision, an individual who regularly consumes nootropics can develop a ‘tolerance’ to the specified drug. This entails an increased need for the particular drug in larger doses.
Other symptoms include:
- Loss of memory
- Severe fatigue
- Insomnia and other sleep-related issues
Along with these symptoms, individuals may begin to require higher doses of drugs like Adderall and Ritalin–which are classified as Schedule II controlled substances (the same category as illicit drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines.
Treatment For Nootropic Abuse
The treatment of nootropic drugs is similar to treatments for other drug addictions. Many addictions stem from a misuse of nootropic substances, so an initial assessment should be conducted to diagnose and further assess the development of other addictive behaviors.
During the detoxification process, people experience extreme withdrawal symptoms, so they must be present in a medically-supervised environment. After the detoxification process, they can incorporate therapy where they can identify the root cause of their addiction and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
Nootropic abuse is a severe addiction that shouldn’t be taken lightly. While nootropics can enhance your cognitive strength, they can have long-term effects on your brain and body if a health professional does not supervise them.
Remember always to check if the particular nootropic drug is either FDA-approved or regulated by a third party, such as NSF International or the U.S Pharmacopeia (USP)