Smart Drugs

Smart Drugs

Jayashree Thakwani
Medically Reviewed by The Medindia Medical Review Team on Nov 11, 2019
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What are Smart Drugs?

Smart drugs are also known as “Cognitive enhancement substances”, or “memory enhancers. These could be drugs, supplements, nutraceuticals and functional foods which expand human capabilities and claim to improve cognition, memory, motivation and intelligence in healthy individuals. Hence, consuming smart drugs is also known as brain doping.

Smart drugs either increase the blood flow to brain or increase the concentration of neurotransmitters in the brain or stimulate nerve growth.(1)

Smart drugs are consumed by healthy individuals for improving personal behavior. These are also used by people who are in demanding and competitive jobs and by students to overcome academic pressures. The effects could be as given below:(2)

  • Improved focus and alertness
  • Clarity of thoughts and reasoning
  • Motivation
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Improved memory
  • Enhanced concentration
  • Improve wakefulness
  • Better sexual performance
Effects of Smart Drugs on Brain Health

The performance of smart drugs is at its best at optimal concentration; having too low or too high doses can worsen effects.

It might work by increasing the concentration of a particular neurotransmitter if a person is a low performer. However, if the person is a high performer, the neurotransmitter would already be at an optimum level and increasing it further would not improve the performance of the individual. On the contrary, it may make it worse.

Use of these drugs as brain boosters is always debated by psychiatrists, neurosurgeons and psychoanalysts and the ethics for using these are challenged. Other reasons include their adverse effects and usage of prescription drugs for nonmedical uses.(3)

However, the global demand for these compounds is still growing rapidly.

Do Smart Drugs Really Work?

Research indicates that Athletes too improves memory and learning; and sleep improves brain power.

The extent to which cognitive performance is improved by such non-pharmacological means compared to consuming smart drugs is not known. However, it appears that smart drugs are not more effective.

The addiction and side effects of consuming smart drugs could offset the benefits which one would expect from using these smart drugs.(4)

Hence, it is safer to avoid these drugs.

Smart Drugs for Athletes

Athletes use Smart drugs or performance enhancing drugs, to improve performance. The competition pressure to pursue one’s dreams and peer pressure are the common reasons for increasing illegal use of performance enhancing drugs or doping. Their use is prohibited by most sports organizations.(5)

These drugs include:

  • Anabolic steroids: These are the synthetic variants of the male sex hormone testosterone. These are also known as Anabolic Androgenic Steroids (AASs). The term “anabolic” indicates muscle-building and “androgenic refers to enhanced male sexual features.

These are used for multiple clinical indications. However, they are also misused and abused by athletes to improve their performance or for body building.

  • Human Growth hormone (HGH): HGH is a hormone which has an anabolic effect. It is also known as Gonadotrophin. Athletes consume this to improve their performance and muscle mass. It also helps in repairing bone and cartilage injuries.
  • Androstenedione: It is a hormone produced by adrenal glands, ovaries and testes. It gets converted to testosterone and estradiol. It is used as a performance enhancer for body building.
  • Erythropoietin: Erythropoietin is a type of hormone, used to treat anemia in patients with severe kidney disease. It increases production of hemoglobin, thereby enhancing the transfer of oxygen to muscles. Epoetin is the synthetic form of erythropoietin.
  • Stimulants: Stimulants like amphetamines are used by athletes for stimulating the central nervous system and increase heart rate. These reduce fatigue, increase alertness and suppress appetite.

Which are the Common Smart Drugs and what is their Impact on Cognition?

There are various categories of drugs which are used as smart drugs. Some of these are listed below:(6)

  • Racetams: Examples are Pramiracetam, Phenylpiracetam, and Aniracetam. Aniracetam is one of the best known and the most proven nootropic. Racetams are known for their stimulating properties. They reduce amnesic effects, improve memory and increase learning ability.
  • N-phenylacetyl-L-propylglycine ethyl ester or Noopept (the brand name for this molecule): It is similar to Piracetam and is one of the most commonly used nootropic and helps by decreasing cognitive decline. It also claims to have a stimulatory effect.
  • Afinils: Examples are Adrafinil and Modafinil. They are used to treat sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy. These are also known to improve attention and awareness. However, Modafinil may also reduce creativity and flexibility in thinking. Thus, it makes one less smart.

Adrafinil gets converted into Modafinil in the body. It is used to increase alertness, focus and concentration. It also helps improve short-term memory.

  • Nutrients: Examples are Choline bitartrate, Creatine and Tyrosine. These drugs improve cognition by way of stimulation, body odor alteration, and dream potentiation.
  • Stimulants: Examples are Methylphenidate and Amphetamine pharmaceuticals. They are psychostimulants that increase concentrations of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. They are prescribed for people suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They have positive effects on memory performance and are thus, easily misused or abused.
  • Selegiline Hydrochloride: This drug is used for treating Parkinson’s disease. It increases the levels of dopamine neurotransmitter. It is also used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, as it shows improvement in attention and memory. It is also used as a sexual stimulant.
  • Desmopressin: It is used in the treatment of diabetes and to improve concentration. It is reported to treat cognitive disorders.
  • Ergoloid mesylate: This product is recommended to be used for treating poor memory, depression and lack of motivation.
  • Vinpocetine: This is used to treat conditions like impaired memory, vertigos, and locomotive disorders. It activates cerebral metabolism.
  • Nicergoline: This drug increases blood circulation in brain, which increases the secretion of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. It improves conditions associated with brain disorders caused due to insufficient arterial circulation in the limbs.
Some Common Smart Drugs

Is it Fair to use Smart Drugs?

The ethics behind the use of smart drugs have been debated upon and challenged.

On the positive side, these drugs could fast-track new discoveries and lead to efficient output. It can be debated that if drugs can be used for sexual enhancement, beauty enhancement and mood enhancement, then why should they be discriminated for cognitive enhancement.

On the contrary, one can debate the negative aspects of using these drugs:

  • The use of smart drugs could give an unfair advantage to students in competitive examinations.
  • If the use of smart drugs were permitted by regulatory authorities, those who can afford them would have an undue advantage over the middle or low income population.
  • The widespread use of smart drugs can lead to excessively competitive academic and professional environment.(7)

Is it Safe to use Smart Drugs?

There could be health risks associated with use of smart drugs as these could be used for long term. They also have potential for abuse and dependence. The users can build tolerance and would need to take higher doses. They could also experience withdrawal symptoms, if they suddenly discontinue using these drugs.(8)


  1. Nootropic - Psychonaut Wikipedia - (
  2. Establishing Natural Nootropics: Recent Molecular Enhancement Influenced by Natural Nootropic - (
  3. Cognitive Enhancement by Drugs In Health and Disease - (
  4. Lifestyle Use of Drugs by Healthy People for Enhancing Cognition, Creativity, Motivation and Pleasure - (
  5. Smart Drugs and Synthetic Androgens for Cognitive and Physical Enhancement: Revolving Doors of Cosmetic Neurology - (
  6. Nootropic - Wikipedia - (
  7. Prescription Drug Abuse Facts and Statistics - (
  8. Would you Take ‘Smart Drugs’? - (

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