How are smart drugs meant to help you gain a degree?

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How are “smart drugs” meant to help you gain a degree?

Nootropics or “smart drugs” are drugs which have positive effects on organically impaired cognition or nervous system function such as Alzheimer's disease (ref). In healthy people it is believed that when used in healthy individuals they provide a drug induced enhancement of Cognitive functions such as memory, attention and creativity. Many pharmaceutical companies have begun to invest more time and money into the development of drugs designed specifically to provide this form of enhancement within healthy people (ref).

While the mode of action of such drugs differs with many of them involving complex mechanisms they can be separated into four main categories:

  1. Effects on energy metabolism
  2. Effects on cholinergic mechanisms
  3. Effects on excitatory amino-acid receptor-mediated functions
  4. Steroid Sensitivity


Piracetam (2-oxo-pyrrolidone) is a derivative of the neurotransmitter GABA which is claimed to provide its nootropic action by improving cerebral microcirculation and increasing ATP production. When analyzed on a neural level it is evident that it modulates neurotransmission of several different transmitter systems including the systems which involve cholinergic and glutamatergic receptors. It also improves neuroplasticity (adaption of neurons and organization of their networks according to experiences) as well as having neuroprotective (processes which protect the neuron from apoptosis and degradation) and anticonvulsant properties. When looked at on a vascular level we can see that it causes a reduction in erythrocyte adhesion to vessel walls, hindered vasospasm (vessels spasm causing vasoconstriction) and facilitates cerebral microcirculation (ref). Piracetam alters the physical properties of the plasma membrane of cells by causing an increase in fluidity and protecting the cell against hypoxia (decrease of Oxygen levels within the cell) (ref) as well as metabolically enhancing local cerebral glucose utilization (ref). 

Piracetam was initially developed in the 1960's as a treatment for travel sickness but after extensive research into its mechanism of action it is now seen as an effective treatment of cognitive decline in ageing and dementia (ref)(ref). In 1976 a study of the effects of Piracetam on human memory was conducted by Dimond and Browers, the study showed a significant enhancement of memory within healthy individuals, specifically there were verbal memory improvements found when 400mg  was administered daily however these improvements where only witnessed after 14 days of use (ref). For students this would aid preparation for exams as they would be able to more effectively recall the information that was relayed to by professors during lectures, workshops and practical's. A similar study was carried by Mindus et al in 1976 which showed improvement in performance during motor tasks which involved perception in healthy elderly patients after receiving four weeks of treatment. However in 1998 the same study carried out by Reidel et al this time it was reported that within a real world setting the results showed a slight but non-significant trend towards improvement (ref).