Pills to enhance cognitive performance, focus and alertness are all the rage in Silicon Valley, and their popularity is growing in Canada too despite their legal and scientific limbo.
Smart drugs are a hot brain-boosting fad among young professionals looking for an edge to learn faster, stay alert and focus longer.
The latest trend in smart drugs, nootropics, is a group of substances that fall somewhere between drugs and supplements. Marketed as cognitive enhancers, nootropics come in an array of substances, often in powdered form. Consumers play the role of chemist, mixing and matching to find the combination that best suits their needs.
Pep pills used to be the study drug of choice, but now nootropics are taking focus and cognition to a new level.
The goal: reach peak performance through enhanced memory, learning, concentration, alertness, mood and creativity.
Nootropics have not received approval or classification from Health Canada, and so are not legal for sale here. However, the trend that began in Silicon Valley has made its way to Canada through online sales. They can be imported for personal use.
Simon, a Toronto-based entrepreneur, who does not want to be revealed, explained the attraction. He turned to nootropics to help manage his ADHD.
“I was looking for things to take outside of prescription meds,” said the 36-year-old founder of a national event company, who recalled the challenges of dealing with the side effects of drugs such as Modafinil, Ritalin and Adderall. Nootropics have become a “helpful tool” to manage his symptoms and reduce his reliance on medication almost entirely.
Originally developed to help treat cognitive impairment, vendors claim that nootropics are being used by healthy and ambitious young professionals to enhance their productivity. But mixed evidence about their safety and effectiveness makes them highly controversial.
“Everyone is trying to get ahead and compete, stay awake and do well,” said Dr. Sandra Black, director of the brain sciences program at Sunnybrook Research Institute and a professor in medicine. She has spent the last 25 years conducting research in dementia and neuroscience.
Brain health is a “murky area,” she cautioned, and evidence in support of nootropics is limited.
“Honestly, I think it’s very under-substantiated… and I don’t think anybody should be taking anything that hasn’t been investigated to ensure it doesn’t have long-term consequences.” She admitted, however, that nootropics may be less harmful than amphetamines, which are often abused by individuals for the same purpose.
Nootropics are rolling off the lines from somewhere, but if you’re buying them online, don’t count on them being exactly what you bargained for.
Online nootropic forums are crowded with consumers discussing the benefits, side effects and instructions on how to take them and where to buy them.
Simon found his regimen by testing five different substances, a process of trial and error. “It was a gamble,” he said.
His favourite nootropic, Noopept, is sold as a cognition booster. “You have to get the dosage just right,” he explained, which can be different depending on the day, mood or other unknown factors. He cautioned that the increased level of focus is typically followed by intense burnout. A two-hour midday nap is not uncommon.
If you are buying something online… What it says on the label may not be what’s in the bottle.
One of the oldest and most commonly used nootropics is Piracetam, which is in use by Alzheimer’s patients. But little-to-no formal testing has been conducted on healthy patients.
“We know that it has adverse effects. Period. End of story,” said Dr. Jose Lanca, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Toronto. “We are more sure of the adverse effects than the benefits,” he said, listing headaches, insomnia, irritability, increased blood pressure and hallucinations, along with potential increases in any existing psychological or kidney problems.
The lack of regulation for these substances creates a serious risk for online consumers, he said. “If you are in Europe, those drugs are available for prescription.” That means doctors are responsible for administering and monitoring a proper dose.
“[If] you are buying something online, you are assuming that it is what they say it is. But what it says on the label may not be what’s in the bottle,” Lanca cautioned.
Even Dr. Andrew Hill, a cognitive neuroscientist and well-known proponent of nootropics, describes the field as the “Wild West of people manufacturing and selling white powders.” After conducting his own experiments, Hill landed on a combination of substances that he claimed is “the best bet to work for most people with the least amount of side effects.” He now sells his product online, called Trubrain. The price is US$125 per month.
Consumers are expected to do their own research and consume cautiously. Now a market is emerging to cater even to that. Modern AlkaMe, a startup from Irvine, Calif., has developed a platform to help consumers measure the effects of the nootropics they take.
“We are guiding customers through unchartered territory” and preventing them from “relying on their own scientific interpretations,” said vice president Nicholas Perkins. The company’s app, debuting early in 2017, will collect and analyze a user’s health data, including heart rate, weight, anxiety and energy levels.
Despite the excitement about the field of nootropics, the company advises consumers not to “treat their body like a guinea pig” and to talk to a doctor before taking serious supplements.
This article was sourced from http://allcasinonews.com