Nootropics - enhancing learning and memory

Nootropic drugs are the name generally given to a group of substances which enhance learning and memory with little side effects. The term was first coined by Corneliu E. Giurgea who envisioned the drugs as having the following 5 key components:

  1. They should enhance learning and memory.
  2. They should enhance the resistance of learned behaviors/memories to conditions which tend to disrupt them (e.g. electroconvulsive shock, hypoxia).
  3. They should protect the brain against various physical or chemical injuries (e.g. barbiturates, scopalamine).
  4. They should increase the efficacy of the tonic cortical/subcortical control mechanisms.
  5. They should lack the usual pharmacology of other psychotropic drugs (e.g. sedation, motor stimulation) and possess very few side effects and extremely low toxicity.

Giurgea's 5th requirement perhaps set the tone for nootropics to have questionable potency, and to open the door for a wide range of drugs of which few are proven effective or approved by the FDA.

In some sense, this is OK however, as there are quite a few nutraceuticals on the list of nootropics, specifically:

General Brain and Memory Enhancement (Nootropics)
  • Hemp or Flax Seeds
  • Fish
  • Berries
Memory Enhancement (Cholinergics) Anti Depressants
  • Lemon Balm
  • Passion Flower
  • Rhodiola Rosea
  • St. John's Wort
  • Ginseng
  • Tea
  • Grape seed extract
  • Gotu Kola
Anti depressants perhaps have the most items since depression is notoriously difficult to measure.

In spite the shaky past of nootropics and mind enhancing drugs, recent developments in biotechnology have developed nootropics that appear to have stronger potential. Of these, pregnenolone shows the most potential as a steriod hormone that can increase neurogenesis.

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