Are Nootropics Harmful and Addictive?

Are Nootropics Harmful and Addictive?

Nootropics are prescription and OTC substances that improve cognitive function, but they can be addictive and have harmful side effects.

Nootropics are substances that are meant to improve cognitive function. They can be prescription drugs or over-the-counter substances that are sold as supplements. Research indicates that over the last few years, doctors are prescribing more nootropic drugs.1 However, some of these drugs come with harmful side effects and the risk of addiction, especially for individuals who have a history of substance abuse.

What Are Nootropics?

Nootropics (also sometimes called smart drugs, study drugs, cognitive enhancers, memory enhancers, and neuroenhancers) are prescription drugs or OTC substances that are said to improve cognitive performance.

Prescription nootropics that are classified as stimulants are designed to treat disorders like ADHD, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s Disease by counteracting the symptoms of these disorders. Nonprescription nootropics don’t treat any diseases, but they are said to enhance brain performance or focus.

OTC nootropics are becoming more readily available on the internet because their popularity is increasing and so is the demand. As such, many health experts are concerned about the growing potential for abuse of prescription nootropics.

Although only a few drugs have been scientifically proven to enhance some aspects of cognitive ability, nootropics are misused openly by many college students and young professionals and doing so is more accepted in today’s culture.

Examples of prescription nootropics include:

  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin)
  • Modafinil (Provigil)
  • Adderall

Over-the-counter nootropics are often sold as dietary supplements like:2

  • Noopept
  • Piracetam
  • Ginkgo biloba
  • Panax ginseng
  • Rhodiola rosea
  • Bacopa monnieri
  • Creatine
  • L-Theanine
  • Caffeine

Do Nootropics Improve Brain Function?

Nootropics typically work to improve brain function by increasing the brain’s supply of neurochemicals and oxygen. But how effective are nootropics? In short, nootropics do keep you alert and improve concentration, but it’s not accurate to call them “smart drugs.” Although research supports the idea that prescription nootropics can improve wakefulness and cognitive function, they won’t make you smarter. Neither will over-the-counter nootropics like Noopept.

Are Nootropics Harmful?

Yes, nootropics can be harmful to your health. Prescription nootropics are only approved at specific doses for certain conditions. When prescription drugs like Modafinil and Ritalin are repurposed and used as cognitive enhancers by people who don’t suffer from these medical conditions, they may experience many harmful side effects. For example, the misuse of amphetamine-based drugs increases the risk of heart attack and sudden death.

According to a report from the Queensland Brain Institute, there are serious concerns about what their impacts may be when used by healthy people, especially when they’re used in larger doses than typically prescribed.3

Although prescription nootropics were originally designed to improve the cognitive performance of people experiencing neurological problems, there aren’t any studies that have determined the effects of long-term use of the substances among healthy individuals.

Additionally, while some ingredients found in OTC nootropics are just vitamins, others are controversial. Some dietary supplements marketed as nootropics contain drugs and other ingredients that are unregulated. Many of these ingredients also lack evidence that they are effective or safe. Dietary supplements don’t require FDA approval prior to marketing so they may also be misbranded or adulterated.4

Some ingredients to be wary of include:5,6

  • Phenibut
  • DMHA
  • DMAA
  • Piracetam
  • Aniracetam
  • Oxiracetam
  • Omberacetam (Noopept)
  • Phenylpiracetam (Phenotropil)
  • Pramiracetam (Nootropil)
  • Adrafinil (Olmifon, Noofon)
  • B-PEA (b-phenylethylamine or beta-phenethylamine)
  • Halostachine (N-methyl phenylethanolamine)
  • Higenamine
  • Hordenine
  • Huperzine A
  • Sulbutiamine

Sometimes these ingredients are not disclosed on the product label, so it’s important to do your research before using any dietary supplements marketed as nootropics.

There are also ethical concerns about the use of nootropics and their ability to boost brainpower. Just as performance-enhancing substances are regulated for professional athletes, should the use of nootropics also be regulated among college students to ensure they don’t have an unfair advantage over their peers?

Are Nootropics Addictive?

Yes, cognitive enhancing drugs can be just as addictive as illegal street drugs. Not all nootropics are considered addictive or dangerous, but the fact that many of them are prescription drugs or are available over-the-counter makes people believe they are less dangerous than they truly are. Additionally, an individual who regularly takes nootropics is likely to develop a tolerance. This means they’ll need more of the drug to achieve the same effects. If they’re using a prescription nootropic like Adderall or Ritalin, this could be very dangerous.

Types of Addictive Nootropics

Some of the most addictive and dangerous nootropics are:

  • Modafinil: Modafinil (Provigil) is a prescription drug that’s used to treat narcolepsy and other sleep disorders. Physical dependence is a common side effect, as are headache, nausea, and sleep disturbances.
  • Adderall: Adderall is usually prescribed to people with ADHD. It’s a stimulant that contains amphetamine and it is highly addictive.
  • Ritalin: Ritalin is a prescription drug that’s used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. When it’s misused, it can quickly lead to dependence and addiction and may also cause harmful side effects like dizziness, vomiting, and trouble sleeping.
  • Vyvanse: Vyvanse is a prescription stimulant that is used to treat ADHD and binge-eating disorder. It’s an addictive substance that, if abused, can cause serious side effects like irregular heartbeat, delirium, panic, psychosis, and even heart failure.

Sometimes, cocaine is also used as a nootropic. It’s an illegal stimulant and a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act. For example, truck drivers may use it to stay awake and alert for long periods of driving. Cocaine is highly addictive and using it regularly may also lead to the ongoing abuse of other dangerous illegal drugs.

What Are the Side Effects of Using Nootropics?

Although college students and professionals may find that using nootropics provides positive short-term results, there isn’t any research on the long-term effects on healthy people who are using these drugs as cognitive enhancers. As a result, using them regularly may come with some unanticipated short-term and long-term side effects.

Some side effects of nootropics may include: 7

  • Insomnia
  • Blurry vision
  • High blood pressure
  • A fast heart rate
  • Circulation problems
  • Dependence
  • Addiction

Are Nootropics Illegal?

According to the FDA, products like nootropics can be legally classified as scheduled drugs (which are prescriptions that are approved to treat specific medical conditions) or as over-the-counter dietary supplements that are generally regarded as safe.

Since dietary supplements don’t require FDA approval prior to marketing, the U.S. does not control or schedule most OTC nootropics. The American public can also buy some synthetic nootropics if they are classified as “research compounds.”

However, as consumer demand for nootropics continues to increase, so does government scrutiny. The FDA has already issued warning letters to several companies but that doesn’t mean that all nootropics you find for sale online are going to be safe (or even legal, depending on the ingredients).

How to Naturally Improve Cognitive Function

Nootropics are not necessary for cognitive enhancement. Instead of using drugs or supplements to try to boost your cognitive function, there are several natural ways to do so, like:

  • Meditating
  • Playing brain-training games
  • Having new experiences
  • Making social connections
  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Managing stress effectively
  • Creating Getting regular physical activity

These methods are much safer and when implemented long-term, they are more likely to provide the results you want without any of the unnecessary side effects.

Treatment for Nootropics Addiction Starts With Detox

If you or a loved one is suffering from a nootropics addiction (either prescription or OTC supplements), the caring professionals at Briarwood Detox Center are available to help.

The first step of overcoming addiction is often detox, which helps you break your physical dependence on the drug. Withdrawal symptoms can be difficult so it’s often best to detox with professional assistance.

At a detox center like Briarwood, you’ll receive round-the-clock care and medication-assisted treatment to ensure your comfort and safety. During treatment, you’ll meet with counselors to address mental health issues and psychological withdrawal symptoms. You’ll also attend group meetings and H&I meetings to learn more about the 12-Step Program and connect with sober peers.

If you’re ready to make a change, detox is a great start. Get help for nootropics addiction now. Call Briarwood Detox Center and get life-changing treatment today.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4528826/
  2. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/nootropics
  3. https://qbi.uq.edu.au/brain/learning-memory/do-smart-drugs-work
  4. https://www.opss.org/article/adulterated-and-misbranded-supplements
  5. https://www.opss.org/article/nootropics-drugs-vs-dietary-supplements-brain-health
  6. https://www.fda.gov/food/dietary-supplement-products-ingredients/dietary-supplement-ingredient-advisory-list
  7. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/features/nootropics-smart-drugs-overview

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