“Nootropic” is a huge buzzword today. It’s not really part of our vocabulary, it’s made up of Greek words and rolls off the tongue. Of course it’s inevitable that the term will be abused when it’s such a catchy word and has so much marketing potential to be tapped into.
Nootropic definition: What is it?
“Nootropic” literally means “toward the mind.”
Nootropics have also been referred to as smart drugs or cognitive enhancers because of their effect on the mind. Dorlands Medical Dictionary says a nootropic is a drug with the quality of “having positive effects on organically impaired cognition or nervous system function; said of certain drugs.”1
Therefore, you can say that any drug that benefits cognitive function is a nootropic. Anything that doesn’t is by definition not a nootropic.
However, nootropic’s definition has more recently been taken to mean “anything that makes you smarter/not dumb.”
The definition is so wide that some people will call anything a nootropic. It’s not a special term at all, in fact it’s almost useless. For example, some will call the B vitamins a nootropic simply because you’ll be dumber than you could be if you’re not taking them.
By this popular nootropic definition, we already have “nootropics” in our kitchens, such as eggs (containing choline in the form of lecithin) and coffee or tea (both containing the stimulant caffeine, the latter containing theanine). Sounds pretty useless if you’re already eating these and you’re looking for more powerful stuff, no?
Personally, I would prefer to use the term nootropic to refer to anything that specifically benefits cognition, memory and/or overall mental function rather than mundane things that you should be incorporating into your diet anyway because they may be good for other purposes as well, and rather than things that have little to nothing to do with cognitive enhancement.
Even Examine.com’s page on Nootropics had this to say:
Many supplements that are touted to increase cognition, focus, alertness, or well being are grouped under this vague blanket statement.
Which substances are not nootropics?
By our interpretation of nootropic as defined by Dorlands Medical Dictionary, few things really meet the nootropic definition beyond basic nutrition and what many of us already take, like coffee.
On one fly-by-night nootropic niche site, 5-HTP was erroneously referred to as a “nootropic.”
When taken correctly and before bed, 5-HTP can be used to boost serotonin levels and may benefit mood the following day, but it is not necessarily nootropic in the sense of Noopept, Pramiracetam or even Modafinil.
On the same site, NALT (N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine) was also incorrectly referred to as a nootropic. There is some anecdotal evidence that it has an uplifting effect on energy and mood, but is otherwise not inherently nootropic.
Elsewhere, I’ve seen phenibut referred to as a nootropic. It may be anxiety-reducing, and while calmness can lead to clear thinking, it is not inherently nootropic like the racetams or other stimulants.
It’s all disappointing to say the least.
There are few things that can significantly affect the mind in a nootropic manner.
These are pharmaceutical drugs like the racetam group, a few common substances you may already have around you, and other things you can attain through diet or supplemental nutrition. Don’t fall for the hype just because something is called a nootropic, and likewise, don’t be alarmed if what you take is not life-changing like the drug from that one movie.
Dorlands Medical Dictionary [Archived] ↩