What Entrepreneurs Should Know About the Rise of Smart Drugs

January 29, 2016

8:00 pm

I’d be willing to bet that everyone reading this has used smart drugs before (although you might not have called them that). That’s because even something as benign as the caffeine in coffee or a cup of green tea qualifies as a smart drug, which is just another term for any supplement that enhances cognitive function.

Of course, the world of smart drugs extends well beyond caffeinated beverages. More and more entrepreneurs—including celebrities like Tim Ferris and Dave Asprey—are using brain supplements in the hopes of acquiring a wide range of benefits, from boosting mental clarity and focus to increasing productivity and efficiency, relieving anxiety, reducing distractibility, enhancing creativity, reducing fatigue, and improving memory and learning. The use of smart drugs is part of the larger biohacking movement, in which people seek to maximize their bodies’ potential to be outlandishly productive.

If you’re new to the trend, then it’s high time you caught up. Here are six things entrepreneurs should know about the increasing popularity of brain-enhancing drugs.

1. “Smart drugs” Is a Very (Very) Broad Term

Smart drugs, nootropics, nutraceuticals, cognitive enhancers, neuro enhancers, brain supplements: they’re all interchangeable umbrella terms for a wide range of supplements thought to improve cognitive function. These include—but are decidedly not limited to—caffeine, fish oil, vitamins B6 and B12, enzymes, hormones, plant extracts, green tea extract, and prescription-only meds.

2. Nootropics Aren’t New

The word “nootropics” was invented in 1972 by a Romanian psychologist and chemist who devised a drug that improved cognitive function. Since then, cognitive enhancing supplements have been steadily gaining popularity. Today, up to 11 percent of all U.S. college students regularly employ nootropics, and the trend is growing steadily within Silicon Valley and among the entrepreneurial community at large.

3. There Is No “One Size Fits All” Approach

People use nootropics for different reasons and in different ways. The effect you’re trying to achieve—such as enhancing focus or improving memory—will determine your supplement(s) of choice. Many people utilize a chemical cocktail of different supplements (referred to as “stacks”), while some choose to use a single, prepackaged pill. Some people take several nootropics at the same time each day, while others experiment with the optimal times to take each individual drug.

4. They’re Generally Legal

Smart drugs have been classified as Schedule IV by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which is a fancy way of saying that the DEA considers them to be at low risk for abuse or addiction. While most nootropics are legal, the rules around their acquisition can vary. For instance, it’s illegal to purchase some neuro enhancers (such as Modafinil) without a prescription. But, for the most part, nootropics derived from natural sources are easily acquired either online, in health food stores, or over the counter.

5. More Long-Term Research Is Needed

Because nootropics are treated like other dietary supplements, the FDA doesn’t require approval before they hit the market. The FDA does still have some oversight over nootropics via its Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, but it focuses those efforts on products that are thought to cause injury or illness.

So are smart drugs safe? There are several short-term studies that uphold the merits of particular nootropics. Still, different people will react in different ways to these ingredients and stacks, and as with all supplements, they carry some, though generally small, risk of side effects. And in general, scientists agree that more long-term safety studies are warranted on nootropics as a whole. As with any supplement, it’s a good idea to consult a medical professional and/or take your own health issues and goals into account when experimenting with smart drugs.

6. The Source Matters

Many people buy smart drugs off the internet, which isn’t a problem in itself. But if you’re not buying from a reputable source, then there’s no real way to confirm whether the product is contaminated or safe. Keep yourself healthy by following these tips for acquiring smart drugs:

  • When it comes to purchasing high-quality nootropics, reviews are your friend. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health also tracks existing research for various herbs and supplements.
  • If you’re purchasing a smart drug that technically requires a prescription, the FBI warns consumers to distrust any internet provider that doesn’t ask for said doctor’s prescription as well as a medical history. Drugs like Modafinil do require prescriptions; naturally derived supplements like Alpha BRAIN do not.
  • If you’re not sure whether a given product is actually having an impact, it might be helpful to take some online cognitive tests. NooTracker is designed specifically to assess cognitive function while you’re using smart drugs. The Cambridge Brain Sciences program offers even more thorough assessments of cognitive functioning.
  • Start by trying out one nootropic at a time before you begin experimenting with different combinations. And if you don’t know the potential side effects for a given drug, it’s probably smart to avoid taking it until you do.

Many sources agree that this is only the beginning of the rise of nootropics. So when everybody and their mother is taking neuro enhancers a decade from now, you can claim that you knew about smart drugs before they were officially cool.

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Serial entrepreneur, digital marketer, and MBA

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