(Last Updated on November 1, 2022)
The idea of taking a pill that enhances your brain performance is quite irresistible, especially to students, professionals or the elderly looking to prevent dementia.
That’s why it does not come as a surprise that the value of global nootropics market is expected to reach about $5,969 million by 2024, according to a recent report by Zion Market Research.
Nootropics are substances or supplements that boost cognitive function including creativity, memory, focus, concentration, motivation, learning ability, and information processing speed.|
They are popularly known as smart drugs or cognitive enhancers that can be natural compounds, synthetic or prescription drugs.
But, are nootropics addictive?
Let’s find out below.
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What are nootropics?
Nootropics are memory enhancing substances that optimise brain performance.
They come in two categories: prescription and non-prescription nootropics.
Prescription nootropics are synthetic drugs that boost cognitive function, especially in individuals with attention deficit disorder, sleep disorders and autism while non-prescription nootropics are over the counter natural substances that improve brain performance.
Dr Corneliu Giurgea, the Romanian psychologist who created Piracetam and developed the name nootropic, provided criteria to determine a true nootropic.
A true nootropic must:
- Improve memory and learning ability.
- Promote brain function amidst distracting conditions such as lack of oxygen.
- Provide neuroprotective properties.
- Boost natural brain function.
- Be non-toxic to the user.
Nootropics and addiction
Unsafe usage of nootropics may cause adverse side effects.
Most natural nootropics are not known to cause addiction.
However, prescription nootropics have been associated with psychological dependence.
The U.S Drug Enforcement Agency states that most prescription nootropics have a high likelihood of abuse.
But, how do we differentiate between addiction and adverse side effects?
The World Health Organization states that various factors are associated with addiction including tolerance, withdrawal, using despite harmful consequences and using more drugs than you should then regretting later.
Some users may develop tolerance to nootropics due to long term use requiring them to increase their daily dosage to achieve the desired effect as before.
Often, manufacturers recommend cycling to reduce the risk of tolerance.
However, if an individual experiences withdrawal symptoms during off cycling days, then that’s a sign of addiction.
What are withdrawal symptoms
Withdrawal is the emotional or physical problems that occur after an individual stops taking a drug they are dependent on.
Most symptoms of withdrawal include nausea, body shakes, chills, aches and diarrhoea.
These withdrawal symptoms begin when the body starts to deplete the substance in the body.
Most individuals take more drugs to ease withdrawal pain; thus, they are unable to quit.
Are natural nootropics addictive?
Generally, it is rare to develop a natural nootropic addiction.
However, individuals develop a mild side effect such as brain fog when they stop using nootropics after a longtime routinely use.
Additionally, users may also become attached to stacked natural nootropics.
For instance, it may become hard to take plain coffee if they were used to L-Theanine enriched coffee.
All the same, this is not withdrawal symptoms but merely adapting to the normal brain function without enhancing properties.
Addictive substances are known to impair cognition, but, nootropics offer long term brain performance and protection.
Interestingly, a 2013 study 1 by Yale University shows that some nootropics may improve drug addiction.
Drugs stimulate the release of a massive wave of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.
This sudden increase causes the ‘high’ described by most drug addicts.
This kind of release may cause adverse side effects including causing the brain not to release neurotransmitters on its own.
Nootropics counter this effect by triggering the release of a healthy dose of neurotransmitters in the long run without creating dependence.
For instance, Maritime Pine Bark extract 2 was seen to improve concentration, motor-visual coordination and attention in children with ADHD without the negative side effects of prescription drugs including withdrawal symptoms.
Also, nootropics may help to manage withdrawal symptoms by:
- Lowering anxiety and stress.
- Enhancing mood.
- Relaxing the body.
- Preventing body tremors.
- Boosting motivation and concentration.
- Reduce drug cravings thus lowering drug dependency in the long term.
What about Synthetic Nootropics Addiction Potential?
There are many synthetic nootropics in the market and individuals are concerned that when they stop using these cognitive enhancers, they may experience low cognition functioning compared to the average level.
However, nootropics only enhance cognitive function when used, and they do not lower your normal cognitive functioning when discontinued.
Most synthetic nootropics are considered safe when used as directed.
There have been reports on potential addiction of some certain nootropics.
Sulbutiamine addictive properties
For instance, sulbutiamine is a synthetic B-Vitamin derived nootropic that increases focus and enhances mood.
But, it has been reported that it may cause addiction, especially in high dosages.
For example, when taken consecutively for 10 days, the user is likely to experience withdrawal for 2 to 5 days.
Additionally, when combined with antipsychotic medications, it may have addictive qualities.
Therefore, it should be used in moderation and as directed.
Modafinil addictive elements
Some users have reported cases of dependency on Modafinil.
Modafinil is a generic form of nootropic Provigil.
Provigil is an FDA –approved nootropic that boosts wakefulness in individuals with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, depression, and narcolepsy.
It was considered to be a non-addictive nootropic, but a recent study 3 shows that Provigil may be addictive; it inhibits dopamine transporters, thus increasing dopamine levels in the brain.
This is the same mechanism used by methamphetamine and cocaine.
All the same, this potential is limited, and users respond differently.
Ritalin addiction potential
Ritalin is a prescription nootropic used to treat individuals with ADHD, including children.
However, this drug is currently being used on non-prescription grounds, especially by students who want to enhance their learning ability.
Abusing this nootropic may cause dependency.
Most nootropics are well tolerated by users and do not have addictive properties.
However, abusing these nootropics, especially synthetic ones and exceeding the recommended dosage may result in dependency on the drug.
Sometimes, users may experience brain fog on discontinuing nootropic use, but this not a withdrawal symptom but rather a brain adjustment to normal brain functioning.
Thus, there are no physical symptoms of nootropics withdrawal.
Finally, some natural nootropics such as choline have been seen to eliminate addiction.
Drugs dependence is often linked to depleted dopamine levels; choline increases dopamine levels and reduces cravings associated with addiction.