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Examples of Brain Drugs

"Smart drugs" of various types are often referred to as nootropics, and include cognitive and memory enhancers. They come in the form of pharmaceutical drugs, nutritional supplements, and what are sometimes called "functional foods." They can work in a variety of ways, including altering the supply of neurotransmitters, enzymes, and hormones in the brain, increasing oxygen in the brain, or stimulating nerve growth over time.

Given the difficulty of defining and quantifying cognition abilities and intelligence, the research done on these brain drugs is often found to be lacking. This does not mean that these substances don't work. Many of them probably do have real effects on the brain, but the evidence is still being compiled. I have used Piracetam, for example, and found that I was able to focus and write more than I had ever written in a day. You can read bout that here: Piracetam - My Experience.

Here are a few other brain drugs that have some evidence for their effectiveness.

Phosphotidyl Serine (PS)

This substance has been shown in clinical studies to increase lucidity and rate of learning, as well as improve memory. How does it do this? By activating cell-to-cell communication, helping regulate cell growth, improving the functioning of the special receptors found on cells, and preparing cells for activity. It is also thought to reverse memory decline, and guess what? Phosphatidylserine has no known adverse side effects.

Vinpocetine

This is an extract derived from an alkaloid found in the Periwinkle Plant, and is used as a cerebral vasodilator. In other words, it increases blood flow to the brain, which improves its oxygenation and thereby increases mental alertness and acuity. Research suggests that it may be the most powerful memory enhancer available to date.

Vinpocetine acts on both the circulatory system and the brain's metabolism to enhance cognitive function. The increased blood flow that it causes allows for more oxygen and glucose uptake by brain and nerve cells, and this nourishes brain cells, preventing cell death from lack of oxygen.

As an extra benefit, Vinpocetine has also been shown to improve micro-circulation in the eyes, which may help maintain healthy vision and assist with healing eye related disorders.

If you want to try these supplements, you can probably find them at your local health-food store. Otherwise you can probably get them online from one of the advertisers on this page.

Memory Drugs

Most new "brain drugs" being developed are targeting one area of brain function: memory. Pop a pill and have better memory. Sounds nice, doesn't it? Apparently so, because that's where the research dollars of the pharmaceutical companies are going. The research concentrates on creating compounds that either preserve function, which are useful in treating or preventing aging-related memory decline, or compounds that actually enhance memory ability.

Aplyasia Californicus, or the common California Sea Snail, is playing a key role in the development of these brain drugs. It has large neurons, and very few of them, making it possible to identify individual nerve cells that are responsible for specific behaviors. The snail, and humans, both use a neural messenger called cyclic AMP, which modulates a protein called CREB, which, in turn forms memories by reshaping synapses. So AMP levels affect the brains ability to remodel it's synapses.

Without getting into more details, the bottom line of the snail research, and the follow-up testing on rats, is several new drugs in the works. Memory Pharmaceuticals' MEM1414, for example, seems to enhance the brain's long-term memory functions, and may make it to market soon. There are similar drugs being developed by this and other companies, like Sention and Cortex Pharmaceuticals. Questions still to be answered for all of these products include prices and whether the side effects will be a problem. While you are waiting, you may want to try Ginkgo Biloba, a cheap natural alternative that has a fair amount of research showing memory and other brain function benefits.

Intelligence-Boosting Drugs

Brain drugs to help increase intelligence or general brain power are less common, but there is one that is available at the nearest coffee shop. Caffeine has been shown repeatedly to improve brain function temporarily. Students score higher on tests after a cup of coffee, and I can tell you without a doubt, that my chess game improves after any caffeine-containing drink. I can also verify that the long-term effects of over-use can be very bad (at least for me).

Ginkgo, as mentioned above, may help overall brain function, since it has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain. (2011 Note: Recent studies contradict earlier research showing increased blood flow to the brain.)

Students in South America are known to eat several Brazil-Nuts before exams, believing that the amino acids in them are beneficial (I'm not aware of any research on this, however). One advantage of the natural intelligence-boosters is that they are probably safer than the pharmaceutical brain drugs will turn out to be.

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Other Relevant Pages:

My Brain Pills Test - I tried a brain drug formula that contained vinpocetine.

Memory Exercises - Natural ways to boost recall ability.

How to Increase Your Intelligence Quotient - Without drugs.

Brain Foods - Avoid brain drugs altogether and use more natural ways to enhance your brain function.

Brain Nutrition Questions and Answers - More on natural ways to boost brainpower.

The Effects of Caffeine on the Brain - They're not always good...

DHA and Folic Acid for Brain Power - And which foods have substantial amounts of these substances.

Wikipedia also has this fairly detailed discussion of Nootropics

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