- Piracetam, a medication in the racetams family, is an effective nootropic (aka cognitive enhancer) that isn’t approved for use in the US, but that’s more of a technicality than a safety issue.
- Research shows piracetam shows promise as a smart drug. Piracetam’s potential benefits include neuroprotection after surgery and trauma, treatment for epilepsy, to slow neurodegeneration, and more.
- While more studies are necessary to fully understand the effects of piracetam, what we know about it so far make it worth paying attention to.
Not many people know that the term nootropic dates back to more than 50 years ago to 1964, when the research scientist who created the drug piracetam needed a word to describe pharmaceuticals that make you smarter.
I’ve used piracetam, or one of its sister compounds, almost every day for two decades, and it’s so powerful that I have my parents taking it. I found out about it from Steve Fowkes, Bulletproof Radio guest and research biochemist who ran the first newsletter on smart drugs starting in the 1980s.
It’s still not FDA-approved in the US even though it’s prescribed in Europe, but it’s widely available here… just not from your average doctor.
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Does piracetam work as a cognitive enhancer?
When I first used it, I thought it didn’t work. That’s because I didn’t know how to use it, but I stumbled on a pattern that worked and realized it was easier to feel the difference when you stopped it instead of when you start taking it…and it takes a couple weeks to kick in.
Here’s what the science says so far.
Piracetam for cognitive decline with aging
When elderly rats received long-term piracetam treatment, learning improved and membrane fluidity substantially increased. This suggests that part of the benefit lies in its ability to reverse the loss in membrane fluidity that happens as part of the aging process.
Human studies showed similar effects. Piracetam measurably improved measures of cognitive ability in a diverse group of older subjects with cognitive impairment.
Piracetam shows protective effects after surgery and shock
Open-heart surgery comes with the risk of neurological damage and stroke. Piracetam shows promise as a neuroprotective agent for patients having cardiac bypass surgery. In another study, six weeks of piracetam after coronary artery bypass grafting improved cognition.
A month of piracetam improved memory problems and slowed nerve damage in rats after hypoperfusion (shock). This shows potential as a treatment for cerebrovascular dementia, because it operates on similar mechanisms.
Piracetam could lessen the negative neurological effects of stroke and trauma
Administering piracetam within seven hours of ischemic stroke had a measurable benefit. It also helped partially restore writing abilities in stroke patients who lost their language capacity, which shows promise for future research in restoring language.
Eight weeks of 4800mg of piracetam treatment reduced post-concussion patients’ symptoms including vertigo, headache, tiredness, decreased alertness, sweating and irritability.
Piracetam may reduce the severity of epilepsy
Research shows piracetam as part of a full treatment protocol is effective long-term for certain forms of epilepsy. The effects increased over the course of a year then stabilized, and effective dose may take some time to pinpoint as it is highly individual.
Piracetam and neurodegenerative disorders
Research showed measurable benefit to treating early mild stages of Parkinson’s with piracetam.
Long-term, high-dose piracetam slowed cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients. Effects were strongest in recall and memory. A few weeks of treatment with piracetam demonstrated cognitive-enhancing effects, which could translate to an effective Alzheimer’s treatment.
The effects of piracetam were greatest in patients with cognitive decline who were also depressed, which is quite common, as depression often precedes diagnosis of neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Is piracetam legal?
The government didn’t exactly ban piracetam.
Here’s how it works. To legally sell something for human consumption, a substance must be a food, a drug, or a supplement.
As it is, piracetam isn’t an approved drug. So, you then look at whether or not they will consider it a food.
The food category is further broken down into two sub-categories: foods and dietary supplements. Since piracetam doesn’t meet the requirements to be classified as a food, it would have to be accepted as a dietary supplement.
In order to be classified as a supplement, it would have to augment the diet and contain one or more of the following:
- Herb or botanical
- Amino acid
- A substance that increases total dietary intake of a nutrient
- A derivative of any of the above
Piracetam does not contain any of those, which leaves one possible avenue for FDA approval — it could be considered a food additive. In order for the government to accept it as a food additive, it has to be Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), which requires testing.
So, it’s not that anyone decided piracetam is unsafe. It’s just that it hasn’t been tested and it doesn’t fit neatly into any of the required categories. So, if someone tries to sell piracetam for human consumption, they could get an angry letter from the regulatory agencies.
Some retailers work around the red tape by selling piracetam “for scientific research purposes only, not for human consumption.”
Almost 20 years ago when I was fat and tired and my brain didn’t work, I bought $1,000 worth of smart drugs from Europe, took them all at once, and got enough cognitive function to start working on fixing my life. Learn from my mistakes. You can fix your brain and body from the inside out, starting with food and how you live your life.
Nootropics make an impact, but you’ll get the best cognitive boost from cleaning up your raw material. Get rid of the things in your diet and life that tank your cognitive performance before you try anything else. Once you do that, you might decide that you’re clearer than you’ve ever been and operating on all cylinders. Or, you’ll notice specific things that you want to focus on. From there, you can target nootropics to your specific concerns.