The science and safety behind nootropics or "Smart Drugs"

When corporate strategist Ben Sand wanted to improve his performance at work, he looked to nootropics-- compounds designed to enhance cognition.

"For me, it's sort of like coffee but a bit smoother."

Sand actually cut out the coffee, and started taking a regimen of four pills daily.

"It's just a simple way to kind of get the alertness that I'm looking for."

Sand uses supplements from a company called Nootrobox. They're available online, and no prescription is needed. Ingredients include things you have heard of like "B" vitamins and caffeine, as well as some you may not know about like Bacopa Monnieri.

"They affect your mental state, they affect your cognitive abilities, they can help with things like memory or focus or attention or clarity of mind," said Michael Brandt, Nootrobox Co-Founder.

Brandt said demand for nootropics is huge, but can a cognitive or mental enhancer supplement actually have a positive impact on the way your brain functions?

"Nootropics are designed to affect brain functions in those ways that are able to improve, or at least modify in positive ways, a variety of processes of cognition," said Dr. James Giordano, Georgetown University.

But the world of nootropics isn't limited to supplements available over the counter. Some people use prescription medications, off-label, or purchase substances that are illegal.

And while there are a few pieces of literature that say they may be effective, neurologists say more research is needed when it comes to nootropics in general.

"To be able to demonstrate not only the effectiveness of these compounds in real world settings, but also the effects, side effects, and potential burdens and risks," said Dr. Giordano.

Medical experts also said there is a potential for abuse when it comes to both pharmaceuticals and supplements used as nootropics. It's important to stick to the recommended instructions.
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