are categorized by chemical composition and the different
ways they act to speed up mental processing. One class of nootropics is
derived from pyrrolidone, a substance that affects the parts of the
nervous system that use acetylcholine as a neurotransmitter, and are
sometimes referred to as the cholinergic system. Acetylcholine controls
sensory signals and muscle contraction, and plays and important role in
memory and learning. The drugs in this class include piracetam and its
analogs oxiracetam, pramiracetam, and aniracetam. Analogs are molecules
with similar molecular structure.
Piracetam, also called nootropil, is the most commonly taken nootropic. It helps boost intelligence without being toxic or addictive. Being the first nootropic drug to be developed, it gave rise to this
whole new category of drugs. Piracetam is very similar in chemical
structure to the amino acid pyroglutamate, present in meat, vegetables,
fruits, and dairy products.
It is in the cerebral cortex that thought and reasoning are believed to occur. Piracetam stimulates the cerebral cortex and increases the rate of metabolism and energy level of brain cells. It does not have the side effects associated with other stimulants. The primary clinical use is to protect the brain from damage caused by hypoxia, which is oxygen starvation, and to help recover from it. Brain cells can be starved for oxygen by drinking too much alcohol, for example. Another clinical use is stemming memory loss caused by physical injury and chemical poisoning.
Piracetam seems to help step up the flow of messages between the two hemispheres or halves of the brain, which is sometimes called the interhemispheric flow of information. In fact, psychopharmacologist Dr. Dimond said the brains of subjects who used piracetam seemed "superconnected," which he attributed to an increased exchange between hemispheres.
Dean and Morgenthaler speculate that the increased communication between right and left brains is associated with flashes of creativity. If their hypothesis is correct, then piracetam not only improves memory and ability to learn, but has the potential to enhance creativity as well.
Improved transfer between brain hemispheres occurs because piracetam stimulates the cerebral cortex to increase production of a compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the brain cells. The buildup and breakdown of ATP produces energy in the cells. The amount of ATP that is available to be turned into energy declines with aging. It is believed that piracetam reverses this process by increasing the activity of the enzyme that produces ATP.
According to Dean and Morgenthaler, piracetam may actually have a regenerative effect on the nervous system. They point to a study by Pitch, who found that piracetam improves brain functioning in mice by increasing the number of cholinergic receptors in the brain.
Piracetam may improve learning by increasing the brain's ability to synthesize new proteins. According to Pelton, author of Mind Foods and Smart Pills, information or learning is encoded into the new proteins, Researchers believe piracetam manufactures new proteins by stimulating certain structures within the cells called polyribosomes. The specific chain of events is complicated and beyond the scope of this book, but the upshot of the research is that piracetam is a powerful nootropic that seems to contribute to improved memory and learning through several different types of chemical changes that it triggers in the brain.
Researchers studying performance have gotten positive results in tests on both animals and humans using piracetam. Animals have been found to learn faster and better when given piracetam. One group of rats consuming piracetam were better able to avoid a small shock. Studies with human volunteers by Dimond and Brewers and by Mindus found performance improvements in students, young and healthy volunteers, and middle-aged subjects suffering some memory loss, all of whom showed significant improvements in memory and mental performance.
Research indicates that piracetam has a synergistic effect, such as helping the individual remember things better, when taken with DMAE, centrophenoxine, choline, Deaner, lecithin, or hydergine. Reports show it works three to four times better when acetylcholine-enhancing nutrients or drugs are used.
Piracetam is especially effective in enhancing memory when used with choline. Dr. Pelton asserts that combining the nutrient choline and the drug piracetam "may be the most potent memory-enhancing therapy yet discovered." Studies suggest that when taken in combination, the two substances are much more effective both in improving memory and in preventing the mental decline that comes with aging than when either substance is used by itself.
Dr. Raymond Bartus showed this remarkable effect in a study on rats. A subject rat was shocked, then after twenty-four hours returned to the same dark chamber where it was shocked again. Whereas older rats are worse at remembering the shock than younger rats, Bartus found that when given choline plus piracetam the rats, both young and old, were significantly better at remembering and so waited longer to enter the chamber and get shocked. Impressed by these findings with rats, Ferris and some associates at NYU's psychiatry department tried a similar experiment on humans suffering from Alzheimer's disease. They found a tremendous increase in memory as shown by their scores on a verbal memory test when the two substances were used together. Performance on one test went up 70percent in subjects taking piracetam plus choline.
Researchers now believe that choline is an important substance to use with any of the nootropic drugs. The theory is that nootropics stimulate the cholinergic neurons, which are the cells in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which promotes thought and memory. When this happens, the level of choline in the cell is reduced. The faster the neuron fires and/or the lower the amount of choline in the cells, the more the choline is depleted. When the supply gets too low, the cholinergic neuron will break down its own membrane to obtain the choline it needs to make more acetylcholine. Consuming its own membrane is known as autocannibalism and will eventually kill the cell if it continues. Taking choline, however, increases the choline level, and the cells continue to make the necessary acetylcholine without consuming their own membrane.
In any case, the research indicates that either by itself or with choline, piracetam is one of the most effective nootropic drugs in its impact on memory and learning. People generally take 800 to 1,600 mg. of piracetam a day. They often begin with a higher dose, of 1,200 to 2,400 mg., taken in the early part of the day for the first two days, and then lower the dose thereafter. It is not toxic and has no contraindications. However, Dean and Morgenthaler do report that it can sometime increase the effects of amphetamines, psychotropics, and hydergine. Piracetam is most easily obtained over the counter in Mexico and in various European countries. Sometimes it can be obtained through the mail from an off-shore pharmacy.