cognitive development


Ok, so as promised, here is my blog about Smart Drugs.  Improving cognition is one of my favorite topics!  If you read my last blog, “Brainfog? Let’s fix it!” then you know the trouble I had a few years ago due to my own struggle with brain fog.  That was my motivation for seeking natural ways to boost my brain function.  This intense search for a solution is what led me to learn about Smart Drugs.  If you have seen the movie “Limitless”, with Bradley Cooper, you understand the intrigue of taking a pill that suddenly gives you laser focus, doubles your IQ, gives you a photographic memory, and the ability to learn a new language in a day.  The movie “Limitless” was loosely based on the drug Modafinil which is an actual medication currently used to treat narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and shift-work sleep disorder.  While there is (as yet) no drug, including Modafinil, that has the benefits portrayed in the movie “Limitless”, there exist some real and proven medications and supplements that do, indeed, improve brain function.

The common term for Smart Drugs is “Nootropics” - Greek for “acting on the mind”.  The criteria required to be designated a Nootropic are that it:

  1. Enhances learning,

  2. Increases communication between the right and left brain, linking the logical and creative sides,

  3. Prevents and repairs physical and chemical injury to the brain,

  4. Improves the function of the brain,

  5. Has very low to no side effects.


The term was coined in the '60’s in Belgium with the advent of the first nootropic, Piracetam.  Not a natural substance, it was developed from the neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger in the brain) GABA (gamma amino-butyric acid).  It was first used to treat motion sickness and sleep disorders.  Since then there have been over 30 types of “racetams” developed and more than 1,000 papers have been published on the subject!  Not all Smart Drugs are Nootropics since some of them have side effects (remember, a Nootropic must have NO side effects) and not all Smart Drugs are drugs -- some are natural substances such as caffeine.  The list that follows is just a brief sampling of some of the more common smart drugs and a synopsis of their actions.  All of these may be used to prevent and treat age-related dementia but, they are also frequently employed in younger, healthy patients to enhance memory and focus, and to prevent the onset of degenerative brain diseases.

Racetams (Piracetam, Aniracetam, Oxiracetam):  Increase electrical signaling and communication in the brain.  Generally considered very safe.  Aniracetam is more calming while Oxiracetam is more stimulating.  Piracetam, the most widely studied and least expensive, is a good choice to try first.

Deprenyl: Restores Dopamine sensitivity which naturally declines with age.  Deprenyl can help prevent and treat Parkinson’s disease which is caused from damage to the neurons that produce Dopamine. But it is also used in healthy patients to enhance cognition and motor skills. Deprenyl was also shown in animal research to DOUBLE the life-span in elderly animals and give them a sense of youthful well-being.

Vasopressin: a Natural hormone that can improve short-term memory by 25% for up to 4 hours.  It also facilitates a more ready recall of facts and assists in better articulation of thoughts. Seemingly great for use while studying for an exam, learning a new subject, or before an important meeting.  It’s available in a convenient nasal spray.

Modafinil:  Brand name, Provigil.  It is very expensive (up to $50 per pill!) but the generic version can be more affordable.  Modafinil is a stimulant used to treat narcolepsy, sleep apnea, shift-work sleep disorder.  But it is also used by many people (and students) to enhance focus and energy.  Frquently in the news, ABC’s “Nightline” recently aired a special on this drug entitled “Provigil:  The Secret Success Drug?”

Centrophenoxine:  as we age, our cells accumulate more and more cellular debris. This waste product is an age pigment that can be seen in our skin as “liver spots” but accumulates even more in our heart and brain.  Centrophenoxine (Lucidril) helps to prevent and remove this cellular waste so our tissues can work better. Centrophenoxine improves recall speed.  If you say too many “ums” and “ers” then this plant-derived supplement is for you.

Ciltep: (stands for 'Chemically Induced Long-Term Potentiation'). An all-natural supplement blend of Vitamin B6, Artichoke Extract, Coleus Forskohlii herb, and two amino acid derivatives, it helps to improve focus, motivation, and memory by increasing chemical signaling in the brain.

Idebenone:  synthetic version of Co-enzyme Q10 (Co-Q10) that offers all the anti-oxidant, anti-aging benefits of regular Co-Q10 but works better since it won’t produce negative effects under times of trauma or low oxygen (stroke, sleep apnea) like regular Co-Q10 can. It increases nerve growth factor in the brain, facilitating better communication between different areas of the brain. It also enhances memory formation and consolidation.

Vinpocetine: is an extract of the Periwinkle plant.  Research shows it increases blood flow to the brain enhancing the uptake of oxygen and glucose.  Vinpocetine enhances focus and memory, improves hearing and eyesight, helps treat dementia and repair damage after a stroke.  It is also an effective treatment for tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Pregnenolone: a natural hormone metabolite, Pregnenolone has been shown in research to help with long-term memory, as well as treat arthritis and depression. This supplement is especially relevant for patients over 45 years old whose hormone production is declining.

Galantamine: is an extract of the snowdrop plant (Galanthus nivalis) that helps prevent the build-up of plaque in the brain and helps preserve learning and memory.  It also helps with weight loss. It has been used for thousands of years as a memory aid and is currently used in Europe as a medication to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Hydergine: derived from Rye, Hydergine increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain helping to rejuvenate cerebral tissue and improve cognition.  Hydergine has been shown in research to stimulate new neuron growth which is linked to higher intelligence.  It is also given in other countries before surgeries and in emergencies and stroke to help protect the brain against hypoxia (lack of        Oxygen).                                                                                                                                                                       

Huperzine: derived from the Chinese herb, Huperzia Serrata, it has been shown in research to help prevent the breakdown of neurotransmitters involved in memory.  Huperzine improves the ability to retrieve past memories and helps to process and understand new information. It also improves REM sleep by 20-30% and enhances lucid dreaming. Huperzine is also an antioxidant and neuroprotectant to help protect and repair the brain from stressors.


My favorite brain supplements include: Get Smart (a combo blend of several smart drugs), Longvida Curcumin (the only form of Curcumin that can cross the blood brain barrier), and Cognitex with Pregnenolone by Life Extension which is a combo product of brain enhancing nutrients).

sleep deprivation

Do you think you may be experiencing "brain fog" or any potential decrease in cognition for which there doesn't seem to be any simple explanation?  I am frequently called upon to evaluate these symptoms and have had great success in boosting brain function.  Some patients are simply preparing for an important presentation that may affect their career, or be facing exams that could determine their academic future, and on their own often turn to "Smart Drugs", many of which can be obtained OTC (over the counter).  But it's wise to seek a professional evaluation and diagnosis, not only to rule out a more complicated issue, but to get recommendations for the best and safest of the "Smart Drugs" and how best to utilize them.

If you haven't done so already, read (or re-read) my article on "Brain Fog" found here.  If you feel you may need some assistance with cognition, sharper focus, memory improvement, and other higher neuropsychological functions, please feel free to contact me for an appointment.  And watch this space for future information!