You can always track the growth of an industry by looking at media mentions.
Just 5 years ago, the number of articles published by reputable news outlets on so-called “smart-drugs” could be counted on one hand. The “nootropic” was meaningless to all but a handful of risk-taking college students and hardcore gamers.
Today, a major news outlet publishes an article on smart drugs every single week.
It has now reached the point where the phrase “smart drugs” sounds pretty familiar to most people.
Even the word “nootropic” has reached the edges of the mainstream. The majority of your friends might not know what they are exactly, and they might not be able to name any by name, but they will at least normally reply with “those are drugs college kids use to pass exams, right?”
The point is, you no longer have to be deep in the nootropics community to be familiar with the jargon.
Yet any rapid growth in awareness inevitably comes with a rapid increase in risks.
The marketing and PR machine always moves faster than deep understanding.
The increase in public awareness of smart drugs and what they can do is outpacing any increase in our understanding of the long-term risks involved.
Just like with anabolic steroids in the 1950s and ‘60s, there is now a real danger that more and more people will start playing with substances they know very little about.
The word ‘nootropic’ was first coined in 1972 by a Romanian chemist and psychologist named Corneliu E. Giurgea. This is the same man who first synthesized Piracetam – one of the first and still one of the most popular smart drugs available. It is a compound of two Greek words – the ‘noo’ part refers to the mind, and the ‘tropic’ part roughly means “to turn”.
Today, the word ‘nootropic’ refers to a substance used to enhance any aspect of cognitive function. More often than not, it refers to drugs which have been designed to enhance the executive functions of the mind, such as focus, memory, verbal fluidity, and so on.
Other nootropics may be designed to enhance sleep, dream lucidity, creativity, and any number of brain functions. But 9 times out of 10, a nootropic is designed to enhance learning, focus and memory.
This is what the term means generally, but today, there are definitely two distinct types of nootropic.
There are the “original” smart drugs. These are pharmaceutical grade substances originally designed to treat illnesses, such as ADHD and epilepsy, or to combat conditions such as narcolepsy or severe sleep deprivation. These substances are today used by many to enhance concentration span, increase mental energy, and so on. Many popular nootropics today, for instance, were originally designed to help military personal stay focused and alert on long missions. People like programmers, professional gamers, and software engineers use these drugs to help them stay awake through massive work sessions.
Then there are the new kind of nootropics; natural, herbal-based supplements designed to produce similar benefits to these pharmaceutical-grade substances, but of course in a less extreme, more subtle manner.
The problem is, few people just now becoming aware of nootropics understand this distinction. Even fewer grasp how powerful the pharmaceutical-grade nootropics can be, nor how little we understand the true, long-term risks involved with using them.
We now know that more people than ever are using these substances to get ahead.
What we don’t know is how much of an impact this growing problem will have in the future.
It shouldn’t be surprising that more and more business owners, executives, and entrepreneurs are turning to nootropics to gain a competitive edge.
The market has always been cut-throat. But today there is a heightened atmosphere of competitiveness among young people in particular. They feel compelled to succeed now; not in 5 years, not by the end of their careers, but right now.
That impatience can make them take unnecessary risks.
According to the editor of NaturalNootropic.com, a popular site which provides resources for people looking to enhance cognition without the use of pharmaceutical-grade smart drugs, the problem is a lack of education.
“People don’t really understand what certain drugs are truly capable of; neither their limitations, nor their true power“, he said.
“And of course, there’s the lure of easy answers. They are told that all they have to do is take a pill and they’ll crush their next test, or their next meeting, or that they’ll breeze through the coming week of project deadlines. But the reality is not that simple. There are serious downsides to consider, and the dangers aren’t properly understood yet”.
Lots of young entrepreneurs are sold the promise of a pill similar to the one used by Bradley Cooper’s character in Limitless. In the film, the protagonist pops a pill every day and finds that it makes him insanely intelligent (in the literal sense). He has unparalleled pattern recognition skills, is insanely focused, and unbelievably driven.
There are lots of products out there claiming to be a real life Limitless pill.
Sites pushing things like Modafinil and Aniracetam tell people that they’re just one order away from unstoppable cognitive performance.
But this isn’t true.
The reality is that drugs like Modafinil and Piracetam are a Faustian bargain. They keep you alert, awake, and focused, but not always in a way that you might imagine.
Many users report that Modafinil makes them unable to break concentration on ANYTHING for hours on end. If you happen to get pre-occupied with fixing your computer instead of doing the assignment at hand, then you will find yourself with nothing but a bad headache when it comes to deadline.
Other drugs, like Noopept, can reduce your inhibitions, making you feel and act more confident.
If you’re in sales, this can be an absolute God-send. Being more relaxed and confident in a meeting is probably the biggest factor in helping you close right then and there.
But it can so easily back-fire. Some users report acting a little too forward, a little too erratic, perhaps just a little too weird while on Noopept. Acting confidently in a meeting can be the difference between signing up a new client and losing them to another agency, but cross the line into over-confidence and you might find yourself without a job.
We also know very little about the long-term consequences of using these drugs.
They are synthetic substances, most of which have been produced in the last 40-50 years. As they are still relatively “underground”, studies on long-term consistent use are pretty much non-existent.
That information certainly isn’t readily available (unless you’re one of the new people in a thousand who have access to peer-reviewed journal archives).
Obviously, what is needed here is education.
For one thing, people need to realize that smart drugs are not going away. The market will only grow and become more nuanced, more entrenched, and more comprehensive going forward.
Once that fact is accepted, it’s clear that we need to start making information more available on what nootropics are, what they do, what they can realistically accomplish, and how dangerous they are.
We need to make it abundantly clear what CAN be achieved while using these drugs, and what can’t.
It also needs to be made common knowledge that we have no idea what the long-term effects of frequent use can do.
The natural, herbal nootropic market will do much of its own PR. Spreading awareness of these products is probably not necessary.
But journalists need to up their game in the next few years and really get to grips with what smart drugs are. They are going to have an enormous impact on the business world in the next 10 years. Whether it is a good or bad impact will be at least in part down to the quality of media coverage.