The term nootropic has become synonymous with increased mental capacity in a world where everything is becoming sharper, smarter, and faster. Nootropics are a special selection of drugs, some are natural and some synthetic, designed to improve the operations of the brain and provide hardly any side effects in the process.
Nootropics were conceptualized by the esteemed psychologist, chemist, and pharmacologist, Dr. Corneliu Giurgea.
Background of Dr. Corneliu Giurgea
Corneliu was born in 1923 in Romania and dedicated his life to increasing the knowledge of the inner workings of the brain. Corneliu received his Ph.D. in Neurophysiology from the University of Bucharest, where he would also work as a professor for many years.1
Dr. Giurgea would then continue his studies in St. Petersburg where he studied under Pyotr Kupalov. Kupalov was a close collaborator to the physiologist Ivan Pavlov who was famous for the studies on conditioned reflexes or the “Pavlovian” effect.
Birth of Nootropics
During the 1960s, Dr. Giurgea was investigating the possibility of improving and initiating sleep cycles through interaction with GABA, a newly discovered inhibitory neurotransmitter. Dr. Giurgea knew that GABA does not pass the blood-brain barrier and this obstacle limited its inhibitory effects.2
Dr. Giurgea’s objective was to produce a GABA-related substance that would pass the blood-brain barrier and thereby produce an improved inhibitory effect on the brain. He imagined this would facilitate sleep induction and physiological sedation. In April 1964, the long-awaited product was successfully synthesized and called UCB-6215. Now it is known as Piracetam.
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The molecule was a derivative of GABA and traversed the blood-brain barrier just as Dr. Giurgea had imagined it would. However, experiments soon showed that piracetam had none of the effects they had expected. Piracetam seemed to provide the exact opposite effect on brain functions from the relaxing mental sedation they hoped for.
It seemed like an utter failure, but the inquisitive doctor was captivated by the results and investigated them thoroughly. He turned his drug into a huge success by inventing and exploring the concept of nootropics. He then went on to establish the parameters for nootropics. Piracetam was the first of many discovered.
Definition of Nootropics
Dr. Corneliu Giurgea called his drugs “nootropics” from the combined Greek words “Nous”, meaning mind, and “trepein” which means to bend. He then set out 5 rules that define these cognitive enhancers by their specific effects.
You may notice that strict adherence to these original parameters would exclude many of today’s most effective cognitive enhancers from the list of nootropics. Some stimulants, like caffeine and nicotine, fall outside of these definitions.
Nevertheless, there has been some evolution in the terminology since 1972 when the term was first coined. Today we know a wide variety of sedatives and stimulants that effectively enhance brain power and are considered “nootropics” on many lists recognized by experts internationally.3
According to Dr. Corneliu Giurgea a proper nootropic must:
Enhance Learning & Memory
In addition to improving focus in retaining information, these drugs must also protect memory channels from damage by lack of oxygen, chemical impairment, etc.
Facilitate Interhemispheric Transfer
The information being transferred from one side of the brain to the other is improved by various nootropic activities.
NOT a Stimulant or Sedative
A proper nootropic works by improving brain activities as opposed to simply stimulating or sedating the brain. Of course, many effective nootropic stacks include compounds with sedative or stimulating effects to serve a variety of individual needs. Furthermore, nootropics must not be habit-forming, toxic or otherwise problematic.
Strengthen Subcortical Processes
Nootropics work like a tonic to the nervous system to keep different parts of the brain and its neurons in optimal conditions.
Enhance Cerebral Resistance
The brain can be subject to cognitive decline from a number of conditions and even the progression of time. By increasing the resilience of the brain, cognitive function and stored memory are safe from damage.
Nootropics are currently gaining a new wave of popularity even though they have been around for almost sixty years. The next time you are getting your caffeine fix by drinking coffee or taking an omega-3 supplement, you can thank Dr. Corneliu Giurgea for starting this movement.
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