Smart Drugs

What are Smart Drugs?

Smart drugs are natural brain nutrients; they are medicinal substances, amino acids or herbs. Although smart drugs are not well known in England it is estimated that over one million people in the world use them. Their use is controversial, most doctors are reluctant to prescribe them claiming that there is not enough scientific evidence to prove their efficacy and safety, whereas the Cognitive Enhancement Research Institute (CERI) in California, an organisation researching smart drugs, believes that they are safe and can improve cognitive functions. In America, the Food and Drug administration has banned several smart drugs.

Conditions that may respond to smart drugs

Smart drugs can be used for:
- Improving memory, IQ, reaction time, sensory perception, increasing concentration and alertness.
- Boosting the immune system.
- Treating depression.

According to the CERI some individuals with disorders such as aphasia, autism, Down's syndrome, Tourette syndrome, Dyslexia, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease have used the smart drugs to some effects.

A few smart drugs and their effects

  • Choline
  • DMAE
  • Piracetam
  • Vinpocetine
  • Melatonin
  • DHEA
  • Acetyl -L Carnitine

Choline is a member of the vitamin B complex. It is found in Brewer's yeast, eggs cabbage, cauliflower, green beans, soybeans, lentils, liver, rice, and wheat germ. It plays an important role in the brain and central nervous system. According to Dean and Morgenthaler1 this nutrient stimulates mental energy, it is also a good speech enhancer and can improve memory. Choline protects against poor growth, it is also said to protect the liver from the accumulation of excess fatty deposits. It can be beneficial in the treatment of depression, diabetes, hypertension, multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy.

Side effects:
Nausea and dizziness indicate signs of toxicity.

- Growth development: Fisher MC, Zeisel SH, Mar MH, Sadler TW. Inhibitors of choline uptake and metabolism cause developmental abnormalities in neurulating mouse embryos. Teratology 2001 Aug; 64(2):114-122.

- Buchman AL, Ament ME, Sohel M, Dubin M, Jenden DJ, Roch M, Pownall H, Farley W, Awal M, Ahn C. Choline deficiency causes reversible hepatic abnormalities in patients receiving parenteral nutrition: proof of a human choline requirement: a placebo-controlled trial. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr 2001 Sep;25(5):260-268.

DMAE (DimethylAminoEthanol)
DMAE is present in small amounts in human brains. It is found naturally in food and especially in some fish such as anchovies or sardines. It can enhance mental activities, elevate the mood, improve memory and learning as well as increase physical energy. Its effects are thought to be similar to caffeine but the increase of energy is gradual and continuous.

Side effects:
Overdoses cause headaches and insomnia. DMEA is not recommended to epileptics.

- Nervous system: Lukoshko SO, Koval'chuk TO, Rybal'chenko VK. The effect of dimethylethanolamine on the summation capacity of the central nervous system and on the work capacity of animals in a chronic experiment. Fiziol Zh 1997;43(1-2):19-22. "The obtained results allowed to conclude, that high (2.76 mg/m3) concentration of dimethylethanolamine influenced on functional state of central nervous system"

- Depression: Gramatte T, Wustmann C, Schmidt J, Fischer HD. Effects of nootropic drugs on some behavioural and biochemical changes after early postnatal hypoxia in the rat. Biomed Biochim Acta 1986;45(8):1075-1082. "Only minor effects were seen after DMAE-treatment, but a marked depressant own effect on the explorative activity was detectable."

Piracetam (also called Nootropil)
Piracetam is said to promote the flow of information (or messages) between the right and left hemisphere of the brain. Dean and Morgenthaler claim that it can enhance memory, language and learning abilities. It may also prevent memory loss and learning difficulties caused by trauma. By its action on the brain membranes it is also thought to prevent seizures. Finally it may be used for the treatment of myoclonus (uncontrolled muscle twitching or jerking) and for the treatment of Dyslexia.

- Epilepsy: Koskiniemi M, Van Vleymen B, Hakamies L, Lamusuo S, Taalas J. Piracetam relieves symptoms in progressive myoclonus epilepsy: a multicentre, randomised, double blind, crossover study comparing the efficacy and safety of three dosages of oral piracetam with placebo. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 1998 Mar;64(3):344-348.

- Aphasia: Kessler J, Thiel A, Karbe H, Heiss WD. Piracetam improves activated blood flow and facilitates rehabilitation of poststroke aphasic patients. Stroke 2000 Sep;31(9):2112-2116

- Dyslexia: - Wilsher CR, Bennett D, Chase CH et al. Piracetam and dyslexia: effects on reading tests. J Clin Psychopharmacol 1987 Aug;7(4):230-237. "Piracetam-treated children showed significant improvements in reading ability (Gray Oral Reading Test) and reading comprehension (Gilmore Oral Reading Test)."

Vinpocetine (also called Vincaclear)
Vinpocetine is a derivative of vincamine, which is an extract of the periwinkle plant. It is usually preferred to vincamine as it has more benefits and fewer side effects. Beverley Potter and Sebastian Orfali 2 state that Vinpocetine stimulates the blood flow in the brain and therefore may be used for the treatment of cerebral circulatory disorders or motor disorders. This remedy is also claimed to be helpful for headaches. It is a powerful memory enhancer and can be used for the treatment of stroke, aphasia, motor disorders and visual impairment. Other research indicates that it may improve eyesight and hearing and prevent damage to the ear.

Side effects:
In rare cases vinpocetine may cause hypotension and dry mouth.

- Stroke: Gulyas B, Bonoczk P, Vas A, Csiba The effect of a single-dose intravenous vinpocetine on brain metabolism in patients with ischemic stroke Orv Hetil 2001 Mar 4;142(9):443-9. "A slightly increased (not significant, N. S.) cerebral blood flow could be observed in the contralateral and a decreased flow (N. S.) in the symptomatic hemisphere."

- Cognitive dysfunctions: Kidd PM. A review of nutrients and botanicals in the integrative management of cognitive dysfunction. Altern Med Rev 1999 Jun;4(3):144-161." Vinpocetine, found in the lesser periwinkle Vinca minor, is an excellent vasodilator and cerebral metabolic enhancer with proven benefits for vascular-based cognitive dysfunction."

This is a hormone produced by the pineal gland and is also available in a synthetic form. Scientists found that the levels of melatonin in our bodies increase with environmental darkness. Melatonin coordinates seasonal changes in the body, it has an action on our biological clock and regulates our sleep-wake cycle, for this reason it can be used as an anti "jet-lag" remedy. It is said to be a powerful antioxidant, it helps prevent cataract and is a good nutrient against stress.

Side effects:
Melatonin should not be taken by cancer patients and pregnant women.

- Nervous system: Reiter RJ, Acuna-Castroviejo D, Tan DX, Burkhardt S. Free radical-mediated molecular damage. Mechanisms for the protective actions of melatonin in the central nervous system. Ann N Y Acad Sci 2001 Jun;939:200-215 " Melatonin a potentially useful agent in the treatment of neurological disorders that have oxidative damage as part of their etiological basis."

- Antioxidant: Konecna I, Holecek V. Antioxidant effects of melatonin. Cas Lek Cesk 2001 May;140(9):262-266. - Jet lag: Sharkey KM, Eastman CI. Melatonin phase shifts human circadian rhythms in a placebo-controlled simulated night-work study. : Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 2002 Feb;282(2):R454-63 "Melatonin could be used to promote adaptation to night work and jet travel."

- Sleep: Zisapel N. Circadian rhythm sleep disorders: pathophysiology and potential approaches to management. CNS Drugs 2001;15(4):311-328. "Because of its sleep-promoting effect, melatonin may improve sleep in night-shift workers trying to sleep during the daytime. Melatonin replacement therapy may also provide a rational approach to the treatment of age-related insomnia in the elderly."

DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone)
DHEA is naturally produced by the adrenal glands. In a study founded by the National Institutes of Health, in America, scientists have shown that the levels of DHEA decrease with age. DHEA improves the quality of life by enhancing mood and memory, increasing energy and promoting better sleep. It helps maintain proper blood sugar levels, reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke and is indicated in the treatment of inflammatory arthritis.

Side effects:
Taken in large doses it can cause liver damage. It is also contraindicated to cancer patients, children and pregnant women.

- Ageing: Leowattana W. DHEA(S): the fountain of youth. J Med Assoc Thai 2001 Oct;84 Suppl 2:S605-12 "In conclusion, DHEA or DHEAS administration combined with conventional treatment may be implicated in particular conditions to improve the quality of life"

- Ledochowski M, Murr C, Jager M, Fuchs D. Dehydroepiandrosterone, ageing and immune activation. Exp Gerontol 2001 Nov;36(10):1739-47 " The data support the concept that the decrease of DHEA with increasing age is related to immune system activation. Oxidative stress which accompanies immune response may diminish DHEA synthesis."

- Depression: Rigaud AS, Pellerin J. Neuropsychic effects of dehydroepiandrosterone. Ann Med Interne (Paris) 2001 Apr;152:43-49. "Short-term experimental studies have not shown significant improvement in global measures of well-being and functioning in healthy subjects but have revealed preliminary evidence for mood enhancing and antidepressant effects of DHEA"

- Inflammatory Arthritis: Dessein PH, Joffe BI, Stanwix AE, Moomal Z. Hyposecretion of the adrenal androgen dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate and its relation to clinical variables in inflammatory arthritis. Arthritis Res 2001;3(3):183-8 "DHEA replacement may be indicated in many patients with IA, even in those not taking glucocorticoids."

Acetyl -L Carnitine (ALC)
This amino acid occurs naturally in the body and is also found in milk. It is involved in the transport of fats to the mitochondria (energy producing cell structures of the cells). It also protects from stress and heals damaged nerves caused by injury In January 2002 a team of researchers showed that Acetyl -L Carnitine combined with Alpha Lipoic Acid, a fatty acid, could delay the ageing process by increasing energy (see below). Acetyl -L Carnitine was found to nourish brain cells, protect from free radicals and stress, increase blood flow, reduce depression, improve cognitive abilities, and increase memory in the elderly. It is indicated in the treatment of Alzheimer, AIDS, depression, fibromyalgia, heart disease, memory loss, multiple sclerosis and stress.

Side effects:
ALC is believed to be safe and is available without prescription at health food stores.

- Ageing: - Liu J, Head E, Gharib AM, Yuan W. Memory loss in old rats is associated with brain mitochondrial decay and RNA/DNA oxidation: partial reversal by feeding acetyl-L-carnitine and/or R-alpha -lipoic acid. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2002 Feb 19;99(4):2356- "These results suggest that feeding ALCAR .. (acetyl-l-carnitine) ..and LA (R-alpha-lipoic acid) to old rats improves performance on memory tasks by lowering oxidative damage and improving mitochondrial function."

- Hagen TM, Liu J, Lykkesfeldt J, Feeding acetyl-L-carnitine and lipoic acid to old rats significantly improves metabolic function while decreasing oxidative stress. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2002 Feb 19;99(4):1870-5 "Feeding ALCAR in combination with LA increased metabolism and lowered oxidative stress more than either compound alone."

- Ando S, Tadenuma T, Tanaka Y, Fukui F Enhancement of learning capacity and cholinergic synaptic function by carnitine in aging rats. J Neurosci Res 2001 Oct 15;66(2):266-71

- Sorbi S, Forleo P, Fani C, Piacentini S. Double-blind, crossover, placebo-controlled clinical trial with L-acetylcarnitine in patients with degenerative cerebellar ataxia. Clin Neuropharmacol 2000 Mar-Apr;23(2):114-8 "After the trial, we observed a statistically significant improvement of some symptoms and a slow progression of the disease in both groups of patients."

- Acetyl-L-carnitine. Altern Med Rev 1999 Dec;4(6):438-41 " Studies have shown that ALC may be of benefit in treating Alzheimer's dementia, depression in the elderly, HIV infection, diabetic neuropathies, ischemia and reperfusion of the brain, and cognitive impairment of alcoholism."

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