AlzU Blog

Nootropics: Can a Pill Boost Cognition and Make You Smarter?

A new company called Nootrobox is marketing an idea that the simply taking a pill may make you smarter while purportedly improving one’s energy level, memory, stamina, resilience, clarity and more.

The product is a nootropic, also called “smart drugs” or cognitive enhancers. While nootropics have been around for a while (since the 60s and 70s), Nootrobox was more recently founded in 2014 by Stanford alumni Geoffrey Woo and Michael Brant. The 29-year-old cofounder, Geoff Woo, says the pills are supplements, not drugs.  Unlike drugs, supplements are not required to be FDA approved. 

Woo was working at a venture capital company when he began to explore options for brain boosting supplements on the internet.  “We were tinkering with things from laboratories from China, from off-label compounds, everything” he said.

What are Nootropics?

Nootropics are supplements that contain a combination of various components such as caffeine, L-Theanine (a type of amino acid), and other herbal concoctions said to boost cognitive performance and abilities.  Nootrobox claims that these supplemental products promote success and happiness, lower anxiety, improve energy, and can provide the user with a natural social lubricant without the slurring effects of alcohol.

Safety of Nootropics

While some of the ingredients in the supplements seem natural and safe, others are not so transparent. For example, one product, “Tianeptine”, is described by the company website as a supplement that promotes mental stability and clarity; long-term use reportedly reduces feelings of stress, sadness and anxiety.  A pill that can stop sadness, what a concept!  That is, until you read the warning label on the website that says:

“WARNING: Tianeptine may have opiate-like withdrawal symptoms and shows potential for abuse. Ensure that usage is gradually reduced with care, and if ever in doubt, consult a qualified medical professional. If you have ever been addicted to opiates, Tianeptine may have an immediate addictive effect.”

While Woo claims that his supplements are safe, Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine, Dr. Richard Isaacson, has an altogether different perspective on the safety of the so called smart drugs due to “the lack of controlled trials, the lack of rigorous scientific research, and the lack of studies that actually try to study all of these different types of nootropics in certain combinations” said Dr. Isaacson, in a recent ABC news interview.

“You may have several ingredients on the label and there may be one of the many ingredients on there that may interact with your blood pressure medicines or it may interact with something else” Dr. Isaacson explained. “While each drug by itself may be generally safe, it’s hard to generalize; they may interact with other things ... so that’s why we always recommend discussion of approval by a treating physician” Dr. Isaacson concluded.

What the “Sharks” Have to Say

Nootrobox has gained attention from some prominent financial investors such as, Andreesen Horowitz from Facebook.  The founders also appeared recently on “Shark Tank, the popular ABC reality show for business entrepreneurs seeking new funding.”  The episode aired in December. Chris Sacca (Shark Tank investor) told Woo on the show, “I’ve tried nootropics, that’s what people use to go on 48-hour coding binges,” “But at the end of the day, you’re left with a headache, lack of recall, sometimes. I’m worried about the long term consequences, so I’m out.”

To view the ABC News special video interview with Dr. Richard Isaacson, click on the screen below.

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