Piracetam - An Overview
Piracetam is the worlds first synthetic nootropic, originally conceived in 1964 by the godfather of nootropics himself, Dr. Cornelieu Giurgea.
It is used for:
- Attention and focus
We can credit piracetam for breaking ground in this field, and all these years later it is still considered a safe, effective memory and learning aid by researchers.
It can potentially be used to enhance cognition in healthy adults, as well as people suffering from age-related degeneration and brain trauma.
Piracetam was initially intended to be a treatment for motion sickness.
However, after failing clinical trials in that regard, Dr. Giurgea noticed that piracetam actually improved his research subject’s scores on memory and recall tests.
With a little more research he concluded that piracetam could be used as a safe and effective cognitive enhancer.
We’re lucky he did, because this discovery kicked off the entire field of nootropic research.
Piracetam (2-oxo-1-pyrrolidine-acetamide) belongs to the “racetam” class of cognitive enhancers.
Even though it is technically a GABA derivative it does not affect the GABA receptors in the brain.
It is considered an “ampakine”, meaning that it primarily modulates the AMPA and NMDA receptors in the brain. It is water-soluble, and non-toxic.
It also goes by the name Nootropil, Lucetam, Biotropil, Stimulan, and Breinox in other countries.
Piracetam can be considered the father of an entire family of neuro-enhancing smart drugs who all share the pyrrolidone nucleus as their base.
What Does Piracetam Do?
There is significant evidence from hundreds of human and animal studies that piracetam can help with the following:
Improve Memory and Learning
There is strong evidence that by boosting acetylcholine uptake, piracetam can boost working memory.
This means quicker recall and increased capacity for information. The increase in ACh receptors can also improve executive function and decision making.1Pepeu G, Spignoli G. Nootropic drugs and brain cholinergic mechanisms, Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 1989
Prevent Age-related Cognitive Decline
Multiple studies have concluded that piracetam can significantly improve cognition in persons suffering from age-related mental degeneration.
By increasing ATP production and encouraging neurite growth, piracetam can help turn back the clock and restore normal function in elderly patients.
A 2002 meta-analysis concluded that there was “compelling evidence for the global efficacy of piracetam in a diverse group of older subjects with cognitive impairment.”
In science-speak, that’s a pretty strong endorsement.2Waegemans T, et al. Clinical efficacy of piracetam in cognitive impairment: a meta-analysis, Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord. 2002
Many people (including the author of this article) report a mild-to-moderate mood boost when supplementing with piracetam.
Subjectively, most people describe it as a slightly stimulating mental clarity.
It does not induce the euphoria associated with powerful stimulants by modulating dopamine receptors, but instead provides a mild lift by increasing blood flow and ACh flow in the brain.
There is no “crash” associated with piracetam.
Piracetam generally takes about two weeks of daily dosing to achieve full impact on the user’s brain.
Improve Language Facility
At least one study has found that supplementing with piracetam can significantly increase the verbal fluency in healthy adults after a couple weeks of supplementation.3Dimond SJ, Brouwers EM. Increase in the power of human memory in normal man through the use of drugs, Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1976
How Piracetam Works In The Brain
According to research, piracetam achieves it’s nootropic effects through three main mechanisms of action.
Increasing Acetylcholine Flow
By modulating the AMPA and NMDA receptors, piracetam improves the flow of acetylcholine (ACh).
Acetylcholine is the most abundant neurotransmitter in the body that performs a wide variety of critical brain functions, such as memory encoding, neuroplasticity, synaptic generation, and neurotransmitter communication.
Optimizing these processes can significantly increase performance in a wide variety of mental tasks.
Increasing Receptor Density
Piracetam achieves this by modulating the flow of acetylcholine in the brain, but also by increasing the density of ACh receptors.
This means that consistent long-term use of piracetam can have a significant positive effect on your brain’s neuroplasticity.
This can improve your ability to learn and create new memories, as well as executive function (decision-making).
Because Piracetam increases the density of NMDA receptors in the brain, it can decrease the effects of cognitive decline caused by aging.
As you get older, you naturally start to lose NMDA receptors, which can result in decreased mental performance. Piracetam can slow, halt, and even reverse this trend.
Improve Cerebral Bloodflow
Piracetam increases blood flow to the brain. You don’t have to be a neuroscientist to understand how increased blood flow to your brain is probably a good thing for cognition.
This means the brain can get more oxygen and glucose (the main energy source for cognition), and it ensures that the cellular waste and other byproducts are safely carried away.
Increased oxygen and glucose are critical for ATP production. If you recall from high school science class, ATP is the primary energy source for cellular metabolism, and it is necessary for all levels of brain function.
In particular, it seems that piracetam can increase blood flow to regions of the brain associated with verbal fluency, increasing language and communication skills in research subjects.
Another helpful quality of this nootropic drug is that it decreases inflammation in the brain.
Piracetam has been proven to reduce inflammatory markers and eliminate free radicals. It has a clinically proven analgesic effect, relieving pain in test subjects.4Navarro SA, et al. Analgesic activity of piracetam: effect on cytokine production and oxidative stress, Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2013
Piracetam Potential Side Effects
The only side real side effects to piracetam are occasional mild to moderate headaches in some people.
This is because piracetam causes your brain to utilize more acetylcholine, and if your levels are low it can cause a headache.
However this can easily be remedied by simple consuming more choline, either through diet or by taking a choline supplement.
In fact, the piracetam/choline stack is one of the most popular nootropic pairings, as the extra choline provides more “fuel” for the piracetam’s mechanism of action.
The most popular choline supplements are Citicholine and Alpha-GPC, which have similar but distinct effects.
We consider choline supplements a “must-have” if you are supplementing with any member of the racetam family, piracetam included.
If you do not want to us a choline supplement, consider increasing your intake of choline-rich foods (such as eggs) to maximize piracetam’s effects.
Luckily, there is no comedown or crash associated with piracetam (we have not heard of any reports of this, at least)
We strive to bring you the most up to date, research-based information about Piracetam and other nootropics.
Something we missed? Do you use Piracetam? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
About the author:
Erik Abramowitz is a co-founder of HolisticNootropics.com and a certified holistic nutritional therapy practitioner.
As an NTP Erik takes a nutrition first approach to health. He has worked with many different people to help them use nutrition to optimize their quality of life.
Erik believes that mental health is a physiological process and cognitive enhancement is not something that can be achieved by just taking some pills with good Amazon reviews.
Instead, true cognitive enhancement comes with the right balance of nutrients, movement, and gratitude. Erik continues to stay up to date with the most current nootropic and holistic health research and promises to deliver the best solutions possible.
You can check out his personal health blog/podcast/YouTube Channel all under the name Holistic A-Hole.