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 • Kate N, Grover S, Ghormode D (2012). “Dependence on supratherapeutic doses of modafinil: a case report”. The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders. 14 (5). doi:10.4088/PCC.11l01333. PMC 3583757 . PMID 23469316.

Susy Rees, a first-year theology student at Keble College, Oxford: ‘I think it’s sad that people use [smart drugs], because it turns education into something purely goal-oriented. So many people feel that they are essentially churning their degrees out for a number at the end rather than learning for the sake of learning, enjoying the process and developing as a person. I want to do well on my own merit.’ Photograph: Sophia Evans/Observer

A third type of prescription study pill are medications designed to help with narcolepsy. While these substances aren’t as popular as Adderall and Ritalin, they are still one pill that college students take to study. These are popular study pills used to stay awake. One eugeroic, or wakefulness pill, is Modafinil. It prevents the reuptake of dopamine, so it works similarly, albeit less powerfully than traditional ADHD drugs. It does show improved levels of focus and alertness in studies. Prescriptions for these drugs are easier to come by and less monitored by authorities.

Falling under the category of Eugeroics, nootropic-like agents, Adrafinil improves concentration and alertness. It belongs to the class of stimulants which help people fight sleepiness, fatigue and exhaustion for a longer period of time. As such, it is one of the most beneficial brain enhancers for those who work night shifts or long hours.

Popping an “Addy” made her feel motivated, eager to hit the books. “When I was sitting down to study, I wouldn’t be restless. I wouldn’t be thinking about the TV or listening to music. I would just be completely channeled into what I was doing,” she says. “I was very focused.”

However, a 2009 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that compared with placebo, 120 mg twice daily of ginkgo biloba did not result in less cognitive decline in older adults with normal or only mild thinking impairment.

You didn’t say which you thought was the best option? Can you advise which one I should take – based on overall factors such as price, performance, etc. I have a presentation coming up and I need to be on my game – but I don’t want to get anxiety or jitters. What do you suggest?

If you have trouble getting a full night’s sleep, you’ve probably tried taking melatonin. But the sleep-including supplement is also said to help give your brain a boost. Not only does it give your body an extra push to get into a deep sleep so you’re more alert the next day, but a 2012 study also found it can help treat mild cognitive impairment.

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While a chronic Modafinil study is required to determine the long term effects of the drug as a safe and effective means of improving cognitive impairment due to sleep deprivation, this acute study has demonstrated that benefits are obvious on at least the first occasion.

Many people use phenylpiracetam as a substitute for modafinil or adrafinil, and for this purpose it is quite effective. Although on its own, it is not the best nootropic, many have seen dramatic improvements through this nootropic, and stacks containing it.

But self-experimenters such as Burke often don’t restrict themselves to medication alone. Dedicated brain hackers, as they call themselves, are willing to exploit their own biology to try to sharpen their mind. Their methods include meditation, cold-water plunges, periodic fasting and high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets.

Both nootropics startups provide me with samples to try. In the case of Nootrobox, it is capsules called Sprint designed for a short boost of cognitive enhancement. They contain caffeine – the equivalent of about a cup of coffee, and L-theanine – about 10 times what is in a cup of green tea, in a ratio that is supposed to have a synergistic effect (all the ingredients Nootrobox uses are either regulated as supplements or have a “generally regarded as safe” designation by US authorities)

There’s a reason college campuses are flooded with this stuff, it works.  When I took notes in class, I would jot down a few things here and there.  However, when I took notes in class on Adderall – my notepad looked like the work of a mad scientist.  What would maybe be half a page of notes turned into 3 pages with notes all along the sides and annotated footnotes.

Although Adderall and Ritalin might sound like wonder drugs that can help students study for hours, the drugs are amphetamine-based. That means they can be habit-forming, according to Martha J. Farah, director at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania.

Barbara Sahakian, Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology at Cambridge University, says scientists understand how drugs such as Ritalin work by stimulating levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenaline in the brain.

These bright students can only hope to catch up to the mind-bending abilities of the technology world. Silicon Valley, the cutting edge of the digital age, is still the land of make-and-break technology fortunes. Innovation continues to flourish at a nauseating pace, pushing some very young entrepreneurs to explore the almost science-fiction world of what is possible. Like college kids on steroids, these programmers and designers stretch their mental muscle day and night. Smart drugs are their answer to the question, “How can I be more?”

Is this the kind of “little good evidence” whereby they’ve been extensively investigated and come up short, or the kind whereby there’s no evidence because noone has actually done any proper research into them (as is often the case for anything that isn’t a pharmaceutical product)? There’s a pretty big difference, but academics and the media tend to conflate the two.

Like many college students, Amanda usually relies on coffee to keep her going, but she says coffee just makes her jittery, whereas Adderall gave her focus.  “With Adderall, I don’t want to run around,” she says, “I just want to focus on the task that is in front of me.”

Although we are not yet familiar with all of its mechanisms of action, researchers believe it improves the permeability of cell membranes, or to be more specific – the delivery and dispersal of oxygen molecules to brain cells.

-Piracetam improves most aspects of mental function in Epilepsy patients without interfering with anti-epileptic pharmaceutical drugs: Chaudhry, H. R., et al. Clinical use of piracetam in epileptic patients. Curr Ther Res Clin Exp. 52(3):355-360, 1992.

She knew she was becoming addicted and that she wouldn’t be able to afford her habit. So she decided to stop using Adderall. “It takes away your own coping skills and your own ability to evolve your own study skills and work ethic. So it’s kind of an easy way out.” And she says it made her feel “like a lesser person,” relying on the drug to do well. During her last two years of college, she says, she’s stayed away from Adderall — and gotten good grades.

In clinical studies involving animals, Piracetam was found to provide increased verbal learning capabilities after fourteen days. Many of the drugs in the below list are closely related to this basic nootropic drug.

With kids these days much more career-conscious and interested in the value they can get from their diplomas, we see more and more people looking for a way to amplify their existing capabilities without experiencing any side effects in the long run.

That doesn’t account for some of the knockoff drugs sold under a nootropics label from unreliable sources all throughout the web. In March, for example, eBay quietly put out a blanket ban on all U.S. listings for Phenibut, an unapproved central nervous system depressant. And last month, the FDA put out a warning when it discovered DMBA, a powerful, unapproved stimulant, is an ingredient in a dozen nootropics-marketed products. “The possibility to cause harm is real. It’s a close cousin of DMAA, which is currently being investigated as the cause of bleeding strokes, heart failure and sudden death,” Dr. Pieter Cohen, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, told the Harvard Public Health Review.