Piracetam: A Nootropic Drug That May Offer Brain Benefits

Each year, thousands of individuals take smart drugs to try and improve their brain power. Nootropics like Adderall, caffeine, and Ginkgo biloba are common everywhere from college campuses to high-powered hedge fund offices. These drugs are purported to improve memory recall, increase learning rate, and reduce cognitive decline. One of the most popular nootropics is piracetam. It’s a drug that claims to reduce seizures, improve learning disabilities, and boost brain function.

Is it the real deal? Like many things that claim to be life-changing, nootropics seem too good to be true. Here, we’ll go over the basics of piracetam from how it works to its benefits and side effects. You’ll learn about the medical research behind the drug and discover other ways you can support your brain health.

What Is Piracetam?

Piracetam, also known by its chemical name 2-oxo-1-pyrrolidine acetamide, is a nootropic drug. Nootropics may help improve cognitive function and can come in the form of supplements, drugs, and botanicals. Nootropics are often taken to enhance mood, boost memory recall, and improve learning speed.

Research on the efficacy of nootropics is ongoing, but there are some studies that show nootropics may offer minor beneficial effects as a cognitive enhancement. We’ll go over some of that research below, but first, let’s look at the chemical makeup of piracetam.

Piracetam, known by the molecular formula C6H10N2O2, is part of a group of drugs known as racetams. These drugs share a common pyrrolidone nucleus — a 5-armed lactam or ring of hydrogen atom groups. Other drugs in this class include nootropics like aniracetam and phenylpiracetam as well as anticonvulsants.

The special structure of racetams means the drugs can directly impact brain receptors. Drugs like piracetam target AMPA receptors that play a key role in the transmission of signals across synapses in the brain. By stimulating or suppressing certain signal transmissions in the brain, piracetam may help to decrease cognitive impairment and improve mental acuity.

History of Piracetam

A woman in an office looks off in thoughtPiracetam was developed in the 1950s by Romanian chemist Corneliu E. Giurgea. The drug was derived from the nervous system amino acid known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). It was designed to help ease symptoms associated with cognitive decline and seizure-inducing illnesses like epilepsy.

In 2004, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected the drug as a dietary supplement. The FDA argues these drugs may prevent individuals from seeking proper medical treatment or may be ineffective. Today, the nootropic can still be found online or in other supplements, though the product technically does not have approval or oversight from the FDA. Piracetam is sold in Europe under the names Nootropil and Lucetam. In Europe, the nootropic is used to treat memory loss, learning difficulties, and muscle spasms.

The research on piracetam as an effective cognitive enhancer is limited. We’ll go over the purported benefits and cover the existing studies that show the efficacy of piracetam for certain cognitive disorders.

Uses and Health Benefits of Piracetam

A model of a human head with gears turning inside

While not a new drug, research on piracetam is still not prevalent. Most published piracetam studies are small and poorly designed. Many do not use control groups while others have sample sizes that can’t reflect the benefits of the drug in large populations. 

Still, some of the research on this nootropic has discovered interesting potential. Here, we’ll break down the scientific evidence behind the most commonly purported piracetam benefits.

Brain Function

Many manufacturers and users call piracetam and other nootropics “smart drugs.” That term refers directly to the belief that taking nootropics can help boost brain power and improve things like memory recall and attention span.

While there is extensive research on the brain-boosting benefits of other nootropics such as bacopa, piracetam studies are less common. The studies that do exist, show promise when it comes to brain function enhancement. Research also indicates that piracetam may be more effective when paired with choline.

As humans age, cell membranes become more rigid, making it more difficult to process new information. Research also shows that cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease may reflect a decline in membrane fluidity. Some studies show piracetam may help to protect these cellular structures.

A study published in Biochemical Pharmacology investigated the effects of piracetam on cell membranes in rats, mice, and the human brain in a laboratory setting. Researchers found that piracetam increased the fluidity of cell membranes in older rats and mice as well as aged human brains. By improving cell membrane fluidity, piracetam may make it easier for signals to transmit across pathways. The nootropic showed no improvements in young rats or mice.

Another study titled Mechanism of Action of Piracetam on Cerebral Circulation found that piracetam improves blood flow. Scientists believe the improved blood circulation may help to improve awareness and learning. Researchers also noted increased levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in healthy sleep, stress, and anxiety.

Clinical human trials involving the use of piracetam use small study sets but have shown some promise in terms of brain function improvement. One such clinical trial published in Psychopharmacology examined 16 healthy adults for a two-week period. Participants took 400 milligrams of piracetam every day and were instructed to learn a set of new words.

After one week, there was no change in the learning rate. However, after two weeks, researchers found a significant improvement in the ability of participants to learn the word series. It’s important to note that the human study did not include a placebo group for comparison.

Another clinical trial compared the effects of piracetam with a placebo on 18 healthy individuals. During the four-week study, participants were presented with computer tasks. Researchers found that participants who took piracetam performed better on the computer tests compared to the placebo group.

Myoclonic Seizures

A myoclonic seizure occurs when muscle movement is triggered involuntarily. These seizures are unique in that they occur when the individual is awake and lucid. The seizures are relegated to the muscles and produce a shock or lightning-like movement. Small clinical studies show piracetam may help to reduce symptoms associated with these seizures.

A study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychology investigated the impacts of piracetam on 20 individuals with myoclonic seizures. Under the study design, participants took three different doses of piracetam or a placebo throughout the six-week study. Researchers found that all three doses of piracetam resulted in clinical improvement in motor function, handwriting skill, and functional ability.

Another small study investigated the clinical use of piracetam in treating myoclonic seizures. The study assessed 11 patients with myoclonus epilepsy at a severity that disrupted daily activities. Treatment consisted of increasing doses of piracetam with the highest dose consisting of 20 milligrams per day. Researchers found that patients who took piracetam had significant improvement in symptoms 12 months later.

It’s important to point out that the study design allowed patients to continue taking their regular antiepileptic drugs throughout the duration of the trial. This may impact the outcomes, particularly since the study didn’t include a control group.

Learning Difficulties

Some people suffer from learning disabilities that make it difficult to grasp new information or retain details they’ve already learned. Other people suffer from impairments – like dyslexia — that make it difficult to master basic skills such as reading and writing.

Dyslexia affects the language processing area of the brain. People with dyslexia have a hard time identifying speech sounds and may frequently mix up letters or put them in the wrong place when writing. Limited research shows piracetam may help dyslexic students learn more efficiently.

One study examined the clinical applications of piracetam on dyslexia in 225 children. All participants suffered from reading dyslexia and were between the ages of seven and 12 years old. The study excluded children who demonstrated emotional problems, low intelligence, and those who had recently taken psychoactive medications.

The children took piracetam or a placebo for the duration of the 36-week study. Researchers found that piracetam produced improvement in reading tests and reading comprehension compared to a placebo starting after 12 weeks of treatment.

A meta-analysis of 11 different studies comprising more than 600 participants also showed the potential of piracetam in treating learning disabilities. The review found that daily doses of up to 3.3 grams of piracetam improved reading ability more dramatically than a placebo.

Cognitive Decline

As we get older, our bodies and brains begin to break down. With each passing year, it’s harder to summit that mountain, learn a new language, or recall information. Cognitive decline is simply a fact of life for most people. Some research shows that piracetam and other nootropics may help to slow this cognitive decline.

Laboratory studies show that piracetam may help to improve mitochondrial function, slowing the breakdown of cognitive processes. A meta-analysis of 19 studies also found significant improvement in patients with dementia or reduced brain function when they took piracetam.

Another clinical trial published in 2000 examined the effects of piracetam on 104 patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Patients started with high doses of piracetam in the first four weeks and then received half the original dose for the remaining two weeks of the trial. Researchers found piracetam improved memory and concentration. These results were more pronounced in individuals who also suffered from depression.

Side Effects of Piracetam

An older woman takes a piracetam supplement

While research is limited, most studies show few adverse effects associated with piracetam. Since this drug is not approved for use as a dietary supplement, it’s important to seek medical advice from a qualified healthcare professional before ordering these nootropics on the internet. Your healthcare provider can help you understand the benefits and side effects associated with nootropics like piracetam.

The most common side effects reported in studies of piracetam include nausea, headaches, diarrhea, and exhaustion. Piracetam may also interact with blood thinners and other heart disease medications. Pregnant women or women who are nursing should not take piracetam.

Support Your Brain by Living a Healthy Lifestyle

Piracetam is a nootropic that is marketed as a brain-boosting drug. It’s not approved for use as a dietary supplement in the U.S., but it is prescribed for brain function in Europe. Research on its efficacy is limited, but there are still many things you can do to support your brain health.

Eating a nutritious diet ensures your brain and body get all of the vitamins and minerals needed for optimal function. Exercising can help improve circulation and train your mind and body for endurance and focus.

Getting the right amount of sleep can make the difference between clarity and mental focus, and feeling sluggish. You can use our app to track your sleep and get a better understanding of your health thanks to clinical-quality analysis of your heart, respiratory system, and mental acuity.

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