Nootropics: A Legit Concern or Big Pharma Outcry?


by Matt Weik

The supplement industry is constantly growing and adding new categories as each year passes. A product I feel is still ahead of its time in the industry are nootropics. Sure you can feel them, but they aren’t an “energy pill” so to speak. At least not in the sense of the word you’re used to hearing. Rather, they are considered a “smart drug”. These cognitive enhancers are the craze for those individuals who aren’t fans of pre-workouts loaded with caffeine and other ingredients that can cause jitters or an itchy feeling due to a niacin or beta alanine flush. Others are using the product as a “mental booster” for a work or when they need mental clarity. The question comes up though, should these types of products be regulated or allow anyone to buy them over the counter without a prescription for medical use?

Nootropics can aid in:

• Memory
• Motivation
• Creativity
• Cognitive function
• Concentration
• Sense of well-being and happiness
• Mental energy
• Focus
• Combating mental fatigue
• Increasing alertness

Big Pharma again throwing their weight around?

While I understand there could be potential side effects from nootropics, just like with any other supplement on the market, I sense that big pharma is overlooking these products because they are cutting into their sales. Many believe a doctor should be the one who prescribes any type of cognition-enhancing drugs, not the individual who wants it for personal use (non-medical use). There really hasn’t been studies completed on nootropics at this point, which I believe is why so many people are questioning the ethics behind companies releasing these types of products to the public—no matter if they are over the counter or prescribed by a physician. Several people, however, have benefited from these products and swear by them.

The nootropic movement

With combined sales over $1 billion in 2015 coming from the supplement and pharmaceutical industries, different organizations are taking notice of the uptick in demand for these types of products. Pharmaceutical companies are going after the medical side of the market to help treat different disorders such as ADHD, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s. Whereas the supplement industry is going after a piece of the market who wants better concentration when they workout along with aiding in daily activities whether it be at work or at home. These types of products have actually increased in popularity with students to aid them in school. They help the students focus and concentrate in class, increase productivity, and help retain information when studying. Many are considering nootropics as “smart drugs”.

I have been fortunate enough to work with some great companies as a consultant who had nootropic products where I helped them build their brand and market their nootropic products. The feedback from the nootropic products were nothing short of amazing. In fact, people were stocking up just in case the FDA ever decided to come down on the industry and try to wipe out these products (we’ll touch a little more on that a little later). Everyone I spoke to who tried the product pre-workout loved it—generally they were people who didn’t like heavy stimulants in a preworkout. Also, I had people who took them in the middle of their work day in order to stay productive and keep the mental clarity needed to get their work done to the best of their ability. So I have seen and heard first-hand what these products are capable of doing. Every once in a while when I’m in a mental fog in my office I’ll pop one or two pills (depending on the product) and I’m good to go for the next 4-8 hours depending on the dosage I take. Personally, I highly recommend them, but that’s my opinion.

The American Medical Association frowns upon nootropics

The AMA recently came out and stated that they are opposed to using nootropics for anything other than medical purposes. They believe that anyone who doesn’t have a prescription, should not be able to take these types of products. In a statement they mentioned that people are now abusing these products and drugs for recreational use whether it be for work, school, or around the home. An attorney was quoted saying, “when you look at the category, the products that AMA is talking about, you are not talking about things like ginko or any other common dietary supplements. These products use ingredients that don’t belong in supplements and many of them use ingredients that have been marketed as drugs.” For this reason, many believe that the FDA may look to limit the distribution of these products to only those who get prescriptions from doctors. That being said, AMA also mentioned that they see cases where doctors are prescribing nootropics to those people who are only looking for cognitive enhancement, which they also want to stop.

Due to some of the ingredients commonly found in nootropics being labeled as “drugs” in other countries, the AMA is suggesting that the FDA also act upon this and look to change what is available over the counter here in the United States. In 2015 Senator Claire McCaskill drafted a letter to the FDA about products that contained ingredients such as picamilon and vinpocetine. She encouraged the FDA to get behind her and have these ingredients and products containing them pulled off the shelves. While the FDA has not acted on her request, at this point I wouldn’t say consumers are in the clear.

While these products aren’t for everyone, many have got behind them and purchase them on a regular basis. Whether or not this push to regulate nootropics is to help out big pharma is still up for debate in my opinion. But one this is for sure, I believe in these products as I personally have had great success with them as have many others. I’m not saying nootropics are going anywhere in the near future, but you can never count out the FDA to make a move to please the pharmaceutical industry by pulling them from the shelves and forcing people to get prescriptions from their doctors for medicinal use, not recreational.