We’ve all seen the 2011 Bradley Cooper movie ‘Limitless’.

The film follows Edward Morra, a struggling writer who is introduced to a nootropic drug called NZT-48, which gives him the temporary ability to fully utilise his brain.

He uses the improved cognitive function to vastly improve his lifestyle, first as a financial trader, and then as a politician.

Unsurprisingly, he becomes addicted to performing at his maximum, and the cliffhanger of the film is whether he has managed to manufacturer his own supply.

The film at the time provoked a lot of discussion about the phenomenon of 'smart pills' or 'smart drugs' that claim to improve cognitive performance and boost memory.

These smart pills are commonly known as ‘nootropics’.

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“What are Nootropics?”

The word “nootropic” is a rough translation in Greek “to bend or shape the mind.”

Nootropics are natural or synthetic substances that can be taken to improve mental performance. Unsurprisingly, they have gained popularity in today’s highly competitive society.

The benefits associated with nootropics include a plethora of cognitive functions such as better concentration, motivation, creativity, memory, reasoning, verbal coherence and improved mood.

Naturally, nootropics are used for many activities where improved cognitive performance is useful. This most common include studying, as well as other activities such as exercise, gaming and stress/anxiety.

There are hundreds of nootropic products that can be purchased freely in shops or online. Many of them make claims to improve cognitive function in specific areas such as information processing or verbal fluency.

Indeed, there are a large amount of natural foods that are classified as nootropics. There are six particularly high-profile organic nootropics which are believed to improve certain brain functions.

  • Caffeine  A natural stimulant that fights physical fatigue, increases mental alertness, and gives faster reaction times
  • L-Theanine An amino acid that promotes 'restful alertness'
  • Creatine – An amino acid that improves short term memory and reasoning, and acts as a building block for muscle growth
  • Rhodiola Rosea  An extract from the roots of a plant that fights mental fatigue and the feeling of burnout, and can improve mood
  • Bacopa Monnieri A herb that speeds up information processing, increases reaction times and improves memory
  • Gingko Biloba A tree whose leaf extracts fight brain aging by improving memory and mental processing

It’s not just natural substances that qualify as nootropics. There are many synthetic, or man-made, nootropics that have been manufactured specifically for their cognitive benefits as a smart drug.

Many of the synthetic nootropics are quite potent and require a private prescription from a doctor. Some of the common drugs are;

  • Adderall: Taken by adults to improve attention and focus and to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Ritalin: Improves short-term memory, information-processing speed and attention
  • Modafinil: Reduces feelings of fatigue and improves memory in sleep-deprived adults
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“So, Is there a magic 'smart' pill?”

Whilst it’s possible that nootropic supplements can help with specific cognitive improvements, positively affecting the brain and overall mental clarity, you’re not about to become Edward Morra.

Unfortunately, for now, the idea that a pill can supersize human intelligence is decidedly science fiction.

However, there are many researchers and drug-makers working around the world to develop more effective and more potent nootropics.

As time moves on and medical advancements improve it’s not implausible to think that one day there may be pills, supplements and other substances that could have a broad and prolonged beneficial impact on our cognitive faculties.

Many of the natural nootropics being sold often have not been through sufficient trials to determine if the claims of their benefit can be justified.

However, it is a different story with synthetic nootropics as they will have been through drug trials and so there is clinical evidence that they are effective.

Indeed, if you look at the synthetic nootropics, in most cases they have a more potent effect than the organic nootropics.

It's rationale to think that tech advancements will mean over time there will be more and more supplements hitting the market, promising to make us smarter, more focused, more relaxed, more in control.

Intriguingly, if you’re looking for a 100% dead-cert boost to you brain function, then most medical experts will refer you to do exercise. Exercise has tremendous benefits and one of the greatest is improving memory and fending off age-related cognitive decline.

“Will Elon Musk get there first?”

You would have thought Elon Musk had enough on his hands with the world’s largest car company by market value, Tesla, and his Space-X venture, which in partnership with NASA, recently sent astronauts into orbit and to the International Space Station.

However, Musk just keeps on going. He is the co-founder of a neuroscience start-up, Neuralink, which aims to develop implantable brain–computer interfaces, or as Musk calls them, “a Fitbit in your skull.”

He hopes the implants will allow humans to control things on our mind, providing a myriad of benefits.

This includes improving cognitive ability across the board; memory, learning, verbal fluency and concentration/focus, amongst others.

The ability to control the things on the mind may also be a way to cure mental health and neurodegenerative disorders such as depression, dementia and Parkinson's disease.

Ultimately, it’s Musk’s fear over the future of AI that is driving him. He is seeking to usher in an age of so-called "superhuman cognition", to combat AI that he thinks one day will become so powerful it could destroy the human race.

Perhaps then one day we will get the Limitless effect, just in a different form.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Written by Matthew Sweeney, Co-Founder

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