They’re the smart drugs that promise to bring out the best in your mental performance whether you’re studying, working, or simply aging. But are nootropics legal? James Dixon explains everything you need to know.
Nootropics, commonly known as smart drugs, are substances and supplements that are believed to enhance cognitive abilities, including attention, memory, and focus. Many people use nootropics to improve their academic or work performance, or to combat age-related cognitive decline.
However, nootropics’ legality varies across different countries and regions, making it difficult for consumers to determine whether they can legally buy and use them. In addition, the categorization and regulation of nootropics can differ significantly, impacting their sale, use, and availability, and further complicating things.
So how do we make sense of it all? How can you tell if your nootropic of choice – or indeed any nootropic – is legal?
What are nootropics?
Nootropics, also known as smart drugs or cognitive enhancers, are substances and/or supplements that claim to enhance cognitive functions such as memory, focus, concentration, and creativity. People (myself included) often use them to improve mental performance and overall brain function.
Nootropics come in various forms, including pills, capsules, and powders. They often contain a combination of vitamins, minerals, herbal extracts, and other compounds that are believed to have cognitive-enhancing effects.
Nootropic supplements are frequently made from ingredients such as caffeine, ginkgo biloba, and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which are available for purchase without needing a prescription. These substances are believed to increase focus, memory, and productivity, although the evidence supporting their effectiveness can be a little up and down.
Many of us use nootropics to boost our focus and productivity during demanding tasks or periods of high mental strain, including demanding jobs and the like.
In recent years, nootropic supplement use has grown in popularity due to their potential benefits and the ease with which they can be found and bought. However, as with any supplement, it is important to exercise caution and consult with a healthcare professional before beginning use.
While many nootropic supplements are believed to be safe when used as directed, they may interact with other medications or have undesirable side effects in certain individuals. Additionally, the efficacy of these supplements has not been thoroughly studied, and their long-term effects are not yet fully known.
When considering using nootropics, it is crucial to approach them with caution and consult with a healthcare professional beforehand. This is especially important if you have any underlying health conditions or if you are taking other medications. Your healthcare professional can properly advise you based on your specific circumstances and medical history.
A brief history of nootropics
Nootropics have gained popularity in recent years, but their history goes back several decades to 1972 when the first compound to be called a nootropic was put out there. It was a cognitive enhancing compound developed by Romanian scientist Corneliu E. Giurgea, called Piracetam. Giurgea coined the term ‘nootropic’ to describe the drug’s ability to improve learning and memory retention without causing significant side effects.
The 1970s saw a big boost in drug manufacturing, especially in the nootropic sphere. It saw various ‘smart drugs’ going onto market and proving very popular. However, as it transpired, many of these early drugs were actually either addictive and/or destructive, causing long-term health problems. Many of these drugs would damage the brain or cause significant organ damage as a result of often chronic dehydration.
As a result, the regulatory bodies governing these substances tightened their restrictions, and nootropics’ popularity dwindled somewhat. Today, the few nootropic prescription drugs that remain from this era are either illegal in any context or only legal for use under a doctor’s care.
These days, modern supplement research has discovered the benefits on offer from various common, traditional herbs and natural ingredients. Because of this, modern nootropic supplements have been able to take off using all-natural, completely safe ingredients, with many showing incredibly promise.
This shift towards using natural ingredients has proven to be far safer and more effective for enhancing energy, focus, memory, and alertness. Additionally, by only making use of natural ingredients, these supplements have seen uptake across far wider markets.
It’s worth noting that although the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) doesn’t include any of the main, popular nootropic supplements on its list of banned substances, many governing bodies and competition committees set their own rules independently. If you belong to an organization like this, it’s always a good idea to get in touch with their substances compliance office to make sure that any given supplement is approved.
Defining nootropics under law
Nootropics’ legality is subject to variation across different countries and regions. The categorization and regulation of these substances can differ significantly, impacting their sale, use, and availability.
In some countries, nootropics are classified and regulated as dietary supplements or food supplements. Under this classification, they are considered safe for consumption and can be legally sold without explicit approval. As dietary supplements, they are typically subject to less stringent regulations compared to prescription medications.
In these jurisdictions, manufacturers of nootropic supplements are responsible for ensuring the safety and quality of their products, but they are not required to demonstrate efficacy or obtain formal approval before market distribution.
However, in other countries, the classification of nootropics may differ. They may be considered medicinal products and subject to stricter regulations, or in some cases, even illegal.
The legality of nootropics in the United States, for example, can be complex and nuanced. While some nootropics are considered dietary supplements and can be legally purchased, others may be classified as prescription medications or illegal drugs.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates dietary supplements, including nootropics, under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA).
According to the DSHEA, dietary supplements are defined as products that contain one or more dietary ingredients, such as vitamins, minerals, or herbs, and are intended to supplement the diet.
In addition, some substances that are considered nootropics in other countries may be classified as prescription medications in the U.S. For example, modafinil, a drug commonly used to treat sleep disorders, is often used off-label as a cognitive enhancer. However, it is considered a prescription drug in the U.S. and is only legally available with a valid prescription from a healthcare professional.
This is all further complicated by the fact that new substances are constantly emerging, and their legal status may not yet be fully established. For example, in 2014, the drug phenylpiracetam was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances, meaning that it is banned from use in sports. However, the legal status of phenylpiracetam in the U.S. and other countries may not be clear, and it may be marketed as a dietary supplement or nootropic to consumers.
As a consumer, it is crucial to be aware of the legal status and regulations surrounding nootropics in your country or region. If you can, try to familiarize yourself with the specific laws and guidelines applicable to these substances to make informed decisions about their use. This may include understanding the labeling requirements, dosage recommendations, and potential restrictions on importation or exportation.
It is worth emphasizing that legal frameworks regarding nootropics can evolve and change over time. Therefore, staying informed about regulatory updates and consulting with healthcare professionals or regulatory authorities can provide the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding the legality and appropriate use of nootropics in your specific jurisdiction.
The legal status of nootropics
In the United States, nootropics fall under the category of dietary supplements. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates dietary supplements but does not evaluate their efficacy or safety before they hit the market. As long as the ingredients are generally recognized as safe (GRAS), nootropics can be legally sold without FDA approval. You should always therefore practice caution when using these products due to the lack of FDA regulation.
In Canada, nootropics fall under the regulation of natural health products (NHPs) by Health Canada. Before they can be sold, these products must have a product license that certifies evidence of quality, safety, and efficacy. Some nootropics may instead fall under prescription drug regulations in Canada and require a prescription for legal use.
The legal status of nootropics across Europe varies between states. The United Kingdom, for example, regulates nootropics as food supplements rather than medicines. As long as no medicinal claims are made, they can be legally sold. On the other hand, countries such as Germany and France regulate certain nootropics as prescription drugs and prohibit their over-the-counter sale.
In Australia, nootropics are regulated as therapeutic goods by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). The TGA reviews the safety, quality, and efficacy of therapeutic goods, including nootropics, before granting approval. Nootropics that claim to have therapeutic benefits may require a prescription for legal use.
As we can see, then, nootropics’ legal status varies around the world. Because of this, it is incredibly important to check the regulations in your jurisdiction before purchasing or using any nootropic product. As well as this, it’s always a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider before using nootropics, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking other medications as they can interact with certain substances.
The difference between OTC and prescription nootropics
Over the counter (OTC) nootropics and prescription nootropics are very different in terms of their availability and regulation.
OTC nootropics are readily available without needing a prescription and can be purchased in pharmacies, health food stores, and online, across the world. They are typically considered dietary supplements and are regulated more loosely by government agencies such as the FDA (as above). They usually contain natural ingredients such as herbs, vitamins, and minerals that are believed to enhance cognitive function.
Prescription nootropics, on the other hand, can only be obtained with a valid prescription from a healthcare professional. These medications are regulated more strictly as prescription drugs and are subject to more rigorous controls and oversight than OTC nootropics.
Prescription nootropics often include substances like stimulants, including methylphenidate, amphetamine, or similar, or other cognitive-enhancing drugs that are approved for specific medical conditions. These medications are typically prescribed for individuals with diagnosed conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy.
One of the key differences between OTC and prescription nootropics lies in their regulation and the level of control surrounding their use. OTC nootropics are regulated less stringently, and their manufacturers are not required to demonstrate their safety or efficacy before they are sold to consumers.
In contrast, prescription nootropics undergo rigorous testing and clinical trials to ensure that they are safe and effective. Furthermore, prescription nootropics are only prescribed by a healthcare professional who can monitor their usage and provide guidance.
Do note however that the distinction between OTC and prescription nootropics can differ across different countries due to variations in regulatory frameworks, as we have seen.
What legal nootropic should you use?
Luckily, there are plenty of good options for legal OTC nootropics on today’s market.
I would always recommend NooCube. It is by far one of the market’s leading OTC nootropics, highly regarded for its ability to boost cognitive function and promote mental clarity. It’s what I tend to use myself, and I have always experienced increased mental energy, reduced brain fog, and improved memory while using it.
NooCube does so well largely due to its selected blend of high-quality, well dosed, market-leading ingredients. It makes use of incredible compounds like Bacopa Monnieri, Alpha GPC, Huperzine-A, and Cat’s Claw, all of which are known for their positive impact on brain health, cognitive function, and mental well-being. They all rest on extensive clinical research – their cognitive benefits, and thus the benefits on offer by taking NooCube, are all clinically valid and well justified.
Alpha GPC is a natural compound found in the brain and various food sources. It acts as a choline source, which is important for the production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory and learning processes. By potentially increasing acetylcholine levels, Alpha GPC is believed to have a positive impact on cognitive function, ultimately enhancing memory and improving focus.
Bacopa Monnieri is a herb that has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. It has gained attention for its potential neuroprotective effects and cognitive benefits. Research suggests that Bacopa Monnieri may enhance memory and cognitive function by modulating brain chemicals and promoting the growth of nerve cells.
Huperzine-A, derived from a moss plant, is believed to work by inhibiting the breakdown of acetylcholine in the brain. By blocking the activity of the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, Huperzine-A may help increase the levels of this neurotransmitter. This, in turn, may lead to improved cognitive function and enhanced memory performance.
Cat’s Claw is another herb that contains a variety of antioxidants. These antioxidants have been found to have potential neuroprotective properties. In the brain, oxidative stress and inflammation can have detrimental effects. The antioxidant properties of Cat’s Claw may help counteract these negative effects, ultimately supporting cognitive function.
By incorporating these powerful ingredients, NooCube has created a formula that aims to enhance cognitive performance and support brain health. In fact, NooCube is rightly renowned for its ability to enhance cognitive function and promote mental clarity.
With a thoughtfully selected blend of ingredients (and a startling number of positive user reviews), NooCube has gained a reputation as a reliable and effective nootropic supplement. I use it myself to great effect, experiencing some genuinely fantastic results – including increased mental energy, improved learning ability, and enhanced focus. It’s all safe, all legal, and all very available.
Nootropics, also known as ‘smart drugs’, are substances believed to improve cognitive abilities. However, their legality varies across countries. In some places, they are regulated as dietary supplements and can be sold without explicit approval. In other countries, they may be classified as medicinal products or even illegal.
The United States has complex regulations where some nootropics are considered dietary supplements, while others are prescription medications or illegal drugs. The burden of ensuring the quality and safety lies with the consumer, as manufacturers are not required to demonstrate efficacy.
There are also vast differences between OTC and prescription nootropics and their legality and availability.
Additionally, the legal status of certain substances can be unclear, with new ones constantly emerging. It is a good idea when in doubt for consumers to stay informed about the laws and guidelines in their jurisdiction and consult with their healthcare providers before using nootropics.
James Dixon is one of the key players in the SOMA Analytics’ team. He is a personal trainer and is educated to Masters level in Philosophy. He is a published author and is a keen advocate of high quality nootropic supplements.
James enjoys helping others to reach their peak both physically and mentally and believes that expressing his knowledge through his writing is an effective way to positively impact the wellbeing of others on a larger scale.