Racetams are a group of synthetic compounds popularly used for cognitive enhancement. Each of the compounds found in this ‘family’ of Nootropics is related through their common Pyrrolidone nucleus—a type of compound known as a Lactam. These compounds are commonly referred to as Nootropics and have some excitingly unique characteristics.
It’s important to recognize that much of what we think we know about Racetams and Nootropics is based on loose anecdotal evidence. Piracetam, one of the most-popular Nootropics, is reported by many to offer a calming and holistic-enhancing effect.
This focused calm is described by many as being experienced in the form of being more fluid in conversation, more socially-relaxed, and able to retain new memory better. Other Racetams, such as Oxiracetam are regarded more as mental stimulants and are less affective on mood and emotion.
These compounds offer a rush of mental energy that many find preferable to other slightly comparable compounds like caffeine. The biochemical qualities required to be considered a Nootropic range wildly. Here we’ll take a closer look at some of the Racetam compounds to better illustrate the cognitive effects often attributed to their action in our bodies.
There is a distinct lack of clinical data to offer an explanation of how exactly Racetam compounds are able to affect such experiences in the mind. It is generally accepted that these molecules act by the modulation of certain neurotransmitters and receptor sites in our brains. Two of the primary neurotransmitters thought to be affected by Nootropics in the Racetam family are acetylcholine and glutamate. Affecting the balance, consumption, production, and efficiency of these compounds can greatly alter our perception and mental performance.
Glutamate is converted to N-methyl d-aspartate (NDMA) and thought to have a central role in memory, learning, and overall cognitive performance. NDMA, AMPA, and KA receptors (all mediated in some part by glutamate) are all integral to our overall cognitive performance and associated with excitatory neural responses (R). NDMA is thought to play a central role in the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s mostly in how unchecked stimulation can cause long-term damage.
On the other end, a little overstimulation here and there provides an uptick of neuronal performance but sustained overstimulation leads to excitotoxicity, oxidative damage, and is often connected to expressions of mental diseases such as Schizophrenia (R). The modulation of glutamatergic pathways in the brain is also attributed to the increased need for compounds used by downstream pathways as well, such as Choline (used as acetylcholine.)
Acetylcholine is used in a wide range of applications including muscular movements, memory formation, attention, arousal, and even motivation. When NDMA receptors stimulated a release of acetylcholine follows. In a healthy brain this process can help improve mometary learning and cognitive function but, without normal inhibition, can lead to overexcitation and neuronal excitotoxicity (R). The administration of certain GABA-increasing compounds has shown the ability to help avoid such overexcitation (R). Being that an increased activity in NDMA receptor sites is attributed to an increase of acetylcholine receptor sites, NDMA modulating Nootropics (like the Racetams) are often taken along with Choline compounds to help support such sustained excitation.
Most of the research on Racetams comes from the original research done by a Romanian psychologist known as Dr. Giurgea. Through his attempt at discovering a neurological relaxing agent acting on the GABAergic neural pathways, he discovered Piracetam. While this compound didn’t demonstrate the relaxing and sleep-aiding benefits he set out to discover, it did show remarkable cognitive enhancing properties (R). Through his research, Dr. Giurgea helped define our modern definition of Nootropics as such:
“direct functional activation of the higher integrative brain mechanisms that enhances cortical vigilance, a telencephalic functional selectivity, and a particular efficiency in restoring deficient higher nervous activity. In contradistinction to other psychotropic drugs, nootropics do not induce direct reticular, limbic, or other subcortical events”
Much of the modern clinical research done regarding Racetam compounds has been conducted on animals and in vitro neural samples. One study found that Piracetam was able to inhibit severe cramp-like seizing of the muscles to do medically-induced reactions or genetic deformity, known as a Dystonic reaction (R). Another study found Piracetam, Oxiracetam, and Aniracetam all to positively modulate AMPA receptor sites within neural tissue samples (R). AMPA receptor sites are areas of the brain which are able to make use of Glutamate, one of the most prevalent neurotransmitters and responsible for quick synaptic responses.
Types of Racetams
The Racetam family has “procreated” considerably since Dr. Giugea’s first experiments with Piracetam. In addition to the more well-known compounds such as Piracetam, Aniracetam, and Oxiracetam, there are many lesser-known compounds such as Phenylpiracetam, Pramiracetam, and Seletracetam—just to name a few. There are a lot of gaps in our knowledge of how Racetams affect the brain but EEG data suggests the majority of them provided enhanced Alpha-wave activity (R). Below you’ll find a brief overview of some of the members of the Racetam family with links to more information on each.
Aniracetam is a cholinergic compound and is regarded to be a positive modulator of AMPA receptor sites throughout the brain. This Nootropic compound not only positively modulates AMPA receptor sites. During periods of positive stimulation, AMPA receptor sites begin to become desensitized, thus affording a less profound effect as time increases. Aniracetam has been shown to maintain long-term sensitivity levels of the AMPA (R).
Animal studies have shown that Aniracetam increases levels of Serotonin and Dopamine in the brain (R), though data to describe the specific mechanisms by which Aniracetam affects the brain isn’t available. Human testing data has been limited to the elderly and those with acute brain damage such as post-stroke patients or trauma victims (R).
Many users of Aniracetam regard it as enhancing sociability, creating a more ‘collective’ sense of thought. One might say Aniracetam is regarded as providing a more fluid discussion and recollection of complexity. Aniracetam is the soft, emotional, and friendly member of the Racetam family.
Piracetam is the original Racetam as well as the original Nootropic studied by Dr. Giugea. It has more human-specific data than other members of the Racetams but much of that data is from the mid and late 1970’s. Modern analysis of such data concludes that Piracetam offers little benefit to those with cognitive impairments but also notes the difficulty in normalizing their data (R). In other words, it’s hard to dig up the older data on Piracetam.
One interesting aspect of Piracetam is that may be integrally dependent on adrenal function to exhibit full effect. One study found that the removal of adrenal function (adrenalectomy) completely eliminated the memory-enhancing effects of Piracetam in mice (R). Similar research notes that increased adrenergic action in the brain helps mitigate the potential negative side effects of NMDA receptor agonists such as Racetams (R). It’s a connection not yet fully understood but of certain interest among Nootropic enthusiasts.
Many users of Piracetam note a deeper sense of memory recall, better learning, and an increased sense of social ease. Many of these experiences are underlined by the general sense of being on a ‘peak’ energy level, which can be unsettling for some.
Oxiracetam is a bit different from other members of the Racetam family, at least chemically-speaking, but is still centered about a Pyrrolidone molecule like the others. Oxiracetam has some solid Science to help describe its potential benefits. One study found that 1500mg of Oxiracetam taken for a year provided significant improvements on cognitive performance and quality of life among the elderly with dementia (R). This performance has been echoed in many animal studies investigating similar neuro-supportive benefits (R).
More recent studies have shown that Oxiracetam can significantly improve the effectiveness of other therapies in helping restore brain function (R). Oxiracetam is regarded as being similar to Piracetam in its ability to increase mental performance. However, it’s regarded in many anecdotal accounts as being slightly stronger and less mood-affective. Generally speaking, without any clinical citation, Oxiracetam is better suited for learning activity than Piracetam. Oxiracetam is the dry-humored old Professor-type of the Racetam family.
The Racetams are the family of compounds regarded as having defined what a Nootropic is. The clinical data available, both recent and dated, show strong favor for their ability to help restore cognitive function. Most of this data has been collected from the elderly, patients with dementia, and patients suffering from acute neuronal damage. There are even fewer formal investigations into the effects of these compounds on healthy subjects.
Many of the characteristics by which Nootropics such as the Racetams are regarded have been established by online accounts of non-scientific users. These accounts, subjective in their nature, provide some evidence of commonly-reported attributes but suffer from a lack of structure and formal methodology. Simply put; many attribute beneficial effects to these compounds but few are able to do so in terms that offer any scientific merit.
We feel it important to note the potential dangers of experimenting with compounds known to affect the neural pathways so deeply-integrated with mental disorders. Post-synaptic responses related the AMDA, NMDA, and KA receptors have been attributed to the etiology of conditions such as Schizophrenia. Unprepared individuals may likely experience changes in perception similar to major psycho-affective disorders.
The Racetams are the OG’s of Nootropics. They’ve been studied, at least partially, for their ability to help restore lost brain functionality and improve memory and learning. Many accounts from users suggest there is also mood improving attributes of some compounds that may offer enticing social benefits. All things considered, the Racetams are a very exciting class of compounds but don’t have an abundance of clinical data to help describe how they may, or may not, affect the huamn brain. One thing does seem clear; if you’re experimenting with these compounds you should be prepared for unexpected responses.
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