What is Piracetam?
Piracetam (2-oxo-1-pyrrolidine acetamide) was the original nootropic originally synthesized by Dr. Corneliu Giurgea. It is a member of the racetam family of compounds and a derivative of the neurotransmitter GABA. The specific details of its chemical structure were first disclosed in 1967, and a number of analogs have been synthesized since that time. Until recently, it was available in the U.S. as a dietary supplement. Although it is still available for purchase, it is no longer marketed as such.
How does it work?
Although piracetam has been studied for 30 years, exactly how it affects cognition is not fully understood. This may be because it has been a number of effects in the brain, and these contribute synergistically to improved function. Although this is a wonderful attribute for a cognition-enhancing compound, it makes it difficult to ascribe the outcomes to a particular mechanism.
Piracetam influences a number of different neurotransmitter systems in the brain. Although it is a derivative of GABA, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, it does not act on GABA receptors and does not have sedative properties. Rather, it is believed to modify the activity of AMPA (2-amino-3-(5-methyl-3-oxo-1,2- oxazol-4-yl)propanoic acid) receptors, which are sensitive to glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter that is critical for learning and memory. It also enhances the release of acetylcholine, another important neurotransmitter involved in alertness, attention, and focus.
Piracetam has been shown to increase blood flow and oxygen levels in the brain, which improves activity levels. It also has been shown to have antithrombotic effects, meaning it reduces clot formation. Other research indicates that piracetam enhances the function of mitochondria, which are cellular components responsible for producing ATP (energy).
Dr. Giurgea wrote that pirecetam enhances learning and memory,
increases the resistance of learned behaviors/memories to conditions which tend to disrupt them, protects the brain against physical and chemical injuries, and is non-toxic and lacks the usual side effects of other psychotropic drugs (e.g., sedation and motor stimulation).
Indeed, the scientific literature suggests that piracetam increases performance in cognitive tasks. An early double-blind, placebo-controlled study reported that it augmented verbal memory in young, healthy subjects. Another study examined the effect of piracetam in dyslexic children for 36 weeks, and they showed significant improvements in reading ability and comprehension after only 12 weeks of treatment. It also has been shown to reverse cognitive signs of aging in mouse models. It is believed to optimize brain function via its effects on neurotransmitter systems and improve communication between the left and right hemispheres.
The effects of piracetam have been studied in a number of pathological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, head trauma, ischemia (reduced blood flow to the brain), schizophrenia, and stroke, among many others. The results of these studies have been quite positive, and patients with these conditions may see considerable benefits from regular piracetam use.
Piracetam Side Effects
Piracetam is an extremely safe compound; toxicity studies have been performed in several models from mice to monkeys. Even long-term administration of very high doses did not elicit toxic responses in model systems. Most of the human trials have been conducted in patient populations, who did report mild side effects, including agitation, anxiety, excitability, and headache. However, the doses prescribed to patients are considerable (up to 12 g/day). It is also possible that these subjects may have been more sensitive to the transient side effects of the compound.
It should be noted that piracetam might enhance the effects of amphetamines and psychotropics. Individuals with prescriptions for these drugs should speak to their physician.
Healthy people wishing to enhance cognitive function often start with relatively low 800 mg doses. The compound reaches peak levels within 1 hour, and has a half-life of 4-5 hours. For this reason, many people take two doses per day. Because of its extraordinary safety profile, dosages can be adjusted on an individual basis (2.4-4.8 g/day). The side effect of headache is associated with reduced brain levels of acetylcholine, and may be prevented by taking piracetam in conjunction with either a choline supplement or foods rich in choline (eggs, lecithin). In addition to preventing headache, this combination has been demonstrated to further enhance the effect of piracetam in rat models. People who experience excitability or hyperactivity may want to consider taking lower doses or adding magnesium supplements to reduce excessive neuronal activity.
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