New “smart drugs” are finding their way to college campuses

Zane Watson

Some students are turning to artificial and natural supplements to improve cognitive function to deal with the demand of the college lifestyle.

Nootropics are supplements that range from natural to artificial compounds, and are thought to enhance cognitive function. Nootropics are not illegal, and are used in other countries. However, studies on them are limited, and they are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.


While these supplements, also called smart drugs, are making sponsored appearances on student news-feeds and already hold a place in Silicon Valley, they will not promise an individual the title of genius.

From caffeine for focus, to L-theanine to reduce anxiety, these compounds have potential to provide an individual with a boost for brain processes.

According to Paul Eftang, co-founder of Ceretropic, a company that provides nootropics for purchase within their online store, these smart drugs and our understanding of them has changed.

Originally nootropics were defined as a substance that enhanced a cognitive process while being either extremely non-toxic or neuroprotective, but that idea has changed, Eftang said.

“As time has gone on, the word has evolved, just like our knowledge has evolved,” he said. “Today, many people use the word nootropics to mean any substance that enhances cognition.”

Stacking is the term to describe combining multiple compounds for a desired effect. Joseph Jobes, computer science student at Front Range Community College, said he stacks. Along with essential vitamins, he stacks a few compounds in hopes it will increase efficiency in brain functions.

Jobes starts with his day with a dose of semax, a Russian nootropic, which helps modulate serration and dopamine. Because semax is an analog adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH), it has been found to increase circulation in the brain as well. After taking his semax, he doses out his daily tianeptine supplement, which helps with anxiety because it is an anxiolytic drug.

“Semax helps me retain information when I’m learning a new program, and tianeptine keeps my mood stable while relieving my anxiety,” Jobes said. “The other nootropics are just there when I need them for focus or a memory boost.”

Throughout the day, Jobes will take rhodiola, a supplement derived from a root for mental stamina, and L-theanine, a main psychoactive substance in tea known to improve focus.

According to Eftang, everyones brain chemistry is different, so an individual should do thorough research before any use of the compunds.


“One person might have anxiety, so taking an anxiolytic might actually improve their memory,” Eftang said. “Whereas someone who is not anxious might get sleepy on them, and have their memory suffer.”

Shannon Kay, a statistics graduate teaching assistant at Colorado State University, is not so sure that these drugs are a good idea.

“More studies should be done on the drugs before I would personally take them,” Kay said.

Kay is aware that some students take pharmaceutical drugs throughout their college career, such as Adderall or Vyvanse. Without a prescription, this is highly illegal, but students take that risk in order to gain the upper hand for studies.

“I’m not sure it’s a good idea for academia,” Kay said. “I wouldn’t want to see students taking these drugs just to compete for a masters program. What happened to just showing up and being prepared with a good diet and proper rest?”

Collegian Green Beat Reporter Zane Watson can be reached or on twitter @zanerwatson.