What are Racetams?
Racetams are chemically synthesized cognitive-enhancing drugs (or nootropics). There are approximately nineteen different Racetams but only a few are used for cognitive enhancement. Racetams are often grouped together because they have similar chemical structures, and therefore, similar bio-effects. However, they vary in terms of exact chemical structure, dosage, strength, and potency.
Racetams are widely celebrated for their abilities to boost memory, learning, mood, focus, and energy—besides providing an overall boost to brain health. Although they are often grouped together with other ‘smart drugs”, they are not stimulants. For example, they have limited effects on stimulating neurotransmitters 1 that are often responsible for jitters, anxiety, and insomnia effects.
Types of Racetams
Some of the most common Racetams currently found on the nootropics market include:
Aniracetam (or N-anisoyl-2-pyrrolidinone) works in a similar way to Piracetam—the first Racetam to be created—but has considerably stronger effects on the AMPA receptors 2, and thus, more potent. It is also fat-soluble, and can, therefore, go through the blood-brain barrier quicker and easier than Piracetam (which is water soluble). On the flip side, it has a shorter half-life of about 1 to 3 hours and needs to be taken more often for continuous effect.
- Boosts memory: Aniracetam can enhance signaling of acetylcholine receptors 3 in the brain, which is linked to improved memory, reasoning, attention, and learning. Additionally, regular usage of this Racetam may improve recall speed 4.
- Improves Cognitive functions and performance: In a past study 5, the compound was able to boost overall test scores of the participants by up to thirty percent. It has also been shown to improve cognitive abilities 6 in people with any form of cognitive impairment.
- Improves awareness and attention: The compound may cause a significant increase in awareness and attention, which is critical in treating attention disorders such as ADHD.
- Lower Anxiety and boost mood: Aniracetam and its metabolites have antidepressant and mood-enhancing qualities 7. Various online communities 8 have also confirmed its mood-enhancing benefits.
Due to its direct relation to the brain and neural pathways, Aniracetam may cause headaches, increased anxiety and nervousness in some users. Fatigue and distressed feelings have also been reported by some users. Nonetheless, even in cases where the compound has shown side effects, the effects have been mild and not sufficient to discredit the user of the drug to any considerable degree.
While individual needs vary, the most recommended dosage is 750-1500 mg. Because of its shorter half-life, dosages may need to be repeated at intervals for continuous effects. For optimal absorption, it is also recommended to take the Aniracetam with a meal due to its fat-soluble nature. Additionally, since it enhances the usage of acetylcholine, it is advisable to supplement it with high-quality sources of Choline. Choline provides raw materials for the synthesis of acetylcholine 9, which enhances the benefits of the compound while minimizing potential side effects.
Also referred to as MKC-231 or BCI-540, Coluracetam is another fat-soluble Racetam. Unlike other Racetams that have been synthesized for cognitive-enhancing purposes, Coluracetam was initially created and patented for Alzheimer’s disease by Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation, a Japanese firm.
Coluracetam is a strong Choline-targeting compound. Accordingly, it boosts the conversion of choline to acetylcholine through a process commonly referred to as high-affinity choline uptake (or HACU) 10. An increased acetylcholine level in the brain is often linked to increased alertness, attention, and memory.
- Improves Cognitive function and memory: In a past study 11, rats given AF64A, a neurotoxin, and Coluracetam for 8 days showed significant memory improvements.
- Boosts focus and concentration: The compound desensitizes AMPA receptors 12 in the brain, which boosts neural signaling. In turn, this results into better focus and concentration.
- Optical benefits: The drug has also been associated with a number of optical benefits including enhanced color vision, vividness, and recognition.
- Like other Racetams, nootropic communities 13 believe that Coluracetam can also enhance moods.
Scientific evidence regarding Coluracetam side effects is still scarce. Since it is non-toxic, it is considered to be well-tolerated and safe. Anecdotally, users have reported anxiety, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and disturbed sleep. Nonetheless, these effects can be avoided by co-supplementing the compound with choline, not taking the drug close to bedtime, drinking lots of water, and sticking to the recommended dosages.
Due to the novelty of this Racetam, there is not yet scientifically-backed recommended dosage for the drug. However, most experts recommend 200 mg per day for the average person. People with Major Depressive Disorder or General Anxiety Disorder may take as much as 100 mg thrice a day if needed.
Fasoracetam (also known as 5-Oxo-D-prolinepiperidinamide monohydrate, LAM-105, NS-105, or NFC-1) is another Racetam that was first created by Nippon Shinyaku 14 (in 1990) as an attempt to treat Alzheimer’s disease. The drug is currently gaining a lot of interest from nootropic users due to its ability to influence the brain acetylcholine alongside other neural receptors in the cerebral cortex. In particular, it is most effective on GABA, Choline, and Glutamate neurotransmitters, all of which are associated with improvement of the brain’s capability to create and retain memories.
- Memory improvement: In past rat studies15, Fasoracetam has been shown to interact with acetylcholine and GABA neurotransmitters, which explains, at least in part, how the drug is able to improve a wide range of memory processes, including memory retention, organization, recall, and storage.
- Anti-Depressant and Anxiolytic Effects: One animal study 16 showed that taking Fasoracetam on a regular basis could up-regulate GABA receptors, which is linked to anti-depressant and anxiolytic effects.
- Improved Mood: If the drug up-regulates GABA receptors in humans like it does in rats, it can have anxiety-reducing and mood-boosting characteristics.
- ADHD Treatment: Current research 17 has proven that the drug may also be effective in treating ADHD.
Currently, there is limited scientific literature on the side effects of Fasoracetam. However, a few side effects have been reported by the users. These include headaches, upset stomach, insomnia, nausea, and allergic reactions. Accordingly, people on medications or who are suffering from any medical condition as well as lactating or pregnant mothers are not advised to take the compound.
No scientific studies have established the most appropriate dosage levels for Fasoracetam supplementation. However, around 10 sublingual milligrams a day seems to be a good starting point for average users. Since more research is still needed on the compound, it is advisable to be cautious with oral doses that exceed 100mg a day.
Structurally, Oxiracetam has an added hydroxyl group on its pyridinoline structure, and this is what is believed to make it more potent and bio-available. Although it’s readily absorbed into the blood, it remains in circulation for long, which is why it is advisable to only take one dose of the compound in a day (unlike other Racetams that tend to have shorter half-life).
- Memory Retention: Oxiracetam binds to the brain’s glutamate reactors. Being a neurotransmitter, glutamate can boost the rate of memory absorption, hence short and long-term memory retention.
- Enhances cognitive Functions: In a past study 18, Oxiracetam was shown to boost cognitive function and reaction time of the participants.
- Other benefits of the compound include slowing of memory degradation 19, boosting verbal fluency 20, and psychostimulatory effects 21. Outside the US, the compound is also used to treat a wide range of mental disorders including ADHD, Autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.
Like other Racetams, the drug has little-to-no scientifically proven side effects. It’s well tolerated at high dosages 22 and its long-term use is not associated with adverse effects. Some of the mild side effects that have been reported by users include headaches, anxiety, diarrhea, nausea, and nervousness. Like other nootropics, the compound is not fully researched, and personal discretion is highly recommended when supplementing with Oxiracetam.
The recommended dosages of the compound vary and depend on individual goals. However, most experts recommend daily dosages of 750-1500 mg a day, which can be broken further into 2-3 doses (as the effects last for about 4-6 hours). To be on the safe side, it is best to follow reported doses applied in clinical settings as they offer non-subjective usage and dosage averages across multiple users.
Also referred to as Carphedon or Phenotropil, Phenylpiracetam has an extra phenyl group added to the standard pyridinoline structure of Piracetam. The extra phenyl group allows the compound to travel through the blood-brain barrier faster and efficiently. Accordingly, the compound is touted to be more potent and bioavailable than Piracetam and may have slightly different effects.
- Cognitive Benefits: Like Piracetam, Phenylpiracetam increases choline uptake 23, which boosts the synthesis of acetylcholine, a brain neurotransmitter. The compound is, therefore, associated with a number of cognitive benefits, including increased attention, improved memory function, better reasoning capabilities, and improved mental energy.
- Lowers the Negative Impacts of Sleep Deprivation: The added phenyl group makes the compound much more similar to a stimulant. It can increase the sensitivity and density of the dopamine receptors in the brain 24, hence highly recommended for users looking to boost their focus and attention.
- In other studies, the compound has been shown to boost recovery from mild cranial brain traumas 25.
- Evidence also suggests that the compound can help people with ADHD considering that studies on Piracetam effects on ADHD 26 have shown great progress.
Most clinical trials on Phenylpiracetam report no side effects. However, a few studies 27 have shown mild cases of sleep disturbances, headache, nausea, irritability, and gastrointestinal problems. Nonetheless, these side effects can be minimized by co-supplementing with choline, taking the compound in the evening (as a stimulant), and taking the drug with food and plenty of water.
Compared to a majority of nootropic supplements, an effective dosage of Phenylpiracetam is very small. Majority of users achieve results with as little as 100mg a day. However, Phenylpiracetam should neither be taken every single day nor taken for a longer duration. It is safer to cycle it.
Piracetam (or 2-oxo-1-pyrrolidine acetamide) is the first Racetam to be synthesized. It is also the most popular Racetam nootropic. It is derived from a form of amino acid and brain chemical known as Gamma-aminobutyric acid (or GABA).
While the compound was initially created to enhance communication of the brain’s corpus callosum, it’s currently used to fight off weakening of cognitive functions among old patients and to boost a wide range of brain functions among healthy brains.
- Improved Cognition: Dosages of 4.8 grams a day have been shown to be effective in boosting overall cognitive abilities in a wide range of brain studies 28 on elderly people.
- Better Memory: Several double-blind studies 29 done on Piracetam have confirmed that it can offer a substantial boost in memory power.
- Elevated mood: while clinical research is slim, there are a few cases 30 where users have reported that they had a significant improvement in mood after using the drug.
- Increased perception: users have reported an improved speed of activity 31 and less depression after using the drug.
Piracetam is considered to be almost 100 percent safe as massive doses (of up to10g/kg) fed to animals have yielded no conclusive symptoms of toxicity 32. However, there are a few mild side effects that have been reported by some users as well, including drowsiness, irritability, and disturbances in sleep.
The recommended dosage of the drug varies based on the reason of supplementation, and often range from 1600 mg – 9600 mg per day divided into 3 doses. In most cases, Piracetam comes in 100mg capsules, and it is advisable to take just one capsule when starting out. Depending on effects, the dosage can be increased or decreased accordingly.
Also referred to as Pramistar, Pramiracetam was originally synthesized by replacing the amide group in Piracetam with a dipropan-2-ylaminoethyl group. The substitution of the amide group is touted to enhance absorption and create a Piracetam alternative with a more profound impact on enhancing memory and learning. It’s considered to be 3 to 30 times more potent than Piracetam.
- Improves memory formation and retrieval: Pramiracetam works by stimulating parts of the brain responsible for memory-related functions 33. It also useful for treating memory loss related conditions and other cognitive problems 34 caused by brain injuries as well as treating some degenerative neurological disorders.
- Boosting Cognitive functions: A 1991 study 35 carried on young male participants with brain injuries indicated improved cognitive functions through an 18-month trial period.
- Improves mental alertness: Past animal studies 36 have indicated increased alertness, mental energy, and visual sensory perception.
Pramiracetam has failed to show any signs of toxicity to research animals 37 even with stupidly high doses. It is, therefore, considered to be safe. However, there are a few anecdotally reported side effects, including headaches (if it is not supplemented with choline), sleep disturbances (when it is taken too close to bedtime), and dizziness. Like other Racetams, these effects are rare, mid, and mostly anecdotal.
Pramiracetam dosage varies from one user to another. As a guide, because the compound is fairly potent, it is advisable to use it in small quantities. Experts suggest taking 300mg twice a day (600mg in total), though the recommended dosage ranges go up to 1200 mg a day. Although there is no clinical trial that has pointed 1200mg to be the optimal dosage, it is advisable to start at the lower end and increase the dosage gradually as your body deem fit.
Who Should Use Racetams
Based on anecdotes and clinical trials, Racetams have been shown to be reliable for enhancing a wide range of cognitive functions and in treating a variety of cognitive impairments in patients with forms of hypoxia, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease 38, drug abuse, and other mental illnesses. Racetams are, therefore, highly recommended for people looking for ways to enhance their learning and memory recall capabilities. These may include the elderly and young adults who are experiencing cognitive decline. Students may also find Racetams beneficial for long study session, especially prior to exams. Athletes and other people looking for ways to boost their motivation during training and other strenuous activities are also good candidates for Racetams. Lastly, people looking for ways to lower anxiety when undertaking activities that they deem scary should also try Racetams.
How to Take Racetams
Racetams come in three forms: powders, pills (or capsules), and oral liquid varieties. There are also nasal sprays but they are currently very rare.
Powder versus Capsule
Pills are easier to take and to carry when you travel. However, they are more expensive than powder and limit the user to take whatever dosage is recommended on the package by the manufacturer. Pills can also take a longer duration to work as more energy and effort is needed for digestion and absorption. On the other hand, powders get absorbed much faster into the bloodstreams and offer more personalization options when it comes to dosing. However, they can be bulky and inconvenient to mix with water, milk or juice. You may also need to invest in a weighing scale to ensure precise dosing.
Depending on the Racetam you are supplementing, it may be recommended to administer it sublingually—placing it below the tongue instead of swallowing. The whole idea is to allow the Racetam to disintegrate fast. Administering the Racetams sublingually, therefore, allow the compounds to reach the intended targets—whether it is the grey matter brain tissue or neurotransmitter receptor site—quickly. However, it works best with highly concentrated Racetams that only need to be taken in small doses. Some Racetams may also cause painful reactions and feelings of discomfort if taken sublingually. While this may not be a serious problem, it can leave several hours of unpleasant sensations in the mouth.
The Benefits of Stacking Racetams
Stacking (combining two or more Racetams/supplements) is done in an effort to enhance results or effects. In most cases, the stacked ingredients help potentiate one another in 3 main ways:
- Synergy: making them more beneficial than when taken individually.
- Complementary: fulfilling a role/function/benefit that another supplement may lack
- Completeness: targeting every supplement’s pathway that leads to the same end, multiplying the resulting overall effect.
Put simply, well–designed stacks should maximize the stacked ingredients’ benefits, minimize their potential weaknesses and side effects, and combine their individual effects to fulfill end goals. The following are some of the top stacks worth considering:
Phenylpiracetam and Alpha GPC Stack For Intense Focus and Concentration
Phenylpiracetam is often considered as a stimulating Racetam as it provides more intense focus and energy boost. On the other hand, Alpha GPC 39 is a potent acetylcholine precursor with high bioavailability. Taking Alpha GPC translates to the availability of more acetylcholine in the brain than what a regular choline supplement can provide. It works perfectly with phenylpiracetam considering that more glutamate is produced and absorbed—which can be too much with other Racetams.
Dosage: 500mg Alpha GPC with 800 mg phenylpiracetam.
Aniracetam, Bacopa Monnieri, and L-Theanine Stack for Anxiety Relief
Since Aniracetam is known to be effective in boosting mental energy and lowering stress and anxiety, stacking it with Bacopa 40 and L-Theanine will increase or enhance these effects further. Bacopa Monnieri has been used for centuries for enhancing memory and as an overall body/mind relaxer. L-Theanine 41, on the other hand, promotes relaxation, lowers stress, and boosts concentration and alertness.
Dosage: 800mg of Aniracetam, 250mg of Bacopa, and 200mg of L-Theanine.
Piracetam and Choline stack for Cognitive Enhancement
Piracetam is associated with a number of cognitive benefits including improved memory, sensory perception, and overall mental energy. Stacking it with choline will have synergetic effect as choline is a significant acetylcholine precursor 42. Stacking the two compounds will increase the supply of acetylcholine in the body, and allow cognitive benefits of Piracetam to not only last long but also to be stronger.
Dosage: A good starting ratio is 2-to-1 in favor of Piracetam. A ratio of 4-to-1 (still in favor of Piracetam) is also recommended for experienced users.
Aniracetam and DMAE Stack For Improved Brain Energy, Motivation and Focus
Aniracetam provides a number of benefits including improved attention span, concentration, focus, memory, learning capacity, and even mood. DMAE 43is a choline support that’s associated with increased attention span, elimination of toxins in the body, and reducing hangover severity. Stacking the two supplements will have a synergetic effect, and can help with anxiety and might even be mildly stimulating.
Dosage: 1200mg of Aniracetam with 600mg of DMAE.
Piracetam, Aniracetam, and Oxiracetam (PAO) stack for Learning Enhancement And Memory Improvement
Aniracetam has more or less similar effects as Piracetam but is often considered to act fast. Stacking with the other two Racetams will speed up the effectiveness of all the Racetams while enhancing significant benefits in focus and improved energy levels. Oxiracetam is a powerful cognitive enhancer. The stack will, therefore, provide great cognitive benefits and improved mood. There are also users 44 who have reported feelings of creativity and increased sensory perception with this stack.
Dosage: 1600 mg of Piracetam, 400 mg of Aniracetam, and 400 mg of Oxiracetam.
Alternatives to Racetams
Finding the best cognitive enhancing drug to boost memory, learning, mood, focus, and energy is a must, especially if you lead a stressful or demanding lifestyle. Any of the listed Racetams can be of great benefit, though there is never a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes using nootropics. Additionally, people react differently to supplements. Accordingly, it is important to understand some of the alternatives that you can use for your individual benefits. Here are the four alternatives to Racetams.
As an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor drug, Donepezil works by increasing the concentration of acetylcholine 45, a brain neurotransmitter, through reversible inhibition (or limiting) of its hydrolysis. The main therapeutic use of Donepezil is in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Like Racetams, Donepezil can be used to treat other cognitive disorders including vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia.
Huperzine A is an alkaloid compound obtained from Huperzia Serrata, a Chinese club moss. It has been used for centuries to enhance memory and prevent chemical poisoning. It works by stimulating the production of acetylcholine, which is the main brain neurotransmitter for attention and perception. Like Racetams, Huperzine A can be used to protect against age-related cognitive decline 46 as well as to treat a wide range of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Noopept works via a similar mechanism as Piracetam but it is touted to be 1000-1500 times more potent. Like Piracetam, Noopept has been shown to help in consolidating and retrieving memories 47, both in the short and long term. The compound is inexpensive compared to Racetams and other nootropics because of its high potency per milligram.
Initially developed to treat narcolepsy, Modafinil is currently used to promote a wide range of cognitive benefits48 including enhanced mental alertness, mood, better memory, improved reaction time, and reduced fatigue. Its actions are more selective or targeted, and it is, therefore, believed to provide ‘smoother’ mental energy with fewer side effects.
While there are more potent nootropics currently in the market, more refined and effective alternatives will be developed in future. The only issues when using new nootropics are risk and safety concerns. This is one of the main reasons why Racetams are still extremely popular and most recommended 49 for people looking to boost mental cognition, memory, focus, and mod. Given their low toxicity, safety profiles, and positive clinical studies, Racetams will still rule the cognitive enhancement arena in future.
However, the usage recommendations highlighted in this article are quite general. Again, because of differences in body chemistry, interactions with the above Racetams may vary from one individual to another. Accordingly, be ready to adjust your dosages and stacking ratios depending on the results achieved after the initial days or instances of use. If you are unsure, check with an expert. Tailoring your Racetam supplementation to your individual goals and monitoring your combination and dosage levels is the best way of finding the perfect combination for your brain.