Piracetam has been extensively studied since the early 1970s for its ability to improve human cognition. While the exact mechanism of piracetam’s impact on the brain has not been identified, many clinical trials in humans and animals have shown it to be largely beneficial for improving many brain functions.
What is Piracetam?
Piracetam is classified as a Nootropic drug. The etymology of nootropic is Greek and comes from noos meaning mind and tropein meaning towards, with a translation of “acting on the mind.” While this label does nothing to tell how piracetam works on the brain, it does describe the powerful actions of piracetam to improve how our brains function! Dr. Corneliu E.Giurgea, the developer of piracetam, coined this term back in the 1960s.
How Does Piracetam Work?
In research since then, the exact mechanism of piracetam has not been discovered, but clues to how it works have been revealed. Research has shown that piracetam acts via glutamate receptors to increase the excitatory stimulus to neurons. By increasing glutamate activity, piracetam increases calcium inflow into neurons. This explains much of the improved cognitive performance observed with piracetam.
Additionally, piracetam has been shown to dilate the blood vessels that supply our brains with oxygen and nutrients. By doing so, piracetam gives our brain more resources to allow for neural protection and development. It is for this cerebral vasodilatory effect that piracetam has been used during cardiac bypass surgery to reduce brain ischemia and potential damage.1
Improved Cognitive Performance
Even as far back as the 1970s, studies suggested that not only would aged or damaged brains benefit from treatment with piracetam, but even normal everyday people could improve their baseline mental performance by taking piracetam! Dimond and Brouwers conducted a study in which they gave one group of “normal” subjects (no known dementia or brain damage) piracetam and another group a placebo. The subjects then performed a verbal memory task of remembering 9 two-syllable words for 10 seconds and 40 seconds. The group given piracetam could recall significantly more words at 10 and 40 seconds, with an even more profound ability to recall more words at 40 seconds.2 This study suggests that piracetam has the power to improve memory, focus and alertness, allowing normal individuals like you and me to function better in our daily lives.
Neuro-protection from Aging and Dementia
In addition to improving memory and alertness, piracetam has also been shown to help heal damaged areas of the brain. For example, piracetam was able to reduce the accumulation of lipofuscin in rat brains. Lipofuscin is a toxic metabolic byproduct that accumulates in aging and damaged neurons, and is used as a marker of aging, poorly-functioning brains. In a 1991 study, researchers showed that treating rats with piracetam prior and during neurological insult from high-dose alcohol lead to far less accumulation of lipofuscin in the piracetam treated rats.3 This is powerful evidence for the ability of piracetam to prevent neuron damage and degeneration from the toxins our we ingest and aging.
Piracetam has also shown a unique ability to specifically target damaged neurons to repair them. In a study using piracetam to help patients with speaking deficits following strokes, piracetam combined with speech therapy was shown to be superior to speech therapy alone. 24 patients who had a known speech deficit following a stroke were randomly divided into 2 groups of 12. The piracetam group was given 2400mg of piracetam orally twice daily and speech therapy for 6 weeks, while a placebo group received only a salt pill and speech therapy. Following the study, the piracetam group improved in 6 areas of language function, while the control group only improved in 3 areas of speech function, including comprehension, naming and repetition tasks. This study was also ground-breaking because it used uptake imaging (a PET scan) of the brain to provide physical evidence to support the clinical improvement noted. Pictured below are composite PET scans for the two groups. The red and yellow areas are areas of increased cerebral perfusion following the study. The PET scans show that piracetam specifically targets the language areas of the brain in these patients and only improved blood flow in those regions (the regions damaged by the strokes in these patients).4 This evidence suggests that piracetam specifically increases blood flow to damaged areas, allowing improved nutrient and oxygen uptake as well as toxin removal to damaged neurons.
Are there Side Effects?
Although no drug has “no side effects,” many of the dangerous adverse drug reactions associated with other drugs that effect the brain like Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI’s) have not been experienced in the 40+ years of piracetam use in humans. In fact, Dr. Giurgea noted in his 1977 review on piracetam that “Piracetam is devoid of usual ‘routine’ pharmacologic activities [negative side effects] even in high doses. In normal subjects no side effects or ‘doping’ effects were ever observed. Nor did Piracetam induce any sedation, tranquilization, locomotor stimulation or psychodysleptic symptomatology.”5 Piracetam is extremely safe. The only known side effects occur in very few people and are those of any mild mental stimulant, similar to the caffeine you consumed in your tea or coffee today. These side effects include anxiety, trouble sleeping, irritability, headache, nervousness, and mild tremor. Letting Dr. Guyer manage your dosage and combine your piracetam with other supplements (like magnesium) can alleviate these side effects and allow you to maximize your mental potential on piracetam!
Malykh, Andrei G.; Sadaie, M. Reza. Piracetam and Piracetam-Like Drugs: From Basic Science to Novel Clinical Applications to CNS Disorders. 12 February 2010. Drugs: 70(3); 287-312.
2 Dimond SJ, Brouwers EM. Increase in the power of human memory in normal man through the use of drugs. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1976 Sep 29;49(3):307-9.
3 Paula-Barbosa MM et al. The effects of piracetam on lipofuscin of the rat cerebellar and hippocampal neurons after long-term alcohol treatment and withdrawal. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 15(5): 834-838, 1991.
4 Kessler et al. Piracetam Improves Activated Blood Flow and Facilitates Rehabilitation of Poststroke Aphasic Patients. (2000). Stroke; 31:2112-2116.
5 Giurgea, C. & Salama, M. (1977) “Nootropic drugs” Prog Neuro-Psychopharmac 1, 235-47.
Websites on Piracetam