There is a lot of confusion about racetams out there, for starters, many people think of racetams as a specific drug. Actually, racetams are a class of drug, and there are many different versions out there: Oxiracetam, Pramiracetam, Coluracetam, Phenylpiracetam, Nefiracetam, Aniracetam, Noopept, Piracetam, and Levetiracetam. Many of these drugs are considered nootropics, while others are better described as anti-coagulants.
So, taking a racetam drug can have wildly different benefits, as such the layout of this article is going to be slightly different. We will still look at the benefits, side effects, and safety information. But we will do so for each individual racetam drug. This way you will have a clearer idea of which drug you are considering, which drug suits your specific needs, and which drugs would be best for you to avoid.
We’ll start with the first racetam invented: Piracetam
The Different Types Of Racetam
Piracetam was invented in 1964 by Corneliu E. Giurgea, a Romanian psychologist and chemist. It was first used as a treatment for epilepsy; indeed, it appears to be quite effective at treating progressive myoclonus epilepsy . More recently, piracetam has been touted as an effective nootropic. It is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, but it is able to be purchased without a prescription in the United Kingdom.
Piracetam appears to work by increasing blood flow to the brain and by increasing oxygen. A 1996 study on baboons confirmed this . Piracetam is mostly used to improve cognitive impairment, often in the elderly. People with no cognitive impairment may not see any benefit, though there is a lack of studies in this area.
A 1994 study by Israel et al found that taking piracetam led to a significant improvement in cognition in patients suffering from age-associated memory impairment . Increases in memory in people who are not suffering from cognitive decline have been noted, but they are almost insignificant.
The standard dosage of piracetam for an adult is between 1,200 and 4,800mg per day. There are rarely any side effects to taking piracetam, but one study noted that two patients felt more drowsy than usual . Other side effects include anxiety, insomnia, headaches, irritability, and nervousness .
Overall, piracetam seems to be a useful drug for anyone suffering from cognitive decline. The elderly in particular respond well to it. As a nootropic piracetam does not as of yet appear to be effective, but more research is required before we can say for definite.
Very similar to piracetam in structure, just a single hydroxyl group is different. Like piracetam, oxiracetam is often used to treat adults suffering from cognitive decline. A study in 1989 looked at the effect of oxiracetam on people suffering from dementia . The study found that those who took oxiracetam saw a reduction in cognitive decline, and an improvement in verbal fluency (how easily they found it to talk).
Studies have found oxiracetam to be effective at improving the memory, quality of life, and functionality of elderly people, particularly those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. A 1995 study on mice found that oxiracetam was able to increase spatial learning performance, the mice were able to navigate a maze better when compared to mice on a placebo . Studies seem to have found a link between oxiracetam and improved memory in rats . But the results are unreliable, one study will find a significant difference, while a similar study will see no change.
Right now, it is difficult to say whether oxiracetam can improve memory in healthy people or whether it is ineffective. There does not appear to be any side effects to taking oxiracetam, studies have found an increase in sleep latency (how long it takes you to nod off after going to bed) , but sleep quality was unaffected.
There is no evidence that oxiracetam can cause any issues while pregnant, but you should go with your gut on this one. It might not be worth the risk.
Pramiracetam is a synthetic drug that has been synthesized from piracetam the original racetam drug. Pramiracetam has been shown to increase choline uptake in rats , meaning that it could possibly increase choline uptake in humans too. This would be fantastic news as choline has been linked with numerous health benefits.
It appears that pramiracetam is more effective than piracetam at improving memory in people with amnesia. A 1994 study on people with amnesia saw a reduction in forgetfulness when taking pramiracetam . Increases in cognition and memory have also been noted.
While there are few benefits associated with pramiracetam, there are no side effects associated either. The ideal dosage is 1,200mg per day – either split into three 400mg doses or two 600mg doses.
There is little reason to take pramiracetam, unless you suffer from amnesia. There is no evidence that it has any benefits for people with fully functioning brains.
Like pramiracetam, coluracetam is defined by its ability to increase choline uptake. It was created as part of the racetam family to treat Alzheimer’s disease, but there is insufficient evidence that it actually works. Studies on rats have shown that it can improve learning-impairment by increasing choline uptake . There is very little information available when it comes to coluracetam. The dosage for coluracetam is between 3.2 and 32.7mg per day.
Phenylpiracetam is basically identical to piracetam except that a phenyl group has been added, like the other racetams mentioned, it is primarily seen as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and similar cognitive impairments. It was created by the Soviet Union in 1983 and is available in Russia as a prescription drug. According to Russia, it is a more effective version of piracetam. Though most of the research is unavailable to the West.
One of the benefits associated with phenylpiracetam is an improvement in mood with one study seeing a significant reduction in depression, a reduction in anxiety, and a reduction in cognitive decline .
A 2010 study from Russia found that phenylpiracetam helped stroke victims recover faster, restoring neurological function and daily living activities at a significantly quicker rate than the placebo .
It is currently unavailable outside of Russia and is also on the banned substances list made by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) so bear this in mind if you participate in high level sport. Phenylpiracetam can be taken at significantly lower dosages than many other racetams. A dosage of 200-600mg per day seems effective. No side effects are known other than a potential for bad sleep if taken within 3 hours of bedtime.
Nefiracetam is another member of the racetam group that has been synthesized from piracetam. It is designed to enhance cognition and memory in people with cognitive impairment, due to strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, or dementia. Nefiracetam appears to work by increasing signaling of acetylcholine to help form memories. There is a lot of excitement around nefiracetam, however in terms of actual human studies there is nothing really to show.
Studies have failed to see significant improvement in depression, stroke recovery rate, or cognition. There is hope that future research could establish whether nefiracetam can improve memory and help people with dementia. No known side effects are associated with nefiracetam in humans, though it is poisonous to dogs. Dosage can be between 150mg and 450mg per day.
At present, there is not much reason to purchase nefiracetam, it has no established beneficial effects. Future research may prove it to be an effective cognitive enhancer, but at the moment there is no reason to believe this.
Aniracetam is very similar in structure to nefiracetam and was first synthesized in the 1970s. It is sold in Europe as a prescription drug. Aniracetam has been shown to reduce anxiety in rats , but there is no evidence at the present that it can reduce anxiety in humans. Studies have also shown that aniracetam can lower depression in rats. It may also be effective at improving memory, but again, a lack of human studies prevents us from saying for sure.
Dosage of 1000mg per day is seen as optimal. On reflection, aniracetam does not appear to be an effective drug based on the evidence available to us.
Noopept is actually the brand name for N-phenylacetyl-L-prolyglycine ethyl ester, but it is a lot easier to spell so we’ll stick with Noopept. A 2009 study found that Noopept was more effective than piracetam at treating mild cognitive disorders stemming from brain disease . Studies on rats have shown it to be effective at reducing anxiety, reducing depression, and protecting against Alzheimer’s disease.
Noopept appears to have even less side effects than piracetam, which itself has almost none. The required dosage is also significantly lower (10-30mg per day). Noopept seems to be more effective than piracetam, but there is much less research on it than there is on piracetam.
Of all the racetams we have examined so far, Noopept seems like the most interesting. While it does not have as much evidence supporting it as piracetam, it has been directly compared to it and found to be effective in at least one human study.
The final racetam that we will be looking at is one called levetiracetam, a drug that is used to treat epilepsy. It has also been found to be effective at treating seizures in people who are on the autistic spectrum . It does not appear to have any cognitive benefits and is not seen as a potential nootropic. In fact, levetiracetam seems unlike all the other racetams we have looked at.
There are quite a few side-effects associated with levetiracetam: According to Drugs.com levetiracetam is associated with an increased risk of suicide, as well as increased aggression, fatigue, dizziness, and psychosis . These side effects are uncommon, but noteworthy.
You may be surprised by how many more side effects are associated with levetiracetam than the other drugs in this article. But this could simply be due to the fact that levetiracetam is a much more popular drug and used by a lot more people. As such there is more research associated with it, and more anecdotal evidence from the thousands of users.
It is not recommended to take levetiracetam as a nootropic, though it is probably one of the easier drugs on this list to get hold of. The standard dosage for people aged over 12 years old is between 250mg and 3,000mg per day – dependent on a number of factors including age, weight, and tolerance.
Are Racetams Safe?
For the most part racetams are safe, though there is a lot of variation between the different types. Noopept appears to be completely safe, while levetiracetam has numerous reported side effects. Is this because levetiracetam is a more dangerous drug? Or is it down to more people using it, which exposes it to higher scrutiny? Difficult to say.
Overall, these drugs are likely benign. However, that does not mean that you should take them without a prescription.
The world of nootropics is an exciting one, with a lot of potential out there. However, the sad fact is that most of the drugs touted as the next big thing (often associated with the film “Limitless”) are exaggerated or potentially dangerous.
Racetams appear to be pretty useless as a nootropic based on the available research. But there needs to be a lot more high-quality, double-blind, studies on humans before we can make a conclusion.
Hopefully the added interest in nootropics by the general public will lead to better funded studies, and a bit more respect for potential cognitive enhancers. If you’re dead set on trying a racetam, then our bet would be on Noopept. It appears to have the least amount of side effects, seems to be more effective than piracetam, and uses a much smaller dosage.