Racetam Rundown: A compare and contrast of the major racetams
If you’re interested in trying nootropics, you might have been told to start with the racetam family. In this article we will be doing a compare and contrast of some of the most popular and well-known racetams. The oldest and most tested, tried and true of all nootropics are the racetam family. Racetams are distinguished by their pyrolllidine backbone or structure. Piracetam is the parent molecule of the racetam family and actually a cyclic derivative of GABA. Despite being related to GABA it doesn’t have similar effects to GABA, the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. It acts as a modulator of NMDA and AMPA receptors, both excitatory receptors related to glutamate, the primary excitatory neurotransmitter. Piracetam is actually a positive allosteric modulator of these receptor systems. That means they don’t attach to the main receptor site, but bind to the secondary receptor.
Piracetam works on multiple neurotransmitter systems. Acetylcholine, the learning, memory and movement neurotransmitter, glutamate, the excitatory neurotransmitter and kainate. In addition to modulating these receptors, piracetam can increase oxygen and blood flow to the brain, modify vascular and neuronal functions and increase ATP metabolism (part of the basic energy currency of your body and brain).
Piracetam is the least potent of the racetams and requires a larger dose as a result in the multi-gram dosages. Piracetam is the most studied of the racetams however and clinical studies have shown it is excellent at reducing the effects of age related cognitive decline and the aggression and confusion that sometimes accompanies this memory loss. Piracetam may improve short-term memory recall and increases the levels of acetylcholine in the brain. In addition to all this, multiple studies have shown the neuroprotective benefit of piracetam related to people recovering from ischemia, stroke and cerebral trauma. Piracetam is water soluble and does not metabolize into any active compound in the body. Based on its LD-50 (the scale used to measure toxicity) it is literally safer than salt.
Aniracetam: The social racetam
Aniracetam is the second racetam developed by Dr. Corneliu Giurgea, the father of nootropics. Aniracetam is a white fluffy powder with a mild, slightly bitter chalky taste. Compared to piracetam, the primary structural difference is the addition of the p-Anisyl group. Aniracetam is an AMPAkine nootropic, meaning it operates primarily in the AMPA system (an excitatory neurotransmitter).
Aniracetam is an odorless white fluffy powder that has a very mildly bitter taste. It differs from piracetam in the addition of a p-Anisyl group. Aniracetam is more lipid soluble and has a greater ability to pass the blood brain barrier which makes it more bio-active in smaller doses. Anecdotally there are several accounts of aniracetam possessing anxiolytic properties and having a possible positive effect for those with social anxiety or phobias. This may be due to the fact that it breaks down in the body into the metabolite N-anisoyl-GABA.
In addition to its cholinergic and AMPAkine activity, it has an effect on dopamine and serotonin levels which may have a mild mood boosting effect.
HOW DOES ANIRACETAM WORK?
Aniracetam is fat soluble but can be readily absorbed on an empty stomach. The effects come on quick and are active for about four hours. Aniracetam breaks down into three major metabolites: N-anisoyl-GABA, p-anisic acid and 2-pyrrolidinone. N-anisoyl-GABA may actually be the primary active component to aniracetam’s activity. Aniracetam enhances the effects of GABA which may reduce stress, increases cerebral blood flow while modulating breakdown of dopamine and serotonin.
Oxiracetam: the speedy racetam
Oxiracetam is a slightly sweet tasting, crystalline substance. It differs from piracetam due to the addition of a hydroxyl group. It works very similarly to piracetam and aniracetam but requires a smaller dosage than either of them. In addition to cholinergic and AMPAkine activity it affects D-asparetic acid (D-AA) which may be the reason it is more psychostimulating and energizing. Piracetam and oxiracetam may also have some adrenergic activity.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Oxiracetam, like piracetam and aniracetam, is a positive allosteric modulator of the AMPA receptors. Oxiracetam, however, binds to different receptors than the two previous. Many people find adding oxiracetam to piracetam or aniracetam makes the results more effective. With any cholinergic, it’s always a good idea to add a good choline source like Alpha GPC or citicoline. Be advised that choline can improve mood but overdoing choline sources (especially the stronger sources like GPC and citicoline) can have a reverse effect on mood. Oxiracetam works by enhancing the excitatory system and has been shown to reduce the rate of cognitive decline in the elderly as well as enhancing memory formation in young, healthy brains.
Pramiracetam: bitter but powerful
Pramiracetam is an extremely bitter white to beige powder. It is stickier than most other racetams and has a greater anti-amnesic potential than the previously mentioned racetams. In addition, it also acts to increase the nitric oxide synthase activity in the cerebral cortex. Studies have shown that the effects of pramiracetam may be closely tied to adrenergic activity like piracetam. As a result, however, for those who experience jitters, this racetam may be a bit much. Like aniracetam, pramiracetam is fat soluble but is readily absorbed on an empty stomach. Pramiracetam has been shown in multiple studies to increase cerebral blood flow, improve long term memory as well as spatial learning.
Phenylpiracetam differs from piracetam due to the addition of a phenyl chain. Like pramiracetam it is very bitter and much more “speedy” than piracetam or oxiracetam. Unlike most of the other racetams, it has something of a psychostimulant effect as well as acting as somewhat of a central nervous system stimulant. Phenylpiracetam is active around the 100-200mg dosage range. Unlike the other racetams we have mentioned, phenylpiracetam seems to have some anticonvulsant activity as well. Be advised that large doses of phenylpiracetam can actually act as a psychodepressant. Phenylpiracetam also has some dopamine binding and release activity.
In addition to acting as a potent cholinergic, like the rest of the racetam family, it seems to have a potential to speed along stroke recovery. Phenyl is one of the most stimulating and potent of the true racetams. Some claim noopept to be the most potent racetam, but noopept is actually a peptide and does not possess the pyrollidinone skeletal structure. Phenylpiracetam may be mood boosting, is more neuroprotective than piracetam and has been shown to improve endurance and physical performance as well as cold tolerance.
Coluracetam is one of the newer racetams and is more experimental. It hasn’t been studied nearly as much as the original racetams like piracetam, aniracetam and oxiracetam. It may have some mood boosting potential and has a longer lasting cognitive improvement than traditional racetams. With chronic usage, it may also prevent against glutaminergic excitotoxicity, a dangerous over firing of neurons that can lead to brain cell death. Anecdotally, improvement in the field of vision has been mentioned among some users.
If you haven’t tried a racetam yet, it may be best to start near the top of the list as those are the most known and studied of the compounds. Always exercise safe supplementing by sticking to dosage instructions and sticking to the minimum effective dose. Choline supplementation is always recommended when supplementing with racetams because many people are already choline deficient and increased cholinergic activity without choline to feed on can lead to headaches or brain fog.
Always check with your personal care practitioner before undergoing any new supplement regimen especially if you are currently under a doctor’s care or taking any over the counter or prescription drugs for any pre-existing condition.