In the world of nootropics, there is a lot of talk about acetylcholine also known as the cholinergic system. If we are not talking about acetylcholine, we are talking about activation of the glutamatergic system to improve the mind. These two neurotransmitter systems are common targets for nootropics because they can help to improve cognitive function with limited chance of side effects, tolerance and dependence.
This brings us to dopamine and the dopaminergic system. Like acetylcholine, dopamine itself is a nootropic neurotransmitter that plays a large number of roles in cognitive function. There are many drugs that activate and modulate dopamine and it’s receptors in different ways to improve memory. Dopamine drugs can greatly enhance learning, memory and focus however these types of nootropics can have some large downsides.
Dopamine & Addiction
Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter in all sorts of important cognitive tasks. It is often referred to as the “reward” neurotransmitter. Dopamine helps us to enjoy things by experiencing reward through stimuli. This reward system makes dopamine a powerful and sought after effect. Unfortunately, this whole reward system makes dopamine a likely target for addiction. Many highly addictive drugs (ex. cocaine) are based off the dopaminergic system. In essence, any drug that has a high affinity with the dopamine system is likely to be addictive.
Dopamine ADHD & “Smart Drugs”
Many nootropic users suffer from ADHD or a similar form of it. These people seek a different form of treatment for ADHD with nootropics like racetams. This is due to the incredible side effects and health risks many of these ADHD drugs have on them.
Many nootropics like piracetam that work on the cholinergic system have been shown to have beneficial effects for those suffering from ADHD. Unfortunately, switching from standard ADHD drugs to nootropic racetams may never completely solve the problem. This is simply due to the fact that ADHD is a malfunction in the dopaminergic system not the cholinergic system.
It is hypothesized that people suffering from ADHD have low dopaminergic activity and this low activity causes the effects of ADHD. Stimulant drugs like amphetamines help to strengthen dopamine activity in the brain. This is believed to be why amphetamine drugs like Adderall and Ritalin work to reduce or alleviate the effects of ADHD.
For people who do not suffer from ADHD, these amphetamine ADHD drugs work as powerful stimulants. Many college students try to get their hands on these drugs to improve their productivity. This is the main distinction between smart drugs and nootropics. Nootropics should carry vary little risk of addiction and these “smart drugs” do carry this risk.
For this reason, most dopamine enhancing drugs do not make the nootropics list. Most stimulants have dopamine enhancing effects and they can help to improve certain areas of cognitive function. If you decide to use these stimulants as your primary method of improving memory, be mindful and proceed with caution. Long term use is not advised.
Some Nootropics That Involve Dopamine
This herbal extract is actually very powerful and may have benefit for some as a nootropic. This herbal product is rich in L-Dopa which is a natural precursor to dopamine. Having low motivation and libido can be a symptom of low dopamine. In this case, increasing dopamine levels with mucuna pruriens can have extraordinary benefits as a nootropic. If dopamine levels are normal, increasing L-dopa may still help slightly with cognition.
This synthetic vitamin derivative has been said to carry slight stimulating effects. Sulbutiamine works differently than the racetams and ampakines. Its main method of action is thought to at least, partly involve dopamine. Sulbutiamine is believed to increase the density of D1 and D2 dopamine receptors. While much safer than most “smart drugs”, sulbutiamine has still been listed to have some addictive potential. Tolerance is also said to build which is typical of most dopamine based nootropics.
Hordenine is said to be a mild stimulant that can be obtained over the counter in most countries. Most nutritional supplements that contain hordenine claim it as a fat burner. There is little evidence to point that common oral dosages cause an increase in metabolic rate. Horenines’ main method of action is thought to be in part from its mild MAO-B inhibiting qualities. MAO-B is an enzyme that breaks down dopamine within the brain.
Some encouraging reports of hordenine have come back positive however this supplement has still not proven its weight as a nootropic. Also, some nootropic forums talk about combining phenethylamine (PEA) with hordenine to produce stimulant like effects. This is not a safe nootropic combination.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12126656 – Dopamine – Cognition, Focus & Attention
http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro05/web1/isiddiqui.html – Dopamine & Addiction – Reward System
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