Brain-Boosting 'Smart Drugs' On The Rise

By Paul Gaita 07/28/14

With the wider availability of brain-boosting pills comes growing concern over sever side effects like depression and withdrawal.

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A new feature on the VICE Motherboard explores the rise of so-called “smart drugs”—substances used to boost cognitive function and attention span—from the online black market into the mainstream via the ever-growing supplements business.

Much of the piece focuses on Alleradd, a cognitive enhancement pill which promises to deliver the same energy and memory boost as the similarly named ADHD medication Adderall without requiring a prescription. It’s one of an increasing number of substances called nootropics, which purportedly simulate brain receptors to increase memory and motivation without the dangerous side effects of controlled substances or energy drinks.

Many, like Alleradd, are sold online and are available to any consumer with a credit card. Some, like New Mood or Alpha Brain, can be purchased on But all are being marketed to professionals, students and other individuals in need of quick and immediate enhancement as nutritional supplements.

Proponents of nootropics claim that substances like NSI-189, which allegedly stimulates neural growth, improve focus and energy. But the VICE feature also notes that these and other smart drugs remain in the experimental stage, have not been regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and reportedly cause side effects that range from physical illness to severe depression and withdrawal symptoms.

AlternaScript, which manufactures Alleradd, failed to note that the supplement contains piracetam, a prescription drug in many countries that has been restricted for uncontrolled sale by the FDA. Like the makers of dangerous synthetic drugs, many smart drug manufacturers sidestep government intervention by either labeling their substance’s compounds as “not meant for human consumption” or listing the ingredients under different brand names.

Synthetic drug manufacturers, however, have not been allowed to feature their products on national television like Cerebral Success, a nootropic company whose founder, Trevor Hiltbrand, appeared on the ABC reality series Shark Tank to seek funding for a line of smart drug shots marketed to college campuses. The show’s panelists expressed concern over the ethical implication of selling an untested drug to students, but ultimately decided to back the project provided that Hiltbrand buy liability insurance.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.