The use of nootropics is rapidly growing among people looking for a quick-fix to various mental disorders. Also known as cognitive enhancers, or smart drugs, these are a group of supplements and drugs with various psychoactive effects.
In terms of their legal status, nootropics can be divided into three main categories as follows:
1. Dietary Supplements
Dietary or nutritional supplements include natural food derivatives and herbal compounds that are widely used in traditional medicine. These are mostly legal to buy and sell over the counter as long as they are sold as supplements, not treatments.
Examples: Bacopa monnieri, ashwagandha, ginkgo biloba, alpga-GPC, lion’s mane mushroom, etc.
2. Prescription Drugs
Some prescription-only medications that are approved for specific health conditions are being used off-label for the purpose of cognitive enhancement. Obviously, these drugs are only legal when purchased with a doctor’s prescription.
Examples: Adderall, Ritalin, Provigil (modafinil), etc.
3. Unscheduled/Unapproved Drugs
This is the most popular category of nootropics on the market today, and it includes synthetic drugs that were developed for the treatment of specific mental disorders, but are not currently approved treatments.
Examples: Piracetam (and other racetams), Noopept, Adrafinil, Phenibut, etc.
Note: From this point on, when you read “nootropics” or “nootropic drugs”, it refers to the third category of unscheduled/unapproved drugs.
Nootropic Drugs for Medical Use
Most of the nootropic drugs sold by online vendors were initially discovered in Russia and Europe during the cold war era. They were mainly developed for treating certain mental disorders, but some were also studied as quick-fix biohacking or brain hacking tools to enhance the mental performance and endurance of soldiers and such.
Today, many of these drugs are approved treatments in Russia and other former Soviet Union countries, where they are manufactured under different brand names and sold in local pharmacies. However, in Western and most other countries, these drugs do not have any approved medical use and thus cannot be legally sold to consumers as treatments.
Buying vs. Selling Nootropics
As a consumer, there are no laws that prevent you from buying unapproved nootropic drugs for personal use. So it is legal to buy and use non-prescription nootropics.
On the other hand, the legality of selling nootropics depends on how and what they are sold for. It is perfectly legal to sell unapproved drugs for scientific research purposes, but it’s not allowed to sell them to consumers for medical use.
Selling any drug for medical use requires that it has FDA approval as a treatment. Companies that sell unapproved drugs as medical treatments to consumers in the US may get warning letters from the FDA asking them to stop, and if they fail to comply they can be subject to subsequent legal actions.
Nootropic Drugs for Research Purposes
Any chemical substance that is not controlled can be legally sold for the purpose of scientific research, and such substances are referred to as Research Chemicals (RC). This includes all of the unscheduled nootropic drugs that are not approved as medicine.
Can Consumers Be Researchers?
Since selling unapproved drugs for research use is legally safer for vendors, this opens the door for a workaround: just call consumers “researchers”!
In fact, anyone can be a researcher. You don’t need a college degree or a job at a laboratory to be a researcher. You can simply be an independent scientific researcher. And actually many nootropics users spend a lot of time doing their own research and studying the scientific literature and clinical trials related to these drugs.
That said, do you really want to use your body as a lab rat?! Keep in mind that many research chemicals may have serious adverse effects, and little is known about their short and long-term safety.
So do your research, but be very careful what you put into your body, how much, and what other drugs and substances you mix it with. Some drugs can be dangerous, or even fatal, if taken in excess amounts or if taken with other drugs or substances.
The Legal Future of Nootropics
Unfortunately, the future looks rather grim for many of the nootropics that are currently legally available over the counter. There have been increasing calls and bids to control or even ban unapproved nootropic drugs, which can be mainly attributed to two factors:
- Pressure from the pharmaceutical industry and their proponents who continuously try to demonize and outlaw supplements and foreign drugs that pose a threat to their sales and profits. They just can’t stomach the fact that there can be much cheaper and/or safer alternatives to their dear drugs!
- Foolish and reckless users who misuse or abuse nootropics, which may lead to serious health risks or even death in extreme cases. Some ignorant users mix and consume excess amounts of different drugs like they are some sort of candy. For many lawmakers, the stupidity of some users justifies banning/regulating drugs or whole classes of drugs for all other responsible users!
Not just in the USA, but also in Canada, UK, EU, and Australia, the ominous noose of regulation is getting tighter around many nootropics that are being freely traded over the Internet today.
Let’s try to be a little optimistic though and hope that unscheduled nootropic drugs will remain legal to buy for personal and/or research use. But if they get banned or controlled then the biggest winners will be pharmaceutical companies who can continue to sell their overpriced and “approved” drugs, and the biggest losers will be consumers.