Is Piracetam Safe?
What Does The Scientific Literature Really Say?
Piracetam is one of the most widely used and well known brain drugs in the world. It is also one of the most divisive.
In this article, we’re going to try to answer a very simple question: is piracetam dangerous?
But answering that question is far from simple. We need to look at a lot more than just the common side effects to provide an answer that you, the reader, can actually use to guide your decision making.
It’s a challenge we’re willing to take on.
Let’s get going!
We need you to remember two very important facts during the course of this article: This is not a conclusive, exhaustive, final compendium of everything you need to know about Piracetam. It is merely a look at the most relative studies that we know of pertaining to Piracetam’s efficacy and its safety. We do not recommend Piracetam use. The conclusion of this article will make that clear. Before you even consider using Piracetam, you should seek proper medical advice – ideally the advice of a doctor who knows you, your medical history, and your requirements. Do not attempt to treat a serious cognitive disorder with synthetic brain drugs.
We need you to remember two very important facts during the course of this article:
This is not a conclusive, exhaustive, final compendium of everything you need to know about Piracetam. It is merely a look at the most relative studies that we know of pertaining to Piracetam’s efficacy and its safety.
We do not recommend Piracetam use. The conclusion of this article will make that clear.
Before you even consider using Piracetam, you should seek proper medical advice – ideally the advice of a doctor who knows you, your medical history, and your requirements. Do not attempt to treat a serious cognitive disorder with synthetic brain drugs.
A Divisive Substance
There are thousands of people all over the world who regularly use this substance to get a mental edge over the competition – be it professional, athletic, or otherwise.
We’ve all read the spiel. Every nootropics forum is full of hardcore piracetam fanatics. They will tell you that piracetam is a perfectly safe study drug. They talk about all of the incredible things that piracetam does for them.
From improving memory function and reducing social anxiety to improving neuroplasticity, piracetam supposedly does it all.
And there are others who are ardently opposed to its use – they claim that piracetam is a dangerous drug not to be trifled with.
These two groups seem to have roughly the same representation in the online nootropics community. Search on the main nootropics forums and discussion groups and you’ll find a trove of posts ranging from “piracetam is a miracle” to “piracetam will kill you”.
For every person who things some focus drug is a miracle brain pill, there’s another who has had a horrible experience while using it.
And like all drugs, it is easy for people to become either enamored or completely terrified by a certain substance. You get fanboys with every mind-altering substance – they extol the benefits and are completely blind to the faults. You also get those who are unreasonably enraged by its existence.
So it can be INCREDIBLY difficult to find detailed, unbiased, reasonable information on mind-altering substances like synthetic brain drugs.
That’s why we’re here.
We’re going to clear our minds of any pre-existing feelings towards this substance and then ask ourselves some very simple questions.
What is piracetam?
Does it actually work like people say it does?
Is piracetam safe?
What are the realistic risks of using it?
Can it be used long-term?
Should anybody be using piracetam?
Unlike many other articles you will find on this subject, we’re not going to let ourselves be won over by mere words. No, like always, we’re going to let the latest scientific data be our guide. If a claimed benefit of piracetam isn’t backed up by peer-reviewed research, then we’re not going to buy into it. So too with supposed risks – if there’s no empirical data, then we’re not going to propagate it is fact.
We’ll look at a range of sources throughout this guide; anecdotal reports, clinical trials, and in vitro information. Of course, each source has its merits and its limitations. It’s important, however, that we look at all the evidence as a whole and weight it correctly.
In the end, we’ll tell you our thinking on piracetam – whether anybody should be using it, and what the real risks are for short and long-term use.
Before we get to that though, we first need to look at what piracetam is and how it works.
What Is Piracetam?
Before we get to the meat of the article, we need to run through what piracetam is and how it works.
If you couldn’t tell from the name, piracetam is part of the racetam group. Its formal chemical name is 2-oxo-1-pyrrolidine acetamide.
It is completely synthetic. It wasn’t “discovered” – it was made.
Piracetam was first produced by a Romanian chemist and psychologist by the name of Corneliu E. Giurgea in the early 1960s.
You might recognize this name; it is said that Corneliu E. Giurgea is the man who actually coined the term “nootropic”. If this is true, we owe him a lot!
Piracetam is sold under various brand names in parts of Europe, South America, and Asia. Some of the most common brand names might be recognizable to you, depending on where you’re from. Populr brands include Breinox, Nootropil, and Lucetam.
Generally speaking, these branded products are just straight up piracetam.
How Does It Work?
Like all racetams, we aren’t absolutely certain how piracetam actually works.
One thing that we can say is that Piracetam seems to work neither as a sedative nor as a stimulant. This makes it very different to many other popular study drugs, which are effectively just more or less sophisticated analogues of amphetamines.
Instead, many people hypothesize that Piracetam works by exciting neurons directly. One plausible explanation for Piracetam’s efficacy (which we’ll discuss shortly) is that it increases activity in ion channels and within ion carriers, thereby increasing the amount of activity taking place at the neurons. Inter-neural communication is very much the currency of thought. Increasing neuron excitability would therefore lead to a more effective, better performing brain.
This interesting paper, published in Brain Research Review in 1994, discusses the lack of any real explanation for the efficacy of Piracetam, and goes on the suggest that ion flux may go some way to explaining its mechanism of action.
The researchers state the following in the abstract: “We believe that the effect of the racetams is due to a potentiation of already present neurotransmission and that much evidence points in the direction of a modulated ion flux by, e.g., potentiated calcium influx through non-L-type voltage-dependent calcium channels, potentiated sodium influx through alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid receptor gated channels or voltage-dependent channels or decreases in potassium efflux. Effects on carrier mediated ion transport are also possible.”
That is extremely interesting.
It may be that Piracetam doesn’t increase brain activity per se.
Rather, it enhances existing systems of neurotransmission – sodium and calcium ion transmission, to be precise.
If Piracetam can be found to have a direct and significant influence on sodium and calcium ion movements in the brain, then we will have more than likely discovered how Piracetam works.
A lot of your brain functions rely on the transmission of sodium, calcium, and various other mineral ions (hence why a serious lack of salt can shut your brain down).
Other mechanisms of action have been proposed, of course.
For example, Piracetam use has been found to increase cerebral blood flow as well as oxygen consumption in the brain (already by far the most oxygen-hungry part of the body).
Yet no other studies have found Piracetam to have a vasodilatory effect similar to something like Ginkgo biloba.
It is therefore more likely that the increased blood flow and oxygen consumption are a result of increased brain activity, not the cause of it.
Of course, all of this is conjecture until we have multiple peer reviewed trials all showing the same clear mechanism of action for Piracetam.
We hope we have this in the next few years; time will tell.
What Are The Effects Of Piracetam?
We’ve just looked at what we know about how Piracetam works. While this is a little murky right now, we do seem to be starting to understand this drug’s exact mechanism of action.
But we haven’t yet looked at what Piracetam actually does!
How does this drug influence cognitive performance?
What are the most common effects?
How robust are these effects?
The best way to answer these questions is to look at some of the existing scientific literature on Piracetam usage and its effect on cognition.
One commonly cited trial is this one, published in International Psychogeriatrics in 1994. Here researchers gave people either a placebo, 2.4g of piracetam, or 4.8g of Piracetam. It was found that the largest dose of Piracetam resulted in the most significant improvements in cognition, with the lowest increases in cognition being seen in the placebo group.
A much more useful paper to look at is this meta-analysis, published in 2002 in the journal Dementia & Geriatric Cognitive Disorders. The authors here looked at 19 studies on Piracetam and its effects on cognition. The studies were different in nature, and were taken from around the world.
The authors found the following: “While there may be problems in meta-analyses and the interpretation of the statistical results, the results of this analysis provide compelling evidence for the global efficacy of piracetam in a diverse group of older subjects with cognitive impairment.”
That’s quite compelling.
The individual studies did have issues and limitations, as the authors note.
But the results are still compelling enough to conclude that Piracetam has global efficacy across diverse populations with cognitive impairment.
So what about healthy people?
All of these studies have looked at geriatrics and people with diagnosed cognitive impairment.
Well, this trial looked at the effects of giving healthy, younger volunteers 400mg of Piracetam over the course of 2 weeks. The researchers found that very few benefits could be observed after 7 days, but after 14 days, significant improvements in verbal learning capabilities had manifested.
What does all this chalk up to?
It seems that Piracetam is effective at improving cognition when consumed in large enough doses for periods exceeding 14 days.
It is evident that smaller doses of Piracetam, or shorter periods of administration, yield few to no results.
It is also clear that the potency of Piracetam is very questionable.
The meta-analysis cited above states that the magnitude of the benefits derived from Piracetam use could not be quantified reliably.
There are also lots of trials which have found Piracetam to be extremely underwhelming.
This study is often cited as proof that Piracetam helps people living with Alzheimer’s disease. Yet if you actually read the study, you’ll note that the results did not reach statistical significance. The words of the authors were as follows: “No improvement occurred in either group, but our results support the hypothesis that long-term administration of high doses of piracetam might slow the progression of cognitive deterioration in patients with AD.”
That is 8g of Piracetam taken for A YEAR, and the results still didn’t meet the requirements of statistical significance.
Another trial gave patients either 2400mg of a branded form of Piracetam or placebo over 2 months. The researchers again noted that there were no statistically significant differences between groups across any of the measured parameters.
You will not struggle to find studies looking at Piracetam which have failed to find the drug as having a meaningful effect on cognition from a statistical perspective. Either too few users will show improvements, or the improvements will not be notable enough to impress the researchers in question.
You can get a similar feel from user anecdotes too, like you can see in this Reddit thread. But we’re going to limit ourselves to scientific studies in this article, not only because they are inherently more valuable but because not limiting ourselves will see us writing about Piracetam for the next 15 years.
Is Piracetam Safe?
This is what most of you are here for.
“Is Piracetam safe?” is, after all, the title of the page.
The fact that we’ve waited this long to start discussing this is probably pretty frustrating. But hopefully if this is all you want then you’ve skipped ahead to this section!
So just how dangerous is this stuff then?
Is it safe for you to use on a regular basis?
We’ll come right out and tell you that, in our opinion, the answer to the question is no.
WE DO NOT THINK PIRACETAM IS SAFE.
We don’t think it is safe for even short-term use.
You can get a good feel for Piracetam’s major side effects by looking at the major nootropics forums. While this isn’t a good approach to take when trying to find out truth, it is a good way to get a feel for a substance, how common side effects are, and how pronounced some of the side effects can be.
So before we get into the science, let’s take a look at some of the notable examples of negative Piracetam experiences.
There is this Longecity contributor, for example, who reported some pretty awful side effects from Piracetam use of just a couple of weeks. He experienced everything from mild brain fog to depression. It seems highly likely from his report that the Piracetam was the cause, but as with all such reports, we can’t tell for sure.
Then there’s this Reddit comment thread, which links to some other fairly useful resources on Piracetam use and negative effects.
We could go on and on citing long comment threads in which people discuss the many and varied side effects they have experienced while using Piracetam. But we feel that this would be unfair, since we limited discussion of the benefits to the scientific literature.
These are worth reading to get a flavor of what Piracetam can do.
Now to the studies.
As it is with benefits, so it is with side effects here: robust, reputable clinical trials are few and far between.
But a good place to start is this trial, which found that 64% of participants in the study who were using Piracetam reported side effects.
Another trial, published in 1983, found that the initial therapeutic effects associated with Piracetam use diminished after 12 weeks. The authors speculated that this was due to “over-stimulation”. This is something that we have seen reported by users on forums and websites many times before.
A more recent paper, published in 2010, reported quite a few adverse effects from use of this brain drug. These included:
On top of this, a host of studies (some of which are cited above) have found that Piracetam may cause the following side effects in a small number of users:
- General weakness
These are all of the short term effects of Piracetam that have so far been observed in the few clinical trials to be conducted on this synthetic brain drug.
It may sound fairly mild in comparison to things like Modafinil.
Yet we think this list of side effects is substantial, even if their occurrence is relatively rare and often fleeting.
Moreover, long-term use is very poorly understood.
To our knowledge, truly long-term studies on regular Piracetam use have not yet been done.
The longest trial we have found has been 1 year in duration. You might think this sounds like a long time, but follow-up studies are the best way to gain an understanding of the safety of a drug, especially one used so frequently and in such large quantities.
For things like alcohol, tobacco, painkillers, even OTC ones, long-term follow up trials need to be done to truly understand how they might affect your health long term.
It’s especially important to do these studies when dealing with a substance that involves brain function, not to mention one which causes such a wide variety of acute, short-term negative effects.
Data in the lab needs to be compared with long-term in vivo studies if deemed preliminary safe for human use.
Only then will we be comfortable calling a substance safe for you to use, even short-term.
We just don’t have such data for Piracetam.
Until we do, we’re forced to conclude that Piracetam IS NOT SAFE, and we don’t think you should use it. Even infrequently.