The Health Benefits of Aniracetam

This non-prescription drug is believed to boost memory and cognition

Doctor viewing a patients brain scans on a computer screen

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Aniracetam (also known as N-anisoyl-2-pyrrolidinone) is a type of drug known as a nootropic that is said to improve cognitive function (including memory, creativity, and motivation) in healthy people. Although aniracetam is available as a prescription drug in Europe, it has not been approved for such use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Instead, aniracetam is sold in the United States as a dietary supplement, where it is used by some to "boost" mental sharpness or memory.

Common Brand Names

  • Ampamet
  • Draganon
  • Memodrin
  • Referan
  • Sarpul

Aniracetam is closely related to other nootropic drugs such as piracetam, fasoracetam, phenylpiracetam, and adrafinil.

Health Benefits

Aniracetam was first introduced in the 1970s when it was found that the drug could influence a receptor in the central nervous system called the αlpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionic acid (AMPA) receptor. The AMPA receptor largely regulates the speed by which nerve signals move between neurons (nerve cells).

By stimulating AMPA receptors, it is believed that aniracetam can sharpen memory, improve concentration, and increase mental alertness.

Some manufacturers have asserted that aniracetam has positive effects on people with clinical depression, Alzheimer's disease, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), motion sickness, and sleep disorders. Many of these claims are poorly supported by research; others border on pseudoscience.

To date, there is little clinical evidence that aniracetam can treat any medical condition, mild or severe.

Cognitive Impairment

Research studies into the benefits of aniracetam on cognitive function have largely been mixed and contentious.

One the one hand, a highly-published study in CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics reported that elderly adults with mild cognitive impairment experienced improvements in mood and cognitive function after having been treated with a daily 1,500-milligram dose of aniracetam for one year. According to the research team, aniracetam worked better than cholinesterase inhibitors traditionally used to treat Alzheimer's disease and with far fewer side effects.

On the other hand, a 2014 study in PLoS One found no such benefit in mice provided aniracetam. Neither did aniracetam improve the short-term memory in pigeons in a 2019 study in PLoS One nor enhance learning, memory, or anxiety in mice in a 2017 study in F1000 Research.

While it could be argued that animal studies have less inherent value than a human trial, they tend to have better controls and measures, especially with regards to functional memory. By contrast, test like Mini‐Mental State Examination (MMSE) used in humans are prone to biases and often wide variations in conclusions.

The very fact that the human study listed above was not randomized or that the placebo group chose not to take aniracetam suggests biases that cast doubts on the researchers' conclusions. In the end, the study was flawed both in its design and conclusions.

On the whole, the current body of research does not support claims that aniracetam can improve cognitive function, mood, or memory in either healthy people or those with cognitive dysfunction.

Possible Side Effects

Little is known about the long-term safety of aniracetam. Clinical studies involving the use of aniracetam for up to one year suggest that it is well-tolerated with generally mild side effects, including insomnia, headaches, anxiety, irritability, vertigo, nausea, and diarrhea.

Aniracetam is known to interact with certain medications. In most cases, it will amplify the action of the associated drug, increasing the risk of side effects. The likely drug-drug interactions include:

  • Anticoagulants like Coumadin (warfarin)
  • Anticonvulsants like gabapentin
  • Antidepressants like Wellbutrin (bupropion)
  • Antihistamines like Zyrtec (cetirizine) and Claritin (loratadine)
  • Antipsychotics like Zyprexa (olanzapine)
  • Anesthetics like propofol
  • Benzodiazepines like Valium (diazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam)
  • HIV drugs like Sustiva (efavirenz)
  • Opiates like Oxycontin (oxycodone)
  • Sedatives like Ambien (zolpidem)

In some cases, separating the doses by two to four hours may mitigate the interaction. In others, a dose adjustment or substitution may be needed. More often than not, it is better to discontinue aniracetam rather than the prescribed drug.

Due to the lack of safety research, aniracetam should be avoided during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Its safety in children has also not been established.

Dosage and Preparation

Aniracetam is widely available for purchase online. It may also be found in certain natural food stores or shops specializing in nutritional supplements. You do not need a prescription to obtain aniracetam in the United States.

Aniracetam is most commonly sold as a 750-milligram capsule or in powder form. It is also included in many "brain-boosting" supplements. While there are no guidelines for the appropriate use of aniracetam, clinical studies have used up to 1,500 milligrams daily with no notable side effects.

As a general rule, never exceed the recommended dose on the product label. This doesn't mean that the dose is either safe or effective, but it may reduce the risk of side effects. There is no evidence that increasing doses will increase the benefits of aniracetam.

Before starting aniracetam, talk to your doctor about any medical concerns you have and why aniracetam may be a reasonable option.

Self-treating a medical condition, particularly one involving memory loss or cognition, is never a good idea. Doing do may delay the diagnosis of a potentially more serious and/or treatable condition.

What to Look For

Dietary supplements are not strictly regulated in the United States, and the quality can vary from one brand to the next. To ensure quality and safety, opt for brands that have been voluntarily submitted for testing by an independent certifying body like the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or ConsumerLab. Certification provides you greater assurance that the supplement contains the ingredients listed on the product label and nothing else.

As a general rule, avoid dietary supplements that make health claims or promise cures. Dietary supplements do not need to undergo the stringent testing that prescription drugs do. As such, any claims tend to be unsupported or exaggerated.

Common Questions

How are nootropic drugs meant to work?

Nootropic drugs, also known as "smart drugs," are loosely defined as any substance that can sharpen the mind or memory. These include stimulants like caffeine that are known to provide a short-term burst of energy and mental clarity.

Others agents are not so benign in their effects. Certain stimulants like Ritalin (methylphenidate) and Provigil (armodafinil) used to treat ADHD can be considered nootropic. While most health experts would argue that take these drugs outside of ADHD is unwise and potentially dangerous, many college students do just that to help "cram" for tests.

Other nootropic drugs have no known mechanism of action. Even "brain-boosting" supplements generally regarded as safe (GRAS) by the FDA have undefined effects.

As an ill-defined group of medications and supplements, nootropics have come under fired by federal regulators over concerns about false advertising practices. In 2019, the FDA and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) both issued warnings to consumers about marketing scams and false health claims made by nootropic manufacturers.

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Article Sources

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  1. Canadian Institutes of Health. Aniracetam. DrugBank. Ottawa, Canada; updated August 2, 2019.

  2. U.S. Federal Trade Commission. FTC and FDA Send Warning Letters to Companies Selling Dietary Supplements Claiming to Treat Alzheimer's Disease and Remediate or Cure Other Serious Illnesses Such as Parkinson's, Heart Disease, and Cancer. Washington, D.C.; issued February 11, 2019.

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