The surging popularity of the search term nootropics on Google suggests that worldwide interest in these unique substances is peaking. Often called smart drugs or brain pills, nootropics are a class of supplements (or in some cases prescription medicines such as the drug modafinil) that meet certain criteria for Cognitive enhancement. The term nootropic was coined by Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, a Romanian psychologist and chemist, in 1972. Dr. Giurgea, while under the employ of a Belgian pharmaceutical company, synthesized the first nootropic drug in 1964.

It came to be known as piracetam and its creator as the father of nootropics. Reports by Corpina and Peak Nootropics provided most of the information for this article.

Dr. Giurgea developed piracetam as a sedative

When synthesizing piracetam in his Belgian laboratory, Dr. Giurgea was attempting to develop a pharmaceutical with calming and sleep-inducing properties. The medication is a derivative of GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), the chief calming neurotransmitter in mammals. But rather than causing sedation, piracetam had the unexpected effects of memory improvement and cognitive enhancement. Dr. Giurgea defined nootropics as unique in that these medications improve learning and memory, protect the brain against chemical or physical injuries, and enhance focus and concentration.

He derived the name nootropic from the Greek words noos (mind) and tropein (to bend). Dr. Giurgea's nootropics were to be mind-bending pharmaceuticals, ushering humanity into a new age of brain power.

'Man is not going to wait passively for millions of years'

The father of nootropics made this bold statement believing his new medications would hasten the development of advanced capacities in the human brain more quickly than evolution.

And in the 1960s, this idea stirred the imagination of one of the world's great superpowers. Indeed, the Soviet Union took an interest in Dr. Giurgea's mind-bending new drugs and started developing new varieties, many of which remain in use today across the globe. One of the most well-known of these is phenibut, a compound designed to reduce anxiety for Soviet cosmonauts without causing dangerous levels of sedation.

The Rise from Soviet (or Russian) to worldwide use of these unique medications is a recent phenomenon. Perhaps the simplest explanation for the rise is that the internet makes information about and access to these drugs easier. Today, there are many online stores that specialize in nootropic education and sales, whereas prior to the development of the world wide web the existence of nootropics was not well-known, especially among Americans. Meanwhile, the question of whether or not nootropics actually build a better brain remains a controversial one, even as their popularity continues to rise. Such is the appeal of the notion that supplements can enhance our brain power to superhuman levels.