Are Nootropics and Smart Drugs Legal Substances?


Since nootropics and smart drugs affect the way the brain works, one of the most common questions asked about the cognitive enhancing agents is whether or not the substances are legal. Indeed, if a particular compound can cause an alteration to the cognitive processes, there are good reasons to suspect that there must be some kind of legal implications with regards to nootropics and smart drugs.

So, are nootropics legal?

Since nootropics and smart drugs cover a broad range of compounds and substances, there isn’t a clear cut answer to this question. Laws on drugs and other substances likewise vary among countries, which makes the discussion about the legality of nootropics and smart drugs even more complicated. In order to simplify this issue, we’ll be sticking with the US laws to see how some of the common nootropics and smart drugs are classified according to their Scheduling system.

Before we go any further however, let us establish what nootropics really are.


The term “nootropics” was coined by Dr. Corneliu Giurgea, a Romanian biochemist who was credited with developing Piracetam in 1964, the first smart drug ever synthesized. Dr. Giurgea was then working for UCB, a multi-national pharmaceutical company based in Brussels, Belgium. Amazed at the cognitive enhancing properties of Piracetam, Dr. Giurgea coined the word “nootropic” to refer to such substances.

Dr. Giurgea also set the standards and abilities for substances and compounds in order for them to be considered as nootropics. According to him, a nootropic should have the following properties:

  1. The substance must be able to improve memory functions and learning abilities.
  2. The substance must be able to protect the encoded memories and learned abilities against conditions that adversely affect them.
  3. The substance should have the ability to protect the brain from injury.
  4. The substance should also be able to improve other cognitive functions.
  5. The substance should not have harmful side effects and it must not be toxic.
  6. The substance must not have any psychotropic effects.

Based on these standards set by Dr. Giurgea, one may conclude that a nootropic should be legal after all if it only measures up to these standards. However, the term nootropic has been used indiscriminately by manufacturers and distributors to refer stimulants, wakefulness enhancing agents, amphetamines, and other compounds–substances that are among other things, potentially harmful, toxic, and have a high potential for abuse.


The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) was passed in 1970 by the 91st United States Congress and one of its primary aims was to prevent drug and narcotic abuse. The CSA has since been the implementing legislation for the regulation of the manufacture, importation, possession, use, and distribution of certain substances. The classification of drugs is referred to as a “Schedule” and certain nootropics fall into some Schedules.


This drug classification refers to drugs that have a high abuse potential, have no established medical use in the US, and have no established safety standards even under medical supervision. Most notable Schedule I substances include morphine, heroin, and ecstasy. Since LSD is considered by some as a nootropic, it is perhaps one of the very few nootropics that fall into this category.


This classification refers to drugs that still have a high abuse potential that may lead to drug dependence, but have accepted medical uses in the US. Morphine and cocaine fall into this category. The psychostimulant Adderall belongs to Schedule II Drugs.


Schedule III are drugs that have a lower abuse and dependence potential, and have accepted medical use. Anti-narcolepsy drugs such as Xyrem are included here.


This classification includes drugs that have even lower substance abuse and dependence potential and have accepted medical use. The eugeroics Modafinil and Armodafinil belong to this Schedule.

In order to acquire Scheduled drugs, one must have a prescription or it must be administered to the patient by a licensed medical professional.

If you are wondering where popular nootropics fall such as the racetams, Noopept, or Sunifiram, these substances are “Unscheduled,” meaning that they are unregulated. It is legal to possess and use these substances, but it will be prohibited to sell them with claims that are not approved by the FDA.

Nootropics and smart drugs that are extracted from plant and animal sources such as Choline, Ginseng, Ginko Biloba, and the other naturally occurring substances can be acquired and used legally as dietary supplements.  The claims that are made with these supplements are still subject to FDA approval.

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