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What Do We Know About Oxiracetam? Purported Effects, Potential Risks, and More

Written by Puya Yazdi, MD | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Matt Carland
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Matt Carland, PhD (Neuroscience) | Written by Puya Yazdi, MD | Last updated:

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Oxiracetam is a relatively new drug that is widely claimed to have “nootropic” (“cognitive-enhancing”) effects. It is closely related to piracetam, another relatively popular nootropic compound. Oxiracetam has been claimed to have many interesting potential effects on the brain and cognitive functioning – but what does the current science have to say about these purported effects? Read on to learn more about the potential effects, mechanisms, and side-effects of this drug.

Disclaimer: This post is not a recommendation or endorsement for the use of oxiracetam. The FDA has not approved this drug for any specific medical or other use, and the available research on it is still in a very early stage, without adequate data to come to any firm conclusions about its general efficacy or safety in humans. We have written this post for informational purposes only, and our goal is solely to inform people about what science currently says about oxiracetam’s mechanisms, potential effects, and possible side-effects.

What is Oxiracetam?

Oxiracetam is a member of the racetam family of drugs. These drugs were originally developed with the aim of treating memory loss and cognitive decline due to age or disease [1].

Oxiracetam is one of the first racetam drug varieties derived from piracetam, the “original” (and most “popular”) member of the racetam family. Racetams are widely claimed to be “nootropics”, or “cognitive-enhancing” drugs that some people believe can help improve memory and other cognitive functions [1, 2].

However, clinical studies about oxiracetam are lacking, and relatively little is known about its efficacy or relative safety in healthy human users.

Although it is a potentially serious drug with potential for misuse, adverse side-effects, and other risks, oxiracetam is currently sold as a “dietary supplement” in the U.S. However, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved this drug for any specific medical application or other use [1].

Oxiracetam Mechanism of Action

Like all racetams, the mechanisms behind oxiracetam are not fully understood, largely due to a lack of extensive research.

However, some early studies have pointed towards a few of the following potential mechanisms:

  • May stimulate the production of cellular energy, such as glucose [3]
  • May increase acetylcholine (ACh) activity [4]
  • May suppress pre-programmed cell death (apoptosis) in neurons [5]

Additionally, according to one early animal study in rats, oxiracetam may facilitate the influx of calcium ions into brain cells (specifically, by increasing the number of binding sites on AMPA receptors for the neurotransmitter glutamate). Although mostly theoretical, some researchers have suggested that this mechanism may help facilitate communication between neurons, and may also play some role in promoting synaptic plasticity [6].

However, all of the above findings have only been reported by a handful of preliminary studies in animal models, and so it cannot be assumed that these effects would be the same in healthy human users. Much more research will be needed before any firm conclusions can be made about what effects oxiracetam has in the human brain.

Purported Effects of Oxiracetam

Listed below are some of the effects of oxiracetam that have been reported by preliminary studies so far.

While some of these early results might seem promising, the evidence is still too weak as a whole to come to any definitive conclusions about oxiracetam’s effects on the brain or cognitive ability.

In other words, these purported uses of oxiracetam should be considered as currently having insufficient evidence to support them – and much more research will still be needed to figure out exactly what effects this substance might have in healthy human users.

1) Purported Effects on Memory

According to two preliminary clinical trials in a total of 118 human dementia patients, daily treatment with 400-2,400 mg of oxiracetam was reported to improve some of these patients’ subjective ratings of their cognitive function [7, 8]. However, there were a number of adverse side effects reported, and some patients even had to drop out of the studies due to these side-effects.

According to another study, 1,200 mg of oxiracetam daily was reported to slightly improve symptoms in 12 patients with post-stroke dementia [9].

Another clinical trial reported that 2,400 mg/day of oxiracetam may have helped improve short-term and verbal memory in 40 elderly subjects with poor cognitive functioning [2].

Similarly, another study reported that 1,600 mg/day may have improved intellectual functioning in 29 patients with “moderate” dementia [10].

Oxiracetam has also been reported to improve verbal memory in one clinical trial of 73 patients with post-stroke or degenerative dementia [11].

However, since all of the above findings were reported in patients with dementia or other serious brain-related health conditions, it’s not possible to conclude whether these effects might be seen in healthy human users as well.

It’s also worth noting that not all early studies have reported positive findings. For example, one study in which oxiracetam was given to 24 Alzheimer’s disease patients reported no memory benefits after a full month of treatment. However, a different similar study did report that oxiracetam may have improved sleep and reduced anxiety in 30 Alzheimer’s disease patients [12, 13].

In addition to some preliminary human studies, there is also some early evidence from research in animals. For example, oxiracetam was reported to slightly improve long-term memory in two rat studies [14, 15].

All in all, despite some potentially promising early findings, no research in healthy human subjects have confirmed any of these effects, and so it’s not possible to come to any firm conclusion about oxiracetam’s potential cognitive effects in typical human users until much more research is done.

2) Purported Effects on Focus and Attention

According to two early trials in human patients, oxiracetam was reported to improve reaction time and attention in 96 elderly people with dementia in one clinical trial, and in 43 patients with decreased intellectual function in another [16, 17].

Additionally, oxiracetam has been reported to increased alertness, while also decreasing anxiety and tension, as well as slightly improved some cognitive functions in one other clinical trial with 289 patients with various forms of dementia [18].

Once again, however, the lack of studies in healthy human subjects means that no strong conclusions can be made about whether these effects would be seen in typical human users of oxiracetam.

3) Purported “Neuro-Protective” Effects

According to one clinical trial in 12 healthy volunteers, doses of oxiracetam between 1,600-2,400 mg were reported to counteract some of the negative cognitive effects of treatment with scopolamine, such as impaired memory [19]. However, while this finding suggests that oxiracetam may affect the brain’s memory systems somehow, preventing the negative effects of another drug is not the same thing as improving memory under normal circumstances, so this finding should be taken with a healthy grain of salt.

According to another study, oxiracetam was reported to help protect against cognitive impairment at high altitudes (at 4,000 meters) in a clinical trial with 60 healthy people. Cognitive impairment is common in people when traveling to high altitudes, due to the very low oxygen levels the brain needs to adapt to. The authors of this study propose that oxiracetam may, therefore, help prevent cognitive problems in people when they arrive at high altitudes [20]. However, once again this is not the same thing as showing cognitive enhancement in general, so skepticism is still warranted about whether oxiracetam would have any beneficial cognitive effects under more typical circumstances.

In a clinical trial with 140 patients who suffered from strokes from high blood pressure (hypertension), a combination of oxiracetam with nerve growth factor (NGF) was reported to help with brain recovery and increased survival. This treatment was also reported to reduce inflammation and improve muscle strength, two factors that are important for rehabilitation after brain damage [21].

Finally, one animal study has reported that oxiracetam reduced brain damage and helped restore a disturbed circadian rhythm in rats with experimentally-induced strokes [22].

4) Purported Effects on Brain Blood Flow

According to one early animal study, oxiracetam was reported to help reduce damage to neurons and white matter, restore blood flow, and block the activation of the cells that scar the brain and spinal cord in rats with decreased brain blood flow. It also reportedly had some cognitive effects, such as improving spatial learning and memory, possibly due to enhancing cerebral blood flow [23].

However, much more research – especially large-scale trials in healthy human users – would be needed to fully confirm these potential effects.

SideEffects of Oxiracetam

Like any drug, oxiracetam has the potential to cause adverse side-effects.

Importantly, because this compound is relatively new, there is not much evidence about how safe it is for human users, or how frequently it might lead to negative side-effects.

For this reason, we would strongly advise against experimenting with this compound until more data about its safety is available.

In two of the few long-term clinical trials that have been performed so far, the following side-effects were reported [7, 1]:

  • Sleep disturbance
  • Overexcitability
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Elevated blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Constipation or diarrhea

Since little clinical data about oxiracetam’s safety is available, the potential for other serious side-effects cannot be conclusively ruled out yet.

Drug Interactions of Oxiracetam

Just as data about oxiracetam’s safety is relatively lacking, so too is hard data about how it might interact with other drugs and substances – so caution is advised.

As always, it is extremely important to keep your doctor informed about any supplements or other substances you are taking in order to further minimize the risk of experiencing any adverse interactions.

According to one study, oxiracetam is cleared out of the body much faster by people who are taking anti-epileptic drugs such as carbamazepine or valproic acid. Whether oxiracetam might in return affect the efficacy of those medications remains unknown, so caution would be advised against this combination until more data is available [24].

One early animal study in rats has reported that oxiracetam may magnify the effects of nicotine in the brain [25].

Beyond these very preliminary studies, not much is known about oxiracetam’s potential interactions with other common medications, and caution is advised.

Dosage of Oxiracetam

Note: The information in this section contains information about the dosages commonly used by some of the early studies that have been done on oxiracetam so far. The information below is not intended as a guide for the personal use of oxiracetam, as adequate data about its potency, safety, or overall effects in healthy human populations is not currently available.

Oxiracetam typically comes in the form of powder or pre-made capsules for oral consumption.

Oxiracetam falls under the category of “dietary supplements” in the US, and is not approved by the FDA for any medical use.

The effective daily Oxiracetam doses in clinical trials ranged from 1,200 to 2,400 mg/day, often split up into 2-3 separate doses spread throughout the day. In some studies, oxiracetam was started at lower doses (400 mg/day) and gradually increased [26, 10].

Limitations and Caveats

Oxiracetam is currently not approved by the FDA for the treatment of any disease.

Available data on this drug’s effects is highly limited, and no strong conclusions about its cognitive effects or its overall safety can be made until a lot more research is done – especially large-scale clinical trials in young, healthy adults.

Therefore, like many other so-called “nootropic” drugs, many of the claims made about it online are often based on hype, or rely on anecdotal reports from people who have personally decided to experiment with it. These claims should be treated with skepticism until more hard scientific data is available – and in the meantime, the use of oxiracetam cannot be officially recommended or endorsed.

About the Author

Puya Yazdi

Puya Yazdi

MD
Dr. Puya Yazdi is a physician-scientist with 14+ years of experience in clinical medicine, life sciences, biotechnology, and nutraceuticals.
As a physician-scientist with expertise in genomics, biotechnology, and nutraceuticals, he has made it his mission to bring precision medicine to the bedside and help transform healthcare in the 21st century.He received his undergraduate education at the University of California at Irvine, a Medical Doctorate from the University of Southern California, and was a Resident Physician at Stanford University. He then proceeded to serve as a Clinical Fellow of The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine at The University of California at Irvine, where he conducted research of stem cells, epigenetics, and genomics. He was also a Medical Director for Cyvex Nutrition before serving as president of Systomic Health, a biotechnology consulting agency, where he served as an expert on genomics and other high-throughput technologies. His previous clients include Allergan, Caladrius Biosciences, and Omega Protein. He has a history of peer-reviewed publications, intellectual property discoveries (patents, etc.), clinical trial design, and a thorough knowledge of the regulatory landscape in biotechnology.He is leading our entire scientific and medical team in order to ensure accuracy and scientific validity of our content and products.

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