Evidence Based
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8 Potential Uses of Piracetam + Mechanism & Side Effects

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology) | Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:

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Piracetam

Piracetam is the original member of the racetam family of synthetic nootropics. Although much less potent than some other racetams, piracetam is widely used mainly to enhance cognitive function. Unfortunately, there are few studies that have been done on healthy individuals. Read on to learn more about this popular racetam.

Disclaimer: By writing this post, we are not recommending this drug. Some of our readers who were already taking the drug requested that we commission a post on it, and we are simply providing information that is available in the scientific and clinical literature. Please discuss your medications with your doctor.

What is Piracetam?

Piracetam is the “original” racetam and is much less potent than other racetams. The racetam group of synthetic compounds that are characterized and differentiated by there chemical structures that all contain a pyrrolidone lactam ring. Piracetam and other racetams like oxiracetam and aniracetam are considered cognitive enhancers or nootropics, while others like levetiracetam are used to treat epilepsy as anti-convulsants.

Unfortunately, there appears to be little research with piracetam on young, healthy volunteers.

However, there is a decent amount of research on elderly populations with dementia, schizophrenics, and those suffering from neurodegenerative disorders caused by head trauma, stroke, and alcoholism.

Snapshot

PROs

  • Oldest and most well-studied racetam
  • Generally safe at appropriate doses
  • Prevents cognitive decline in the elderly

CONs

  • The mechanism is not fully understood
  • Usually has to be taken with a choline source
  • Must take high amounts of the drug for benefits
  • Few clinical studies in healthy individuals

Mechanism of Action

How piracetam exactly works is not fully understood. It has been proposed to have several actions in the brain including [1]:

  • Increasing acetylcholine (ACh) receptor number
  • Enhancing energy metabolism – increased oxygen utilization, mitochondrial permeability, and cytochrome B5 synthesis.
  • GABA-like characteristics
  • Antioxidant properties

Racetams are typically supplemented alongside choline donors (alpha-GPC and citicoline) as their mechanism is thought to deplete choline stores in the brain [2].

Administration of piracetam has been shown to cause a decrease in acetylcholine levels in the hippocampus of animals.

Piracetam and choline taken together have been shown to increase memory and cognition in animals [345].

Finally, injections of piracetam increase HACU (high-affinity choline uptake) in the rat hippocampus [6].

Most Popular Study On Healthy People

In one of the most widely discussed studies on Piracetam, 16 healthy university students were given 1,600 mg 3 times a day (double-blind randomized controlled trial). 8 people were given piracetam and 8 people were given the placebo. The study concluded that no effects were observed after 7 days, but after 14 days verbal learning had significantly increased [7].

Here are some flaws with this study:

  1. This was a very small trial.
  2. There was no significant effect the first week and they continued the study just until the effect became significant in the second week and then stopped it.
  3. It hasn’t been replicated.
  4. This isn’t a long-term trial.

Potential Uses and Benefits

1) May Help the Brain Recover Following a Stroke

Piracetam showed positive effects on intellectual functionmemory, and concentration in patients with “progressive and chronic lack of blood flow” to the brain (cerebrovascular disorders) [8].

However, one study showed no post-stroke language benefit from taking 4.8 grams of piracetam for 6 months [9].

Another clinical study showed increased blood flow in three regions of the brain associated with sensory processing and linguistic ability (left hemisphere) as well as improvement in six language functions [10].

A third clinical study showed that after six weeks of treatment, piracetam caused a significant shift in alpha-waves measured by EEG. This was observed from the frontal lobes all the way to the back lobes (occipital regions). The effects were attributed to the repair of “thalamus-cortex” circuits [11].

2) Helps Against Cognitive Decline in The Elderly

A large meta-analysis of over 30 years of research, concluded that piracetam showed efficacy for the treatment of cognitive impairment in diverse groups of older subjects [12].

Piracetam has also been shown to increase short-term memory after 14 days of treatment in healthy older patients [13].

3) May Improve Neurological Outcomes Following Heart Surgery

Several clinical studies have shown piracetam to help with cognition and prevent neurodegeneration in patients that underwent bypass surgery [141516].

However, in open-heart surgery, piracetam did not improve post-surgery cognitive decline [17].

4) May Help Prevent Neurodegeneration in Alcoholism

Piracetam impedes neuron loss in the hippocampus of rats going through alcohol withdrawal [18].

Piracetam has been shown to increase synapses and synaptic reorganization in the brains of alcohol withdrawn rats [18].

5) May Improve Learning in Patients with Dyslexia

In a clinical trial lasting 21 days, piracetam improved verbal learning by 8.6% in healthy student volunteers and by 15% in dyslexic patients [19].

Children who took 3.3 grams of piracetam per day over 36 weeks had faster reaction time and found it easier to recognize language related test prompts [20].

6) May Improve Myoclonus Epilepsy

Patients suffering from myoclonus epilepsy showed significant improvements after the 1st, 6th and 12th month of piracetam use [21].

7) Decreases “Breath Holding Spells” in Childen

Piracetam is effective at decreasing the number of “breath holding spells” at oral doses of 50-100 mg/kg in children aged 5-60 months [2223, 24].

8) May Help with Blood Clotting

In cells, piracetam increased blood clotting [25].

Piracetam prevents blood clotting indirectly through four sites of action: the vessel wall, platelets, plasma and cell membranes (RBC, WBC) [2627].

In humans, piracetam dose-dependently increases template bleeding times after 1 week of treatment [25].

Side Effects & Dosage

Side Effects

Piracetam is generally well tolerated. However sided effects have been reported in several clinical trials. You can read more about them here: Piracetam: Potential Side Effects & Risks

Piracetam was associated with more cocaine use in a pilot trial [28].

If you experience a headache, fatigue or brain fog, stop taking piracetam.

Dosage Forms and Dosing

Piracetam is available as a powder or pre-made capsules.

The standard adult piracetam dose for cognitive enhancement is between 1,200 and 4,800 mg a day. Most clinical trials divided the dose into 2 or 3 separate times.

How to Purchase

Piracetam is available online.

Want More Targeted Ways to Enhance Brain Function?

If you’re interested in improving your cognitive function, we recommend checking out SelfDecode’s Limitless Mind DNA Protocol. It gives genetic-based diet, lifestyle and supplement tips that can help improve your cognitive function. The recommendations are personalized based on your genes.

SelfDecode is a sister company of SelfHacked. This section contains sponsored links, which means that we may receive a small percentage of profit from your purchase, while the price remains the same to you. The proceeds from your purchase are reinvested into our research and development, in order to serve you better. Thanks for your support!

Takeaway

Piracetam is the first/original member of the synthetic family of nootropics called racetams. Despite it being the least potent of all the racetams it is the most commonly used to improve cognition. Unfortunately, studies looking at piracetam’s effects on cognitive function in healthy populations are lacking. The best evidence for the drugs use is to prevent cognitive decline in the elderly.

Piracetam’s mechanism is not fully understood, but it is thought to improve overall cholinergic (ACh mediated) signaling in the brain. It is often recommended to take piracetam with a choline source such as alpha-GPC and/or citicoline because taking the drug may deplete choline reserves in the brain.

It is generally safe at appropriate doses (1,200 to 4,800 mg per day in adults; divided into 2 to 3 doses) and is available as a powder or pre-made capsules.

About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen won the genetic lottery of bad genes. As a kid, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, and other issues that were poorly understood in both conventional and alternative medicine.Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a journey of self-experimentation and self-learning to improve his health--something that has since become known as “biohacking”. With thousands of experiments and pubmed articles under his belt, Joe founded SelfHacked, the resource that was missing when he needed it. SelfHacked now gets millions of monthly readers.Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, author and speaker. He is the CEO of SelfHacked, SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer.His mission is to help people gain access to the most up-to-date, unbiased, and science-based ways to optimize their health.
Joe has been studying health sciences for 17 years and has read over 30,000 PubMed articles. He's given consultations to over 1000 people who have sought his health advice. After completing the pre-med requirements at university, he founded SelfHacked because he wanted to make a big impact in improving global health. He's written hundreds of science posts, multiple books on improving health, and speaks at various health conferences. He's keen on building a brain-trust of top scientists who will improve the level of accuracy of health content on the web. He's also founded SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer, popular genetic and lab software tools to improve health.

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