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Piracetam Uses & Side-Effects

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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Piracetam
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Piracetam is the original member of the racetam family of synthetic nootropics, or “cognitive-enhancing” compounds. Although much less potent than some other racetams, piracetam is widely used mainly to enhance cognitive function. Unfortunately, there are only a few studies that have been done on its effects in healthy individuals, and its overall role in enhancing cognition is not completely certain. Read on to learn more about this popular nootropic, its potential uses and mechanisms, and side-effects!

Disclaimer: This post is not a recommendation or endorsement for the use of piracetam. 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. We have written this post for informational purposes only, and our goal is solely to inform people about what science currently says about piracetam’s potential effects, mechanisms, and side-effects.

What is Piracetam?

Piracetam is the “original” racetam, and is believed to be much less potent than other compounds in the “racetam” family.

The racetam family of synthetic compounds are characterized by their chemical structures, which contain a pyrrolidone lactam ring. Piracetam and other racetams – such as oxiracetam and aniracetam – are considered cognitive enhancers or nootropics, while others – like levetiracetam – are used to as anticonvulsants to treat some forms of epilepsy.

Unfortunately, despite its popularity among the “nootropics” community, there appears to be little well-controlled, clinical research on the effects of piracetam in young, healthy human users.

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

Mechanism of Action

How piracetam exactly works is not fully understood. However, according to some preliminary research, it has been proposed to have several actions in the brain, such as [1]:

  • Increasing the number of acetylcholine (ACh) receptors in the brain
  • Enhancing energy metabolism (such as increased oxygen utilization, mitochondrial permeability, and cytochrome B5 synthesis)
  • GABA-like characteristics
  • Antioxidant properties

According to reports from many of its users, racetams are often supplemented alongside choline donors (such as alpha-GPC and citicoline), as their mechanism is thought to deplete choline stores in the brain [2].

For example, administration of piracetam has been reported to cause a decrease in acetylcholine levels in the hippocampus of animals. Piracetam and choline taken together have also been reported to increase memory and cognition in animals [3, 4, 5].

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

However, corresponding studies of these potential mechanisms and effects in humans are relatively lacking – so it’s wise not to read too much into findings from animals only.

The Most Widely-Cited Study On Healthy Users of Piracetam

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. This study concluded that no effects were observed after 7 days, but after 14 days verbal learning had significantly increased [7].

However, there are some significant limitations and flaws with this study:

  1. This was a very small trial, with a tiny sample size (only 8 people per study group – i.e. many times smaller than the sample size that would be needed to fully establish a beneficial cognitive effect in the general population)
  2. There was no significant effect during the first week, and the study’s authors continued the study just until the effect became significant in the second week – and then stopped it.
  3. The core finding – enhanced cognitive performance – hasn’t been replicated since.
  4. This isn’t a long-term trial: this raises questions both about the long-term stability of any purported beneficial effects, as well as its safety when used for extended periods of time.

Of course, this study can’t be used to claim that piracetam doesn’t have potentially-noticeable effects on cognitive performance – but nor does it show conclusively that it does have these effects.

For these reasons, you should remain skeptical when encountering claims about piracetam online, as many people unfortunately cite relatively low-quality studies like this one when making significant claims about its supposed nootropic benefits. The reality is that many additional (and better-designed) studies will be needed to fully back up many of the claims that are made about piracetam online.

Purported Uses of Piracetam

POSSIBLY EFFECTIVE:

In addition to some of the preliminary – and rather inconclusive – findings regarding its “nootropic” effects, piracetam has also been studied for its potential uses in other health-related conditions.

However, much of this research is still in a relatively early stage, and in most cases it is difficult to come to any firm conclusions about its relative efficacy and safety in healthy human users.

This is a common situation for many so-called “nootropic” supplements and compounds, as these tend not to receive as much scientific attention as other drugs, such as pharmaceutical medications that are used by doctors to treat specific medical conditions. As a result, even supplements and compounds that are relatively “well-studied” often still don’t have the amount of research needed to officially classify them as effective, or get FDA approval for specific uses.

Nonetheless, a few of the potential effects listed below have enough preliminary data that they could be considered “possibly effective.” While this indicates that some of the early research on these applications has shown promising results, it also still means that these uses have not been officially approved, and much more research will be needed to fully verify them.

1) Learning Deficits in Dyslexia

According to one small-scale clinical trial lasting 21 days, piracetam was reported to improve verbal learning by 8.6% in healthy student volunteers, and by up to 15% in dyslexic patients [8].

Similarly, in another short-term study, children who took 3.3 grams of piracetam per day (for 36 weeks) reportedly showed faster reaction times, and reported that they found it easier to recognize language-related test prompts [9].

However, these studies were relatively small, short-term, and only tested a limited set of very specific cognitive functions – so much more extensive research work would need to be done to see what effect (if any) piracetam has on learning abilities in general.

2) Myoclonus Epilepsy

According to one early study, patients suffering from myoclonus epilepsy reportedly showed significant improvements in the ratings of their neurological symptoms after the 1st, 6th and 12th month of piracetam use [10].

INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE:

The potential uses listed below are those which have received some scientific attention, although the results so far have been mixed, and do not permit any strong conclusions to be made regarding piracetam’s efficacy or safety for these applications.

Therefore, these potential uses are still considered to have “insufficient evidence”, and should be taken with a grain of salt until further research work – including large-scale clinical trials in healthy human users – is performed.

1) Stroke and Cerebrovascular Recovery

Some very preliminary studies report findings that have been taken by some to suggest that piracetam may have some potential benefits for stroke victims, as well as patients with cerebrovascular conditions in general (i.e. conditions that negatively affect the flow of blood to the brain). However, the evidence so far is far from conclusive, and will need to be extensively followed up on by additional studies to fully confirm these early findings.

According to one early study, piracetam was reported to have positive effects on cognitive function, memory, and concentration in patients with cerebrovascular disorders (which often impair the flow of blood throughout the brain) [11].

However, one study reported no post-stroke language benefits from taking 4.8 grams of piracetam for 6 months [12].

Another clinical study reported increased blood flow in three regions of the brain associated with sensory processing and linguistic ability, as well as noticeable improvements in six specific language functions [13].

Finally, one other clinical study reported that after six weeks of treatment, piracetam caused a significant shift in alpha-waves – a type of “brain wave” sometimes associated with wakefulness, vigilance, and attention – as measured by EEG. These effects were attributed to the repair of “thalamo-cortical” circuits, although these mechanisms remain only speculative, and have not been conclusively demonstrated [14].

2) Age-Related Cognitive Decline

According to one relatively large-scale meta-analysis of over 30 years of research, the study’s authors concluded that piracetam showed potential efficacy for the treatment of cognitive impairment in diverse groups of older subjects [15].

Piracetam has also been reported to increase short-term memory after 14 days of treatment in healthy older patients [16].

Nonetheless, many more additional studies will be needed before piracetam could be firmly established as a valid way to prevent or treat age-related cognitive decline.

3) Post-Surgical Recovery

A handful of preliminary clinical studies have reported that piracetam may help with cognition – and possibly even prevent further neurodegeneration – in patients that underwent coronary bypass surgery [17, 18, 19].

However, according to another similar study, piracetam did not improve cognitive decline after open-heart surgery [20].

4) “Breath-Holding Spells” in Children

A handful of early studies suggest that piracetam may be effective at decreasing the number of “breath-holding spells” in children aged 5-60 months when taken at oral doses of 50-100 mg/kg [21, 22, 23].

LACKING EVIDENCE:

The following potential uses of piracetam are based solely on animal- and cell-based studies, and are “lacking evidence” from any appropriate human trials so far. Therefore, these are only potential “launching-points” for future clinical studies in humans, and no solid conclusions can be made about these effects in human users until additional research is done.

1) Reducing Blood Clotting

While this research is still in an extremely early stage, one cell study has reported that piracetam may have some role in inhibiting blood clotting, which could suggest a potential use as a way to prevent the formation of blood clots (which could theoretically give it some future potential application in preventing strokes) [24].

Some preliminary studies into the possible mechanisms for this effect have proposed that piracetam may indirectly prevent blood clotting through four sites of action: the vessel wall, platelets, plasma and cell membranes (RBC, WBC) [25, 26].

2) Neurodegeneration in Alcoholism

According to one preliminary animal study, piracetam was reported to reduce neuron loss in the hippocampi of rats going through alcohol withdrawal [27].

Piracetam has also been reported to increase synaptic density and stimulate synaptic reorganization in the brains of alcohol-withdrawn rats [27].

However, these mechanisms may not necessarily translate over to human users, so more research would be needed to know for sure.

Piracetam Side-Effects

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

In general, the best way to minimize the risk of experience negative side-effects – from piracetam or any other supplement compound – is to have a thorough discussion with your doctor before deciding to experiment with any new supplements. It is also extremely important that you keep your doctor informed about any other medications or drugs you are taking, any pre-existing health conditions, or any other relevant dietary or lifestyle factors that could potentially affect your health, as they need this information in order to help you make the most informed decisions about your health.

While hard clinical data about the safety of piracetam in healthy human users is generally lacking, the relatively little data that is available – as well as reports from nootropics users online – generally suggests that piracetam is usually well-tolerated by most people who take it. However, adverse side-effects have been reported in several clinical trials. You can read more about these here: Piracetam: Potential Side-Effects & Risks.

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

Piracetam Dosage

Note: The information in this section contains information about the “typical” doses reportedly used by people who are experimenting with personal use of piracetam. The information below is not intended as a guide for personal use of piracetam, as adequate data about its potency, safety, or overall effects in healthy human populations is not currently available.

Piracetam is generally available as a powder, or sometimes comes in premade (pre-packaged and pre-dosed) capsules.

While actual clinical studies on piracetam dosages are lacking, according to reports from many of its users among the nootropic community, a “typical” adult piracetam dose for cognitive enhancement appears to be somewhere between 1,200 and 4,800 mg a day.

Among the small number of clinical trials that have been done on piracetam, most divided the dose into 2 or 3 separate doses, spread out throughout the day. However, no hard data is available about its bioavailability, half-life in the body, or the relative advantages or disadvantages that might arise from different dosing schedules.

Takeaway

Piracetam is the original member of the synthetic family of nootropics called “racetams.” Despite it being the least potent of all the racetams, it is also the most commonly-used compound among nootropics users looking to improve cognition.

Unfortunately, studies looking at piracetam’s effects on cognitive function in healthy populations are lacking, and generally only provide suggestive evidence at best. In contrast, the best evidence for the drug’s use is to prevent cognitive decline in the elderly – although even this use is still largely speculative, and will need much more research before it could ever be officially approved for medical use by governing bodies such as the FDA.

Piracetam’s mechanism is not fully understood, but it is thought to improve overall cholinergic (ACh-mediated) signaling in the brain. Among casual users of piracetam online, it is often claimed that it is “best” to take piracetam with a choline source such as alpha-GPC and/or citicoline, because taking piracetam may deplete choline reserves in the brain.

Side-effects from piracetam are possible. Although these have not been widely reported, this could simply be due to the relatively small amount of valid clinical research that has been done on this compound.

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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