racetam side effects

The Top 7 Racetams – Which One is Best?

David Tomen
David Tomen
Robert Iafelice, MS, RDN, LDN
Fact Checked:
Robert Iafelice, MS, RDN, LDN
12 minute read

Key Takeaways

  1. Dr. Corneliu Giurgea created the first racetam nootropic, Piracetam, discovering that it boosts cognitive abilities even in healthy people.
  2. All racetams are synthetic compounds, sharing a similar chemical structure, and are used for various neurocognitive disorders.
  3. Every racetam affects acetylcholine levels in your brain and needs to be taken with a quality choline supplement like Alpha GPC or CDP-Choline.
  4. The seven most popular racetams are Piracetam, Aniracetam, Coluracetam, Nefiracetam, Oxiracetam, Phenylpiracetam, and Pramiracetam, each having specific benefits such as improved cognitive function, reduced anxiety, memory enhancement, increased blood flow, etc.
  5. Each racetam has unique mechanisms of action, providing different benefits, hence, choosing the best one depends on your individual needs and requirements.

The very first racetam nootropic was created by Dr. Corneliu Giurgea at the Belgian-based pharmaceutical company UCB Pharma in the 1964.

Dr. Giurgea’s intention was to develop a calming-type drug for motion sickness. GABA is the calming neurotransmitter and Piracetam is a cyclic derivative of GABA.

But in spite of its connection with GABA, Piracetam didn’t show any behavior associated with this calming neurotransmitter. And cannot directly affect GABA receptors.

Instead, Dr. Giurgea discovered that Piracetam was able to boost cognitive abilities even in healthy people. The company launched this new ‘drug’ as ‘Nootropil’ in Europe in the early 1970’s.

How do racetams work?

Dozens of racetam derivatives have since been developed based on the original Piracetam. All synthetic compounds, racetams share a pyrrolidone nucleus at their chemical structure core.

Several of these racetams are now sold as prescription drugs in countries around the world. And are prescribed for dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke recovery, ADHD, epilepsy and other neurocognitive disorders.

In the USA, racetams are available OTC without a prescription. But oddly enough are not classified as “dietary supplements”. Instead, the racetams described below are offered for “research” purposes only.

If you are new to the world of nootropics, and would like to try one of the racetams, but are not sure which one to choose, this post may help.

Below is a brief description of the 7 most popular racetams in use today. You don’t need to be a “nootropics expert” to use any of these compounds. But you need to know how to use them.

Each racetam has a live link through to a full review of that nootropic. Including what it is, where it came from, what it’s used for, how it works in your brain, clinical studies, dosage recommendations, side effects and where to buy them.

NOTE: Each of the racetams in this post affect acetylcholine levels in your brain. And must be taken with a quality choline supplement; Alpha GPC or CDP-Choline.

These racetams will not work if used without a choline supplement. And will likely produce a racetam-headache. More on dosage recommendations at the end of this post.

how to find the best nootropic racetams

Top 7 Racetam Nootropics

Piracetam for Cognitive function

Piracetam is considered the first true nootropic ever developed. It was synthesized by Dr. Corneliu Giurgea at UCB Pharma in 1964.

Since Piracetam is a cyclic derivative of the calming neurotransmitter GABA, Dr. Giurgea intended this first nootropic to be a calming type of drug for motion sickness. Turns out that’s not what happened.

Instead, Dr. Giurgea found that Piracetam as able to boost cognition and overall brain health even in healthy people.

Piracetam modulates AMPA and NMDA receptors in the brain which increases the effectiveness of glutamate. It improves the flow of acetylcholine (ACh) and sensitivity and density of ACh receptors.[i] And increases cerebral blood flow.

Many people new to nootropics start with Piracetam because it’s safe and has decades of clinical studies supporting its use. But many are often disappointed with Piracetam after trying it a couple of times.

Piracetam didn’t work for them because they don’t know how to use it.

It takes 2 – 3 weeks of consistent daily use of Piracetam before you notice the benefits. To counter this, experienced neurohackers suggest starting with an ‘attack dose’ of 3,000 mg of Piracetam 3-times per day for the first 3 days.

But once you start noticing the benefits of Piracetam, you should be in a better mood, less social anxiety, heightened creativity, improved verbal fluency and eventually you’ll notice your memory is better.

Recommended dosage of Piracetam is 1,600 mg 3-times per day.

I recommend: Cosmic Nootropic – Piracetam

Aniracetam to Reduce Anxiety Symptoms

Aniracetam is my favorite racetam. It’s a fat-soluble ampakine nootropic developed at F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG in the 1978. Aniracetam boosts brain cell signaling by increasing the effectiveness of glutamate which helps focus and concentration for improved cognitive performance.

Aniracetam affects the brain’s cholinergic system which helps release 200 – 300% more acetylcholine in your brain which helps with focus, clarity of thought, memory and recall. And it seems to affect dopamine and serotonin receptors in your brain as well.

Aniracetam distinguishes itself from the rest of the racetams by acting as an effective anxiolytic. Many who use this nootropic find that it helps reduce anxiety, depression and fear.

Some biohackers claim that Aniracetam is great for boosting creativity as it enhances productivity in the right brain hemisphere.

Recommended dosage of Aniracetam is 750 mg twice per day.

I recommend: Smart Nutrition – Aniracetam

Coluracetam for Memory Enhancement

Coluracetam is a fat-soluble racetam nootropic created by Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma of Japan in 2005. It boosts your brain’s ability to convert choline to acetylcholine (ACh) through the high affinity choline uptake (HACU) process. Leading to better learning and memory.[ii]

And Coluracetam increases the effectiveness of glutamate in your brain resulting in better focus and concentration, and other forms of cognitive enhancement such as preventing memory loss.

Neurohackers use Coluracetam for the cognitive effects mentioned above. But prefer this racetam because it also enhances sound and color.

Recommended dosage of Coluracetam is 20 – 80 mg per day.

Higher dosages should be split into two smaller doses. One dose first thing in the morning and then again at noon.

what are the side effects of the drug racetam

Nefiracetam for Improved Memory Formation

Nefiracetam is a fat-soluble racetam nootropic developed by Daiichi Seiyaku in the 1990’s as a treatment for cerebrovascular disorders.

Nefiracetam potentiates nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. Boosting the release of GABA and glutamate. Producing a calming effect while improving neuroplasticity and boosting learning and memory, while preventing symptoms of cognitive decline.

Nefiracetam enhances signaling of GABA on GABAa receptors when GABA is too low. And has a suppressive effect when GABA is too high. Leading to stabilized mood and sociability. No mood swings!

One American study with 159 stroke patients found that 600 – 900 mg of Nefiracetam daily for 12 weeks produced a significant improvement in mood in the most severely depressed patients.[iii]

Nefiracetam also prolongs the opening of calcium channels. Keeping neurotransmitters active longer. Improving memory formation and long-term memory and recall.

Students report this is the best racetam for studying because when using Nefiracetam they have better attention span, motivation, and less apathy and mental fatigue.

Many users report cognitive benefits such as calm focus and being able to articulate thoughts, and improved speaking ability when using Nefiracetam.

And one of the coolest benefits are the visual effects when using Nefiracetam. It feels like your brain is processing a broader spectrum of what’s in your visual range. Nature and your surroundings look more vibrant and beautiful.

Recommended dosage of Nefiracetam is up to 900 mg per day.

Use smaller dosages like 400 mg once in the morning and another dose at noon.

Oxiracetam to Eliminate Brain Fog

Oxiracetam was the 3rd racetam nootropic and developed in 1977. It enhances choline-acetyltransferase (ChAT) in your brain which makes more acetylcholine. Leading to improved short-term and long-term memory. And eliminating brain fog.

Is Oxiracetam good for memory?Oxiracetam also increases the density of binding sites for neurotransmitters on AMPA receptors. Resulting in a stimulant-effect without any of the negative side effects associated with stimulants.[iv]

People who use Oxiracetam report that it

Oxiracetam report that it has profound effects in clearing brain fog and enhancing focus and motivation. Especially when learning new material or working through a tedious task.

And you should experience a significant improvement in recall. Reading is easier by giving you the ability to get through more pages faster and retain the information for later. Great for preparing for an exam or your next board presentation.

Oxiracetam also helps improve mood.

Recommended Oxiracetam dosage is 750 – 1,500 mg per day. Divided in two equal doses. One dose in the morning, and one in the early afternoon.

I recommend: Smart Nutrition – Oxiracetam

Is phenylpiracetam stronger than piracetam?

Phenylpiracetam for Increased Blood Flow

Phenylpiracetam was created by adding a phenyl group to Piracetam by Russian scientists in 1983. To boost the physical and mental performance of astronauts during space flight. It’s currently used by Russian cosmonauts on the International Space Station.

And it turns out that Phenylpiracetam is very effective in boosting athletic performance , such as increasing blood flow. It provides significant stimulatory effects and helps you resist cold. The World Anti-Doping Agency has banned Phenylpiracetam for athletes in the Olympics and other professional sports.

Phenylpiracetam increases the density of acetylcholine (ACh), NMDA, GABA and dopamine receptors in the brain. More receptors mean more binding sites for neurotransmitters that affect memory formation, cognition, sleep and mood.[v]

It increases blood flow in the brain which provides more oxygen and nutrients to brain cells boosting alertness, cognition, focus and mood.

And Phenylpiracetam helps reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and fear without the type of side affects you get from antidepressants. Likely because it increases the density of receptors for acetylcholine (ACh), GABA and NMDA.

Phenylpiracetam also provides an ‘anti-convulsive’ action in the brain which has been shown to be an effective treatment for epilepsy and other cognitive disorders.

Many neurohackers say Phenylpiracetam is the strongest nootropic they’ve ever experienced. It’s highly bioavailable , easily passing through the blood-brain barrier, leading you to experience the effects within 30 minutes of taking it.

Recommended Phenylpiracetam dosage is 100 mg twice per day. One Phenylpiracetam dose in the morning, and one in the early afternoon.

I recommend: Cosmic Nootropic – Phenylpiracetam.

Pramiracetam for Focus and Concentration

Pramiracetam was first synthesized by scientists at Parke-Davis in the late 1970’s. Pramiracetam boosts high affinity choline uptake (HACU) which has a profound effect on the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh). Helping cognition, memory, recall and focus.

Unlike some of the other racetams, Pramiracetam does not directly influence GABA, dopamine, norepinephrine, or serotonin in the brain. So is not a good choice if you’re looking to improve mood or anxiety issues.[vi]

Many neurohackers report that taking Pramiracetam quickly provides an intense increase in focus and for some even a boost in confidence.

It is reported to be great for intense, long study sessions. Or when you face logical, attention-based tasks where you need sharp focus.

Others report improved recall, fluidity of thought, and ease of verbal communication and numerical calculations.

Recommended Pramiracetam dosage is 250 – 400 mg up to 3-times per day. One dose in the morning, and one in the early afternoon, and if you’re doing a 3rd dose do it later in the afternoon.

I recommend: Cosmic Nootropic – Pramiracetam.

Which racetam is most effective?

Which racetam is best for you?

Each of the above recommendations in the racetam family share a pyrrolidone nucleus core. And have some similarities like boosting acetylcholine and modulating glutamate in your brain.

But each racetam also has a unique mechanism of action providing unique benefits. All are considered non-toxic and safe to use if you follow dosage recommendations.

If you’re just starting out and want something safe, you may want to try Piracetam. But you need a lot of it to work (i.e. several grams per day).

If you are a student, you may want to try Nefiracetam, Oxiracetam, or Pramiracetam.

Pramiracetam use is also associated with improved cognitive function as a supplemental treatment for traumatic brain injuries.

Aniracetam is a very effective anxiolytic and helps relieve anxiety and depression.

If you are an astronaut or athlete you may want to try Phenylpiracetam for the reasons detailed above. But DO NOT attempt using this nootropic if you are an Olympic athlete. And check your professional sports association to see if this racetam is on their “banned” list of substances just to be on the safe side.

And Coluracetam is worth trying if you’d like to see and hear the world in more vivid colors and sound.

But as I mentioned near the beginning of this post, each racetam nootropic must be dosed with Alpha GPC or CDP-Choline. Because each racetam affects acetylcholine levels in your brain.

Each of these racetams also stack well with Mind Lab Pro® and Performance Lab® Mind because each of these preformulated stacks contain Cognizin® (CDP-Choline).

Some of the above racetams are fat-soluble. You must take them with a healthy fat. Try a tablespoon of unrefined coconut oil to ensure absorption.

And finally, many of the above racetams are only available in certain countries like the USA as a nootropic that you can easily buy online. Many are sold as prescription drugs in countries around the world. Check your local regulations to see if they are available in your country.

Several racetams I detailed above are available from Cosmic Nootropic. The company also offers a bundle if you’d like to sample several different racetams including: Noopept, Piracetam, and Phenylpiracetam. Get that bundle here: Cosmic Nootropic – Bundle

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This post may also contain other affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

[i] Stoll L., Schubert T., Müller W.E. “Age-related deficits of central muscarinic cholinergic receptor function in the mouse: partial restoration by chronic piracetam treatment.” Neurobiology of Aging. 1992 Jan-Feb;13(1):39-44. (source)

[ii] Takashina K., Bessho T., Mori R., Eguchi J., Saito K. “MKC-231, a choline uptake enhancer: (2) Effect on synthesis and release of acetylcholine in AF64A-treated rats.” Journal of Neural Transmission (Vienna). 2008 Jul;115(7):1027-35. (source)

[iii] Robinson R.G., Jorge R.E., Clarence-Smith K. “Double-blind randomized treatment of poststroke depression using nefiracetam.” Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. 2008 Spring;20(2):178-84. (source)

[iv] Nicoletti F., Casabona G., Genazzani A.A., Copani A., Aleppo G., Canonico P.L., Scapagnini U. “Excitatory amino acids and neuronal plasticity: modulation of AMPA receptors as a novel substrate for the action of nootropic drugs.” Functional Neurology. 1992 Sep-Oct;7(5):413-22. (source)

[v] Firstova Y.Y., Abaimov D.A., Kapitsa I.G., Voronina T.A., Kovalev G.I. “The effects of scopolamine and the nootropic drug phenotropil on rat brain neurotransmitter receptors during testing of the conditioned passive avoidance task” Neurochemical Journal June 2011, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 115-125 (source)

[vi] Pavlík A., Benesová O., Dlohozková N. “Effects of nootropic drugs on brain cholinergic and dopaminergic transmission.” Activitas Nervosa Superior (Praha). 1987 Mar;29(1):62-5. (source)

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Join The Discussion - 123 comments

March 22, 2024

Fascinating article — got here via your nicotine micro dosing article. For someone looking for intense bouts of focus (most important) and creativity — say 3-4 hrs 3 or 4 days a Week, what do recommend as the least addictive most ‘as needed’ nootropic. Would cycling nicotine loz with one of these racetams (with bouts of reduced coffee, because I’ve got a major tolerance right now!) be effective?

    David Tomen
    March 22, 2024

    Billie, the only way to find out if one of the racetams in the above article would help you is you’ll need to try it and see what happens. And don’t forget to take whatever racetam you choose with 300 mg CDP-Choline or Alpha GPC.

    “intense bouts of focus and creativity” are dependent on dopamine, norepinephrine and acetylcholine. You would likely do better by using 500 mg L-Tyrosine, 300 mg CDP-Choline and 500 mg ALCAR twice per day with a good BioActive B-Complex.

      March 23, 2024

      Thanks for this — I might try the stack you suggest first, although I’ve never felt great using L Tyrosine (it kind of agitates me) but I do like DLPA a lot. Or even DPA (although not stimulating at all). So maybe I’m low in endorphins at a start, but also whatever Cat my body converts l tyrosine to is maybe not necessarily the one I’m low in … and word recall has also become a noticeably declining thing for me in the past decade, so I’m thinking an acetylcholine boost for sure. I will do some experimenting 🙂 Thanks for all the advice on here!

March 7, 2024

Thank you for the helpful article! I would like to know if Pramiracetam does any difference if you take it every now and then: is it effective this way or does it need to build up slowly just like Piracetam? I

    David Tomen
    March 9, 2024

    Teles, most find it works right away. But keep in mind that Pramiracetam is fat-soluble so for best results take it with a quality fat like a tablespoon of unrefined coconut oil, MCT oil, or extra virgin olive oil. And make sure you take it with 300 mg CDP-Choline or Alpha GPC each time you use this racetam.

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