You’ve probably heard that energy drinks are dangerous. But are nootropics safer than energy drinks?
This is part of a series on nootropics versus energy drinks. In this post, we’ll discuss how energy drinks and nootropics are regulated. Specifically, I’ll show you why these regulations matter when it comes to nootropics, energy drinks, and your health and safety.
Finally, I’ll give you 5 secrets to picking a safe nootropic.
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This blog post is also available as a podcast!
Are nootropics FDA approved?
There are three different sets of FDA regulations you should know about: Drug Regulations, Beverage Regulations, and Supplement Regulations. For the purpose of this blog, this is a limited summary of some key differences between the three.
- Drug regulations are more strict than Beverage and Supplement Regulations – there’s more hoops to jump through before you can sell your product
- The product must be proven both safe AND effective
- Drugs are FDA Approved
- The product can be marketed specifically as something that will treat a disease or an ailment
If something has a Supplement Facts panel or a Nutrition Facts panel on the label, it is not allowed to suggest it will treat any kind of medical condition. Only drugs can do that.
In fact, nootropics and energy drinks can get warning letters from the FDA if they lean into these kinds of promises or suggestions.
In contrast, Modafinil, Adderall, and Ritalin are sometimes considered nootropics because of how powerful they are for helping someone focus. However, these are drugs meant for treating narcolepsy and ADHD. Since they’re so powerful, there are legitimate side-effects if you take them without a prescription.
- Applies to anything with a Nutrition Facts Panel (meaning food or beverage)
- Not as rigorous as Drug Regulations
- All ingredients have to be PRE-approved by the FDA or Generally Recognized as Safe (“GRAS”)
If a nootropic or an energy drink has a Nutrition Facts panel, it’s not allowed to suggest it’s going to cure anything.
Because of the GRAS and pre-market approval laws, all the ingredients used in an energy drink or nootropic with a Nutrition Facts Panel are approved for use by the FDA. However, this doesn’t mean drinks are 100% safe all the time. In fact, it’s up to the manufacturer to make sure those approved ingredients are used safely and responsibly.
For example, it’s up to the manufacturer to make sure they’re not using an amount of caffeine that will kill someone…
- Applies to anything with a Supplement Facts Panel
- Not as rigorous as Drug Regulations or (in my experience) Food Regulations
- All ingredients have to be Generally Recognized as Safe (“GRAS”) or filed as a “New Dietary Ingredient”
In my experience, there’s more of a safety risk with supplements because of this New Dietary Ingredient loophole. It makes it just a little too easy to sell a product containing something that hasn’t been 100% verified safe for consumption.
Even though a manufacturer is supposed to file NDI paperwork with the FDA, this isn’t a perfect safeguard. The ingredients don’t have to be PRE-approved, like they are with a food or beverage. In other words, the manufacturer doesn’t have to wait to hear back from the FDA about their NDI paperwork before they start selling their product.
In truth, it’s up to the manufacturer to have documentation their product is both SAFE and EFFECTIVE at whatever they claim to be “supplementing”. However, in terms of being safe and effective, the supplement world has a huge problem with economic adulteration.
Economic Adulteration is a problem for nootropics and energy drinks.
Food fraud “is deception of consumers using food products, ingredients and packaging for economic gain and includes substitution, unapproved enhancements, misbranding, counterfeiting, stolen goods or others.”
–GFSI Food Fraud Position Paper
First of all, it would be irresponsible of me to pretend economic adulteration is ONLY a problem with supplements. After all, another term for economic adulteration is “Food Fraud”. Since this type of lying-for-profit is a problem for both food and supplements, I’m going to use the term “economic adulteration” instead of “food fraud”.
In short, economic adulteration is a huge deal (#pun) when it comes to buying nootropics and energy drinks. For example, ginkgo biloba is a popular ingredient for both energy drinks and nootropics. Because of its popularity and perceived benefit, ginkgo is a prime candidate for economic adulteration. During my years working in the supplement industry, I’ve personally seen lab results confirming ginkgo adulteration. Nonetheless, don’t just take my word for it – here’s another article about the problem.
Are Nootropics safer than energy drinks?
Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy yes-or-no question. For starters, there are over 700 different energy drinks on the market, and some of those are much safer and more natural than others.
Second of all, if I said “nootropics are safer than energy drinks”, what would that mean for drinks that blur the lines between the categories? For example, VPX, the makers of Bang Energy, have a drink called “Noo Fuzion”. Even though VPX might disagree, the “NOO” in the name clearly suggests this is a “fusion” of a nootropic and energy drink.
Thirdly, the most significant risk when it comes to nootropic safety is the caffeine content. To illustrate, Caffeine Informer compiled a list of nootropics and the amounts of caffeine within.
5 Secrets to Picking a Safe Nootropic
1-Look at the caffeine content and avoid anything which does not state the amount of caffeine from all sources.
If they want your money so bad, they can give you this bare minimum information. This is best practice for energy drinks anyway.
2-Beware anything with a proprietary blend.
Blends make it easy to hide the fact there’s only “fairy dust” amounts key ingredients you think you’re getting.
3-Beware of brands that haven’t been around long.
These might be “fly-by-night” suppliers who set up online stores, sell adulterated products with the latest trendy ingredient, then close their website and do it all again with a different name before the FDA catches on.
4-Watch out for fraud red flags.
Red flags include promising a quick fix or dramatic results. If a nootropic suggests it’s going to do more than help you shake the fog from sleep-deprivation or remember where you put your keys, they’re probably lying. This website has a lot more tips on spotting food fraud.
5-Run away from anything that is pretending to be a drug.
Now that you know the differences between drug, beverage, and supplement regulations, you know the safety risks. This means you know supplements don’t always have ingredients that are 100% approved. Furthermore you know a supplement and a drink cannot pretend they’re going to cure anything.
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2 thoughts on “Are Nootropics Safe?”
Economic adulteration! That is a new phrase for me. I like it.