Many people complain of headaches when using nootropics, especially racetams and cholinergics. There have been cases of other side effects as well like nausea and restlessness, but headaches seem to be the most frequently occurring side effect. It can be really irritating for the user if he/she gets headaches while trying to improve mental functioning.
Racetams like piracetam and aniracetam are especially known for causing unwanted headaches and even slight to severe migraines. Still, nootropics are generally safe to use and the chances of getting a headache depends on the dosage and user. There exist rational explanations for such side effects. Headaches caused by nootropics are not a cause for concern in most cases and also may be avoided by making use of some remedies.
The reason for such headaches is related to how nootropics work to enhance mental functioning. Most cognitive nootropic supplements work by affecting neurotransmitters and receptors inside the brain, often increasing their concentrations or up regulating the receptors. These neurotransmitters are responsible for memory formation and retention, learning, concentration, focus and attention span.
Neurotransmitters are released at a nerve ending, from where they travel across the synaptic cleft and bind to specific receptors. Because of the increased activity of neurotransmitters due to nootropics, there is a demand of higher concentrations of precursors for these neurotransmitters inside the brain. If the demand is not met, this over activity leads to depletion of neurotransmitters.
Often, there aren’t enough precursors pre-existing to match up with the increased demand. These headaches can be compared with cramps and body ache that one feels after a long strenuous activity or exercise. The pain is due to the fact that the body is not used to working copiously for a long time. Same is the case with heightened brain activity and headaches. Just like the body gets used to an exercise after some time period, the brain adjusts to the enhanced neural functioning.
One way to deal with the problem of side effect of headaches is to consume precursor supplements along with cognitive nootropics. This will ensure that concentration levels of precursors stay high when there is an increase in demand and neurotransmitters are not depleted. For example, when taking racetams, use of choline supplements is recommended. This eases up the strain to keep up with the high demand of acetylcholine and prevents choline deficiency.
The use of choline or acetylcholine precursors is thought to help reduce the headaches caused by types of nootropics that work on acetylcholine receptors. The exact mechanisms of how this works is not completely understood because there are many steps and contributing factors in the synthesis, release and binding of acetylcholine. Nevertheless, supplementing with choline has anecdotally been reported to reduce the occurrence and severity of these headaches.
Nootropic users can increase acetylcholine with precursors like choline. The human body produces choline by itself, and most has be obtained through diet. Beef liver and eggs have high choline content. Another way is to give your brain time to adjust to the hyper neural activity. This can be ensured by starting off with smaller doses of the nootropic supplements and gradually increasing the dosage. This also helps you in finding out how your body reacts to the nootropics.
But if the headaches persist and continue to get stronger, it is recommended that you consult with a medical professional and revise your nootropic dosage. These headaches may not always be caused by nootropics alone. If the headache persists after adding in choline precursors, stop using all supplements and consult your doctor.