The Popularity of Smart Drugs in Movies and Television





Growing in popularity are films about ordinary people unlocking the amazing potential of the brains. The question is: Are there really pills we can consume that can enable us to harness every aspect of our brains?

Below are the movies that feature smart drugs and how they also make people susceptible to overusing nootropics and brain enhancers:

  • Limitless

Starring Bradley Cooper, Limitless is about a struggling author who decides to try an experimental drug that enabled him to access 90% of his brain and process information in spectacular ways that no normal human being is able to do so. On top of being able to overcome his writer’s block, he also becomes an expert in the world of finance.

In 2015, NBC decided to launch a TV series based on the same name. As a spin-off of the movie, the show follows the transformation of James Mcdorman as Brian Finch, after accepting a pill from Bradley Cooper’s character Eddie Mora.

  • Lucy

This film, starring Scarlett Johansson, is about a 24-year American who gains superhuman abilities, after an illicit drug was absorbed in her bloodstream. Aside from exploring the themes of telepathy and mental time travel, the film also highlights the potential dangers of nootropic use and the illegal operations of international drug cartels. It mainly received positive reviews for its intriguing concepts and mind-blowing visuals, and it once again begs viewers wondering, “if there’s any possibility we can access 100% cerebal capacity in our lifetime.”

  • Formula 51

Starring Samuel Jackson, this film is about a chemist discovering a drug 51 times more potent than those already available in the market. The said drug can supposedly enhance a person’s mental state by magnifying pleasure by 51 times. Although this movie focused on an intense action plot, it was able to wade through the waters of nootropics, in terms of how its use can enhance one’s brain capacity.

  • Awakenings

Awakenings is a fictionalized version of the British neurologist Oliver Sacks’ work on the drug L-Dopa. Now being used to treat Parkinson’s disease, the film revolves on the neurologist administering L-Dopa to patients rendered catatonic due to encephalitis. They were then awakened upon administration of the drug, hence the title of the movie.

  • The Lawnmower Man

The Lawnmower Man revolves around how scientists experimented on the use of drugs and virtual reality to increase intelligence. It featured how Jeff Fahey, the protagonist with intellectual disability, gained unsurpassed levels of cognitive abilities that allowed him to learn a new language in two hours and develop telekinesis, as well as pyrokinetic powers.



What is the central theme of these movies and shows?

All the protagonists in these films experienced a tremendous spike in their cognitive abilities after taking nootropic drugs. From being able to telepathically incapacitate armed men to reading a book from cover to cover in just a matter of minutes, these sci-fi films visually show us the possibilities that exist if we are able to use our brains in full capacity. And while the superhuman abilities of these characters are clearly fictional, it puts smart drugs at the forefront of neuroscience research.


Do these pills or drugs actually exist in the market?

Smart drugs, otherwise known as nootropics, encompass any type of pill and capsule known to improve brain functioning. Nootropics are known for improving different functions of the brain such as focus, memory, reaction time and creativity. There are actually many types that exist in the market today, but their effects are not at the scale shown on Hollywood movies and popular TV. In fact, smart drugs can either be purchased by prescription or over the counter. The prescription drugs are mostly used for treatment of attention deficiencies such as ADHD and ADD, while over-the-counter drugs mostly are made from herbs and plants that have therapeutic properties.



Potential dangers of nootropics

Even before Lucy premiered, smart drugs have already been available in the market. In fact, a lot of movie critics speculate that the film is a marketing ploy to promote nootropic use. What many do not know is that the use of prescription nootropics is not well researched for healthy individuals and can lead to the following side effects:

  • Dependence of the brain to nootropics while the brain is on the developmental stages

There is evidence that suggest that using nootropics consistently while the brain is on its developmental stages may result to drug dependence and may impair beneficial connections to be formed thus inducing functional changes

  • Dependence due to over usage

Over-usage of nootropics may lead to dependence, as high doses have been found to stimulate areas of the brain involved in substance abuse and dependence. Taking high doses of nootropics allows your brain and nervous system to rely on nootropics to enhance cognition that without the drug, you may experience difficulty in thinking clearly. This can also lead to experiencing withdrawals.

  • It can alter the chemistry of the brain

There are certain nootropics that can actually alter how your brain works. Various brain scans have shown that certain areas of the brain can shrink or bloat based on the usage of nootropics, that it can inhibit other important functions.

  • It can cause side effects

As any drug you ingest, taking nootropics can lead to experiencing various side effects that can be as simple as a headache to vomiting and skin rashes and in worst case scenarios, it can be life threatening.

  • It can cause sleep problems

It could diminish the quality of sleep you have due to nootropics acting as stimulating agents to the brain. There are instances that even when used for short-term, the drug can impair the quality of sleep you get when you get off it, impairing your ability to have good quality of sleep leaving you groggy and lethargic when you wake up.


While it sure is handy to just pop a pill that can enhance your memory and concentration, it is impossible to gain new brain mass with smart drugs and nootropics. No matter the kind you take, it will not provide you with additional brain mass and will only aid you to be able to use what you’ve already got. It may help you improve focus, improve your brain metabolism and retain your memory, but in no way will it be able to turn you into a Wall Street shark within a few days. Let’s leave those for Hollywood.

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