Staying Sharp: Can You Find Concentration in a Bottle?

A guide to today's brain-boosting pills and supplements—and what's in the pipeline

If you haven't already heard the term nootrope, better jot it down. Chances are you'll hear it a lot in the future. A marriage of the Greek words noos, for "mind," and tropein, for "toward," it refers to drugs that enhance mental performance—popularly known as smart drugs. Nootropes aren't new. Amphetamines, first synthesized by a German chemist in 1887 and used in over-the-counter inhalers by the 1920s, were doled out generously during World War II to Allied and German troops to keep them alert. Military pilots still take dextroamphetamine, or go pills, to stay in fighting form on long missions. But...

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