Bupropion is largely used as a smoking cessation therapy and as an antidepressant, in due to its advantages in contrast to other common SSRIs: it does not cause weight gain or sexual dysfunction.

It is most commonly known under the brand name for the prescription-based drug as Wellbutrin.

Bupropion as a Nootropic? Can it Provide Cognitive Benefits?

Bupropion affects different biological targets, being considered in the scientific literature as a weak norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI).

Since norepinephrine release is strictly related to focus and attention, this drug has gained the attention of nootropic users.

However, it is not yet fully clear if its therapeutic effectiveness results in real cognitive enhancements or are rather a natural outcome of an alleviation of depression symptoms.

Here we analyze the evidence available.

Analyzing the Potential Cognitive Benefits of Bupropion

In principle, there is a general agreement among clinicians that it does tend to normalize cognitive performance in patients with depression at the very least[1].

Indeed, low pretreatment measures of visual memory and low levels of mental processing speed are predictive of good response to bupropion.

The cognitive effects of bupropion after this treatment[2] showed that patients improved in visual memory measures and in mental processing speed. Moreover, bupropion XL significantly improved immediate as well as delayed verbal and nonverbal memory, global function, and work productivity, with no significant between-group differences[3].

It is clear that an improvement in immediate verbal memory exerted a direct influence on improvement in global function. Thus, treatment is commonly associated with improvement in memory and psychosocial function in adults that may have a major depressive disorder.

Neuroscience and Research about Bupropion

Even though it does not share all the properties of stimulant drugs typically prescribed for ADHD patients, the effect profile of bupropion presents an interesting number of similarities with them.

Twelve male volunteers completed this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study[4].

Bupropion and methylphenidate were administered separately for initial half-dose 6-day periods (150 and 10 mg respectively) followed by full-dose 8-day periods (300 and 20 mg respectively).

Outcomes were subjective feelings, cognitive performances, autonomic and physiological parameters.

The effective conclusion was that bupropion does present a number of similarities with that of methylphenidate over a 2-week treatment period. These findings would help to explain the attractiveness of bupropion use for certain nootropic users.

However, if not depressed, would it work for you? Unfortunately, there is just one study available that addressed this question in 12 healthy male volunteers[5], and the conclusion was not particularly promising: in this trial, it did not improve nor deteriorate cognitive functions when given to healthy humans sub-chronically at daily doses of 300 mg.

Nevertheless, qEEG changes hint at a subtle psychostimulant drug effect. These results suggest that cognitive predictors of treatment response to bupropion and cognitive effects of bupropion in patients with major depressive disorder could be close if not exclusively related.

These findings need to be replicated due to the exploratory nature of that single work.

Before giving a final recommendation, we would like to mention an interesting feature: its effectiveness to treat symptoms experienced in marijuana withdrawal.

This pharmacological property was tested in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study with chronic, heavy marijuana users[6].

A Withdrawal Discomfort Score revealed that for 7 days immediately following cessation, placebo-treated subjects reported more symptoms than bupropion-treated subjects. Self-reported craving for A Withdrawal Discomfort Score revealed that for 7 days immediately following cessation, placebo-treated subjects reported more symptoms than treated subjects.

Self-reported craving for marijuana increased for the placebo-treated group but not for those treated with bupropion.

These results suggest that that it may be useful for alleviating marijuana withdrawal symptoms and be useful in subject retention during long-term cessation programs.

In conclusion, there are not yet good reasons (evidence) for a healthy individual to take bupropion in order to be benefited from its apparent nootropic effects.

They seem to be exclusive for depression patients and, eventually, for marijuana withdrawals.

Resources and Study References:

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