Meldonium, the anti-ischemic drug that led to Maria Sharapova's suspension, is witnessing a surge in popularity in the nootropics ("smart drugs") community.
"I have noticed a huge increase in meldonium sales over the last days; all people [are] coming in to buy meldonium," Ricardas Tarvydas, who runs the website nootropic.eu, told me in a phone call from Lithuania, where he buys most of his products.
Tarvydas explained that he usually sells just a couple of boxes of meldonium (also known as mildronate) every month; over the last 24 hours, though, he said he had received orders for 870 boxes. Some of Tarvydas's customers explicitly mentioned Sharapova when placing their orders.
The Russian tennis player revealed on Monday that she had tested positive for meldonium, also known as mildronate, which the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned last January. Sharapova claimed she hadn't noticed the ban on the medicine, which she had been lawfully taking for a decade.
The case has triggered a sudden spike in interest in meldonium online and rekindled the curiosity of the relatively niche "noonauts" community—folks looking to enhance their cognitive performance using nootropics.
"I had to hire more people to work because I can't handle orders alone."
Just hours after Sharapova had made her announcement in Los Angeles, a post on the r/nootropics subreddit kickstarted the debate on whether meldonium could be used for "nootropic purposes" (to improve one's brainpower as opposed to athletic ability.)
Some users were sceptical; others were more positive, even recounting their personal experiences taking the drug as a brain-boosting aid.
"I've taken mildronate. I personally liked it. Can't really tell you the effects being that I tried it quite a while ago," Reddit user rmcfar11 wrote in a comment. "If it's banned by WADA, that's usually a good sign that it's reasonably effective at something lol."
While the substance is not a total debutante on the nootropic scene, until now there were only a few mentions of "meldonium" or "mildronate" on the r/nootropics subreddit. Originally designed as a medicine for cardiac and vascular conditions, Latvian-made meldonium is known for its beneficial effects on physical recovery and endurance, which likely account for WADA's decision to prohibit it.
The case for the drug's potential nootropic virtues hinges mainly on a 2013 research paper authored, among others, by meldonium inventor Ivars Kalvins of the Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis (the paper states the authors have no conflict of interest).
The study suggests that meldonium can "stimulate learning and memory" and could "protect and treat neurological disorders, particularly those associated with neurodegeneration and a decline in cognitive function."
"As a joke we now call mildronate 'the Sharaponate.'"
The drug is sold over the counter in Eastern Europe but it's largely unavailable in other countries. It has occasionally popped up on nootropics-themed forums over the last few years, and it has been on sale for a while from some nootropics online merchants, including Tarvydas. But Tarvydas said it hadn't really been that popular until the Sharapova case threw it into the limelight this week.
"I had to hire more people to work because I can't handle orders alone. And they are still coming in: from the US, Sweden, Denmark, the UK," he said.
Tarvydas added that he had personally used meldonium in the past; according to him, it improved his capability to perform aerobic exercise and his ability to focus and to work "without getting tired."
Russian nootropics merchant RUPharma echoed Tarvydas's reports. "So far we have sold around 1,300 packs of Mildronate worldwide in the past 12 months. Out of the 1,300 packs, around 450 were sold in the past 3 days after the Sharapova news broke out," company spokesman Alexei Adolshin wrote in an emailed statement. "As a joke we now call mildronate 'the Sharaponate.'"
It's obviously hard to disentangle wannabe athletes from buyers who may be interested in the drug's alleged cognition-enhancing properties. But it looks like in the wake of the Sharapova affair, meldonium is attracting a revived interest on nootropics sites.