Side effects of nootropics

Nootropics are a type of cognitive enhancer that is used to improve mental performance and support brain health. These supplements can be found in many forms, such as pills, powders, and liquids. They work by increasing the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine which help with brain function.

While nootropics have been shown to provide some benefits for those who use them responsibly, they can come with side effects such as headaches or nausea if not taken properly or they are mixed with other substances. In this blog post, we will cover what you need to know about nootropics so you can make an informed decision on whether they’re right for you!

What are nootropics?

attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

The notion of enhancing your brainpower with a pill may sound appealing to anyone, whether you’re a college student aiming for high grades, a busy professional seeking a raise, or an older person concerned about dementia. So it’s not surprising that the use of nootropics – also known as cognitive enhancers or smart drugs – is on the rise. But are they effective? And are they safe?

The phrase “nootropic” was originally used to describe specific chemicals. However, it is now used to refer to any natural or manufactured substance that may have a positive impact on one’s mental abilities. In general, nootropics are divided into three categories: dietary supplements, synthetic chemicals, and prescription medications.

Although health professionals tend to agree that taking a prescription nootropic for an FDA-approved purpose (such as Adderall if you have ADHD or donepezil if you have Alzheimer’s disease) might be beneficial, the use of any sort of cognitive enhancer in healthy individuals is highly controversial.

What researchers say

There’s “no strong evidence” that any of the supplements now being marketed for their memory-boosting abilities are helpful, according to Barry Gordon, MD, Ph.D., director of the cognitive neurology/neuropsychology division at Johns Hopkins Medicine. He is also dubious about nootropics’ fundamental notion.

“We’re trying to figure out how the brain works,” Bluglass says. “The circuits that are involved in human thought are really complex, and they aren’t fully understood.” It’s not as simple as boosting a dial, he adds. People who take nootropics believe their cognitive performance has improved because they are mostly driven by a placebo effect, according to him. “You will do better if you feel more confident and believe you’ll perform better,” he explains.

Daniele D’Adamo, Ph.D., head of research and education at the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Medicine, has a different viewpoint. He thinks that nootropics won’t give you superhuman cognitive abilities, but he does believe they have the potential to help some people.

Most individuals looking to improve their cognitive function would be better off concentrating on getting enough sleep, eating a nutrient-dense diet, and controlling their stress, according to Bierman. However, once you’ve mastered those fundamentals, the appropriate nootropics might act as a bonus by enabling you to think more clearly and precisely or lowering your risk of cognitive deterioration as you get older.

Types of nootropics

attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Not prescription nootropics


Caffeine is a stimulant that many people consume to enhance their energy levels. Caffeine has been shown in studies to be safe for most individuals when consumed in moderation.

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A cup of coffee or tea might help you stay focused on tasks. However, excessive amounts of caffeine may not be safe.

People should ingest no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine daily, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is the amount in 4–5 cups of coffee.

Caffeine pills and powders are notorious for including excessive amounts of stimulants. Taking them may result in a caffeine overdose, as well as rare deaths.

Pregnant women, as well as those who may become pregnant in the near future, should limit or avoid caffeine intake. It has been established that consuming more cups of coffee a day is linked to an increased risk of pregnancy loss.


L-theanine is a chemical found in black and green tea. People can also acquire l-theanine supplements.

A 2015 study suggested that l-theanine improves alpha waves in the brain. Alpha waves may help to create a calm yet alert mental state.

l-Theanine may be combined with caffeine to enhance performance. This combination has been shown to improve cognitive function and attention. Keep in mind the FDA’s caffeine restrictions when drinking l-theanine in tea.

There are no dosage guidelines for l-theanine, but many supplements recommend taking 100–400 mg per day.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most well-known and well-studied brain enhancers.

Polyunsaturated fats are found in fish, fatty fish, and fish oil supplements. This kind of fat is required for brain health, and it must be obtained from food.

Omega-3s aid in the formation of membranes around cells within the body, particularly neurons. These lipids are critical for brain cell regeneration and repair.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to protect against brain aging in a 2015 study. Omega-3s are essential for optimal brain and nervous system function, according to other research.

However, a comprehensive study suggested that omega-3 supplementation does not improve cognitive function in cognitively healthy older individuals.

Omega-3 supplements are available in a variety of forms, including fish oil, krill oil, and algal oil.

When taken as directed, these supplements are unlikely to cause negative effects, but they may interfere with medicines that influence blood clotting. Inquire with your doctor before taking them.


Racetams are synthetic brain chemicals that can alter neurotransmitter levels. The following racetams are some examples of nootropic racetams:

  • piracetam
  • pramiracetam
  • phenylpiracetam
  • aniracetam

According to research conducted on rats, piracetam may have neuroprotective properties.

“Some of the studies suggest there may be some benefit from piracetam, but overall, the evidence is not consistent or positive enough to support its use for dementia or cognitive impairment.” This will need to be confirmed by additional research.

There is no standard dosage for racetams, so individuals should follow the advice given and see a doctor if necessary. Overall, there have been no harmful effects associated with taking racetams according to the recommended dose.

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba is a tree that grows in China, Japan, and Korea. It’s also home to ginkgo leaves, which are used as an herbal supplement.

According to 2016 research, Ginkgo Biloba is “potentially beneficial” for enhancing brain performance, but further study will be required to confirm this.

According to one study, Ginkgo Biloba may help with dementia symptoms at doses of more than 200 mg per day for at least 5 months.

The authors of the review, on the other hand, caution that additional study is needed. Ginkgo biloba may not be the most secure or efficient choice when prescription nootropics are accessible.

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Panax ginseng

The plant’s scientific name is Panax ginseng, which comes from the Chinese and Siberian regions. Its roots are used for medicinal purposes by people in China and parts of Siberia.

People should not mix Panax ginseng with other kinds of ginseng, such as Siberian or American types. These are distinct plants with various applications.

According to a 2018 study, Panax ginseng may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease. It may also aid in the recovery of the brain after a stroke.

Ginseng interacts with a variety of drugs, so talk to your doctor before taking it. A typical dose for mental performance is 100–600 mg once or twice a day.


According to certain reports, Rhodiola Rosea L., often known as Rhodiola or roseroot, can assist with cognitive function.

According to one review trusted Source, Rhodiola may have neuroprotective effects and be used to treat neurologic illnesses.

Rhodiola has been shown to have a positive impact on mood in one study, according to another review. It has also been found to help regulate neurotransmitters in the brain.

Rhodiola pills come in a variety of strengths. A tablet is taken once or twice each day on average.


Creatine is a type of amino acid, which is a fundamental component of protein. Because it may aid in the improvement of exercise performance, this supplement is popular among athletes. It might also have an impact on one’s mental ability.

According to a 2018 review, creatine appears to help with short-term memory and reasoning. It’s impossible to say how it affects the brain in general.

According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, up to 30 grams per day of creatine supplementation is safe for healthy people to take for 5 years.

There has been little study into whether this supplement is safe and effective for young athletes, according to a 2018 evaluation.

Prescription nootropics

cognitive enhancers


Armodafinil, a wakefulness-stimulating drug, is an R-isomer of racemic modafinil. Modafinil is a compound that has a general neuro-stimulating effect. The proposed mechanism of action is to increase the concentration of glutamate and decrease the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the posterior hypothalamus.

side effects. Despite improved wakefulness, side effects of armodafinil usually include headache, nasopharyngitis, and diarrhea.


Citicoline, initially studied for its neuroprotective effect against stroke and dementia, modulates the levels of acetylcholine, dopamine, and glutamate. It also participates in phospholipid metabolism and increases the integrity of neuronal membranes.

Side effects. Citicoline has been found to cause gastrointestinal discomfort, headache, insomnia, myalgia, anxiety, fatigue, and tremor.


cognitive enhancers

Piracetam, which is often used in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and memory impairment associated with aging, is technically derived from GABA but is not functionally related to this neurotransmitter. It can act on the alpha-amino-hydroxy-methyl-isoxazole propionic acid (AMPA) receptor as an allosteric modulator, binding in six different positions, and can affect the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor. NMDA and glutamate receptors.

Side effects. Piracetam users have reported symptoms of psychomotor agitation, dysphoria, fatigue, dizziness, memory loss, headache, and diarrhea. Many users reported that they did not feel any improvement in cognitive functions or psychedelic effects after taking piracetam.


Ampakines are a class of drugs that bind to the glutamatergic AMPA receptors, enhancing their activity and potentially inducing the induction of long-term potentiation and improving learning, cognition, and alertness.

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Side effects. Ampakines have also been found to cause headaches, drowsiness, and nausea. Despite the increased long-term cortical nervous potentiation when using Ampakines, the shift in the plasticity of the cerebral cortex in favor of long-term potentiation can lead to violations of spatial memory and, possibly, motor function.


Cerebrolysin, a mixture of low molecular weight peptides and amino acids derived from pig brain tissue, has been shown to have neuroprotective and neurotrophic properties, improving sensory deficits and promoting synapse formation and regeneration of cholinergic fibers.

Side effects. Adverse reactions to Cerebrolysin include dizziness, agitation, and a feeling of heat.

Frequently asked question

Do nootropics have side effects?

Yes, all nootropics have the potential to cause side effects. However, many of these side effects are mild and can be avoided by starting with a low dose and increase gradually. Some of the more common side effects include headaches, gastrointestinal discomfort, insomnia, anxiety, and fatigue. It’s important to note that not everyone experiences these side effects.

Can nootropics be bad for you?

Yes, some nootropics like modafinil and armodafinil may be bad for people with certain conditions. The main condition that disqualifies someone from taking these drugs is heart disease. Others to avoid include kidney or liver disorders, glaucoma, bipolar disorder, depression (especially if you’re not currently being treated), schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders, and a history of drug abuse. People with these conditions should avoid nootropics unless they have discussed the risks and benefits with their doctor first.

Can you use too many nootropics?

Yes, it is possible to overdose on certain nootropics like Aniracetam which can cause seizures in high doses. It’s important to start with a low dose and increase gradually to avoid side effects. Also, it’s important to remember that nootropics should not be taken in combination with each other without first consulting a doctor. Taking too many nootropics can lead to adverse reactions like headaches, drowsiness, and nausea.

Are nootropics addictive?

Many nootropics are not considered addictive. However, some can cause mild withdrawal symptoms when discontinued suddenly like headaches and nausea. Always consult your doctor first before quitting any medication to avoid uncomfortable side effects. If you’re currently taking an antidepressant or another prescription drug, it’s best to stop those medications first because there may be interactions.


Nootropics are pharmaceutical drugs. Nootropics can have side effects, but they may be less severe than other medications with similar effects. People with certain conditions should not take nootropics unless they have discussed the risks and benefits with their doctor first. They can cause severe negative reactions in these people. Nootropics can be addictive if abused, but most generally are not considered to be addictive drugs.

Though there is a lack of concrete evidence, it is generally believed that the benefits of using nootropics outweigh their potential side effects. The most important thing to keep in mind when considering taking a nootropic is to consult your doctor first. Always start with a low dose and increase gradually to allow your body time to adjust, avoid taking nootropics in combination with each other, and be aware of potential interactions with medications you are already taking. Nootropics can be a great way to boost your productivity, creativity, and cognitive performance; but only if taken safely and under the guidance of a health professional.

Sources used

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