What are nootropics?

Nootropics are supplements that have been shown to improve brain health. They can be used by people of any age, but they are especially beneficial for aging adults. This guide provides information on the best nootropic supplements and how you can incorporate them into your diet in order to get the most benefits.


smart drugs

Whether you’re a college student preparing for an exam, a busy professional aiming for a raise, or an older person concerned about dementia, the notion of popping a pill that improves your cognitive capacity may seem appealing. So it’s not surprising that the use of nootropics — also known as cognitive enhancers or smart medicines – is on the rise.

The term “nootropics” originally referred to chemicals that fit a very tight set of criteria. However, it is now used to refer to any natural or synthetic substance that may have a beneficial influence on mental abilities. Nootropics are generally divided into three categories: dietary supplements, man-made chemicals, and prescription medications.

Taking a prescription nootropic for an FDA-approved purpose (such as Adderall if you have ADHD or Donepezil if you have Alzheimer’s) may be beneficial, according to health professionals. However, the use of any type of cognitive enhancer in healthy people is extremely contentious.

Types of nootropic

mental performance

Racetam, a type of nootropic

For example, the brain’s acetylcholine and glutamic receptors are believed to be stimulated by Piracetam (which is involved in the pre-frontal cortex, where abstract ideas arise).

Nootropics derived from synthetic b vitamins

It’s a B vitamin modification that led to the creation of a pyritinol and sulbutiamine-rich combination.

Intermediates of choline and acetylcholine

Alpha-GPC and citicoline are two of the chemicals in this group that are thought to boost acetylcholine levels in the brain. It’s also used as a booster to enhance the effectiveness of racetams.


Ampakines are a specific type of ampakine that is being researched for a variety of applications. This category, which includes regular and uniform, has a more significant impact on glutamic receptors than racetams; it was only recently developed and has yet to be thoroughly investigated. It’s an excellent addition to the Nootropics literature.

Side effects of nootropics include:

cognitive decline

  • high blood pressure
  • fast heart rate
  • insomnia and other sleep disorders
  • vision problems
  • addiction

According to certain evidence, individuals who take prescription nootropics to enhance their brain function are more likely to engage in compulsive behavior such as sexual risk-taking.

Healthcare providers should collaborate with individuals who use prescription nootropics to manage any side effects and keep track of their health.

Over-the-counter nootropics

cognitive decline

The term “nootropic” is sometimes used to refer to natural or manufactured supplements that improve brain function. The following sections examine nootropics that are not subject to regulation.


Caffeinated beverages, such as coffee or tea, are popular among many people due to their stimulant effects. When caffeine is consumed in moderation by the majority of individuals, it is considered a low-risk drug.

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A cup of coffee or tea might help you stay focused while working. However, too much caffeine is not good for you.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against using more than 400 mg of a good caffeine source per day, which is equivalent to 4-5 cups of coffee.

Caffeine pills and powders are frequently quite strong. They can induce caffeine poisoning and even death in rare circumstances.

Pregnant ladies should avoid consuming too much caffeine. Caffeine has been linked to an increased incidence of pregnancy loss in studies.


L-Theanine is a nonprotein amino acid found in black and green tea that has been researched for its health advantages. People may also take l-theanine supplements.

According to a recent study, palmitoylethanolamide has been found to boost alpha waves in the brain. Alpha waves can aid in both relaxation and attention while keeping you awake and attentive.

L-Theanine can be combined with caffeine. This combination appears to enhance cognitive performance and wakefulness. If you want to consume l-theanine as a tea, keep in mind the FDA’s caffeine recommendations.

It is unclear what dosage to take of L-theanine since there is no established dose. Many supplements recommend ingesting 100-400 mg per day.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to be protective against brain deterioration.

Polyunsaturated fats are found in certain fish and fish oil supplements. This sort of fat is critical for brain health, and it should be consumed via food or supplements.

The brain, like other fatty tissues in the body, is made up of fatty materials. They’re known as myelin sheaths since they surround tiny nerves and help them function more effectively. Omega-3s aid in the formation of cell membranes throughout the body, including those that surround neurons. These lipids are necessary for improving nerve function.

In a 2015 research, omega-3 acids were shown to protect against brain deterioration. Omega-3s have been linked to the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system in other studies.

However, a comprehensive study discovered that “there were no cognitive advantages when taking omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in cognitively healthy older people.” The researchers recommend adding further long-term research to the mix.

Omega-3s can be obtained in a variety of formulations, including fish oil, krill oil, and algae oil.

These medicines have a very low risk of causing unwanted effects when taken as directed, but they can interfere with blood-clotting modifiers. Consult your doctor before taking them.


cognitive function

Racetams are synthetic compounds that can affect neurotransmitters in the brain. Some nootropic racemates include:

  • piracetam
  • pramiracetam
  • phenylpiracetam
  • aniracetam

A study conducted on rats suggests that piracetam may have a neuroprotective effect.

According to one review, “some studies have suggested that piracetam may be beneficial, but the evidence is not consistent or compelling enough to support its usage in dementia or cognitive impairment.” More study will be required to verify this.

There is no established dosage for racetams, therefore one should follow the directions and visit a doctor if necessary. Taking racetams as directed has not been linked to any harmful side effects in most people.

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba is a tree that can be found in China, Japan, and Korea. It contains leaves that are used as a herbal remedy.

Gingko Biloba was found to be “possibly beneficial” in a 2016 study for improving brain function, but more research is needed to verify this.

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According to one study, Ginkgo biloba can help with dementia symptoms when taken in doses of more than 200 mg per day for at least 5 months.

The authors of the study, on the other hand, suggest that further study is needed. Furthermore, in the case of prescription nootropics, ginkgo Biloba may not be the most secure or effective option.


The plant name Panax ginseng comes from the genus of about 200 species in the family Araliaceae, which are shrubs that grow to two meters tall. Individuals employ its roots for medicinal purposes.

Panax ginseng is not to be confused with other types of ginseng, such as Siberian or American species. These are two distinct species with various uses.

Ginseng has been found in animal and human studies to be beneficial for improving cognitive performance. It may also help with the recovery of brain function following a stroke. Ginseng can prevent a variety of brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease, according to a study published in May 2018.

Ginseng can interact with a variety of medications, so be sure to talk to your doctor before using it. A single dose of 100-600 mg once or twice a day is advised for mental activity.


Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid that is used to make protein. Since it has been proven to improve physical performance, athletes have been taking this supplement for years. It might also aid in the maturation of cognitive abilities.

A recent research by a respected source found that creatine might aid in short-term memory and reasoning. Whether it has long-term benefits on the brain is unclear.

For 5 years, healthy individuals can consume up to 30 grams per day, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

Are nootropics effective?

Several small studies have shown that certain nootropic pills may have an impact on the brain. However, there is no evidence of significant controlled trials to demonstrate that some of these supplements are effective and entirely safe.

Experts are unable to confirm whether over-the-counter nootropics enhance thinking or brain function, or whether anybody can use them safely.

For instance, one study on cognitive enhancers found that there was a lack of evidence that they were safe and effective for healthy individuals. The researchers also raise concerns about issues of ethics.

However, there is evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can benefit the brain and overall health. In addition, caffeine can improve mental concentration for a short time.

Why are nootropics popular?

cognitive function

Many people seek a better brain at some point in their life, and many individuals use cognitive enhancers and nootropics to that end.

According to a large study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy in 2017, at least 30% of Americans have used prescription stimulants as cognitive enhancers at least once in the previous year — up from 20% in 2015.

The popularity of nootropic medicines may be attributed to popular media such as the film and TV series “Limitless.” The 2011 motion picture was an unexpected blockbuster success, with Bradley Cooper portraying a guy who discovers a new cognitive pill that allows him to live a super-productive life.

The blockbuster helped to put the bio- and brain-hacking industries into the spotlight, which had previously been relegated to the realm of Silicon Valley’s technology industry. Modafinil (Provigil) was labeled a startup entrepreneur’s favorite drug just a few years back by TechCrunch in 2008.

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“For three to four days, Modafinil may keep you awake,” Guirguis added. “It may be regarded as a great alternative for enhancing productivity and replacing sleep with time to work or study for high achievers,” he said.

University students, professionals in high-profile vocations, and others who appear to use smart drugs at a higher rate are said to include those who attend prestigious institutions, medical practitioners like surgeons, and other high-pressure professions like pilots.

According to a study from the Brain Science journal, the military has given soldiers modafinil and amphetamines to assist them stay awake on missions.

According to a 2021 Frontiers in Bioscience-Landmark study, kids primarily use smart drugs to enhance their attention, boost their brainpower, reduce stress, optimize their time, extend their waking hours, have more free time, and explore due to their passion.

Frequently asked question

Do nootropics really work?

Yes, there are some over-the-counter supplements that can enhance alertness and brain function. However, their effectiveness has not been demonstrated by scientifically controlled trials to date.

No studies have examined the long-term effects of these products on cognitive functioning or health in healthy individuals. Furthermore, most nootropics aren’t regulated with FDA approval for safety and efficacy claims. Experts say they don’t know enough about them — including whether they’re addictive — to recommend any specific medicines as safe and effective replacements for sleep aids or anxiety medications such as Valium (diazepam).

How do I take nootropics?

You should follow instructions listed on individual product labels when taking nutritional supplements like amino acid formulas, ch bitartrate, and omega-fatty acids.

In general, it is recommended that you start with the lowest dose possible and increase gradually as needed. Many people find that a morning dose of caffeine can improve mental concentration for a short time.

What are some side effects of nootropics?

Some potential side effects associated with cognitive enhancers include anxiety, irritability, headaches, and insomnia.

Caffeine can cause nervousness, heartburn, diarrhea, and other problems. It is important to note that many people who take nootropics don’t experience any side effects.

Are there long-term risks associated with using nootropics?

Unknown. Most nootropics haven’t been studied extensively.

Some experts say they’re too much of a risk to use in healthy adults and should be reserved for those with certain medical conditions, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sleep apnea, or narcolepsy — all of which can interfere with normal brain function and lead to memory problems.


Nootropics are drugs, supplements, or other substances that may improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation in healthy individuals. The use of nootropics by students and professionals has been on the rise in recent years. However, their long-term effects have not yet been studied extensively. Some experts advise that they should only be used by those with ADHD, sleep apnea, or narcolepsy. Caffeine is a common nootropic that has been shown to have mixed results in terms of cognitive enhancement. Nootropics are not currently regulated by the FDA. Unknown long-term risks associated with their use warrant further study before any recommendations can be made.

Sources used

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18353672/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17341242/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10978039/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16776593/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12164263/

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