Nootropics are a class of compounds and supplements that have been used for centuries to improve brain health and cognition.
In recent years, nootropics have become increasingly popular as people look for ways to enhance their mental performance and overall wellbeing.
They are becoming an increasingly popular way to optimize cognitive performance in healthy individuals. In this article, we’ll provide an introduction to nootropics so you can understand how they work and decide if they’re right for you.
The word Nootropic is a relatively loose term for any cognitive-enhancing supplement. These are natural or synthetic compounds that can help with various mental processes, from focus to memory to mood.
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What Are Nootropics?
Nootropics, also known as “smart drugs” or “cognitive enhancers,” are substances that may have a positive impact on mental skills.
The term “nootropic” comes from the Greek for “to bend or shape the mind.” Nootropics are a heterogeneous group of drugs that affect the metabolism of neuronal cells in the central nervous system, primarily improving mental skills such as focus, memory, learning, motivation, and concentration.
By interacting with chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, nootropics can boost mental clarity and focus, giving your brain function a boost.
Nootropics can be natural or synthetic supplements or drugs that affect the metabolism of neuronal cells in the central nervous system.
Prescription nootropics are medications that have stimulant effects and can counteract the symptoms of medical conditions such as attention deficit disorder. Other nootropics include caffeine, L-Theanine, Creatine, Bacopa Monnieri, Rhodiola Rosea, and Panax Ginseng.
Nootropics are gaining popularity due to their potential to improve cognitive function without causing serious side effects. However, it is important to remember that not all nootropics are safe for everyone and it is best to consult with a doctor before taking any supplement or drug.
How Do Nootropics Work?
Nootropics work by stimulating the production of brain neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. Nootropics can also act as vasodilators against the small arteries in the brain, increasing blood flow to areas responsible for learning and memory formation.
Natural nootropics have also been shown to increase the uptake of choline, and enhance cholinergic transmission.
Nootropics can also modulate a range of biological processes which aid with intracellular signaling and various molecular pathways.
Additionally, some natural nootropics act as positive allosteric modulators for acetylcholine or glutamate receptors, which helps to support the release of neurotransmitters.
What is the difference between a “nootropic” and a “smart drug”?
Nootropics and smart drugs are terms used interchangeably to refer to substances that can improve cognitive function. Nootropics are a broad category of substances, including natural supplements, prescription medications, and other compounds that can enhance mental performance. Smart drugs are a subset of nootropics that typically refer to prescription medications such as modafinil (Provigil) or Adderall.
Nootropics and smart drugs work in different ways to boost brain performance. Natural nootropics like caffeine and L-theanine can increase alertness and focus, while prescription smart drugs like modafinil can help with fatigue and procrastination. Both types of substances have potential side effects, so it is important to consult with a doctor before taking any type of cognitive enhancer.
Overall, nootropics and smart drugs can both be effective tools for improving mental performance when used responsibly. However, it is important to understand the differences between them in order to make an informed decision about which one is right for you.
Do Nootropics Work?
Overall, there is evidence to suggest that nootropics can work for many people looking to enhance their cognitive abilities.
Studies have shown that nootropics can affect the brain in positive ways, such as improving memory and verbal recall, reducing brain fog, and increasing alertness.1Matěj Malík and Pavel Tlustoš Nootropics as Cognitive Enhancers: Types, Dosage and Side Effects of Smart Drugs Nutrients. 2022 Aug; 14(16): 3367
Additionally, research has found that nootropics can be effective therapeutic tools for those with specific medical conditions.
However, it is important to note that the effects of nootropics may take some time to build up in the body before users begin to feel their impact. Also, it is recommended to talk to a doctor before taking any supplements or medications.
Some nootropics can treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), depression, and anxiety, while others may have long-term benefits for brain health and cognitive function.
Some nootropics have pretty noticeable, immediate effects, while others are very subtle and have a cumulative impact.
What Are Nootropics?
The term “nootropics” was first coined by Romanian chemist Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea in 1972. Dr. Giurgea synthesized the first nootropic, piracetam, and is considered the grandfather of this field.2Corneliu E. Giurgea, Wikipedia
By Dr. Giurgea’s strict definition, a nootropic is any substance that can enhance mental processes while at the same time protecting the brain from injury. Nootropics should have very few side effects and low toxicity.
However, the modern definition of nootropics is a bit looser and covers over a hundred natural and synthetic compounds.
We should point out that “smart drugs” and amphetamines such as Adderall and Ritalin are NOT considered nootropics due to their negative side-effects and potential toxicity.
Today, millions of people worldwide are starting to turn to nootropics for a safe and sustainable way to enhance cognitive performance and prevent cognitive decline.
Combinations of nootropics are called “stacks.” Most users will take multiple nootropics together for complementary and overlapping effects. For example, someone’s daily nootropic supplement stack might consist of:
- Aniracetam for focus and mood
- Bacopa monnieri to improve memory
- Citicoline for mood, neuroprotection, and to balance out the aniracetam.
This combining of nootropics would be considered a basic stack. Other stacks could involve significantly more nootropics, depending on what the user is looking for and their brain chemistry.
Some nootropics pair and interact exceptionally well together, and others do not. It is essential to do your research when developing your personal nootropic stack.
On the other hand, if you would prefer to purchase a pre-formulated stack and leave the guesswork out of it, we recommend Mind Lab Pro.
Nootropics Vs. Smart Drugs
Although sometimes the terms are used interchangeably, nootropics are NOT smart drugs.
“Smart drugs” refer to pharmaceuticals; prescription medications like Adderall, Ritalin, and Modafinil. These drugs are certainly effective at boosting cognitive performance, but they also come with side effects and complications, such as withdrawal.
Nootropics vs. Adderall
Anyone who has experienced an Adderall crash will attest that there is a dark side to these smart drugs.
They generally work by flooding your brain with an unnaturally high level of “feel-good” neurotransmitters like dopamine.
This process can result in a temporary increase in mental power, but your brain is deficient in these neuro-chemicals after the drug wears off. After all, what goes up must come down.
Although many people can use smart drugs under a physician’s care without issue, others become addicted.
Addiction is especially likely for people who use them without a prescription. In excess, these drugs can cause significant damage, including overdose and death.
On the other hand, nootropic brain supplements are neuroprotective by definition.
Drugs such as Adderall or Ritalin would not qualify.
In contrast to these medications, nootropics are much more subtle on brain function. They protect, rather than deplete, your brain.
So, although both categories can boost brain function and improve mental health, they are not the same. Nootropics are generally a much more sustainable and healthy option in the long term.
Many people are starting to use nootropics as an alternative to prescription drugs. For some, this is a way to keep their brain health operating at peak levels without the nasty side effects.
Learn More: Best Nootropics for ADHD
Are Nootropics Safe?
Nootropics are generally safe by definition. There are many different kinds, but the vast majority have a low side-effect profile and are non-toxic when used as intended.
In contrast to prescription pharmaceuticals, nootropics are available over the counter because they have not been shown to harm the user in average doses.
That said, there may be occasional issues. Nootropics live under a vast umbrella that includes a wide variety of different supplements. Not every supplement is healthy for every person, and there can sometimes be adverse reactions to other medications.
As with anything health-related, it is essential to do your research on any nootropic you consider taking. Consider the following before adding any new supplement treatment to your routine.
Nootropics Safety Guidelines:
- Clinical Research and Randomized Controlled Trials. You should take a look if there have been any high-quality clinical trials on the supplement. The best trials look at large sample sizes under a double-blind, placebo-controlled setting. If researchers have found evidence for cognitive function, this is a good sign that the nootropic has been tested as safe and effective. The internet is full of anecdotal reports for supplements. This “evidence” may be somewhat useful for your research, but it is not a substitute for laboratory-controlled studies.
- Minimum Dose: Although nootropics are usually non-toxic, you should always take the minimum effective dose. Many nootropics are dose-dependent. Too little may be ineffective, but too much give you unwanted side effects. Always take a low dose and ramp up slowly to maximum effectiveness.
- Consider The Source. Not all nootropics are created equal, even if they are the same compound. Also, most dietary supplements are not regulated by the food and drug administration. Some vendors are more trustworthy than others. Do your research and see which suppliers have good quality control practices. You don’t want to buy an ineffective bunk.
- Cycle Your Doses. Some nootropics work best when you take regular weekly or monthly breaks to avoid tolerance.
- Consult Your Doctor: It’s always a good idea to consult a physician before starting a new supplement. This approach is especially true if you have underlying medical issues or are taking certain medications. It’s always smart to play it safe.
Best Nootropics and Cognitive Enhancers
Nootropics can act as cognitive enhancers (and also prevent cognitive decline) in a variety of ways.
They can also be used to boost neurotransmitters and manage dopamine levels that support concentration, energy, learning, creativity, performance, sleep, and behavior.
Here are just some of the most popular choices for each category, backed by clinical studies:
When you are researching, it’s important to keep in mind that not every nootropic will work for every person. Every brain is different, and what may work well for one person may not work at all for another. This is called bio-individuality.
It’s important to listen to your body and make decisions based on your personal situation.
So, if you are hesitant about taking something made in a lab, don’t worry! There are plenty of all-natural options, as well.
The most famous natural nootropics include:
- Rhodiola Rosea
- Bacopa monnieri
- Green Tea Extract
- Gingko Biloba
- Lion’s Mane
- Chaga Mushrooms
So, in a nutshell, nootropics are supplements that can boost your brain power in various ways.
By definition, they are neuroprotective, unlike smart drugs and stimulants commonly prescribed by doctors for ADHD such as Adderall, which can certainly increase alertness and cognition but have serious adverse effects, like an addiction.
Some are synthetic, and some are all-natural. People generally take multiple nootropics together in complementary “stacks.”
We hope this has helped you understand the basics of nootropics! Please continue reading for more in-depth coverage of individual supplements that may help you achieve your goals.
- 1Matěj Malík and Pavel Tlustoš Nootropics as Cognitive Enhancers: Types, Dosage and Side Effects of Smart Drugs Nutrients. 2022 Aug; 14(16): 3367
- 2Corneliu E. Giurgea, Wikipedia