The term nootropic refers to a class of compounds that offers cognitive benefits. Some are naturally-occurring while others are manmade. To be more technical, a certain chemical can only be considered a nootropic if it meets the five criteria set by Dr. Corneliu Giurgea, a Romanian psychologist and chemist who coined the term in 1972. The substance must:

  1. Improve memory and enhance ability to learn.
  2. Help the brain operate under disruptive conditions like hypoxia and electroconvulsive shock.
  3. Protect the brain from physical and chemical assaults, such as the effects of barbiturates and anti-cholinergic drugs.
  4. Boost the efficacy of neuronal firing control mechanisms in the cortical and sub-cortical areas of the brain.
  5. Possess little or no side effects and be nearly non-toxic.

This is quite an extensive list of criteria for any substance, and if you come to think of it, anything that will meet all five can well be regarded as a “miracle drug,” not simply a nootropic.

Nonetheless, when the term nootropic is casually used, people refer to a “cognitive enhancer” or something that enhances memory, improves concentration, speeds up cognitive processing, or a combination of these. “Smart drugs” is generally an interchangeable term.

If you’re browsing this site you likely got here through your interest in nootropics. Maybe you’ve seen the word thrown around while browsing forums, or maybe you have a friend that’s always going on and on about how great they are. Whatever the case, you came here to learn more about them, and that’s a great thing. But with the hundreds of different options out there (many existing in a legal gray area) how do you know which are legit and which are all hype? Look no further…

Things to Consider Before Taking a Nootropic

Solo vs. Stacking

Stacking nootropics can be an effective way to get the benefits of multiple nootropics, but it isn’t necessarily best. If you’re just looking to achieve one main goal, like increasing productivity, there’s no need to take a nootropic meant to help you sleep. You should only take what you need so that you don’t end up becoming dependant on them. However, if you’re looking to achieve different goals, such as improving social skills and memory, stacking nootropics can be beneficial. Some nootropics are actually meant to be stacked, like Piracetam, Aniracetam, Phenylpiracetam, and Noopept. But stacking nootropics won’t matter if you’re buying from low quality vendors.

Quality

Because supplements are not regulated or examined by the FDA their quality can sometimes be shoddy. Buying from low quality, shady vendors is one way to get nootropics of questionable quality. The purity and composition of nootropics from sub par vendors may vary from batch to batch, which makes it hard to know you’re getting a quality product. To ensure you’re getting a high quality product you can trust, always do plenty of research beforehand and only buy from trusted vendors.

Dose

Nootropics can vary greatly in their recommended dosage. Some nootropics have to be taken multiple times a day in order for you to continue to feel their effects, which may annoy some people. Although it would be very convenient if you could just take one pill in the morning and feel the effects all day, this isn’t always the case.

How Long You Plan On Taking Them

Before trying nootropics, you should consider how long you plan on using them. You should try to avoid using them for an extended period of time, as it can have a few side effects. For one, it may cause your brain to become dependent on nootropics and impair its ability to perform without them. You may also build up a tolerance to a nootropic if you take the same dose for a long time, which can lead people to want to increase their dose to feel more effects.

Safety

Safety should always be practiced when taking nootropics, and you should always follow the directions that come with the product. Taking more than the recommended dose can be dangerous and can make your body more likely to become dependent on nootropics. Too much of a supplement can also have acute negative effects, including headaches, anxiety, increased heart rate, and nausea. If you feel like you are building up a tolerance to a nootropic, instead of increasing your dosage, you should try cycling nootropics. Using one nootropic for a certain amount of time and then changing to another one, meant to achieve the same things, and continuing to do this can help keep your body from developing a tolerance.

Lack of Research

Before choosing any nootropics, you should understand and accept the fact that the research done on them is limited. Their long term effects are not fully understood yet, so there are some inherent risks associated with them. However, they have been successful in helping thousands of people and some studies have suggested they may have neuroprotective properties.

The 15 Best Nootropics on Market Today

1Caffeine

This is considered by many as the world’s most popular drug because it’s cheap, it’s useful, and it usually works well with other nootropics. It’s a stimulant that most people associate with coffee, but is also found in other nootropics like tea, fruits, pills and energy drinks.

Caffeine is classified as a nootropic because of its stimulating effects on the brain. It has been proven to improve alertness, attentiveness, focus, concentration, and wakefulness.

A lot of people don’t know that caffeine is considered a nootropic because this fact is masked by its social value. However, caffeine is a brain and mood enhancing substance that can be potent in the right product. It is ideal for active people who wish to stay sharp and focused. It can be combined with L-Theanine to make a powerful supplement that lifts mood and delivers focused energy without any jitters.

2Omega-3s

Omega-3 fats or essential fats are important for the long-term health of your brain, heart, immune system, and for keeping cholesterol levels within normal limits. But since your body does not produce them, you need to find ways of ingesting them through your daily diet. One way to do so is through food like sardines, flax seeds, tofu, soybeans, and walnuts. 

Another easily accessible source of omega-3’s is krill oil, which is also loaded with EPA. Bear in mind that both krill oil and omega 3 are capable of supplying EPA and DHA, but krill oil contains more EPA. Taking a krill oil supplement is a good way to keep your brain healthy.

3Choline

Choline is a vitamin-like essential nutrient that’s a crucial part of your diet. A long term lack of choline can lead to kidney necrosis and the development of fatty liver. In contrast, a diet that’s rich in choline results in a more vigorous mind and body. It is taken as a supplement since it acts as a catalyst for acetylcholine synthesis, which leads to improved memory and overall intelligence. 

Vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower are rich in choline, as does meat like codfish and raw beef liver. Almonds, peanuts, and hard boiled eggs are also excellent sources of choline. 

45-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)

This naturally occurring nootropic converts into serotonin in the brain. Serotonin or 5-hydroxytryptamine is a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for happiness. Hence, 5-HTP is an exceptional nootropic for mood and it can help in relieving stress and depression. 

A number of clinical studies have highlighted the effectiveness of 5-HTP, and it has been proven to enhance mood and mental performance. Because of these benefits, it’s not surprising that 5-HTP is continuing to gain popularity among people dealing with anxiety, depression, insomnia, obesity, and many other disorders.

5L-Theanine

L-Theanine is an amino acid that is commonly found in black and green tea leaves. It carries an array of health benefits from improving mood and promoting relaxation to cardiovascular, weight loss and cognitive benefits. It is now available in different doses across a variety of products.

As aforementioned, L-Theanine works synergistically with caffeine to increase reaction time, memory, and mental endurance. It was initially prescribed for the treatment of memory loss since it can be quickly absorbed and induce enhanced function of neurotransmitters.

6L-Tyrosine

Tyrosine or 4-hydroxyphenylalanine is a non-essential amino acid, which means your body does not synthesize it. In order to add tyrosine and get all its benefits, you need to introduce it through your diet. It can improve your mood, especially if you’re stressed or dealing with a bout of depression. It can also increase your cognitive functions and help you sleep better.

Studies have shown that you can feel the benefits of tyrosine more if you ingest it on an empty stomach. Note that your body has plenty of amino acids, and several others are found in foods. If you add a number of amino acids to your body simultaneously, the effect of tyrosine can be dulled. Hence it is advisable to take it when you’re hungry, so it does not have to compete with other amino acids for transport across the blood-brain barrier.

7Alpha-GPC

Alpha-GPC (L-Alpha Glycerylphosphorylcholine) is a choline compound found in your brain. It enhances overall cognitive abilities, improves your memory, gives you a mental boost, and increases your alertness and attentiveness. Scientists have also demonstrated that it is capable of slowing down cognitive decline, thereby minimizing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

It is more bioavailable than other choline sources for brain benefits. Moreover, unlike choline bitartrate or choline citrate, Alpha GPC can easily cross the blood-brain barrier. This makes it a preferred source of choline among nootropic users. Those who regularly take Alpha-GPC as a supplement claim that it effectively improves their attention, concentration, and focus, even if they don’t really understand the science behind it.

8Niacin (Vitamin B3)

Some people attest that niacin is more effective than most supplement-based nootropics. This B-vitamin can be found in eggs, beef, chicken, salmon, and tuna. It’s an essential vitamin since it helps prevent nausea, malaise, and skin lesions.

As well as improving memory, focus, concentration, and relieving anxiety, niacin can help in repairing DNA and has also been used in cancer treatment. It increases the amount of blood pumped to the brain, making it an important mental stimulant.

9Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba increases the supply of oxygen and blood to your brain. It improves mental clarity and prevents free radical scavengers from killing cells. It also dilates blood vessels, improving blood flow and providing nutritional support to all areas of your body.

Taking Ginkgo biloba prior to a stressful task lowers stress-related hypertension and decreases blood levels of cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone. It is also effective in the treatment of allergies, anxiety attacks, depression, dizziness, mood swings, memory loss, among others.

A lot of people love this natural herb because it is exceptionally safe. No significant adverse reactions to it have been reported to date. 

10Creatine

Creatine is an amino acid that your body uses to produce protein. It’s a popular bodybuilding supplement but is also beneficial for your brain. It is synthesized in the liver, pancreas, and kidneys. In the brain, it is used to boost Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) which fuels neurons.

This increased availability of energy for brain cells has been linked to improved reasoning skills and short-term memory, particularly among vegetarians and highly stressed individuals. Studies show that it is safe and beneficial to take 5 grams of creatine daily. Larger doses are equally effective, although research related to long-term safety is currently unavailable.

11Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT)

MCT oils are easily absorbed into the bloodstream and deliver a dynamic energizing effect. They are a fast-acting fuel for the mind and body with significant implications for different aspects of good health.

In addition to its nootropic benefits, MCT oils have also been proven to be effective in the treatment for epilepsy, obesity, and they help in fostering a healthy diet by curbing cravings. You can comfortably introduce it into your diet. It tastes good so it can complement your favorite bread, salad, and soup.

12Panax Ginseng

Panax ginseng is a medicinal plant that grows in Korea, eastern Siberia, and northeastern China. Its root, in particular, is known to contain compounds that boost brain function. It has been shown that a single dose of 200–400 mg can reduce brain fatigue and improve performance on mental tasks like solving math problems.

However, it remains unclear exactly how Panax ginseng positively affects brain function. It could be related to its potent anti-inflammatory properties, which help protect the brain from oxidative stress.

Some use Panax ginseng to cope with stress and improve well-being. People sometimes refer to as an ‘adaptogen’ when it is used for such purpose. Others also use it for treating anxiety attacks, depression, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and for boosting the immune system.

13Nicotine

If taken carefully and sparingly, nicotine can be a very powerful nootropic. This naturally occurring chemical is found in a number of plants, especially tobacco. It is one of the components that make cigarettes addictive.

Nicotine can be taken through gum or absorbed through the skin using a nicotine patch. Studies have proven that nicotine can improve alertness and attention, particularly among people with poor attention spans. It has direct effect on mitochondrial energy, and anything that enhances mitochondrial function will make the brain work better. However, aside from being addictive, nicotine can also be lethal in high doses, so caution is warranted. 

14Bacopa Monnieri

Bacopa monnieri is an ancient Indian herb used in Ayurvedic medicine to improve brain function. A number of studies have demonstrated that Bacopa monnieri supplements improve memory, reduce reaction times, and speed up information processing in your brain.

This aquatic plant contains active chemicals called bacosides, which protect neurons against oxidative stress. They also improve signaling in the hippocampus, a part of your brain that processes memories.

Note, however, that the effects of Bacopa monnieri are not immediately felt. For maximum benefits, you must take doses of 300‒600 mg for several months. In standardized format, it is used for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, anxiety disorders, among many others.

15Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola is a herb that thrives in the cold, mountainous regions of Asia and Europe. Its root alone contains over 140 biologically active compounds, the two most potent of which are salidroside and rosavin.

It is another adaptogenic herb that is effective in managing anxiety, stress, and depression. A number of studies have shown that Rhodiola rosea supplements improve mood and reduce the feelings of burnout in anxious and stressed individuals. In fact, college students take small doses to reduce mental fatigue during stressful exam periods.

Limitations of Nootropics

Nootropics can do a lot, but it’s important to also know what they cannot do so that you have realistic expectations of them. Nootropics cannot “make you smarter”. They may make it easier to focus and make you more productive, but they won’t add any IQ points. They also will not replace a healthy diet and exercise routine. You should still live an active, healthy lifestyle while taking nootropics to optimize cognitive abilities. The effects of nootropics may not feel as profound as you’d expect, and your body may react differently than your friend’s. They will not necessarily feel like a sudden bolt of energy or a surge of brain power, the effects may be more subtle.

16Final Thoughts

Like everything in life, there are pros and cons to using nootropics. Although there are some risks associated with them, many users say the benefits far outweigh them. Even after reading this guide, doing more research before you make a purchase is a good idea. This was only a very brief, introductory guide to a very complex subject.

We all love the feeling of being calm and taking in stride no matter what life throws at us. We enjoy being in control, having sharp memory, and seamless cognitive functioning.  No wonder the use of nootropics is on the rise in today’s society. The good news is that there are nootropics available for every comfort level. So if you are tired of the usual set of options and ready for something new, then you may want to give one of the above a try.

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