With the increasing demands of 21st Century lifestyles, many people are turning to health and productivity solutions to improve overall mental clarity and wellbeing. An ever-increasing portion of the population is looking for ways to hack their bodies using products that affect certain physiological functions.
One of the most popular hacks is cognitive enhancement. Many people suffer from exhaustion, fatigue and a general lack of focus. The inability to concentrate or pay attention is sometimes described as “fog brain” because it feels like your mental clarity has been compromised.
This condition is something people struggle with no matter how much sleep they get, how much they exercise or how healthy their diet is. Unfortunately, it’s a common by-product of acute stress, burnout and general busyness.
Thankfully, ongoing research into cognitive enhancement solutions has produced several synthetic, natural and hybrid products that directly target and alleviate symptoms of brain fog while boosting memory, learning and other cognitive functions. They’re a category of supplement called nootropics, or more broadly termed, “smart drugs”. They’re one component of a larger neuroenhancement movement that’s popular among tech entrepreneurs, executives and influencers.
There are many types and subtypes of nootropics products, each with their own sets of effects, advantages and benefits. Depending on the type of condition you’re treating or the type of function you’re looking to enhance, there’s a nootropic product that’s right for you. All you need is some basic understanding of how the brain works and responds to these products.
Nootropics are chemical compounds that target and enhance cognitive functions and abilities either naturally or synthetically. Many people think of nootropics as the synthetic, chemical drugs that doctors prescribe for ADHD or other similar disorders. Other times, people consider illicit and controlled substances like LSD to be nootropics. However, some of the oldest forms of nootropics come from plant sources, and many people are turning to natural brain drug alternatives like herbal supplements.
Regardless of which type of product you take, they’re all generally referred to as nootropics. The broad categories of nootropics are:
The term nootropic was first coined by Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, a Romanian chemist and psychologist who studied cognitive enhancement. Dr. Giurgea developed the first synthetic nootropic called Piracetam, which is still widely available today. Thanks to his work, more research into nootropics was funded, and today it has become an important market segment in consumer health and wellness.
In general, nootropics help with memory, learning and focus. But there are actually a specific set of ways that nootropic substances of any origin help. Based on Dr. Giurgea’s definition of nootropics, these products must meet the following criteria:
Many nootropic products today don’t always meet these exact criteria. Instead, the word “nootropics” has become a general term used to describe any product or solution that helps with the following:
There’s a common misconception that nootropics are primarily used by people pulling all-nighters or individuals looking to vastly improve their cognitive performance for competitions or stressful situations. Previously, this meant nootropics carried with them a certain stigma stemming from a misunderstanding about what these substances really are and how anyone can safely use them.
Today, people from all walks of life and age groups use nootropics. And there are countless reasons why people are looking to improve their thinking, memory and learning abilities. Here are a few of the many groups of people who use nootropics:
Because different nootropics provide different effects, many people choose to combine multiple nootropic products. This helps deliver an array of cognitive benefits, which work cooperatively to improve various brain functions. Combining nootropics products for different purposes is called “stacking”. There are certain ways to do this effectively, which we’ll cover later.
We’ve covered the benefits of nootropics and the types of advantages they provide. We know that there are different types of nootropics suitable for different groups of people. But how do these brain-enhancing drugs actually work? Rightfully, many consumers want a better understanding of what happens to their brains when they take nootropic supplements.
Nootropics work by affecting the brain in two primary ways:
These are the two general ways that nootropics affect the brain and improve cognitive function. To get a deeper understanding of why smart drugs enhance memory, learning and mood, it’s helpful to understand how the brain works.
Because there are so many different types of nootropics, and each product has its own way of improving cognitive function, it’s important to understand the different effects that nootropics have on the brain. This will help you gain important knowledge on the workings of brain chemicals and how nootropics influence them. It will also help you understand which nootropics products will align best with your goals. For example, if your goal is to increase focus, then you need to know which part of the brain to target with nootropics. That’s because the brain uses different chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, to perform certain functions.
In this section, we’ll cover these aspects of the brain and how they work concerning cognitive functions:
Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers in the brain. They are the substances contained in the brain’s neurons that carry a signal from one neuron to the next. Neurotransmitters are responsible for a wide range of brain functions from keeping the heart beating and making the muscles move, to helping retain information and regulating sleep. Each type of neurotransmitter has its own set of functions it’s responsible for communicating, boosting or balancing.
There are two broad forms of neurotransmitters: excitatory and inhibitory. A balance of both is needed for healthy brain activity. An imbalance in neurotransmitter types can cause either an overactive or underactive brain.
When a neuron receives a signal to release a neurotransmitter, it sends the chemical across its synapse (the gap between the end of one neuron and the beginning of another) to the receptor of the receiving neuron. If it’s an excitatory neurotransmitter, then the receptor will receive the message and carry it along its pathway. Think of this as stimulating activity in the brain. On the other hand, if it’s an inhibitory neurotransmitter, then the receptor will prevent the message from being passed along. Think of this as balancing activity in the brain by reducing levels of stimulation.
The neurotransmitter and the receptor together form a “system”. The brain is full of these communication systems between the neurotransmitter and the receptor. When healthy, these systems function quickly, efficiently and repeatedly as part of maintaining normal functions.
In certain people, there is an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. Depending on the case, there may be too much stimulating or too much inhibiting of signals. This imbalance is what many doctors believe to be the cause of depression and anxiety in some people. In other cases, diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s can also create neurotransmitter deficits. These diseases specifically impact neurotransmitters responsible for memory function and learning as well as muscle movements and other cognitive functions. Without a healthy level of these neurotransmitters, the brain will start to lose the ability to carry out these functions.
As you can imagine, even a healthy person can increase many different brain functions by improving the levels and effectiveness of certain neurotransmitters. That’s where nootropics come in.
Before we get into the nootropics that affect certain neurotransmitters, let’s review the types and functions of each of the main neurotransmitters. Scientists have identified over 100 different neurotransmitter substances in the human brain. But there are likely many more that remain undiscovered.
Among these dozens of neurotransmitters are five primary chemical messengers that nootropics products help to enhance:
Acetylcholine is one of the most abundant neurotransmitters in the brain. It works on the cholinergic neuronal system of the brain. The cholinergic system is composed of the neurotransmitter-receptor sites for the acetylcholine messenger.
This neuronal system is responsible for muscle coordination and important cognitive functions including memory, learning, concentration and decision-making. It is one of the main neurotransmitters that nootropics users look to improve through supplementation.
The body doesn’t produce acetylcholine on its own. Rather it needs to be built through the nutrient called choline, which is found in food sources like eggs and meat. For this reason, choline is a common ingredient in nootropics products to boost the production rates of acetylcholine in the brain.
Glutamate (also called glutamic acid) is the most abundant neurotransmitter in the brain. It’s the neurotransmitter of the glutamatergic neuronal system, which operates in the nervous system and brain. As an excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamate is responsible for maintaining a healthy, high-functioning brain. Specifically, glutamate regulates the brain’s ability to learn new information and improve memory. The brain uses glutamate to make memories and retain and access them.
Glutamate also plays a critical metabolic role in the body to produce energy. Healthy levels of glutamate are also important for producing the amino acid glutamine, which is a building block for protein that helps in preserving muscle tissue. Glutamate is also considered an anti-aging neurotransmitter because of its ability to prolong cellular life.
Glutamate is produced naturally in the body, but can also be obtained from food sources such as mushrooms, broccoli and walnuts. It’s important not to have an overabundance of glutamate in the body as it can cause glutamate toxicity. High levels of glutamate have been linked to certain neurological disorders.
Another important function of glutamate in the brain is its importance in producing another neurotransmitter, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).
GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Unlike glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter, GABA prevents stimulation in the brain. As an inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA helps to calm brain activity and ease nervous over-excitement in the brain. This makes GABA a possible supplemental nootropic product for treating attention-deficit type symptoms, which helps improve focus and concentration by putting the person into a calm state.
The body is exceptionally good at regulating substances, including GABA. Considered a self-inhibitor, GABA naturally determines its own uptake (absorption) rates in the brain’s tissues. This allows GABA levels to remain consistent. In addition to its self-regulation, GABA supplements also have considerable difficulty crossing the blood-brain barrier. These two factors (self-regulation and blood-brain barrier impermeability) make it difficult to benefit from any type of GABA supplementation.
Scientists have found, however, that taking GABA with nitric oxide (NO) helps improve absorption rates in the brain.
Dopamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter naturally produced in the brain. Dopamine is probably most well-known for its association with the pleasure and reward functions of the brain. This is the chemical that is released when stimulated by sex, food and certain illicit drugs like cocaine and amphetamines. For this reason, it’s also called a “happiness hormone”.
But dopamine has other important neural functions that help it act as a cognitive enhancer. Dopamine levels in the brain help to improve attention span. When dopamine levels are higher in the prefrontal cortex portion of the brain—the area of the brain responsible for planning, memory, reasoning and logic—working memory, concentration, problem-solving and learning are all heightened.
Nootropics products that act on the dopaminergic neuronal system are effective at boosting this “pleasure-reward” chemical and, in turn, enhancing these various cognitive functions.
Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps to relax the brain, as opposed to its excitatory counterpart, dopamine. Doctors consider depression to be the result of low-levels of serotonin in the brain. That’s why the drugs used to treat depression are called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), meaning they prevent serotonin from being reabsorbed by the sending neuron and instead remain in the synapse to be used by the brain.
While serotonin isn’t directly associated with brain and memory enhancement, it does play a significant role elevating mood, improving motivation and maintaining overall wellbeing. When these psychological aspects are improved, it can greatly impact the ability to concentrate, learn and retain memories. That’s why nootropics that either fully or partially impact serotonin can be important products in your mind nutrition arsenal.
These five neurotransmitters—acetylcholine, glutamate, GABA, dopamine and serotonin—play a critical, yet unique role in how the brain works. Their presence is required for the brain to form neuronal connections, communicate with itself and ultimately regulate its cognitive activity. When any of these or other neurotransmitters are out of balance, it leads to the common symptoms of brain fog, inability to concentrate, decreased memory retention or overall lack of motivation.
That’s where nootropics help. Nootropics products specifically target certain types of neurotransmitters and either stimulate their production or provide the necessary precursors or enzymes to produce them.
By maximizing the synaptic connections between neurons, nootropics help improve the brain’s use of these neurotransmitters and their corresponding roles in the brain. Here are some ways that nootropics products improve the neurotransmitter levels and activity in the brain:
Along with the dozens of neurotransmitters and the different ways of improving their abundance in the brain, there are also different categories of nootropics supplements that influence the brain’s cognitive function. We’ll explore each of these next, with examples of specific products for memory enhancement.
As mentioned, there is a substantial amount of nootropics products that are considered brain enhancing drugs. Whether they’re natural supplements, stimulants or lifestyle improvements, nootropics can help achieve whatever your desired goal is.
Here are the main classifications of nootropics available to help enhance brain function:
By knowing more about the different categories of nootropics and the products or methods available in each approach, you’ll be better equipped to choose the best nootropics for you.
Natural nootropics have been popular for centuries, even before the concept of nootropics was ever clinically defined. That’s because natural nootropics either come from herbal sources, such as plants and plant mixtures, or they are natural nutrients the body already needs like vitamins or minerals.
One of the primary and most obvious benefits of natural nootropics is their safety. Provided you understand dosages and drug interactions, natural nootropics are the safest way to enhance cognitive function.
On the other hand, natural nootropics on their own are not considered as strong or potent as those that have been chemically synthesized. However, many people choose to take multiple types of natural nootropics as a “stack” to optimize their effects. We’ll cover more on stacking in another section.
The other interesting and appealing aspect of natural nootropics is their potential treatment for brain disorders. There are currently dozens of studies underway examining the effectiveness of certain natural treatment options for dementia as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. This is incredibly promising, especially due to our aging population and the increasing prominence of Alzheimer’s disease among seniors. In fact, half of the 85+ population in America is affected by Alzheimer’s. Some notable breakthroughs in diet, including an intake of many of the natural nootropics, are pointing at these holistic supplements as being a hopeful solution to Alzheimer’s prevention and management.
With so many benefits of natural nootropics, it’s no wonder why consumers are turning to these options. Natural nootropics products also offer plenty of other health benefits in addition to cognitive enhancement, including important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. There are three different types of natural nootropics, and we’ll examine each of these more in-depth:
Vitamins and minerals are nutrients the body requires for specific functions, including healthy brain development and function. A deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals can directly affect cognitive performance and could be a cause of many brain fog symptoms.
Here are some of the categories of vitamins and minerals that act as natural nootropics for improving cognitive function:
B Vitamins: The B vitamins are a group of eight vitamins that are essential to the body. The body cannot produce B vitamins naturally, so they must be obtained from food sources. B vitamins are responsible for converting your food into usable energy in the body. Without sufficient levels of B vitamins, you could be left feeling fatigued and drained. B vitamins also work together to help activate and enhance their unique functions in the body.
Each B vitamin has its own set of roles within the body that also impact the brain. Here are three B vitamins that are known to act as natural nootropics to enhance brain function:
Vitamin D: One of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world is a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is essential for cognitive function because of the critical role it plays in producing neurotransmitters. It’s also a vital nutrient for cellular repair and maintenance, helping with the proper function and health of brain cells.
Magnesium: Magnesium is an important mineral to add to a nootropic stack because of its importance in energy production. The brain uses magnesium in over 50 different cognitive functions. Magnesium nootropic effects include improving memory, concentration and overall mood.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are oils the body and brain need for cellular repair, growth and maintenance. In the brain, omega-3 fatty acids help keep brain cells strong and healthy, which improves communication and impulse. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation has also shown promising results for preventing and managing dementia.
Many herbal supplements that come from natural plant sources also act as nootropics. There is a common misconception that natural supplements aren’t as effective as synthetic drugs. However, many pharmaceutical products are derived from natural sources or are designed to replicate them. Plants contain chemical compounds that affect the brain in different ways. Some of the effects that different plant substances can produce include:
Many people choose to combine herbal supplements to create a stack that targets several of these functions. This gives you control over your nootropics allowing you to create a tailored solution to address your exact symptoms.
There are countless types of herbal supplements that provide nootropic effects. Many herbal supplements have been used for centuries in traditional medicine systems. Traditional Chinese Medicine and India’s Ayurveda and are just two ancient medicine systems that have long known and understood the effects that various plants have on the human brain and overall condition.
Despite there being hundreds of plants used in holistic medicine, there are a handful of herbs that have been studied and tested specifically for their cognitive enhancement effects. Some of the most popular herbal nootropics include:
Ashwagandha: An important plant in Ayurveda, ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen herb. The primary properties of adaptogen herbs are their ability to balance hormones in the body. Generally, ashwagandha is prescribed as a stress-relieving herb, which indirectly improves mood and concentration levels.
Bacopa: Bacopa Monnieri is a popular Ayurvedic herb for boosting concentration levels. It is one of the most popular herbal nootropics for improving mental focus, memory and stress. Bacopa works on the serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters and has also been shown to improve the effectiveness of neuronal communication. This increase in neuronal effectiveness is why many people, including seniors and students, take Bacopa for overcoming forgetfulness and for improving the ability to study.
Ginkgo Biloba: One of the most well-researched herbal supplements, ginkgo biloba has shown to have a significant impact on improving memory over time. Ginkgo biloba’s memory-enhancement benefits are especially important for seniors and for those leading a stressful lifestyle. Other nootropic effects of ginkgo biloba include mood elevation and increased vitality. This can help improve motivation and lead to greater productivity for students and professionals.
Ginseng (Panax): Ginseng Panax, or “true” ginseng is an ancient herbal remedy used all over the world. It’s most well-known for being a natural stimulant. In addition to being an energy-boosting substance, ginseng has also shown to improve concentration and mental clarity. Additionally, ginseng is recommended for students and seniors as a way to enhance memory and learning. Ginseng is also touted as an herbal stimulant to boost motivation for those suffering from depression.
Lion’s Mane: Lion’s mane is a unique type of mushroom used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Several studies have found that lion’s mane has incredible cognitive improvement benefits, making it one of the most popular brain-boosting supplements. One of the most important findings with loin’s mane is its ability to encourage neuronal growth and repair. With greater rates of cellular repair in the brain, it’s possible that lion’s mane can help reverse damage done by neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Research has also found important lion’s mane benefits for improving sleep quality and reducing anxiety.
Rhodiola: A prolific herb throughout Asia and Europe, rhodiola has important traditional uses for boosting physical and mental endurance, fighting fatigue and improving productivity. Rhodiola helps to increase the production of ATP, which is what brain cells use for fuel. In addition to energy-boosting, rhodiola also helps to reduce cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is the stress hormone that can lead to long-term, stress-related damage in the body. Taking rhodiola may help to reverse symptoms of chronic stress like poor memory and an inability to concentrate.
Amino acids are known as the building blocks of substances in the body. Many amino acids are considered nootropics because of their influence on brain development and activity. Here are some of the ways amino acids impact brain performance:
Amino acids are broadly classified as essential and non-essential. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body and must come from food or supplement sources. Non-essential amino acids are produced naturally by the body.
Amino acids are common ingredients in nootropics stacks, or they can be taken individually, depending on your unique goals. Here are some of the common amino acids associated with nootropic effects:
Acetyl L-carnitine (ALCAR): ACLAR is a modified amino acid and popular nootropic substance. Its high permeability through the blood-brain barrier makes it a highly effective “smart drug”. ALCAR’s effectiveness as a nootropic stems from its direct relation to increasing acetylcholine production in the brain.
In addition to its influence on neurotransmitter production, ALCAR enhances the brain’s ability to use glucose as brain fuel. Optimizing glucose use for energy is an important aspect in preventing neurodegenerative conditions in many people. ACLAR is also linked to increased Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), which is responsible for growing new neurons and enhancing the health of existing ones.
Overall, ALCAR is shown to help improve memory retention, focus, mental clarity, mood and learning and processing rates.
L-Phenylalanine: L-phenylalanine comes from phenylalanine, an essential amino acid. L-phenylalanine is an important nootropic substance because it’s the precursor to another amino acid called tyrosine. As a yet another precursor itself, tyrosine is reusable for the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine.
Like ALCAR, l-phenylalanine is a popular nootropic substance because it easily crosses the blood-brain barrier for effective absorption. L-phenylalanine provides cognitive enhancement effects such as improved mental clarity, heightened alertness, increased energy levels, elevated mood and increased memory retention.
L-theanine: Found naturally in black, green and white teas, l-theanine has been studied for its ability to improve memory. L-theanine acts on the GABA, serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters. Its effects on these neurotransmitters make l-theanine a remedy for improved mood, concentration and motivation.
L-theanine also has neuroprotective effects, meaning it can help protect the brain from oxidative damage. Additionally, one of the most unusual aspects of l-theanine is its ability to increase alpha brain waves, which is a mental state that provides focus and creativity while being in a calm and relaxed state.
N-Acetyl L-tyrosine (NALT): NALT is a modified form of l-tyrosine, which is an amino acid that acts on the dopamine neurotransmitter. The body breaks down NALT into l-tyrosine, which is then used in the synthesis of dopamine. NALT is becoming a popular nootropic product because of its convenience in creating smart drug stacks.
The main nootropic benefit of NALT is its ability to boost brain performance by reducing stress, stimulating brain activity and enhancing memory. Some reports also suggest that taking NALT enhances mental clarity and overall alertness.
Phosphatidylserine (PS): Not a true amino acid, phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid that contains both fatty and amino acids. PS is considered a nootropic substance for many reasons, including its ability to improve memory, mood and overall cognition. PS has also been studied as a potential remedy for treating Alzheimer’s disease symptoms and fighting against age-related cognitive decline.
PS is becoming a popular product in the neuroenhancement movement because of its benefits for combatting ADHD symptoms. PS has been shown to increase mental focus while reducing anxiety and stress levels. By combining increased mental focus and lowered stress, PS can help people concentrate longer and improve their overall productivity.
Taurine: Another amino acid used to increase physical and mental performance, taurine acts on the GABA neurotransmitter. Taurine works to stimulate GABA neuronal receptors in the brain. Because GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, taking taurine as a nootropic can help to alleviate anxiety, improve sleep quality and put the brain into a more relaxed state. Taurine is also associated with neuroprotective benefits, which can help with the prevention of cognitive decline.
Overall, taurine is an excellent nootropic product to take when suffering from insomnia, anxiety and an inability to concentrate to due high levels of stress. Taurine can help to keep the mind clear and focused and prevent mental distraction.
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): 5-HTP is made by the essential amino acid, tryptophan. When you consume tryptophan through food sources, the body converts it into 5-HTP. It then becomes an immediate precursor for the neurotransmitter serotonin. 5-HTP supplements act as a nootropic by primarily reducing anxiety and insomnia.
But 5-HTP is also an important substance for regulating neurotransmitters in the brain. Without an optimal balance between serotonin and other neurotransmitters, the brain will not perform optimally. Serotonin deficiencies can be eased with 5-HTP, which can improve memory, learning and overall thought processing.
The term stimulant is a broad categorization that comprises any kind of substance designed to stimulate activity in the central nervous system and brain. When discussing stimulants for nootropic effects, people are generally referring to “smart drugs”, which are prescription, synthetic stimulants intended to treat cognitive behavioral disorders like ADHD. But these stimulants also have nootropic-like qualities such as improving the ability to focus, which is why people take them even without a cognitive disorder diagnosis.
In other words, people use certain prescription stimulants for off-label purposes because these drugs offer nootropic benefits. However, nootropics purists will say that these substances don’t meet the true nootropic definition because many stimulants have potentially harmful side effects.
There are also crossover stimulants called eugeroics, which act as both a smart drug and nootropic. Compared to true smart drugs, eugeroics have far fewer side effects with the primary risks being their interaction with other medications.
Though these “smart drugs” do offer nootropic effects such as increased alertness and improved focus, they are not recommended for people who are beginning their nootropics journey. These drugs were initially intended as treatments for clinical conditions. Those who are simply looking to improve their current cognitive functions and endurance are best to go with natural nootropics or synthetic nootropics, called racetams.
Here are some of the main types of smart drugs that are often taken as nootropics:
Methylphenidate (Ritalin®): Methylphenidate (MPH) is a synthetic pharmaceutical stimulant originally designed to treat ADHD. It is widely marketed around the world under the name Ritalin®. It has nootropic-like effects because MPH blocks the reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine (another neurotransmitter), effectively prolonging their availability in the synapse. MPH must be taken in controlled dosages. For example, low doses of MPH don’t affect hyperactivity. Instead, small doses increase neurotransmitters slightly and for a short amount of time to improve memory and concentration.
Amphetamines (Adderall®): Amphetamines are a potent class of drugs that stimulate the central nervous system. Primarily used as a treatment for ADHD, prescription amphetamines are well-known by the name Adderall®. But there are also illicit amphetamines such as Ecstasy, which have similar properties to the legal “smart drug”. Like MPH, amphetamines also increase the availability of dopamine and norepinephrine. However, they also trigger serotonin release. Because amphetamines release feel-good hormones, they can become highly addictive.
Modafinil (Provigil®): Modafinil is a synthetic stimulant designed to treat sleep disorders such as narcolepsy and impaired sleep quality from shift-work. As a nootropic, Modafinil increases dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain. It also stimulates the neurotransmitter called histamine, which provides an increased sense of wakefulness. Modafinil also offers the benefit of reduced anxiety by decreasing stimuli in the amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for fear-response. Modafinil is considered a eugeroic, which is a type of drug that promotes wakefulness. Another drug in this category is called Adrafinil, which converts itself into Modafinil in the body.
Ampakines: Ampakines are a type of smart drug designed to promote long-term working memory. A common type of nootropic ampakine is Noopept, which is also considered part racetam. Ampakines are not FDA-approved but are being investigated as a possible treatment for neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. Ampakines work by binding to certain glutamate receptors in the brain and increasing their long-term activity. However, due to a serious risk of glutamate toxicity, ampakines should not be taken by anyone under the age of 35 due to ongoing brain development at the age.
Racetams are the original substances coined as “nootropics”. They are a group of synthetic products that function in similar ways. Unlike general stimulants, racetams are manufactured for the specific purpose of being cognitive enhancement drugs.
The first racetam product was developed by Dr. Giurgea, who coined and helped define the term nootropic. His racetam product, piracetam is still one of the most widely consumed nootropics today. Piracetam is the model that all other racetams are derived from, though many modern racetams are exponentially more potent than piracetam.
All racetams have the same chemical structure and are designed to activate acetylcholine receptors in the brain. Depending on the type of racetam, the product will either boost acetylcholine receptor function or enhance acetylcholine production. Some racetams enhance acetylcholine production by blocking the substances that break down acetylcholine, thus increasing its presence in the brain.
In general, racetams offer great benefits for increased concentration, mental focus and energy levels. Racetams help to alleviate brain fog and increase productivity over longer periods of time. The four most popular types of racetams include:
Piracetam: The simplest racetam available, piracetam works by increasing acetylcholine production. Piracetam also affects other neurotransmitters including glutamate, dopamine and serotonin.
Aniracetam: Though similar to Piracetam, aniracetam is designed to last longer inside the body, leading to longer-lasting effects. Aniracetam is a common nootropic used by students to increase concentration and memory retention during long study sessions.
Oxiracetam: Though not an actual stimulant, oxiracetam is believed to have a stimulant-like effect by increasing mental activity. It also has longer-lasting effects than aniracetam and can help to counter fatigue.
Pramiracetam: The most potent group of racetams, pramiracetam also help increase memory, learning and overall cognitive effects. Pramiracetam is generally considered safe, even for long-term use.
Since acetylcholine is such a prominent and important neurotransmitter in cognitive performance, many people from students to entrepreneurs take racetams. Taking racetams can result in the following nootropics effects:
Racetams come in a pill form and often have a bitter taste. They’re usually fat-soluble pills and must be taken with food.
Choline is an essential water-soluble micronutrient responsible for many aspects of healthy human development. As a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, choline intake can help boost memory, learning and enhance overall cognitive function. When you take in choline through dietary sources, the body breaks it down and transforms it into acetylcholine. Taking choline as part of a nootropic stack can also amplify the effectiveness of other nootropic ingredients.
Choline is essential for healthy brain development in the fetal stage as well as in children and adults. Choline deficiencies pose a serious risk of developing brain conditions like schizophrenia and Tourette’s syndrome. Aging adults must also maintain adequate levels of choline intake to keep up memory and learning and stave off age-related cognitive decline.
The body naturally produces a limited amount of choline on its own. However, the majority of required choline must come from food sources or supplements. Foods like eggs, salmon, beef and Brussel sprouts all contain choline. However, research has shown that the body doesn’t absorb and use all types of choline effectively.
Different choline types are more permeable across the blood-brain barrier, meaning the brain can more readily absorb these choline types. There are two types of choline supplements to consider when developing your nootropics stacks because they most closely mimic choline and produce the greatest benefits for cognitive enhancement:
Citicoline (CDP Choline): When the body takes in choline from food sources, it turns choline into citicoline, which boosts dopamine receptor activity. Through further synthesis, citicoline is then broken down into phosphatidylcholine, which creates cell membranes and produces more acetylcholine as needed.
Alpha GPC: During the process of citicoline converting to phosphatidylcholine, the by-product called alpha GPC is produced. The primary difference between these two choline supplements is that citicoline is closer to the original form of choline, while Alpha GPC is closer to the form of choline that brain cells actually use.
Based on studies, there appear to be equally positive results from both types of choline. They both produce the following nootropic benefits:
Another benefit of taking choline supplements as part of your nootropic stack is that it can help eliminate headaches that are often associated with taking racetams. While choline on its own is safe and non-toxic, too much choline intake can cause mood shifts. There is an inverse relationship between acetylcholine and serotonin, and increasing acetylcholine can decrease serotonin. This leads to side effects like irritability, fatigue, depression and poor concentration—the exact symptoms you’re trying to heal.
It’s also possible to experience the cognitive enhancement effects of nootropics without taking specially designed products. The body is a complex system that is entirely interconnected. What benefits the brain also benefits the body as a whole, and vice versa.
General self-care practices that we’re all aware of are themselves forms of nootropics. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can also enhance the effectiveness of the nootropics plan you’re on. Overall, the way we live has a lot to do with our productivity, motivation and energy levels. This includes concerted efforts at reducing stress levels.
Here are some of the top lifestyle practices that also provide nootropic benefits:
Sleep: We’ve heard in recent years the scientific studies and personal stories attesting to the importance of sleep. Influential figures like Ariana Huffington have reinvented themselves as sleep evangelists to promote the necessary role that rest plays in our long-term health.
Sleep deprivation can severely impair cognitive performance and increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Without sleep, we cannot give our brains adequate time to regenerate and restore themselves. Sleep is also the time when the brain sorts through memories and solidifies learning.
But for sleep to really benefit you as a nootropic, it has to be consistent and of high-quality. Maintaining regular sleeping patterns is vital. That means going to bed and waking up at the same time daily. The second aspect of sleep hygiene is making sure your sleep is undisturbed. Tossing and turning interrupts the cyclical nature of sleep, which leaves you feeling groggy and tired upon waking.
The amount of sleep a person needs varies by individual. Some people can get by with only six hours per night, while others require a full ten. It’s important to know what works for your body. Too little or too much sleep can impact energy levels. Whatever leaves you feeling refreshed and energized in the morning is the amount of sleep your body needs.
Diet: Maintaining a healthy diet is an obvious aspect of cognitive function. Processed foods detract from your cognitive function because they offer no nutritional value, which is what the brain really needs. A diet that combines a variety of nutrients from natural sources is the best way to get the recommended daily value of each vitamin and mineral. Remember that vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids that come from food sources are directly converted into the substances your brain needs to produce and optimize its neurotransmitters.
Certain foods are literally referred to as brain foods because they contain the nutrients that act as precursors to neurotransmitter production. Eggs, for example, are high in choline, which is required to produce acetylcholine. Obtaining certain minerals and vitamins from foods sources is critical to helping your bran perform optimally. Even a slight change in diet can produce a major shift in energy, focus and concertation levels over time.
Exercise: Regular exercise of any level is directly related to the brain’s neuroplasticity—the process of neuronal communication required for learning and memory. Studies have shown that exercise is vital to long-term cognitive function. In other words, the amount of regular exercise you get as a young adult ultimately helps with your cognitive skills at middle-age. And the exercise you get during middle-age pays off in old age by preventing dementia.
The reason exercise is vital for cognitive function is because it stimulates neurogenesis—the process of growing new neurons. During exercise, the brain releases Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein contained in nerve cells. BDNF is critical for helping brains cells grow and function properly. Regular release of BDNF supports neurotransmitters and their ability to carry signals effectively. Greater levels of BDNF result in greater cognitive ability.
Brain Exercises: In addition to regular exercise, a healthy diet and proper sleep habits, performing brain-training exercises can also be beneficial for enhancing memory and learning. Brain-training programs, apps and games have surged in popularity in recent years. Brain exercise providers like Lumosity claim that specially designed “Brain Fitness Games” can help improve memory recall and keep the mind sharp. With consistent and regular brain exercise, individuals may be able to improve certain parts of their cognitive function, as opposed to overall cognitive abilities.
Studies suggest that while brain exercises may produce mild improvements in the average healthy brain, the real impacts of brain-training may actually benefit those who are already experiencing symptoms of dementia or are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Though there is no solid evidence that brain-training games prevent Alzheimer’s, experts assert that there is certainly no harm in conducting brain exercises and that people who have experienced positive results with these games should continue to use them.
To those who are new to nootropics, you may be wondering what are the potential side effects and precautions to be aware of when taking these substances. The answer depends on many factors, including your personal health and the specific substance you’re looking to take.
When exploring nootropics products, it’s important to keep in mind that most nootropics products, herbal or otherwise, are not tested or regulated. As a consumer, taking unregulated products means that you must conduct your own thorough research and consult independently with experts.
In the case of “smart drugs”, it’s also important to note that these pharmaceuticals were developed to treat specific medical conditions. Taking prescription smart drugs like Adderall® or Ritalin® when you don’t have a clinical diagnosis is not recommended. This is due to the severe risk of side effects as well as the possibility of dependency and addiction.
In general, nootropics users are encouraged to apply common sense and to carefully consider the exact cognitive abilities they’re looking to address or enhance. In other words, safe nootropics use is for people who want to optimize their already healthy brains.
Let’s cover the precautions and risks involved with taking nootropics.
Precautions: The primary precautions with any natural or synthetic product have to do with pregnant and breastfeeding women. Women who are currently pregnant or are planning a pregnancy should consult a nootropics and supplement expert before starting on any nootropics products. Additionally, breastfeeding women need specific nutrient requirements and should consider this before starting a nootropics stack.
People with existing medical conditions should also consider how nootropics products may interfere with their health or any medications they’re currently taking.
Side Effects: It’s important to keep in mind that all pharmaceutical, synthetic or natural products come with certain side effects. For example, Adderall® comes with a long list of side effects ranging from mild to severe. You should only take pharmaceutical products as prescribed to mitigate dangerous side effects and interactions.
Other true nootropics such as racetams, vitamins, minerals and herbal ingredients may also have side effects. All of these should be considered when building your own nootropics stack. For herbal supplements, anyone with plant allergies should carefully consider plant-based ingredients before consuming any herbals.
Dosages: As mentioned, you can mitigate the chance of side effects by taking nootropics and smart drugs in their recommended dosages. This means following the dosage instructions on the product label or following any instructions given by your doctor.
It’s also important to get a dosage plan that’s tailored to you individually. When taking vitamins and nutrients, consider the recommended daily values as regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Health Canada or other governing bodies. The daily recommended value is usually noted on packaging and nutrition charts as “Recommended Dietary Allowance” (RDA) or “Daily Value” (DV).
Addiction and Dependency: Real nootropics, such as racetams or natural nootropics have no addictive properties. By definition, nootropics should not have any severe or long-term side effects or put the consumer at risk of addiction.
However, pharmaceutical “smart drugs”, particularly stimulants have addictive properties, and these are often incorrectly promoted as nootropics. Adderall® addiction and dependence on similar stimulants is a growing concern in North America. Stimulants, by nature cause feelings of euphoria, which in itself can be an addictive sensation to chase.
If you’re a recovering addict or have a history of addiction, then experts recommend avoiding smart drugs completely. Adderall®, Ritalin® and similar pharmaceuticals can create a slippery slope that leads the consumer to potentially abuse these substances.
Nootropic use can be an extremely beneficial and positive regime to add to your already healthy lifestyle. The key is to use common sense when taking nootropics and to avoid any substances with extreme side effects or addictive properties.
Remember that each person has their own tolerance levels to substances whether they be synthetic or natural. When taking nootropics, be sure to carefully control your dosages and monitor your physiological results. Many people have safely and successfully used nootropics with few or no side effects. The key is to choose safe, natural and healthy options taken in recommended doses.
For most people, the purpose of consuming nootropics is to take their already healthy brain to the next level. This means optimizing cognitive function for greater levels of focus, motivation and productivity. Consider exactly what your nootropics goals are as this will determine not only which nootropics to take, but also how to take them.
A common way to take nootropics is through “stacking”. Whether you build your own stack based on your individual goals, or you take a pre-made stack, knowing the right combinations of nootropics can help you get the most benefits from these brain-boosting supplements.
Stacking is a common practice for nootropics users, whether they’re beginners or experts. The idea behind stacking is that by combining two or more complementary nootropics products together, you can create a synergistic effect. In essence, stacking amplifies the benefits that one nootropic product could deliver on its own. An example of this is the common stack of coffee and l-theanine.
Stacking is also a way to compensate for the shortcomings of one nootropic. For example, one type of nootropic may increase one neurotransmitter while decreasing another. Taking different types of nootropics at once can help you prevent a drop in certain parts of brain chemistry.
Stacking nootropics is a highly individualized process that requires a certain amount of experimenting. Each individual has different brain chemistry. What works for one may not work for another. For beginners, you may choose to start out with individual nootropics and monitor their effects. Over time, you can gradually add different nootropics to build your own stack.
Nootropics come in different forms depending on the type. Like most supplements, nootropics can be purchased in the following forms:
Capsules and tablets are by far the easiest form of nootropic to take. They come in pre-made dosages that are ready to swallow. Plus, they’re portable so you can take them with you throughout the day.
Powder nootropics require a bit more consideration. The usual instinct is to combine powder with liquid until it dissolves and becomes smooth in texture. However, different nootropics ingredients have certain solubility requirements. Some powders are water-soluble, meaning you can easily mix them with water and go. Other powders are fat-soluble, meaning you need to combine them with a fat source, like milk.
The main difference between water-soluble and fat-soluble nootropics is their absorption time. Water-soluble nootropics are absorbed immediately and eliminated quickly. You can take them on an empty stomach for quicker, more powerful effects. Fat-soluble supplements are just the opposite. They take longer to be absorbed, but they stay in the body longer. You can take these with food for greater effectiveness.
Anyone can build their own nootropics stack with a bit of research and help from guides like ours. What may seem complicated is really just a matter of knowing your goals and experimenting to get the right results.
Be sure to experiment safely with different combinations of nootropics. Keep track of how each type of nootropic impacts you. You may want to keep a notebook to collect more information on the effects, how long they last, and what (if any) side effects you experienced. Monitor other aspects such as whether you exercised that day or how your sleep and dietary habits have been. Your overall lifestyle also impacts the effectiveness of any supplement you take.
Here are some factors to consider when building your own nootropics stacks:
Dosing limits are an important consideration. The goal should be to discover a sweet spot—the lowest amount delivering the greatest effects. Nootropics ingredients come with a minimum dose meaning the amount you need to take to feel effects. On the other hand, be careful of taking too high or too frequent doses. There will reach a point of diminishing returns where you won’t get any additional benefits from higher doses. It’s best to scale back and save your money.
Like nootropics, DNA testing has become another popular strategy in the biohacking movement. Nootropics users looking for a more personalized approach to cognitive enhancement can combine genetic testing with nootropics stacks. DNA testing platforms like 23andMe, help people determine nutrient deficiencies they may be predisposed to.
Users can order 23andMe’s home-based saliva testing kits and submit their samples to the DNA testing lab. Within a few weeks, the lab will send the users their DNA report to help them identify health risks and other wellness factors.
For example, DNA test results might reveal that a person has a hereditary vitamin B12 deficiency. With this information, the nootropics user can now create a personalized stack that includes vitamin B12. Not only can they tailor their stack to include any deficient nutrients, but they can also use genetic test results to formulate the correct dosages that will cover their cognitive enhancement goals and compensate for their hereditary deficiency.
Nootropics beginners have the advantage of years of testing and monitoring done by experts and tinkerers. Those who have played with different combinations of nootropics over the years have been able to develop certain foolproof combinations of nootropics that are considered foundational. Though everyone is unique and has their own cognitive enhancement goals, foundational stacks are a great place to begin and grow from.
Tested and proven combinations of cognitive enhancing supplements and products are a safe and easy jumping off point for beginners. Foundational nootropics stacks for beginners are appropriate for everyday use and developed in correct dosages. Beginner stacks are also a way to gradually introduce additional nootropics over time.
Here are a few of the foundational stacks for nootropics beginners:
L-Theanine + Caffeine: A popular stack for beginners, l-theanine and caffeine is a straightforward and effective beginner stack. It also requires minimal investment compared to some more expensive combinations. Having been well-studied, an l-theanine supplement and caffeine stack is known to increase short-term energy and focus levels, with the greatest impact felt within the first few hours of taking it. Stack Dosage: 100 mg of l-theanine + 200 mg of caffeine taken daily.
Ginkgo Biloba, Bacopa and Lion’s Mane: For those interested in sticking exclusively to herbal ingredients, the foundational stack of ginkgo biloba, bacopa monnieri and lion’s mane is a proven, safe and natural combination. The benefits of this stack include increased focus levels as well as reduced anxiety and depression. Herbals always take longer to work on the brain than synthetic supplements, so expect to feel the full effect of this stack within a few weeks after beginning this regime. Stack Dosage: 100 mg Bacopa (twice daily) + 240 mg Gingko Biloba (once daily) + 500 mg Lion’s Mane (once daily).
Piracetam and Choline (Alpha GPC or Citicoline): Often referred to as the “study stack”, piracetam and choline supplements such as alpha GPC or citicoline help to improve your ability to focus. With minimal side effects, piracetam and choline are an excellent starter stack combination to take daily or as needed. Stack Dosage: 4.8 g Piracetam + 300 mg Alpha GPC taken twice daily.
Piracetam + Aniracetam + Oxiracetam: For those interested in racetam nootropics, combining piracetam, aniracetam and oxiracetam together is a great way to achieve a wide range of effects. Combined, these three nootropics can help improve mood, memory and thought processing. You can also add in a choline supplement such as alpha GPC or citicoline to help improve acetylcholine production. Stack Dosage: 1,600 mg Piracetam + 400 mg aniracetam + 400 mg oxiracetam + 300 mg alpha GPC (optional) taken 1-2 times daily.
5e. Pre-Made Stacks
One of the easiest, safest and most convenient ways for beginners to dive into nootropics is through pre-made stacks. Products that already combine nootropics ingredients in the correct recommended doses help you take the guesswork out of stacking.
Pre-made stacks are available in different combinations designed for specific purposes. For example, a pre-made stack for memory combines multiple nootropics ingredients that work on memory enhancement. Pre-made stacks also have the added benefit of being formulated for synergistic effects. Meaning that the combination of ingredients creates greater cognitive enhancement effects.
Additionally, many people start out with a pre-made stack and add in their own ingredients from there. This gives you flexibility as you become more comfortable with nootropics to build your own cognitive enhancement solution.
MindMeld Gold by Be Herbal is an example of a premium, pre-made stack that works for beginners or experienced nootropics users. Using a combination of natural and herbal ingredients, MindMeld Gold delivers multiple cognitive enhancement benefits including:
MindMeld Gold has been formulated based on clinical studies that show proven cognitive enhancement results. We created MindMeld Gold to be a high-grade and high-potency product using a combination of premium, natural nootropics ingredients including:
For those interested in high-quality and convenient pre-made nootropic stacks, choose Be Herbal’s MindMeld Gold for safe and effective results.
If you’re interested in nootropics for beginners, then it’s important to seriously consider your goals and needs. Ultimately, your nootropics goals are unique to you and will be contingent on several factors. But knowing how and why you’re looking to enhance certain cognitive functions will help steer you in the right direction. Getting clear on your nootropics goals will also help save you time and money upfront.
Some of the aspects you’ll need to consider when determining your nootropics goals include:
Different nootropics ingredients affect the brain differently, so it’s important to understand how each nootropic ingredient is designed to perform. It’s also important to consider the varying effects among individuals. What may work for one person, may not be effective for another.
In general, there are certain cognitive enhancement supplements that are known to be the best nootropics for different types of goals. Below is a guideline for choosing the right nootropics for your needs. Remember not to take every nootropic listed in each category, but rather use it as a tool to help you start your own research on each product.
Fatigue, sluggishness and generally low energy levels are a common symptom today. Many people are suffering from emotional and mental burnout due to high-stress lifestyles. The demands of life today can take a toll on a person’s energy, leaving them feeling depleted and tired on a daily basis. Here are some nootropics that are known to help boost and maintain energy levels:
Whether you’re a full-time student, an entrepreneur or a busy professional, improving your learning abilities is vital to living a fulfilled and successful life. Aging adults with a family history of age-related cognitive decline can also benefit from improvements to learning abilities. These best nootropics for learning can help to keep your mind sharp when developing new skills:
A lack of motivation isn’t always a symptom of mood disorder, although sometimes it can be. A stressful lifestyle often depletes energy and saps motivation. Whether it’s a temporary loss of motivation or an ongoing feeling, there are nootropics that can help increase and support your drive. Choose any of the following nootropics for motivation to help increase productivity:
As mentioned, chronic stress can wreak havoc on several cognitive functions. But one of the most frustrating symptoms of a stressful lifestyle is a perceived loss of memory. It’s also natural for seniors and older adults to start to feel their memory decline. You can curb potential memory loss with any of the following nootropics for improved memory:
Most people today are surrounded by distractions like city noises, device notifications, ringing phones and anything else designed to get your attention. There’s no doubt that one of the most common symptoms of today’s lifestyle is a lack of focus. An inability to concentrate can start to compound stress levels as productivity declines. For those who feel like they just can’t get their heads clear, here are some of the best nootropics for focus:
Anxiety and a general flat mood are often the by-products of a stressful life. Chronic stress causes a looming sense of anxiety, which can be worsened by certain demands of life such as deadlines, school work, family or finances. For those who wish to feel a boost in mood or just a reduction in low-level anxiety, these nootropics can help:
Disruptions in energy and focus levels combined with anxiety or stress often lead to poor sleep quality. The longer your sleep patterns suffer, the harder it can be to catch up on rest. This can eventually lead to sleep disorders like insomnia. If you’re experiencing disruptions in your sleep quality, consider any of these nootropics products:
With the rising rates of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions associated with age-related cognitive decline, there is a growing demand for products that will help preserve cognitive function. Nootropics for longevity help slow down the aging process by stimulating new neuron growth and repair. These cognitive enhancement products also help to improve the brain’s synaptic connections and processing. For longevity, try any of the following nootropics:
Certain vitamins, minerals, herbal products and amino acids possess nootropic benefits. Dosages are recommended minimum amounts for safe consumption or daily nutritional values.
For vitamins and minerals, experts recommend daily intake amounts for optimal health. However, dosages specifically for cognitive enhancement can be different. Below are general vitamin and mineral recommended dosages for cognitive enhancement. Nootropics users may also wish to undergo genetic testing to determine the optimal dosages for their physiology.
Below are the generally recommended dosages for herbal supplements for cognitive enhancement. For herbal supplements, begin with low doses and gradually increase to higher doses.
Below are the generally recommended dosages for amino acids and natural compounds for cognitive enhancement. If you are new to amino acid supplements, start with the minimum dosage and gradually increase.
Below are the generally recommended dosages for synthetic nootropic supplements. Synthetic supplements are derived from natural sources and are safe to take in moderate, regular doses.
Racetams are synthetic cognitive enhancers originally coined as “nootropics”. Different types of racetams have different potency levels. Below are the generally recommended dosages for racetams.
Stimulants are synthetic and sometimes pharmaceutical substances that have nootropic-like effects. However, some have risky side effects and are, therefore, not considered true nootropics.
As life seems to become more and more demanding, people are looking for new, safe and healthy ways to manage stress and enhance their quality of life. With an increased demand for biohacking and neuroenhancement solutions, it’s no wonder why nootropics consumption is growing in popularity.
Students are looking for more efficient ways to complete their studies. Entrepreneurs are searching for methods of tapping into their creativity. Professionals are seeking answers to their greatest productivity challenges. Fitness enthusiasts are hunting for techniques to enhance their energy and endurance. And seniors are taking preventative steps to preserve their brain power.
Nootropics are an important group of products, substances and ingredients that can assist virtually anyone with their cognitive enhancement goals. By starting with a good understanding of the improvements you’re looking to make, you can easily and cost-effectively begin your own nootropics journey.
Safety is perhaps the most important aspect of experimenting with nootropics. If you’re new to cognitive enhancers, it’s wise to educate yourself about the differences between natural nootropics, synthetic nootropics and pharmaceutical smart drugs. While no substance can ever be considered free of side effects, natural nootropics are considered generally safe for everyone.
Be Herbal’s MindMeld Gold is an all-natural, pre-made nootropic stack made from premium ingredients. MindMeld Gold is formulated to offer synergistic effects, meaning the ingredients work together to enhance their impacts. The result is a high-potency product that works to upgrade your memory, mood, focus and clarity. If you’re looking for a natural beginner nootropic to optimize your cognitive function, then order Be Herbal’s MindMeld Gold today.
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