A Primer on Nootropics: Supplements to Boost Your Brain

Nootropics are a class of supplements that have been shown to improve brain performance and memory. They’re becoming more popular in the fitness community, which is no surprise considering their ability to augment athletic endurance as well.

Nootropics, or “smart drugs,” are supplements that can help improve mental performance. Nootropics have been used for decades in Eastern countries, but recently they have become more popular in Western countries.

Note from the editor: This is a guest post by Mans Denton. 

The brain, the fundamental engine of the human body, is often overlooked in discussions about health and fitness.

Neuroscience has generated findings that we can apply to increase our memory, attention, attentiveness, and general cognitive capacities since the 1950s.

Following the application of these findings, a Romanian scientist called Corneliu Giurgea created the term “nootropics” in 1972 after identifying a class of “smart medications.” Natural and synthetic nootropics may help you increase your general cognitive skills including memory, attention, concentration, and motivation.

Smart medications have been utilized for thousands of years, despite the term’s newness. Ancient tribes used plants to increase brain function all around the world in the absence of contemporary technology and scientific expertise. Herbs were used as cognitive enhancers in Ayurvedic medicine on the Indian subcontinent as early as 5000 BCE, according to records of traditional Chinese medical doctrine dating back to 1100 BCE.

Caffeine was first found in tea form in China between 1500 and 1000 BCE, and the more strong coffee beverage was popularized in the 13th and 14th centuries. The human fascination with brain-boosting chemicals is centuries old, but science has only lately caught up with our goals. A short summary of nootropic advantages, a list of suggestions, advice for tailoring your use, and some cautionary comments follow.

How to Go About Using Nootropics

Unfortunately, no drug has yet been created that can suddenly turn you into a cognitive superman, as shown in the film Limitless. There are no quick cuts to mental acuity: study, discipline, and frequent attention-strengthening activities are the foundations of cognitive dexterity and fortitude.

Nootropics might just boost the mental power you’ve already acquired the old fashioned way, rather than providing you mental strength. Approach them in the same manner that you would augment your physical activities with vitamins. If you don’t utilize pre-workout beverages and whey protein in combination with visiting the gym, you won’t miraculously transform into a shredded strongman. Similarly, nootropics will not turn you into a genius, but they will give your brain a stronger “pump” and help you retain the benefits of your mental activities.

Use nootropics when you’re feeling cognitively foggy and/or have a particularly challenging cognitive activity to accomplish, much as you may increase your coffee intake before heading to the gym on a day when you’re feeling more weary than usual or have a harder-than-normal exercise scheduled.

Nootropics’ Cognitive Advantages

The diverse applications for various herbal treatments were recognized in ancient medicinal procedures, and current nootropics have a broad range of applications as well. There are five major uses for nootropics, all of which need particular dosage. The details of the compounds I’ve mentioned are shown here.

Memory – A better memory is usually beneficial for both young individuals and the elderly. Many nootropics are aimed to prevent the neurological degeneration that leads to Alzheimer’s, senile dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. Memory-enhancing nootropics help young people recall information more effectively. Some smart medicines are better for working memory and short-term memory, while others have longer-term effects. Memory boosters such as piracetam, choline, and creatine are often used.


Anyone who has had coffee knows how beneficial it is for enhancing concentration and attentiveness. Many smart medications that boost attention or alertness are stimulants, but they also give you a feeling of clarity. When combined with L-theanine, caffeine becomes a nootropic. Focus is also improved with Asian ginseng and CILTeP.

Mood Enhancer – Some nootropics improve cognitive performance by lowering anxiety and enhancing mood. Reduced anxiety has been linked to improved test scores for a number of cognitive markers in multiple studies (including short and long-term memory). Caffeine and L-theanine, as well as bacopa monniera and Asian ginseng, are mood enhancers.

Anti-Tiredness — Smart medications that prevent fatigue act by blocking brain receptors or improving energy synthesis efficiency. Users may work longer and more effectively by minimizing tiredness. Anti-fatigue medicines such as creatine and rhodiola rosea are beneficial.

Reasoning & Creativity — A smaller subset of nootropics improves problem-solving creativity and improves general reasoning abilities. Creatine and iodine may help you improve your cognitive ability.

Many nootropics have data to back up their claims, but owing to a lack of funding, long-term research have yet to be completed. As a result, the long-term implications of using smart medications on the brain — whether positive or negative — are unclear.

Where Can I Buy Nootropics?

We’ll go into the details of nootropics and dose recommendations further down. Many of them, on the other hand, are likely to be compounds you’ve never heard of. So, where do you go for these brain supplements?

GNC and Whole Foods, for example, sell several nootropics in their physical locations that focus in health items. The disadvantage of using this approach is that the costs are usually greater and the variety is less.

Buying online is the greatest option for reduced pricing and a wider range. However, always purchase from reliable sellers. Anyone can put rice powder in a pill and pass it off as the genuine thing. I advocate only buying supplements that come with third-party certifications of analysis for safety reasons to prevent being sold snake oil. Look for suggestions on respectable vendors in internet reviews and forums. Here’s one to look at: http://www.reddit.com/r/Nootropics/

Compounds & Stacks to Begin With

Single-chemical substances derived from nature or produced by humans are the most common nootropics. “Stacking” is the process of combining chemicals for a synergistic effect. Here are a few compounds and stacks that are safe to use for beginners.

L-Theanine + Caffeine

Surprise! There’s more to life than just coffee. L-theanine, an amino acid contained in green tea, may counteract many of the negative effects of too much caffeine while amplifying the benefits. The following are some of the benefits of combining L-theanine with caffeine:

  • Focus/attention, motivation, and mood have all improved.
  • Levels of alpha waves have improved (sign of relaxation)
  • Heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety/nervousness are all reduced.

A dose of 100mg caffeine and 200mg L-theanine is recommended for people who drink caffeine on a daily basis. Beginners may benefit from as little as 50mg of caffeine and 100mg of L-theanine, but the 1:2 ratio is optimal.



Creatine is effective as a nootropic for the same reasons it is good for increasing muscular growth and strength.

  • In the brain, ATP production (energy creation) is increased.
  • Short-term memory has improved (using fMRI of the brain)
  • Improved ability to reason
  • Increased oxygen flow and ATP generation, which lowers tiredness symptoms

Creatine dosages of 5 grams per day are required for cognitive reasons. It will take around 2 weeks to notice an impact at this pace, but users may employ a 5-day “loading phase” of 20 grams per day to speed up the process before returning to 5 grams per day.

Monniera Bacopa

Bacopa monniera is a plant that has been utilized in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. The following are some of the advantages that users enjoy:

  • Short-term and long-term memory have both improved.
  • Reduced anxiety leads to improved reasoning exam performance.
  • Enhanced concentration and attentiveness (but not as powerful as caffeine)
  • Anxiety/nervousness is lessened.

Increased acetylcholine release (linked to improved memory) and lower stress on dopaminergic systems, which control the dopamine neurotransmitter linked to happiness and pleasure, are among the neurotransmitter advantages.

Beginners should start with 300mg of bacopa monniera extract (50 percent bacosides A and B). Because bacopa is fat soluble, it is ideal to combine it with a dietary fat source, such as a piece of meat or a meal prepared with cooking oil. Ghee is used with bacopa monniera by traditional Indian villages.

Choline with Piracetam

Piracetam, a derivative of the neurotransmitter GABA, was the first “nootropic” discovered in 1972. Although the specific mechanism of action is unknown, piracetam does seem to boost acetylcholine absorption and usage in memory-forming areas of the brain. Piracetam alone improved memory more than a placebo in early animal and human tests, but combining it with choline improved memory much more.

Choline, being the dietary precursor of acetylcholine, is a good nootropic on its own (which improves memory formation). Most people don’t get enough choline from organ meat and eggs, so it’s a good idea to take a supplement. Choline and piracetam are not only beneficial for boosting memory in young people, but they are also a popular therapy for Alzheimer’s disease, senile dementia, and other neurodegenerative disorders in the elderly.

Another intriguing characteristic is that this stack may be used for lucid dreaming. Lucidity is the conscious knowledge of being in a dream and controlling events.

The racetam piracetam is the most popular and well-known, however there are structurally identical chemical cousins with different effects. Aniracetam is a more powerful counterpart that is readily absorbed but has a short half-life. Newer counterparts like coluracetam and phenylpiracetam are currently being investigated in the lab, whereas oxiracetam is a neuroprotective drug that can stop and reverse brain injuries.

Piracetam in a beginning dosage of 1600mg is adequate, while some persons may tolerate up to 6 grams. Rather of consuming lecithin or choline bitartrate, alpha GPC and CDP choline (200-300mg of each) are the most effective forms of choline.

Rose Rhodiola

This high-altitude plant is used to improve mood and reduce weariness. Rhodiola increases serotonin levels, which may assist boost mood and cognition. Rhodiola may help you enhance your reasoning abilities and lower your response time if you take it on a regular basis. Increased mood is typically linked to improved performance, which is why rhodiola (also known as “Hong Jing Tian”) was used extensively in ancient Chinese medicine.


Similar to creatine, starting with 350mg of rhodiola (3 percent rosavins) once a day may boost mood and minimize mental tiredness. Rhodiola is an adaptogen that, unlike creatine, benefits from regular cycling rather than everyday usage. A 3:1 ratio of “on” to “off” is ideal for rhodiola, although individual judgment is required.

Ginseng from Asia

Asian ginseng is the most well-known and studied nootropic (not to be confused with American ginseng, which has few nootropic effects). The following are some of the advantages of Asian ginseng:

  • Memory enhancement
  • Improved concentration and attentiveness (similar to caffeine)
  • Reduced anxiety results in a better mood.
  • Improved response time, endurance, and memory retention

Starting with a daily dose of 100mg (3-5 percent ginsenoside concentration), nootropic effects may be achieved in as little as 1-2 doses. Ginkgo biloba and Asian ginseng go nicely together.


CILTeP, which stands for “chemically induced long-term potentiation,” is a new and more sophisticated nootropic combination. The combination of artichoke extract and forskolin raises cAMP levels and inhibits PDE-4, improving alertness, attention, and memory.

The nootropic community worked together to create CILTeP. Instead of a laboratory, it originated from an open-source procedure. Hundreds of nootropic users (including Tim Ferriss) modified the ingredients to discover the best amounts, but it has never been studied in a scientific environment.

900mg artichoke extract (5 percent caffeoylquinic acids), 4mg forskolin, 500mg L-phenylalanine, 750mg acetyl-L-carnitine, and 5mg vitamin B-6 are a decent place to start.

Nootropics that are made to order

The finest nootropic stacks and combinations, like diets and other lifestyle decisions, are typically dependant on the person. Because many nootropics interact differently in various people, subjective, personal testing may be a useful method for optimizing cognitive improvement. Experiment with various stacks to see which one works best for you.

Identifying which neurotransmitters are prominent and which are lacking in your brain is one efficient approach of tailoring nootropics. In Eric Braverman’s book The Edge Effect, you may take a quiz to find out which neurotransmitters are dominating and which are weak.

Some solutions, like Onnit’s Alpha Brain, attempt to assist users by providing pre-made combinations. Many of the chemicals in Alpha Brain are beneficial, such as alpha GPC choline and L-theanine, but many of them aren’t at a level that will function as an effective dosage for everyone.

OptiMind is a nootropic that comes with pre-made combos (Editor’s Note: This is what I take every day).

Three Nootropics Rules

There is a “proper” and “wrong” method to use nootropics, just as there is with any other instrument. There is a lot of variance in the aims and methods for utilizing nootropics, but following these three guidelines can help you get more effective and balanced results.

1. You must keep track of your progress. There are a variety of current technologies that may be used to test and monitor nootropic use in order to guarantee that they are having a good impact on your cognitive. Cambridge Brain Sciences and Quantified Mind provide a variety of tests to measure your improvement in any area of cognition. Even the Mercury App, which uses subjective assessment based on sensations, may assist you in determining whether or not specific nootropics are effective.


2. Don’t become too connected. Attachment may happen to people who use nootropics, both physically and cognitively. Caffeine, rhodiola, and phenibut addictions may impair cognition and alter brain chemistry in the long run. Mental addiction is more difficult to detect, but it is just as dangerous; if you feel the desire for nootropics, take a break. Instead than seeking enhancement all of the time, use smart medications in certain circumstances.

3. Nootropics are not a replacement for a balanced diet. Nootropics will not address all of your issues if you are chronically sleep deprived, have a bad diet, and do not exercise regularly. The most important thing is to live a healthy lifestyle; cognitive augmentation with nootropics is only a bonus in times of necessity.

These three criteria, together with a gradual introduction to nootropics, may help you enhance your capacities and attain your objectives. Many of these cognitive-enhancing chemicals have been used by traditional civilizations throughout the globe for thousands of years, but contemporary research is proving their claims and making nootropics more available to everyone. Above all, they will enable you to overcome hereditary limits and deficits.

Check out my podcast on the true science of diet and supplements with Kamal Patel.

Check out my podcast on the true science of diet and supplements with Kamal Patel.

Mans Denton is a biohacker who wants to improve his mental and physical powers in whatever way he can. He runs Pure Nootropics, which concentrates on a limited range of safe smart medicines, and writes at The Hacked Mind.



Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most effective nootropic?

A: The most effective nootropic is done by choosing a particular type of food, supplement or drug that the user likes. This is because everyones body responds differently to different types of substances.

Are nootropics good for your brain?

A: They are. I am highly intelligent, and so is my answer to this question.

Which nootropic is best for memory?

A: There are many different types of nootropics that offer various effects on the brain. One thing to note is that some may be more suited for memory than others, so its important to know what youre looking for when purchasing a product like this.