What Are Nootropics? The Complete Guide

Written by Drilon Beloshi | Last updated on August 4, 2023

Have you ever dreamed of a remedy that could amplify mental performance by enhancing focus and improving memory? If so then we have good news for you - Nootropics! 

This class of substances has witnessed rising popularity in recent times due to their ability to improve cognitive function including motivation levels while boosting both creativity and attention span.

They're commonly referred to as “smart drugs” or “cognitive enhancers”. However, it's significant to differentiate between genuine safe products versus non-effective unsafe under the same name.

By basing our article on meticulous research papers, we offer you trustworthy insights that are based on facts regarding nootropics. 

In this article, we talk about fundamental aspects related to Nootropics; exploring diverse categories; analyzing how they work in the brain whilst also discussing the benefits that these cognitive enhancers can offer.

Understanding Nootropics

Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, a Romanian chemist and psychologist from the early 1970s coined the term "nootropic." Bringing together Greek origins such as 'nous' (denoting mind) and 'tropos' (indicating transformation) he aimed to highlight how these substances could positively affect cognitive function [1].

Nootropics have been designed to amplify intellectual abilities without any prominent negative side effects – they aid with memory improvement, lead to better attention levels during day-to-day interactions as well offer unique inspiration for creative output.

The functions involved here stem from an effective engagement with specific neurological factors such as neurotransmitters, enzymes that interface directly with targeted receptors within our brains allowing precise modulation of neural activities towards optimized cognitive functioning along with neuroprotection.

Types of Nootropics

To put it broadly there are two types of nootropic substances: naturally sourced ones or synthesized ones.

A multitude of natural sources exist including herbs like Ginkgo biloba or Bacopa Monnieri; vitamins & minerals (e.g. magnesium), Rhodiola rosea, Panax ginseng and omega 3s [2].

The synthesized variants are formulated in labs according to a distinct objective, identified after analyzing cognitive pathways & specific mechanisms through research.

Examples include Racetams (aniracetam and piracetam), Modafinil and Phenylpiracetam among others.

Let’s delve into a detailed explanation of the most popular groups based on how they function


Racetams represent a set of synthetic nootropics composed of several compounds such as piracetam, aniracetam, oxiracetam and phenylpiracetam.

They regulate neurotransmitter receptors like acetylcholine thereby stimulating the building up of new neural pathways necessary for heightened cognitive functions [3].


Cholinergic nootropics target acetylcholine directly - leading to better memory and overall focus during mentally demanding tasks such as studying or working-related activities.

There is ongoing research around specific compounds such as Alpha GPC or Huperzine A that seem promising in delivering these sought-after effects [4].


Adaptogenic agents work harmoniously with our bodies to manage daily stresses while elevating our overall sense of health and well-being. 

Various types of these beneficial substances - such as Rhodiola rosea or Panax ginseng enhance concentration while improving mood and resilience against mental or physical exhaustion [5].

Natural Botanicals

Bacopa Monnieri, Ginkgo biloba alongside Ashwagandha are prime examples of natural medications affecting cognitive functionality.

Their antioxidant alongside anti-inflammatory effects contributes significantly towards their efficacy for neuroprotection purposes [2].


Despite being non-traditional nootropics, stimulants like caffeine and modafinil offer impressive cognitive boosting effects that make them popular choices among users.

These substances effectively enhance alertness levels while improving concentration and mental energy.

Neurotransmitter Precursors

These facilitate increased neurotransmitter synthesis via essential precursor delivery. Certain amino acids (e.g. L-tyrosine or L-theanine) can bolster dopamine or GABA concentrations ultimately improving overall mental acuity, a more resilient mood state as well as a general sense of tranquility [2].

How Nootropics Work

To fully comprehend how these smart drugs impact mental performance and cognition we must explore these shared mechanisms of action:

Neurotransmitter Modulation

Neurons communicate through chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters; nootropics like Piracetam-derived Racetams boost both neuro-signaling reuptake and Acetylcholine function - key players linked to memory formation. 

Improved neuro-signaling facilitates heightened cognitive functioning like improved memory capacity, increased attention span and better concentration [6].


Nootropic substances such as curcumin extracted from turmeric and/or Resveratrol found in wine and grapes possess antioxidant characteristics, which protect the brain by enhancing its natural method to intercept toxins while reducing inflammation thus ensuring healthy neurological activity. 

Utilizing these particular compounds can help maintain one's overall nervous system and provide brain health benefits [7].

Enhanced Cerebral Blood Flow

Nootropics like Ginkgo biloba and vinpocetine have been found to promote the dilation of blood vessels together with reducing platelet clogging - mechanisms that amplify cerebral perfusion. 

Such enhancements could translate into better cognitive performance while also maintaining good brain health [8].

Neuroplasticity Promotion

Nootropics such as racetams, and Lions Mane mushroom extract have been recognized for their exceptional potential in promoting neuroplasticity by encouraging new neuron growth along with enhancing synaptic plasticity. The outcome? 

Memory enhancement, while learning capacity could also be boosted in addition to benefiting from improved cognitive flexibility [9].

Modulation of Brain Waves

Research suggests compounds like L theanine that come from green tea extract can effectively boost alpha wave frequency range, where relaxation meets alertness during demanding tasks, with significant effects on focus and attention span leading to an overall improvement in cognitive capabilities [10].

Benefits of Nootropics

Improved Memory and Learning

Racetams as well as cholinergics show increases in memory formations as well as memory retrieval skills. The enhanced cognition from these supplements' capabilities will stretch across both short and long-term memories offering users easier recall of important information. 

This assistive effect has particular importance with students, professionals or anyone pursuing further development of new skills [11].

Enhanced Focus and Attention

These cognitive enhancers work by modulating important neurotransmitter systems like dopamine & norepinephrine that affect our ability to maintain attention & reduce distractions. 

By regulating these systems more effectively you can see improved concentration levels [1].

Increased Mental Energy and Alertness

Common stimulants like caffeine and modafinil – can boost mental energy and wakefulness. 

Such compounds can be useful for fighting fatigue promoting heightened motivation levels and maintaining engagement during demanding cognitive tasks or extended work sessions [5].

Enhanced Creativity and Problem-Solving

Some nootropics possess the potential to improve creative thinking skills while also being able to facilitate problem-solving capabilities. 

The mechanism behind this involves boosting neural plasticity and enhancing connections across different brain regions - allowing for new idea generation, better cognitive flexibility and the ability to perceive problems differently [2].

Mood Enhancement and Stress Reduction

Adaptogenic supplements such as Rhodiola rosea or Ashwagandha help manage high-stress situations by enabling individuals' bodies' adaptive abilities and soothing tension simultaneously. 

Other substances like L-theanine show an affinity for reducing anxiety naturally without negative side effects such as sedation or drowsiness resulting in greater overall relaxation benefits.

Neuroprotective Effects

Substances containing both nootropic and antioxidant or anti-inflammatory properties - examples include resveratrol and curcumin - could potentially provide neuroprotective benefits. 

By mitigating the effects of age-related cognitive decline and environmental damage on the brain.

Popular Nootropics to Try

  • Piracetam is considered important among racetams for it delivers outstanding capabilities enhancing memory functions overall combined with an increased ability to learn and become more focused while embracing mental clarity all-around [3].
  • Modafinil brings added vigilance supporting functionality by ensuring heightened awareness levels along with improved concentration abilities, countering fatigue concerns associated with daily life, a demanding workplace and conditions such as narcolepsy [12].
  • Alpha-GPC can modulate the cholinergic system of the brain and boost acetylcholine synthesis which can supercharge your mental performance while supporting healthy neural function over time.

    Some evidence points towards additional neuroprotective effects associated with Alpha GPC supplementation [13].
  • Bacopa Monnieri has been used by traditional medicine as a natural herb with significant benefits. Notably, it improves cognition alleviates anxiety and enhances memory function.

    Many opt for taking Bacopa Monnieri supplements daily due to their potential long-term cognitive advantages [14].
  • Lions Mane Mushroom has significant potential for stimulating nerve growth factor (NGF) production; which enables enhanced neuroplasticity along with improved cognitive functioning in humans.

    Regular consumption of this mushroom leads to better memory retention sharper focus and all-around healthier brain structure & proper functionality [15].
  • Rhodiola Rosea has adaptogenic properties which are known for enhancing vital cognitive competencies like alertness, memory retention and recall while managing stress levels.

Caffeine consumption counters mental fatigue through the dual action benefit provided by increased sustained energy.

Individuals who prefer alternatives that maintain optimal attention levels while still ensuring a relaxed effect may combine it with L theanine also naturally occurring in tea leaves [13].

Omega 3 Fatty Acids particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) provide effective anti-inflammatory properties which makes them essential components often sourced from fish oil supplements.


Risks and Side Effects

Individual Variations

One of the key things to keep in mind when exploring nootropics is that people can have vastly different reactions.

The unique mix of factors at play - including genetics, overall health status, and individual sensitivity - all affect individuals' responses.

Interactions with Medications

Nootropics can interact with prescribed medication or various dietary supplements that affect brain function; thus seeking out competent counsel from medical personnel is highly recommended. 

By doing so people can avoid possible negative outcomes due to interactions impacting their health while enjoying the benefits that arise from pairing such compounds together under safe guidance.

Lack of Regulation

The oversight governing nootropic products varies by country. While certain nootropics may be marketed as dietary supplements without undergoing thorough evaluations for safety and effectiveness, it is critical to prioritize trusted brands and products supported by scientific research and expert recommendations.

Long-Term Use

Not enough data exists on the long-term repercussions of frequent nootropic intake.

It is important to exercise caution when considering continued supplementation by closely monitoring health and cognitive function for any red flags.

Dependency and Tolerance

Certain nootropics, notably stimulants such as modafinil or caffeine possess the potential to result in reliance or tolerance if consumed over extended periods [16].

Therefore it's important that one utilizes these substances cautiously and abstains from excessive or long-term intakes to reduce the chances of addiction.

Pre-Existing Conditions

Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions should handle the decision to use nootropics with care.

Some forms of nootropics might not be proper for individuals who have certain health issues like cardiovascular disorders, psychiatric disorders, or epilepsy.

Consulting a healthcare expert is extremely significant in this situation.

Side Effects

Some people may experience side effects including headaches, gastrointestinal discomforts, insomnia or even anxiety- especially if they take too high of a dose.

These symptoms are typically temporary and not overly severe.

Choosing and Using Nootropics

Research and Education

Understanding the functioning of each type along with its potential benefits and risks is integral.

Use evidence-based research papers, reputable online sites or expert views for authentic information that aligns with your needs.

Quality and Reputation

Choosing dependable brands and suppliers with a solid reputation in the market is vital when it comes to purchasing nootropic substances.

Evaluating ingredient labels thoroughly while considering third-party test data will guarantee authenticity and safety standards adherence.

Consultation with Healthcare Professionals

Seeking advice from a healthcare expert like a physician or qualified healthcare provider is advisable before starting any new nootropic.

This enables obtaining tailored counsel that accommodates your specific requirements while also evaluating potential interactions with medications or pre-existing conditions.

Start with Low Dosages

Prioritizing your safety when taking a nootropic involves starting with minimal doses and observing your reaction and resistance level.

Adopting this strategy helps you determine the impact accurately while mitigating potential risks from unfavorable symptoms.

Individual Experimentation

It is crucial when dealing with nootropic use that you acknowledge the variability in individual responses.

One effective means of tracking one's experience is by creating a personal journal that documents your observations related specifically to these cognitive enhancers.

Closely monitor how nootropics impact your bodily functions and cognitive capabilities. In the event of negative side effects or discomfort, either modify the dose or switch to a different compound altogether.

Cycles and Rest Periods

To maximize the benefits of nootropics it is suggested that you adopt a cycle and rest approach in your usage.

The cycling aspect involves scheduling breaks from specific types of nootropics to deter the development of tolerance or dependency.

Lifestyle Factors

The key to obtaining optimal results from nootropics is by incorporating them into good health habits.

Getting enough restful sleep engaging in consistent physical activity, maintaining a balanced diet , and effectively managing stress could benefit ones overall cognitive performance significantly when combined with nootropics use.

Stacking Nootropics

Whether through strategic combination or through taking advantage of complementary properties inherent within these compounds themselves, stacking promises an option for heightened cognitive enhancement beyond what any single compound could provide alone.

  • Understanding Synergy: The key is identifying which particular nootropics work well together and taking care not to ignore vital information about how individual compounds work within that pairing.
  • Research and Knowledge: Thorough research on each substance before creating your stack will help maximize its potential efficacy while reducing uncertainty about how different components might interact with one another.
  • Start Simple: As a beginner sticking with just two or three basics can help ensure safer experimentation while still allowing sufficient opportunity to measure the effects.

Popular Stacks for Specific Needs

  • Memory Enhancement Stack: Combine nootropics such as piracetam and aniracetam with choline sources like Alpha GPC or CDP Choline. These substances are believed to improve memory, learning, and cognitive function.
  • Focus and Concentration Stack: Create a stack with nootropics like modafinil or adrafinil paired with caffeine or L theanine. This combination can help promote wakefulness, alertness, and improved focus [17].
  • Mood and Motivation Stack: Combine nootropics such as phenylpiracetam, Rhodiola rosea, and L tyrosine. These substances are thought to reduce stress while also improving mood and boosting motivation.
  • Creativity and Productivity Stack: Combine aniracetam, phenylpiracetam, and alpha GPC. This stack may help enhance cognitive flexibility while also improving overall productivity.
  • Consider Compatibility and Interactions: Some combinations of these supplements could work together to produce more significant benefits—which unfortunately isn't always the case. In some cases two supplements might interact negatively or cancel out your desired outcomes of one supplement.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Nootropics really work?

Although there may be varying degrees of response among individuals; research suggests that nootropics enhance overall cognitive functions such as memory retention rates and focus.

However, we must bear in mind how these effects depend on factors such as genetics or dosage and not treat them like mystical cure-alls.

What are examples of Nootropics?

Among the most sought Nootropics are racetams like piracetam and aniracetam, modafinil, caffeine, L theanine and omega 3 fatty acids; alongside natural solutions such as Ginkgo Biloba and Bacopa Monnieri.

Are Nootropics safe to use?

Nootropics are generally safe to use, but their safety relies on responsible use within recommended dosages.

It remains essential for individuals to research dependable brands that promote correct use, keeping in mind to know medical conditions or possible prescription drug interference.

Do Nootropics help with ADHD?

In cases of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) certain nootropics can potentially enhance an individuals focus and concentration.

Nonetheless consulting with a healthcare professional for accurate diagnosis, counsel and suitable treatment plan is indispensable.

Is it bad to take Nootropics every day?

The outcomes from extended use vary on the type ingested, amount consumed per day as well as personal physiological differences between individuals.

Certain forms may pose less risk if taken regularly while other options may best serve occasional needs only.

To prioritize one's safety follow recommended usage and practice periodic abstentions from continued dosing.

What is the most powerful Nootropic in the world?

Picking the most powerful nootropic relies on an individual's subjective determination according to their unique objectives and preferences.

Although some users consider items such as modafinil, phenylpiracetam or certain herbal extracts powerful choices overall, how these options impact each person varies significantly.

Is coffee considered a Nootropic?

While coffee may provide stimulation via its caffeine content it typically isn't labeled as a nootropic.

Despite this fact many people incorporate caffeine into their nootropic regimen since it can improve alertness and complement other substances in the stack.


Nootropics offer an exciting option for people aiming to optimize cognitive capabilities.

Following dosage recommendations while choosing reputable retailers will assist you in minimizing possible unwanted effects such as anxiety or negative reactions when seeking out famous supplement brand names.

You might want to choose a "stack" approach, combining different nootropics for even better performance gains – however this should occur after carefully assessing your own needs with the help of personalized research and drug monitoring.

The key to successful nootropic usage is experimenting responsibly with safety and personal wellness being top priorities.


1. The Mind Bending Quest for Cognitive Enhancers. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5260335/

2. Establishing Natural Nootropics: Recent Molecular Enhancement Influenced by Natural Nootropic. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5021479/

3. Piracetam and other structurally related nootropics. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8061686/

4. Effectiveness of nootropic drugs with cholinergic activity in treatment of cognitive deficit: a review. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4863555/

5. Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/

6. Phytomedicine: A Potential Alternative Medicine in Controlling Neurological Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/B9780128146194000252

7. Nootropic, neuroprotective and neurotrophic effects of phloretin in scopolamine induced amnesia in mice. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26071678/

8. SPECT monitoring of improved cerebral blood flow during long-term treatment of elderly patients with nootropic drugs. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9890490/

9. The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11498727/

10. L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18296328/

11. Nootropics as Cognitive Enhancers: Types, Dosage and Side Effects of Smart Drugs. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9415189/

12. Modfinil https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK531476/

13. The effects of alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine, caffeine or placebo on markers of mood, cognitive function, power, speed, and agility. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4595381/

14. Efficacy of Standardized Extract of Bacopa monnieri. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5075615/

15. Neurohealth Properties of Hericium erinaceus. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5987239/

16. A rare case modafinil dependence. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4319252/

17. The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18681988/

About the author 

Dr Drilon Beloshi is a hardworking and passionate doctor who enjoys research, writing, and teaching. Conducted scientific research in the field of endocrinology.

You may also like