Nootropics: Fact or Fad?


Nootropics have gained some popularity in recent years for their perceived ability to enhance cognitive functions. These “smart drugs” come in many forms, from pharmaceutical drugs formulated specifically to enhance mental clarity to herbal supplements. They are not only used to make you think more clearly, but some believe they aid in creativity, motivation and memory as well.

More extreme nootropics, such as stimulants, can be prescribed by a doctor when needed and are highly effective for those suffering from ADD or ADHD. Some nootropics can be found over the counter, but many of these are not tested and lack evidence for their effectiveness. Dietary supplements in the form of herbs or vitamins are accessible, afforable, and many of them seem to really work!


Stimulants by regulating dopamine and norepinephrine, the chemicals in the brain associated with happiness and stress. They also tend to provoke an adrenaline response in those who do not suffer from ADHD, giving a boost of productive energy and good feelings. It is worth noting that stimulants require a prescription from a doctor and have a high risk of addiction. Stimulants are recommended by medical professionals in cases where lack of productive cognitive function is interfering with daily life.

One of the most widely used nootropic is methylphenidate. Methylphenidate is marketed under several different names, one of them being ritalin. It is typically prescribed for individuals with attention issues, and increases energy and focus. This drug works by regulating dopamine and norepinephrine, the chemicals in the brain associated with happiness and stress.

In studies done on rats, researchers found that low doses decreased motion and increased cognitive activity. High doses did the opposite, increasing motion and lowering cognitive function.


Amphetamine is another popular stimulant and is found in Adderal. When used properly, it enhances energy, focus, memory and motivation.

Stimulants work paradoxically in those with hyperactivity or attention deficit disorders, calming them.


Other common stimulants include

  • Eugeroics, which keep you awake
  • Xanthines, such as caffeine (found in the most widely available nootropic, coffee)
  • Nicotine


Racetams have a chemical compound similar to stimulants, but far less is known -about how they work. They are often sold over-the-counter and are purported to enhance memory by interacting with certain receptors in the central nervous system. There is little evidence to support or explain the way they react with the brain and there is some controversy about whether or not they work. Because of regulations in the US, racetams are more widely used in other parts of the world.[3]


There are many supplements which are purported to have nootropic properties. Herbal and vitamin supplements are often easy to find and have fewer negative side effects. They may not pack as much of a punch as amphetamine, but they are certainly used by many to achieve a safe and effective cognitive boost.

Effective nootropic supplements

  • Fish oil boosts brain function by giving a dose of two types of omega-3 fatty aids which help with memory and reaction times.
  • Resveratrol is a compound found in the skins of purple and red fruits and berries. Also found in supplement form, it may increase memory and overall brain function.
  • Phosphatidylserine is a type of fat compound found naturally in the brain. It is thought that taking a phosphatidylserine could prevent cognitive decline, especially in old age.
  • Acetyl-L-carnitine is another supplement which is also found naturally in the body. It is used for energy production and increases alertness. It has also been shown to slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Ginkgo biloba is a very popular herbal supplement that is used to increase focus and memory. Results are mixed, but there are several studies showing that it increases these things in healthy individuals as well as those with declining cognitive function.
  • Creatine is found naturally in the muscles and brain and, when taken as a supplement, can improve energy levels, focus and memory. Interestingly, these effects are more pronounced in those who don’t eat meat.
  • Bacopa Monieri is often used in traditional medicinal practices such as Ayurveda. There is quite a bit of evidence that taking this herbal supplement repeatedly over a long period of time boosts cognitive ability. Those who use it report mental clarity, better memory and focus, as well as more acute thinking skills.


The bottom line is, some nootropics really can improve your cognitive function. When considering a nootropic, it is best to do your research and know what you are ingesting. If you feel you need the help of a nootropic drug or supplement, it is best to consult your doctor or the natural supplements aisle.

Although the above is a list of well-known nootropics, Here’s a list of popular nootropics for 2017 (and possibly beyond).


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