The business of brain-boosting supplements is big business. In fact, according to The BMJ, it’s become a $1 billion dollar business and continues to grow. But cognitive enhancement and mind boosting isn’t a new idea. People have been using drugs to increase their brainpower for hundreds of years. The problem is, most of the drugs used wielded significantly negative side effects. Enter Nootropics. Also referred to as “Smart Drugs,” nootropics have become increasingly popular for their ability to significantly improve cognitive functioning. With the multitude of nootropics available in the market today, it’s a confusing and overwhelming proposition to know the difference between which nootropics work to the ones that don’t. To save you time, money, and disappointment, in this article, I’ll outline what the best nootropics are for memory and learning; focus, attention, and concentration; energy and motivation; social anxiety and confidence; and mood and depression.
Nootropics are Trending
Google search trends for Nootropics shows steady and significant growth in interest over the last several years.
What are Nootropics?
Whilst the premise of the film is primarily based upon the pill “NZT”, it touches on the possibilities of using cognitive enhancing drugs, such as some of the best nootropics, which are listed here. So, think of nootropics as a form of NZT. Whilst films such as Limitless (2011) and Lucy (2014) take the idea of cognitive enhancing drugs to an extreme, the cognitive enhancements depicted—are a very possibility.
Nootropics by Definition
Nootropics are often referred to as “Cognitive Enhancers” or “Smart Drugs“. They are supplements, drugs, or any other type of substance that improves our cognitive functioning. Things like memory processing, reasoning, problem-solving, logic, attention, focus, flexibility, aptitude, and speed. Under a looser definition, everything from caffeine to omega-3 can, technically, be referred to as a ‘smart drug.’ And, while nootropics fall into the category of smart drugs, true nootropics differ in that they have a stronger impact, free of the common downsides (namely, jitteriness) that accompany stimulants like caffeine when consumed alone.
While certain nootropics provide other various benefits, due to its ability to increase our brain power, this makes nootropics a favorite among college students and professionals alike. While all of the best nootropics listed here are safe and effective, some pack more of a punch than others. It’s also worth noting that the best nootropics are those that simultaneously promote mental alertness and calm, while also offering a range of other mental health benefits.
How do they Work?
The brain depends on chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters to perform all its cognitive functions. These functions include; comprehension and gaining knowledge, such as thinking, remembering, decision-making, reasoning, and problem-solving. Our neurotransmitters are what enables us to form memories and recall facts as well as interpret information. They also influence our moods, emotions, sleep patterns and energy. In essence, nootropics work by affecting and influencing the behavior of neurotransmitters in our brain. Some of the key neurotransmitters affected by nootropics include; dopamine, glutamate, acetylcholine, and serotonin.
Nootropic Mode of Actions
Nootropics generally deliver one or more different modes of action. The four different modes are as follows:
- Influencing the action of neurotransmitters: Many nootropics cause changes in cognition by increasing the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. This is achieved by either preventing the breakdown of the neurotransmitter by enzymes or boosting its production. The higher the level of neurotransmitters, the larger the capacity our brain has to form memories, process, and recall information. Nootropics of this nature also enhance neurotransmitter action by increasing the sensitivity of chemical receptors in the brain.
- Boosting blood flow to the brain: Some nootropics cause blood vessels in the brain to dilate, which increases the amount of blood flowing through the brain. More blood flow translates into larger amounts of nutrients for brain cells. These include oxygen and glucose as well as vitamins and minerals. A higher nutrient delivery increases cognitive function.
- Increasing Nerve Growth Factor: Nerve Growth Factor, or NGF, is a protein responsible for the growth, maintenance and function of neurons and brain cells. Nootropics can increase its production, which boosts mental capacity and function.
- Neuroprotective ability: Nootropics may also prevent the aging or damage of brain cells by free radicals in the body. Oxidative stress causes the degeneration of nerve cells, leading to memory loss and diminished cognitive ability.
Qualities in an Effective Nootropic
Today, there are many substances on the market that have the ability to alter your brain. This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean they are nootropics nor satisfy the promise of increased brain power. To avoid being hard-done-by, you should at least know there are several types of nootropics. They are; Racetams, Natural, Cholines/Cholinergic’s, Peptides, Ampakines, Vitamin-B Derivatives, and Dopaminergic’s. Each of these types also falls into two main categories. Either natural or synthetic. What’s the difference between the two? Natural nootropics are, essentially, obtained from plant and herb extracts, while synthetic nootropics are manufactured in a lab. It’s also important to understand that the nootropic mechanisms of actions are different, and the effects on cognitive ability vary. All quality nootropics, however, should alter our cognition, mental energy, and mood in one way or the other with little to no negative effects.
For any supplement to qualify as a nootropic, it must cause appropriate changes in cognition that are discernable, lasting, and beneficial. Unfortunately, some labels market products that are not legitimate nootropics. I’m not going to list those labels here, however, you should be aware that to truly be considered a nootropic— these essential conditions must be met:
The Best Nootropics
Ivy League Colleges and top global Universities such as Oxford and Cambridge have seen a massive increase in the number of students using smart drugs to aid with their learning, memory, and recall. But students aren’t the only ones using and experimenting with nootropics. TechCrunch points out entrepreneurs, Financial Times and CNN highlights bankers, lawyers, and other professionals in high-performance sectors, and Slate states that even the U.S Airforce and Military are now using some of the best nootropics to maximize and extend the brain’s capabilities. While nootropics are mostly known for their ability to enhance cognition, specific types of nootropics offer various other benefits which can be used for different purposes. Below I outline what the best nootropics are for memory and learning; focus, attention, and concentration; energy and motivation; social anxiety and confidence; and mood and depression.[/paragraph_left] [third_paragraph][blockquote author=”Joe Rogan”]”I was really shocked and then the first thing I thought of was wow, now I know why people are reluctant to tell people about this stuff because they’ll be eating it like candy”[/blockquote][/third_paragraph][/row]
Noopept: Best Nootropic for Memory and Learning
Highly regarded as one of the best nootropics for learning and memory, Noopept is often the nootropic of choice for this purpose. Noopept was originally developed as a treatment for cognitive impairment caused by trauma and age-related diseases. However, as it was found to be 1,000 times more potent than Piracetam—one of the original Racetam’s, it’s now become the most popular and one of the best nootropics for memory and learning.
How Noopept Works
Noopept belongs to a class of nootropics, which are derived from Piracetam, known as Racetams. All Racetams enhance cognition by influencing the action of neurotransmitters. Noopept boosts the levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate. By targeting glutamate receptor cells, Noopept prevents the breakdown of neurotransmitters. This leads to greater focus, memory, and learning ability. It works better when taken continuously.[row][double_paragraph]
- Fast action: Noopept is a fat-soluble compound that is absorbed and crosses the blood brain barrier quickly.
- Powerful: Although similar to Piracetam, Noopept is 1,000 times more potent.
- Neuroprotection: Noopept protects your brain from oxidative damage and aging.
- Only small doses are required to make it work.
- Produces an anxiolytic effect by raising Cycloprolylglycine.
- Promotes Neurogenesis via BDNF/NGF expression.
- Due to its potency, it’s easy to overdose.
- Overdosing may cause brain fog.
- Can create an edgy stimulating effect in some individuals.
- May sometimes decrease motivation.
Noopept: Recommended Dosages and Uses
Take small doses of between 10mg to 20mg of Noopept up to three times daily. Avoid taking more than 40mg over a 24hour period as it could lead to negative side effects. As it’s quickly absorbed by the brain, maximum benefit is achieved by taking it 2-3 times a day rather than a large single dose. For best results, take Noopept with a light meal to increase its bioavailability.
As a stack: Enhance Noopept effects by stacking it with a choline source such as CDP-Choline (Citicoline) or, Alpha GPC. Combining it with another Racetam such as Aniracetam or Piracetam will also increase its effects.
Adrafinil: Best Nootropic for Focus, Attention, and Concentration
Do you find yourself struggling to concentrate, focus or recall simple facts? If so, you are not alone. Many people find it difficult to focus their attention on one thing for a long period of time. One of the best nootropics for enhancing focus and concentration is Adrafinil. A potent central nervous system stimulant. The French Pharmaceutical company Lafon Labs first developed Adrafinil in the 1970s. Healthcare practitioners initially used Adrafinil to treat narcolepsy and other sleep disorders. It works by preventing fatigue by increasing wakefulness and energy. Adrafinil’s cognitive enhancing properties help to boost mental clarity, focus and maintain concentration.
How Adrafinil Works
Adrafinil is a strong stimulant which mimics the effects of the adrenaline hormone, epinephrine, by boosting adrenergic neurotransmitters. While epinephrine plays a crucial part of our fight or flight response, it also helps to increase energy and alertness. Adrafinil is converted in the liver into the active form, Modafinil, which is a synthetic drug used to promote wakefulness. Adrafinil is also known to increase the production of serotonin while inhibiting the breakdown of dopamine, making it one of the best nootropics of this kind. The two neurotransmitters also help to elevate mood and increase motivation. Adrafinil boosts levels of glutamate, which improves cognition, memory, and focus.[row][double_paragraph]
- Boosts levels of glutamate which improves cognition, memory, and focus.
- Enhances attention and concentration.
- Improves learning ability and cognition.
- Increases energy levels, stamina, and motivation.
- May cause dry mouth and nausea.
- Prolonged use can result in irritability and anxiety.
- It can lead to heart palpitations and chest pain.
Recommended Uses and Dosages of Adrafinil
Adrafinil dosage should be between 150mg to a maximum of 300mg over a 24 hour period. Begin with small doses and gradually work your way to a higher dose. Avoid taking Adrafinil more than three times weekly. Do not take for more than five months continuously to avoid tolerance. Do not take Adrafinil if you have heart complications or other serious medical conditions without the knowledge of your doctor.
As a stack: Combining 150mg of Adrafinil and 10mg of Noopept makes a potent stack for boosting focus and concentration. Do not take this dosage more than twice daily.
Modafinil: Best Nootropic for Energy and Motivation
Do you often feel lethargic, lack motivation, or struggle to get out of bed? Contrary to popular belief, lack of energy is not a weakness of the body but rather a chemical imbalance in the brain. Low levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine cause our energy and motivation to plunge. For such reasons, one of the best nootropics for energy and motivation is Modafinil. It’s a type of agent and CNS stimulant that is contained in some of the best nootropics available. It’s also recognized as a cognition-enhancing agent and one of the strongest nootropic supplements available.
Modafinil promotes wakefulness, energy, and alertness in individuals with lethargy. Modafinil is typically used as an effective treatment for people who suffer from narcolepsy, sleep apnea, or other types of sleep disorders. While in most countries it’s a prescription drug, it can be purchased online under certain brain names such as like Provigil, Alertec, and Modiodal. Therefore be mindful when taking Modafinil as it will keep you awake for a long period of time (typically 10-12 hours).
How Modafinil Works
Modafinil works by promoting the levels of dopamine and hypothalamic histamine, which is an important wakefulness agent. It stimulates the wakefulness which caters to the brain to help you stay alerted and energized.[row][double_paragraph]
- Modafinil has one of the most potent energizing effects.
- Significantly reduces drowsiness.
- Increases productivity.
- Enhances sensory perception.
- Useful for people engaged in shift work.
- Suppresses appetite, although this is beneficial to those looking to cut weight.
- Often reported to make you lose track of time.
Recommended Dosages and Uses
Take Modafinil soon after you have woken up. This is because it is a potent nootropic that has a long half-life effect of about 12 to 15 hours. The recommended dose is a maximum of 200mg per day. Starting out, take only a 100mg dose before moving up to 200mg.
Aniracetam: Best Nootropic for Social Anxiety and Confidence
Many people every day suffer from social anxiety and distress. Lack of social confidence can be a major hindrance to your self-esteem, ability to forge relationships, speak in public, and interacting with others. One of the best nootropics to help with social anxiety and confidence is Aniracetam. A Racetam-like nootropic with the ability to improve cognition and memory. Aniracetam is commonly referred to as a “holistic aid,” helping users to ‘see the big picture.’
It’s an ideal supplement for those struggling to put the pieces together while working on large and diverse projects. Although the supplement has a stimulatory effect, it differs significantly from caffeine. At high doses caffeine can cause anxiety but, Aniracetam actually creates a calming effect, as indicated in a rodent-based study published in the research journal PLOS ONE. In the study, rodents that consumed Aniracetam demonstrated improved cognition but showed no signs of increased anxiety. Unlike other Racetams, Aniracetam has the ability to significantly reduce anxiety disorder and stress. The nootropic has a calming effect and boosts social confidence. Clinical studies have also shown that Aniracetam also helps to increase verbal fluency and creativity.
How Aniracetam Works
Aniracetam works mainly by influencing the actions of several neurotransmitters in the brain. For instance, it boosts the levels of dopamine and serotonin, which leads to improved mood, lower anxiety, reduced stress, and greater motivation. Aniracetam also works by binding to Acetylcholine (ACh) receptors. This helps to increase ACh release, which boosts cognition. Like other nootropics, Aniracetam also enhances the transmission of glutamate to improve memory formation and recall.[row][double_paragraph]
- Reduces social anxiety and increase self-confidence.
- Lifts mood which also helps to increase energy and motivation.
- It is much stronger than other Racetams such as Piracetam, which provides better results at a lower dosage.
- Improves vision and color perception.
- It’s fat-soluble enabling it to be absorbed efficiently for faster results.
- Overuse can cause negative side effects such as headaches, nausea, nervousness, and fatigue.
Recommended Dosages and Uses
Aniracetam is nontoxic and well tolerated in the body. Beginners should start with a low dose of 750mg per day before increasing to a maximum of 4,500mg per day. Aniracetam should be between 1 to 4 times daily after meals.
As a stack: For better results, Stack Aniracetam with a Choline supplement such as CDP Choline. Choline helps to lower the potentially negative side effects caused by Aniracetam such as headaches.
Sulbutiamine: Best Nootropic for Mood and Depression
Although nootropics are more renowned for boosting cognition, some of them contain potent mood enhancing abilities. For many people, taking nootropics for depression is a preferable option due to their low side effects. This is because nootropics are well tolerated by the body, and unlike antidepressants, they do not deplete neurotransmitters leading to inefficacy. One of the best nootropics for mood-enhancing is Sulbutiamine. A popular component of most nootropic stacks to help with mood and depression. Sulbutiamine is a synthetic derivative of Vitamin B1. It was developed in Japan to treat chronic deficiency of the vitamin, which leads to reduced cognition, depression, poor memory and diminished learning ability. Like other nootropics, taking Sulbutiamine has also been shown to improve focus, alertness, and energy.
How Sulbutiamine Works
Unlike Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), Sulbutiamine crosses the blood-brain barrier much more easily to produce faster effects. It acts on glutamate, serotonin, dopamine and acetylcholine receptors to boost the activity of the neurotransmitters which helps to elevate mood. Sulbutiamine also acts as a type of precursor to help increase the level of Thiamine. As a result, it helps to maintain a positive state of mind, fight stress, and increase energy.[row][double_paragraph]
- Improves mood.
- Helps to maintain a positive state of mind.
- Fights stress.
- Increases energy.
- Supports Thiamine deficiency.
- Rapidly absorbed fat-soluble.
- Anxiety, nausea, and irritability are common side effects of using higher dosages of Sulbutiamine than recommended. This usually occurs when tolerance sets in.
Recommended Dosages and Uses
The daily dose of sulbutiamine should be between 400mg and 800mg per day. As it’s fat-soluble, take it with meals to increase its bioavailability. Also, do not take Sulbutiamine continuously but rather, take Sulbutiamine in cycles to avoid tolerance.
As a stack: Combine 400mg of Sulbutiamine with 200mcg of Huperzine A and 300mg of Alpha GPC for enhanced effects.
Safety with Nootropics
Taken correctly, nootropics are generally safe to use. However, not all users understand what exactly constitutes “safe consumption”. Even experts disagree about basic safety measures. Such as, whether nootropic users should have prescriptions. Medical professionals also disagree about the merits of long-term use, with some maintaining that users should avoid long-term consumption—especially without a prescription.
As with any supplement, it’s wise to discuss nootropics with a trusted medical or healthcare professional before beginning a supplementation program. Regardless of their documented safety, users should also always be aware of what they consume and how it impacts them. Taking any form of supplement or medication should entail a common-sense approach as much as possible. For example, you should only use a supplement if you have a need for it.
Secondly, do not take nootropics without the permission of your doctor or healthcare professional or if you are suffering from a serious health condition. Remember, you should only use nootropics to achieve the results it is designed to provide. It also goes without saying that you should strictly take the recommended dosages and especially avoid overdosing in the hope of speeding up the results.
See also: The Best Nootropic Stacks for Energy, Focus, Memory & More.
Whether you’re a student, stock trader, entrepreneur, executive, or pro athlete, your ability to focus, think, process information, memorize, recall facts, and make the right decisions will, ultimately, determine your life’s achievements. And, this is all influenced by your cognitive capacity. Whether natural or synthetic, nootropics have numerous other benefits such as lowering anxiety, elevating mood, and increasing energy levels. I’ve listed above some of the best nootropics for particular purposes. Certain types of nootropics offer different benefits. However, all nootropics can work better when used in combination with other supplements in a stack.
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- Elston, Thomas W., Ashvini Pandian, Gregory D. Smith, Andrew J. Holley, Nanjing Gao, and Joaquin N. Lugo. “Aniracetam Does Not Alter Cognitive and Affective Behavior in Adult Mice.” PLOS ONE. Public Library of Science, n.d. 5 August 2014.