We’ve all been in those situations where we felt like we were performing less than our best; whether it is because we are stressed out and cannot focus, we need to hunker down and cram for an important exam, or if we just want to boost our mental capacity. In these situations, what are you supposed to do?
You can only drink so much coffee before you make yourself sick, and using illicit drugs to give you that edge just isn’t very wise.
So, what do you do? If you’re reading this guide, then you probably have heard of nootropics and you want to learn a little bit more--or in this case, a lot more. The use of nootropics has been gaining a lot of speed over the years and we’re more than happy to bring you up to speed!
By the end of this guide, we hope that you’ll feel comfortable and educated enough to shop for the best nootropics to suit your specific needs.
The idea of nootropics isn’t a new one. There has been evidence that suggests man has been using psychoactive compounds from plants and fruit for more than 10,000 years, although we don’t really know how they came to realize these compounds could affect a person’s way of thinking and perception.
Researchers believe that the drawings of ancient cavemen depicted their everyday lives. It’s interesting to see that their drawings reflect patterns seen in other drawings from people who took recent tests while in a mind-altered state.
We learned of this thanks to neural patterns observed while a person is under hallucinogenic influence, which is called “Turing Instabilities.”
It is believed that ancient humans would take these psychoactive compounds as a part of ancient rituals. These compounds allowed the user to create insightful messages while in their hallucinogenic state. People who are fond of modern day smart drugs, nootropics, can understand and relate to this.
A group of researchers documented the earliest instances of psychonauts all the way back to prehistoric humans. Ernst Junger, coined the term which was used to describe a person who chooses to put themselves into an altered state of being with the intent of improving themselves.
Why, in South America, researchers unearthed bowls that were used to prepare these hallucinogenic drugs. They also found tubes for inhaling fumes and/or powders.
While it is widely known that tools such as these were used for inhaling drugs, but the age of the paraphernalia shows us that humans have been partaking for quite a ling time--as far back as 400BC!
As time went on, we learned more about different compounds and the effects they had on a person. Science progressed and we were able to refine products like tobacco and turn it into the more potent substance, nicotine.
All around the world, cultures have had their own form of nootropics. For example, the Chinese would use ginkgo biloba. Indians would use Ayurvedic aptogens.
However, during those thousands of years that we’ve been improving science to study psychotropes, the advances of the effectiveness and the nootropics use has been very slow--glacially slow.
For the most part, we understand that these compounds have played an important part in the history of humans, but it until recently that we have been able to create and optimize the nootropics for the purpose of improving our mental capabilities, enhancing our thoughts, and fine tuning our memories.
Because there has been so much advancement in science, it almost feels like these particular advancements really started to take off around the 1960s when chemists in Belgium were experimenting on ways to expand their consciousness.
They began doing this by synthesizing the inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA. This is the moment piracetam was born.
Dr. Corneliu Giurgea coined the term “nootropics” which stems from the Greek word, “Noos” which means “mind” and “tropein” which means “toward” or “to bend.” The term is quite befitting, as the compounds that are under the nootropic umbrella can do exactly that--change the way one’s mind perceives things.
Ever since the dawn of piracetam, there have been countless studies, both in the United States and out.
Countries outside of the US use these compounds as a pharmaceutical to treat cognitive decline, which led to the creation of aniracetam and oxiracetam. Both of these compounds are analogues of their parent racetam, piracetam.
The studies that have been conducted on nootropics all include some form of racetam. Unfortunately, there’s only been a small selection of nootropics that have been studied since then.
With that said, more and more studies are being conducted all the time on various compounds while continues to expand the nootropic category.
If you’re like most people, if you’re going to take a supplement, you want to know what it is going to do to your body and how exactly it works. With most medications, there is a clear answer to these questions.
However, with nootropics, the answer isn’t as clear because there are so many different factors to consider. It is all of these different variations that makes it difficult to pinpoint an exact explanation on how these compounds work.
With that said, we can tell you that the nootropics’ positive effects are attributed to the changes that take place in the different neurotransmitters, the hormones and enzymes.
We know what hormones are, and we know what enzymes are, but what are neurotransmitters? These are chemicals that create nerve signals that jump from one neuron to the next. You can think of them like tiny messengers that deliver messages from one cell to the next. These messengers can be one of two forms:
Depending on the messages that are sent and received, the neurotransmitters will then bond with special post-synatic receptors, which are usually just called a receptor or a receptor site on a nerve synapses.
Together, these neurotransmitters and the receptors will create a system. It is just one of many neuronal systems located in the brain!
When you take a nootropic supplement, you are targeting and increasing the efficiency of the systems that are related to cognitive functions. What are the neurotransmitters and cognitive functions, you ask?
Acetylcholine is the powerhouse neurotransmitter that drives the cholinergic system. There is an abundant supply of this neurotransmitter in the brain and it controls a variety of cognitive functions.
For one thing, it plays an important role in how we learn, how we remember things, and how well we can focus. It also is responsible for our decision-making process and our ability to interpret our senses.
Glutamate is the neurotransmitter that is most plentiful in the brain. It plays a crucial role inside the brain, as it maintains overall brain health as well as our abilities to learn and access our memories. Glutamate also will be converted to the neurotransmitter that has a positive effect on our mood, GABA.
These two neurotransmitters are directly related to how we feel pleasure and happiness. Though neither of these neurotransmitters are directly targeted by nootropics, they can be effected in some degree and have an impact on the overall result and effectiveness of a nootropic supplement.
These chemicals and their related systems are crucial on regulating focus, memory, mood, motivation, and reward. Keep in mind that the effects of dopamine can be addictive, so you shouldn’t use nootropics that target dopamine on a daily basis.
Did you know that there is a law (not like the legal type of law, but more like a theory) that suggests the way we perform is directly related to arousal? This law is called the Yerkes Dodson Law.
This law basically states that when someone experiences a higher level of arousal, there can be a boost in how they perform. However, once that arousal crosses the maximum level, their performance will start to decline.
There are three levels to the Yerkes Dodson Law:
This is the starting point of the inverted U model. This is generally associated when someone doesn’t get enough sleep, they lack motivation, they’re tired, or they have a low body temperature among other factors.
At this state, we aren’t expecting to do anything too complex, therefore the mechanisms in our body is kind of on sleep mode.
At this level, we are primed to take on both simple and complex tasks. This is the top of the inverted U model. From the low arousal level to here, you’ll note a gradual incline as the curve slowly reaches the optimal level.
This is the point where our arousal level has surpassed the optimum balance. Reaching this stage usually results in lower concentration, panic, anxiety, our bodies tense up and we have difficulty with rational thinking.
We aren’t able to focus on our surroundings and our performance decreases. This is what happens when someone cracks under pressure.
While the inverted U curve shows a general idea of what is going on, there are different factors to take into consideration that is going to vary from person to person.
A person’s skill level is going to directly impact their performance when given a task. You wouldn’t expect a person to play the piano well if they’ve never touched it before. Those who are highly skilled and confident in their skill set are going to be able to handle pressure related to that particular task very well.
A person’s personality is going to have an effect on how well they can handle stress. It is a common belief by psychologists that extroverts are going to be able to handle pressure much better than introverts. It can also be said that introverts tend to perform best in a pressure-free situation.
A person’s self-confidence is going to greatly affect the way they perform in a situation. For example, if you’re shy, you’re not going to do very well in a speed dating situation. Whereas if you’re an outgoing person who is confident in themselves, you’re going to do very well.
The difficulty of the task is going to play into how well a person performs while trying to complete said task. It is going to be easier for someone who isn’t very motivated to get out of bed, but asking them to run errands and complete a lengthy to-do list is going to quite the feat.
So, what does this have to do with nootropics? The law basically states that when we reach the state of hyperarousal, our functioning is going to suffer. Let’s say you have a big exam coming up and you are cramming for it like your life depended on it.
The stress of this impending exam is going to hinder your performance on the exam because you’re worried about doing well. At the other end of it, not being aroused enough (like if you’re sleepy or if you just don’t care about the exam) also means your performance will suffer as well.
There are some diseases that can decrease the baseline level of arousal. For example, diseases and syndromes like narcolepsy, ADHD, hypothyroidism, CFS, depression, obstructive sleep apnea, and “chemo brain” can decrease arousal levels.
Although there haven’t been any conclusive studies that prove that nootropics can, in fact, make a lasting improvement on your cognitive performance, people do believe that the supplements have at least a modest impact on their ability to pay attention, memory recall, and their motivation.
Seniors and students aren’t the only people who take nootropics to help them maximize their productivity and performance. The 2011 movie, “Limitless” brought the idea of cognitive boosting into the limelight, but it’s important to know the true affects you get from the nootropics aren’t anywhere near as... Incredible.
People who use nootropics are those who want to achieve great things that require a higher level of performance. Entrepreneurs will take these supplements so they can focus on business meetings.
Artists will use these supplements to tap into their creative side and produce masterful works of art, literary masterpieces, and music that touches the soul.
The average Joe may want to take them to prevent him from forgetting the important things in life, like where he parked the car or his wedding anniversary. Students will take them to help them cram for that important exam. The elderly can take them to sharpen their minds at their advanced age.
Everyone has their own reasons for taking nootropics. There is no right or wrong reason for wanting to use them. Just remember, you’re not going to unlock the mysteries that lie within your mind--you’re just optimizing the skills you already have--and other benefits.
We know that nootropics are still the new kid on the proverbial block and we don’t know conclusively what their long term effects and possible side effects are. With that said, there are numerous effects that you can expect when taking the supplement. These are just 10 of the most desirable benefits!
Nootropic substances boost acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that communicates between the muscles and the brain’s gray matter. Nootropics like Alpha GPC, Choline, and DMAE create this neurotransmitter, and Bacopa can also improve our motor function.
What’s interesting about nootropics is that when you take the supplements, you can expect to increase the ability to master your verbal communication skills, but also your vocabulary. This is one reason why creative minds like using nootropics, especially when they have to write a story or essay.
Not only does acetylcholine work to control the way our bodies move, but it is also a precursor to promote REM sleep.
5-HTP is responsible for normalizing sleep patterns and for those who have trouble sleeping due to narcolepsy or circadian rhythm related sleep disorders will be given modafinil to ensure clear wakefulness when you need to be awake and functioning.
The morning is prime time to get things done. Nootropics will let you get the most out of your day, especially in the morning. You can take a nootropic with piracetam when you get up in the morning and it’ll feel like you had a mega-charged cup of coffee.
The difference between nootropics and coffee is that you won’t have to go in for a second (or third) capsule throughout the day like you would a cup of coffee.
We’ve already mentioned that nootropics impact the neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine, but it’s worth mentioning again--who doesn’t want to feel like they’re on top of the world?
The nootropics that have the most effect on these neurotransmitters include 5-HTP, Bacopa, green tea, tyrosine, vitamin b12 and phenylalanine.
Many of the medications we are prescribed to treat conditions like ADHD, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders (among other things) can be quite addictive.
However, nootropics are a safer, less addictive way to treat these conditions. Also, nootropics have been shown to help neurological degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and dementia.
Having a good memory is something we often take for granted. People of all ages can benefit from having a sharp memory and nootropics can help.
We already mentioned that the supplements can help those with degenerative brain diseases, but it can help young people focus when they need to study.
We’ve all been at that point where we know we have stuff to do, but we can’t for the life of us focus long enough to get anything done.
Our attention shifts from one thing to the next, and at the end of the day, nothing got done. Nootropics can help you stay focused and alert so that you can accomplish the things you need to get done.
There are some nootropics that will improve your mood and reduce anxiety. There’s been numerous studies that show when a person’s anxiety is reduced, they are more productive, as indicated in the Yerkes Dodson Law.
Prevents fatigue. Nootropics have a way of blocking the receptors in the brain that causes you to feel fatigue. By decreasing these feelings, you’ll be able to accomplish more things throughout your day. Supplements like creatine and rhodiola rosea are great agents for decreasing fatigue.
There are many different types of nootropic ingredients that are often used in nootropic stacks and supplements. There are many different groupings that perform different functions.
First nootropics ever used and they are the most popular. They increase your cognitive functioning, causing improvements to motivation, memory, concentration, awareness, and learning. Common racetams include:
These nootropics are much more potent versions of piracetam and it is capable of effectively penetrating the blood brain barrier. This means you can take less of the ingredient and still see good results. Common peptides include:
By stacking choline with racetams, you’re going to stimulate the receptors in the brain that create acetylcholine, which we know is a powerhouse neurotransmitter that controls a lot of our cognitive functioning and enhanced comprehension. Common sources of choline include:
These nootropics are still fairly new on the scene, but they are among the most powerful nootropics you can get. These are known to be strong AMPA and/or NDMA Glutamate receptor promoters, as they increase the amount of glutamate found in the blood.
Unlike other stimulants like caffeine and Ritalin, these nootropics do not cause the typical side effects like insomnia, anxiety, or restlessness. There hasn’t been much research conducted on the lasting effects of taking these nootropics. Common ampakines include:
These nootropics are a synthetic form of nootropic that come from B vitamins. An example of this is Sulbutiamine, which is a derivative of Thiamine (Vitamin B1). This particular nootropic is often used to treat those who suffer from fatigue, or those who need/want to increase their energy level and be more alert.
Sulbutiamine also can improve memory function because it increases the potency of the transmissions of choline, glutamate, and dopamine. This supplement is also been useful in enhancing the cognitive performance of patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and who have schizophrenia.
We’ve covered the different groups of nootropic ingredients, but there are some notable ingredients that we didn’t cover. These ingredients don’t fall into any of the categories previously mentioned, but they are still popular:
If you’ve made it this far, then you probably are pretty impressed by all the benefits that you could experience by taking nootropics.
Hey, we’re with you on this! If there’s a natural way that you can tap into your mental capabilities and help you live life to the best of your abilities, of course you’d want to explore your options. One way you can make the most out of your experience with nootropics is by stacking them.
What does stacking mean? Basically, it’s just combining two or more nootropics to create a stronger supplement that benefits multiple areas of your cognition, such as memory, focus, concentration, motivation, and learning abilities. To learn more about stacking, check out this post.
In most instances, when you decide you want to try nootropics, you’re going to be dealing with the pure form, which is sold as a bulk powder. Before you just start scooping teaspoons of the stuff like you’re making a protein shake, you will want to stop and keep reading.
These powders are incredibly potent, so you’re going to want to dose them out properly. To do this, you’ll need a digital scale that calculates milligrams and you’ll want to pick up a capsule kit so you can make your supplements for future use, rather than going through the process of weighing the supplement every day.
From there, you will want to take your powder and then weight it out according to the half-life of the given supplement. So, let’s say if your supplement has a long half-life (this means the length of time it takes for half of the supplement to be eliminated from your body).
Let’s take a look at the recommended dosages for popular nootropic supplements.
Please keep in mind that these are just recommendations. If you find that the dosage doesn’t quite work for you, feel free to tweak it in either direction (more or less) until you achieve the desired results. A good rule of thumb is to start low and increase.
When you are trying to figure out your doses, it’s always a good idea do your research so you don’t take too much, which can lead to adverse side effects.
In general, nootropics are safe to take and they’re nontoxic. With that said, people’s bodies will react differently to different substances. Though the side effects that you could get aren’t worrisome, we do want to mention them, so you can keep an eye out.
Most people who do experience some kind of side effect from taking nootropics will say they get a headache. This is especially common for those who experiment with racetams like piracetam. This is because your brain is working harder and using more acetylcholine than your body can make.
Nootropics are safe on the body and it’s functions, but if you use the an excessively high dose, you could experience GI tract complications.
Your body is going to think the excess material as a harmful substance and it is going to do whatever it can to eliminate it--including causing feelings of nausea and diarrhea.
Most nootropics will increase your energy levels and it is going to make you feel much more alert. Sounds great right? It is until it causes you experience insomnia.
This is especially possible if you take the supplement too close to bedtime. If you are able to go to sleep, you may not get a restful sleep, which could leave you feeling fatigued in the morning.
These are basic side effects that commonly happen when you misuse nootropics. With that said, you will want to research the possible side effects and risks associated with the specific ingredients that you are using, as some ingredients may have different effects.
There are some uncommon side effects that we want to point out as well. In some rare cases, you could react negatively to the ingredients and experience:
You can avoid all of these side effects simply by following the recommended dosage for the ingredients you want to use.
Nootropics are no different than anything else you put into your body or bring into your home. There are some safety measures you need to consider, not just for yourself, but for others around you.
Keep away from children. We still don’t know the full scope of how the supplements will affect those precious teenage years when the brain is in the critical stages of development.
Some researchers believe that the nootropics wouldn’t cause any damage, but instead could improve brain development. However, there are some people who feel that the brain could become dependent on the nootropics and wouldn’t be able to functions without them.
Follow recommended dosages. We’ve already covered the possible side effects that could come from taking high doses of any nootropic.
What we didn’t cover is that if you take high doses of these supplements over an extended period of time, your brain could become dependent on it, almost to the point of being addicted to the supplement because you’ve built up a tolerance and you’re constantly trying to keep those positive effects coming.
Be aware of the nootropic supplement you are using. Each supplement performs their own function and that is why you want to pay close attention to what you are using. You don’t want to use a supplement that is going to relax you to the point where you want to doze, when you should be focused and paying attention.
Also, you should be aware of the long term effects of the nootropics you take because some supplements could actually cause your body harm if taken for too long.
Be aware of the duration and frequency of use. The longer you use something, the more dependent you become to it. If you use high dose for long periods of time, you can train your brain and your nervous system into thinking that it needs that substance to function.
It’s usually recommended that you treat nootropics like a supplement that you use on a need basis, rather than as a daily supplement.
Know how and when to cycle off. Cycling off means that you stop taking the supplement when you feel that you’re growing a tolerance to the supplement, or if and when you feel yourself becoming dependent on it. Cycling will help your body revert to its natural functioning state without the help of those cognitive boosters.
We’ve all been at that point where we feel like we have to move mountains when we can barely lift a feather. The brain fog is thick and we can’t focus on anything, even if our lives depended on it (okay, maybe that’s being a bit dramatic).
You could always turn to coffee and energy drinks, but more often than not, these beverages are going to give you a boost of energy at first, but within a few hours (sometimes less), you’re going to crash. It’s even worse when you get the jitters from these drinks.
Nootropics is a great way to give your brain a boost without experiencing negative side effects. The nootropic supplements can enhance and improve a variety of cognitive functions, most specifically your ability to concentrate, how alert you feel, your mood, and your ability to learn and remember.
For thousands of years, people have been using some form of psychoactive compound to increase their performance. Ancient humans used pipes and bowls to for rituals. People in Asia have used plants like ginkgo biloba and Ayurvedic aptogens to achieve a higher state of mind for one reason or another.
Although movies like “Limitless” would lead us to believe one little pill can open your mind in ways you never dreamed possible, the truth of the matter is, nootropics can help you perform to the best of your ability while improving your brain health.
If you want to shop for the best nootropics, but you don’t know where to start, don’t worry. We’ve created a buying guide that will help you figure out what factors and features you should look for when shopping for these supplements.
We also provided you with ten mini product reviews of some of our favorite nootropic supplements that are worth trying.
With any other kind of supplement that you may want to consider taking, we fully recommend that you first consult with your primary care physician first.
They will be able to tell you if the supplement will react with any medication you are on, but also if the supplement will worsen any conditions you may have, such as cardiac problems or sleep conditions. It’s always best to be on the side of caution than to have a bad experience when it could have been avoided.
With all that said, leave us a comment below and tell us why you want to try nootropics. Are you a student who needs a little extra help studying for an exam? Maybe you’re a professional who needs to be on top of their game at all times.
Maybe you’re just someone who wants to improve their cognitive functions while enjoying the ability to get more things done. Whatever the case may be, we’d love to hear from you!