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Nootropics: What they are, types, and benefits

Description: Everyone loves the idea of brain-enhancing pills often described in movies. But what if such pills actually existed? And more so, what if these pills were so common that you could pop one anytime you liked?  Keep reading to find out more about these ‘magic’ brain pills.

Bradley Cooper’s performance in ‘Limitless’ was superb, to say the least. However, what was more eye-catching about the movie was its portrayal of the possibility of enhancing brainpower using drugs. How often have you wished that you were smarter or that you could enhance your brain capacity, if only for a little while? Most people with similar wishes typically turn to pills known as nootropics.

Nootropics or, commonly, cognitive enhancers are a group of substances with a claimed capacity to enhance brain power. But are they real? And if so, what other benefits do they possess? Keep reading to find out all about this group of drugs.

what are nootropics

What are Nootropics?

Nootropics, also known as smart drugs, cognitive enhancers, or brain pills, are natural or synthetic substances that, when taken, have the capacity to enhance brain cognitive activity and overall mental performance. The demand for these substances is increased exponentially in recent years as people desire drugs that could make them smarter or improve their performance in mental tasks. People often take nootropics to boost memory, focus, creativity, intelligence, and motivation.

The term “nootropics” was formerly used to describe illegal substances with brain-boosting capabilities (like the Limitless pill). Today, a variety of substances may be categorized as nootropics. Generally, these substances fall into three subcategories;

  1. Over-the-counter substances and supplements
  2. Prescription drugs
  3. Synthetics

There are several controversies over the use of nootropics, with some experts claiming that they hold no benefit for users.

Pure and Clean Supplements

Over-the-counter substances and Supplements

Substances that may be obtained without a prescription are known as over-the-counter drugs. Some common dietary supplements and substances of everyday-use fall in this category. These substances are considered generally harmless and are not tightly regulated. They may also benefit the user in several other ways

Some common non-prescription nootropics include;

1. Caffeine

Many common beverages, including coffee, energy drinks, and tea, contain appreciable amounts of caffeine. Caffeine is renowned for its stimulant effect, helping to keep people alert and sharp. By way of its pharmacological activity, caffeine is a potent nootropic. Caffeine enhances neurotransmitter release in the brain and has been shown to help improve memory and cognitive functioning.

Caffeine is generally safe when taken in normal amounts. Excessive amounts of caffeine may cause severe side effects, such as tachycardia and tremors, and even death. Thus, even though caffeine pills are non-prescription, it would be wise to speak to a doctor before starting out on them.

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are commonly marketed as supplements for their various benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids are widely used for their cardiovascular benefits, helping to inhibit plaque formation in arteries and reduce the chances of stroke. These fatty acids are also well studied as nootropics and have been shown in research to help enhance mental prowess.

Omega-3 FAs are important for children’s brain development and help preserve adult brain health. They are important components for building, repairing, and renewing neurons and are important for synaptic plasticity.

Omega-3 supplements are generally safe when taken in normal doses. However, they may interact with anti-clotting drugs and other medications. Thus, you should ask a doctor before taking them

3. Creatine

Creatine is an amino acid commonly used by athletes to enhance muscle strength and improve exercise performance. However, creatine has also been shown to help improve mental prowess.

Some research shows that creatine may help improve short-term memory formation and improves cognitive capabilities. Coupled with its physical benefits, creatine poses as an all-around enhancer for athletes.

Creatine is typically safe in normal doses. However, excessive intake may result in some moderate side effects.

4. Ginkgo Biloba

Gingko is a plant that is native to China, Japan, and several East Asian countries. Gingko is filled with antioxidants that help preserve and enhance several body functions, such as circulation and respiration.

Gingko has been shown to help improve brain circulation, which helps improve cognitive activity and slow brain aging. Gingko is potentially helpful in dementia and other age-related cognitive impairment.

5. Racetams

Racetams, including piracetam, pramiracetam, phenylpiracetam, and aniracetam, are synthetic compounds that are regulated in most countries but sold over the counter in the U.S. These synthetic compounds effectively influence neurotransmitter release in the brain. Studies have shown that these synthetic substances may have neuroprotective effects and may help enhance cognitive capabilities. However, the evidence is unclear and more research needs to be carried out.

Other common non-prescription nootropics include;

  1. Rhodiola
  2. Panax ginseng
  3. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)
  4. L-tyrosine
  5. Cannabidiol
  6. Dimethylethanolamine (DMAE)
  7. L-theanine
  8. CDP choline


prescription nootropics

Prescription Nootropics

Prescription nootropics are regulated drugs that you can get only through a doctor’s prescription. This class of nootropics is more popular and generally more accepted due to the wealth of evidence in their favor.

Prescription nootropics are mostly stimulants employed in treating  ADHD, narcolepsy, and similar conditions. These drugs may only be gotten with a prescription and must be taken within prescribed limits.

Common prescription nootropics include;

  • Modafinil, which is used to treat drowsiness and narcolepsy
  • Adderall, which is used to treat ADHD
  • methylphenidate used to manage narcolepsy and ADHD symptoms

The use of prescription nootropics in otherwise healthy people is discouraged. These medications are directed to be used for specific conditions and help improve cognitive functioning in these disorders.

Unfortunately, despite being prescription drugs, many persons have illegal access to them, often using them to enhance studying time and efficiency during exams. However, these drugs carry serious risks, such as the possibility of addiction and present side effects such as insomnia, blurry vision, high blood pressure, and thrombosis. Research also shows that the risk of impulsivity is relatively higher in people who use prescription nootropics.

benefits nootropics

Benefits of Nootropics

Nootropics are mental stimulants that may have the following effects when taken

  1. Help improve motivation
  2. Enhances reflexes and shortens reaction time
  3. Improves concentration and focus
  4. Reduces depression and anxiety and promotes positive mood
  5. Stimulates the mind and improves mental alertness


Evidence for the use of Nootropics

The use of nootropics continues to be controversial. The most highlighted reason for this controversy is that there is no strong evidence to support the use or efficacy of these drugs.

Many of the studies that have been carried out to study the efficacy of nootropics have been performed on very small sample sizes or have had some other major limitations. Thus, it is difficult to extrapolate the results of these studies to the general population. Over-the-counter nootropics and supplements have less controversy in their use. It is suggested that even if the evidence for their use as brain boosters is lacking, they may still hold immense benefits in other body functioning. Besides, these agents are generally harmless, hence their labeling as supplements.

The general idea of “brain enhancers” or “limitless pills” is often questioned. Experts agree that the brain circuits involved in learning, memory, and cognition are too complex to just be altered using drugs. While other brain circuits may be easily influenced through drugs that act on one portion of the circuit, these particular circuits are not that easily influenced. Some experts even believe that the positive effects attributed to nootropics result from the placebo effect. These experts believe that people seeking to improve their mental performance will be better off getting enough sleep, eating right, meditating, and exercising.

On the other side of the divide, some experts within the field of neurobiology agree that nootropics may help improve performance, although not in the sense that is generally claimed. For these experts, the idea of nootropics directly enhancing brain power is far-fetched; however, they believe that these substances, through their effects on certain neurochemicals, may give users an edge over non-users.

For now, more large-scale studies are needed to determine whether nootropics really work or not. However, if you’re willing to try them, ensure that you speak to your doctor first to stay within safe limits.


nootropics in athletics

Nootropics for Athletes

Athleticism is as much a game of the mind as it is of the body. Athletes require all the motivation and focus they can get to perform at the highest level. Sometimes, even when the body is weak, the mind can work to push the body beyond its limits and achieve success. Thus, it is clear that the difference between good and great athletes is often the mind.

Nootropics come in handy for athletes a lot. Even if there is sparse evidence to support the efficacy of nootropics, its placebo effect can give an athlete an edge over their peers.

Prescription nootropics such as Adderall are banned in many sports. However, athletes, bodybuilders, and other sports enthusiasts may benefit from non-prescription nootropics. Some of the best supplements and over-the-counter substances that athletes may use to boost their mental capacity include;

  1. Caffeine: helps reduce fatigue and enhance focus in athletes
  2. Omega-3 fatty acids: helps improve mood and cognition
  3. BCAAs: BCAA supplementation helps improve reflexes, improve short-term memory, and enhance mental stimulation
  4. Cannabidiol: CBD reduces neuroinflammation, helping to improve synaptic plasticity and enhance memory retention
  5. DMAE: reduces the buildup of beta-amyloid plaques that are involved in the development of dementia.
natural nootropics


If you need an extra push or motivation to get through a task or get through a workout, then you might want to consider using nootropics. Despite the controversy surrounding their efficacy, there is no harm in trying, and using them may also confer other benefits. However, ensure that you speak to your doctor before using any nootropic and ensure that you stay within normal doses.



What Are Nootropics?

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