Nootropics are a special class of compounds that alter the way our brains function. These compounds range from herbal teas to isolated synthetic powders—each with remarkably different potential. Nootropics help improve focus, promote long-term brain health, and even repair damaged neural tissue. Learning more about some of the best Nootropics may help you better understand which of these often potent compounds may benefit you.

What Are Nootropics

Technically, A Nootropic is any compound that affects the brain. This could be a boost of energy, reduction of oxidative stress, or the promotion of neural cell growth. This broadly-accepting definition includes many compounds that aren’t normally regarded as brain-boosting compounds. For example, Psilocybin (an alkaloid in Magic Mushrooms) has been shown to positively affect cognitive function [1]. On the opposite end of the sensationalist chart, caffeine is considered a Nootropic compound as well. It stimulates the brain, acts on specific neural receptor sites, and is often described in medical literature as a ‘Psychostimulant’ [2]. While few would regard these compounds as offering remotely similar benefits, they could both be argued as being Nootropic in nature.

Uncharted Territory

Different Nootropic compounds affect different people in different ways. Clinical data for many of the most popular Nootropic compounds, like the Racetam family, is severely lacking. Piracetam is one of the first synthetic Nootropics to be investigated under clinical settings, though much of what we know about it comes from the late 1970’s [3]. Many of the most popular Nootropics are thought to act on specific neural pathways to either slow down or speed up the brain. Two of the primary neural pathways which these types of compounds are thought to affect are the Glutamergic and Cholinergic pathways.

These two types of pathways could likely account for many of the reported effects of Nootropics, though nothing can be said for certain. These types of pathways are complicated, and our knowledge of the intricacies and dynamics is still in developing stages. Nootropics may very well be influencing these pathways in a manner that will bring unforeseen consequences down the road. Nootropics enthusiasts often develop unique synergistic blends of these compounds, called ‘stacks’. Nootropic stacks are often designed to help support these types of neural pathways and help avoid potential side effects from prolonged usage.

Alpha Brain by Onnit is a Popular ‘Designer’ Nootropic Containing Many Natural Herbal Compounds

Nootropics Stacks & Self Optimization

Nootropics stacks may consist of any number of compounds and are designed to fit your personal goals. Common approaches for these types of blends may be the inclusion of a Choline supplement to help support the increased consumption of Acetylcholine during the use of Oxiracetam. Choline compounds such as Alpha GPC and CDP Choline offer bioavailable forms of choline to help prevent headaches and uncomfortable stimulation. It’s like adding a bit of downwards momentum to keep your brain from blasting off too quickly. There are also several designer Nootropics compounds on the market that come with a general purpose stack of ingredients.

These are typically much milder than any synthetic Nootropic, though also better suited for a wide range of uses and the wide range of users. One of the most popular designer Nootropic is the Alpha Brain supplement by Onnit which is formulated to help support memory and focus. This supplement contains Vitamin B6, L-Tyrosine, L-Theanine, Phosphatidylserine, Alpha-GPC, Bacopa, Vinpocetine, Pterostilbene, as well as several other Nootropic compounds. While many of these compounds may sound non-Nootropic in nature—when combined together in a Nootropic stack they work together to produce some powerful results.

Are Nootropics Legal?

Nootropics fall into all sorts of different regulatory categories, though most are considered to be dietary supplements. Certain compounds such as Phenylethylamine are synthetic and therefore aren’t considered dietary ingredients by the FDA. For this reason, it’s hard to make a blanket statement describing the legality of all Nootropic compounds. Many prescription medications that are common names in today’s society would likely qualify as Nootropics.

Drugs such as Adderall, Vyvanse, and Ritalin are all prescription pharmaceuticals targeting specific neural pathways to alter cognitive performance. Other less-known compounds such as Modafinil are regulated as schedule IV within the United States, and commonly prescribed in other countries for the treatment of narcolepsy and other quasi-similar health conditions. The most popular Nootropics on the market are usually completely legal, and many are herbal extractives and compounds bio-identical to those produced naturally by your body.

Special Little Snowflakes

People are attracted to Nootropics for a variety of reasons, each as personal as the next. Some look to Nootropics to better understanding how to calm a racing mind; others look to them to set their mind into overdrive. Regardless of motivation or experience, there is one common thread that connects the Nootropic experience for everyone—balance. Our brains are unbelievably sophisticated and are constantly gathering and processing information. Science knows a lot about the brain, but many of its processes are still an enigma. For example, we still don’t really know what consciousness is—let alone how to predict how subtle physiological changes may affect it.

Many Nootropics such as Phenylpiracetam and other brain-boosting Nootropics are capable of providing huge levels of mental stimulation. There simply isn’t enough clinical data to make any statements of assurance for long-term usage. Small changes in neurological function can catalyze all-consuming shifts in consciousness. If you are considering experimenting with Nootropics, it’s important to know that even subtle changes can have powerful effects. It’s also important to stay cognizant of the fact you have altered your consciousness, and that it will soon return to its familiar state.

Piracetam Nootropics
Many Nootropics may overstimulate the brain causing a cascade of unforeseen effects

Newton’s Third Law of Nootropics

You’d be well-served to meditate on Newton’s third law of motion when approaching Nootropics—realizing that for ever action taken on your brain there will be an equal and opposite reaction. The problem with many Nootropics is that we don’t understand how they act on our brains. Without know how they act, we can’t accurately predict how we might react to many of these compounds. If you push your brain in a direction of high performance and exhilaration, it will eventually pull back towards its initial state of being. Imagine it like jumping on a trampoline—Nootropics are like the height of your bounce, and the withdrawal effects are like the sinking of the trampoline when you come back down.

If you’re just taking little hops, the sinking won’t be an issue. If you’re taking gigantic bounces, this withdrawal of height can be distressing—maybe even causing your feet to hit the ground. For every ‘bounce’ Nootropics get your brain to take, it eventually comes back down. How hard this return to equilibrium is dependent greatly on what compounds you’re experimenting with, as well as which supportive compounds you’ve added in your stack. Compounds such as Phenibut which have been known to effectively treat symptoms of anxiety and depression—by dramatically altering brain chemicals—withdrawal symptoms have been reported as lasting for up to 2 weeks.

Personal Balance & Powerful New Tests

There are several new tests available to help better understand your own natural balance. Genetic tests can help you better understand how your own DNA may influence the effects of Nootropics for you. Companies like 23andMe provide affordable DNA analysis which offers great insight into which compounds may work best for you. One example is a genetic mutation often referred to as the ‘warrior gene’, which can cause neurotransmitter levels to accumulate more than normal. If you had this gene and were taking Nootropics that caused an increase in neurotransmitter levels—you’d likely see a much larger increase than non-warriors.

This might be positive, this might be negative—either way, it’d be remarkably different than the experience of others. This is just a single example of how subtle genetic variations might play highly effective roles in determining how someone might react to Nootropics.  An Organic Acids test is another powerful tool for learning more about your personal balance. These tests measure the levels of a wide range of compounds in your body, which are useful predictive markers for many numbers of health conditions. For example, high levels of Hippuric acid are often a strong indicator of a bacterial infection. Homovanillic and Vanillylmandelic acids can help you better understand ratios of neurotransmitters like Dopamine and Norepinephrine.

Alpha GPC Supplement

Knowing how different Nootropics will affect you can assist you in your quest to better understand their potential to help find the balance you desire. Each compound offers a unique benefit, and each may affect you in a different way than it affects others. We have a pretty extensive list of some of the best Nootropics currently available, which provides a brief overview of what to expect. Generally speaking, the best Nootropics are usually the ones that get the least amount of attention. These are the foundational compounds that help support brain health over the long term, as well as facilitate periodic stimulation through other Nootropics.

These are compounds like Omega 3 acids, Vitamin D, Lion’s Mane, Magnesium, and Choline supplements. These compounds aren’t considered flashy enough to make Nootropics headlines, but they’re the ones with clinical evidence to support the notion of long-term benefits. Take phosphatidylserine for example; this natural phospholipid won’t serve as a study aid or help get your energy levels boosted in the morning—but it can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease [4] [5]. These compounds are generally regarded as effective means of supporting your brains natural processes as opposed to the more interventionist effects of compounds like Aniracetam.

Final Considerations

Nootropics are powerful compounds able to help facilitate and help support rapid synaptic firing in our brains. They can also be used to help promote calm states of relaxation as well. Any compound that has been observed to catalyze a marked shift in cognitive functioning could technically fall into the Nootropics category. Popular Nootropics include compounds like the racetams, Alpha-GPC, phosphatidylserine, as well as plain ‘ol caffeine. These compounds present us with a myriad of potential cognitive effect, anyone capable of eliciting unforeseen shifts in our consciousness. When experimenting with Nootropics it’s important to keep in mind your unique personal balance and realize some compounds that offer benefit to others may not offer the same effects to you. Modern testing can help offer insight into many factors that can affect the behavior of these compounds. Working to better understand your own balance will ultimately be the best way to understand how Nootropics may benefit you.

Nootropics are powerful compounds showing a marked ability to alter the way our brains work. Some can calm minds, some send them into a focused fury. All of them should be taken with caution and special consideration of your own unique personal balance.
Our List of Best Nootropics


  1. Kumar, G. Phani, and Farhath Khanum. “Neuroprotective Potential of Phytochemicals.” Pharmacognosy Reviews, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, July 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3459459/.
  2. Rivera-Oliver, Marla, and Manuel Díaz-Ríos. “Using Caffeine and Other Adenosine Receptor Antagonists and Agonists as Therapeutic Tools against Neurodegenerative Diseases: A Review.” Life Sciences, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 17 Apr. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4115368/.
  3. Winnicka, K, et al. “Piracetam–an Old Drug with Novel Properties?” Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutica., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2005, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16459490.
  4. Delwaide, P J, et al. “Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Study of Phosphatidylserine in Senile Demented Patients.” Acta Neurologica Scandinavica., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 1986, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3518329.
  5. Kato-Kataoka, Akito, et al. “Soybean-Derived Phosphatidylserine Improves Memory Function of the Elderly Japanese Subjects with Memory Complaints.” Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition, The Society for Free Radical Research Japan, Nov. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2966935/.
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