Updated December 2021
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Buying guide for best nootropics

Nootropics are chemical and natural compounds that provide cognitive enhancement for brain functionality, such as increased concentration, memory, and focus. While it’s possible to find nootropic compounds in some specific foods, many people opt to take nootropic supplements.

Nootropics are also called “smart drugs,” and some are only available by prescription. Nootropic supplements, however, can be purchased without a prescription, and those are what we’ll focus on in this guide. When taken in the recommended amount, they are considered safe, non-addictive, and non-toxic. Of course, before beginning any new supplement, consult with your healthcare practitioner.

What are nootropics?

Nootropics are natural and synthetic substances used to improve mental performance. They boast cognitive enhancements such as improved memory, creativity, focus, intelligence, and motivation, claim to protect the brain from damage and degeneration, and offer other potential benefits.

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A potential benefit of nootropics is the coupling of the brain’s two hemispheres, allowing them to work together for better processing of information.

Synthetic vs. natural nootropics

While nootropics are legal, most should be used with caution. Synthetic nootropics are chemical compounds that often require a prescription. They can act as strong stimulants that may be habit forming and have serious side effects. These include but are not limited to:

  • Modafinil (Provigil)

  • Nuvigil

  • Adderall

  • Ritalin

  • Noopept (can be purchased as a supplement)

  • Pircetem

  • Phenotropil

  • Adrifinal

Some of these prescription drugs are used to treat serious conditions such as narcolepsy, brain injury, and epilepsy but when used as nootropics they have effects on memory and attention.

Natural nootropics have more subtle and slower-acting effects. However, they are considered safer to take and generally are not habit forming (with the exception of caffeine and nicotine). In some formulas, they are “stacked,” or taken in combination, to enhance their effects.

Following is a list of common ingredients found in natural nootropic blends. Taken alone, many of these compounds are also considered nootropics.

  • Caffeine is a naturally occurring chemical that increases alertness and attention and reduces reaction time and fatigue. It’s widely consumed worldwide in coffee, tea, chocolate, guarana, and sodas.

  • Medicinal mushrooms such as lion's mane, reishi, cordyceps, and chaga all have been shown in studies to support cognitive function. For example, lion’s mane is embraced for thwarting age-related mental decline as well as improving overall mental function and memory. Other mushrooms may help with increasing resilience in times of stress, fighting fatigue, boosting immunity, and protecting the brain.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids, a common health supplement, are also considered nootropics.  Essential building blocks for the brain, EPA and DHA are the two main types of omega-3 for brain health and can be found in certain fish and nuts and obtained from fish oil capsules. Omega-3 fatty acids can be classified as nootropics because they may support memory and focus, protect brain cells against damage, and also lower levels of depression.

  • L-theanine is a non-dietary amino acid found commonly in green and black tea. It has a calming effect without drowsiness. It is shown to reduce anxiety symptoms and improve concentration and alertness. It increases alpha waves in the brain, which may help with creativity. It is more effective when paired with caffeine, so performance supplements often contain them in tandem.

  • Bacopa monnieri is an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine to enhance brain function. Studies show it can speed up information processing, improve memory, and may even help treat ADHD and depression symptoms.

  • Creatine doesn’t just benefit bodybuilders looking to bulk up on muscle. As a nootropic, this amino acid binds with phosphate in your brain and creates an energy molecule that fuels your brain cells. This leads to increased memory and reasoning skills and also has benefits for reducing stress.

  • Rhodiola rosea along with other adaptogenic herbs are considered nootropics that help your body handle stress. If you experience stress-related fatigue, this adaptogen may boost your mental performance and concentration. It can also decrease feeling burned out, especially during stressful periods.

  • Panax ginseng is another adaptogen that can help manage stress. It induces feelings of calm and reduces brain fatigue associated with stress.

  • Ginkgo biloba supplements are extracted from ginkgo biloba leaves and are said to improve memory and mental processing in older adults. It also works to decrease levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. It has been widely studied for its potential anti-inflammatory and circulation-boosting effects on the brain.

This is just a partial list of popular, natural nootropics. There are plenty of other nootropic compounds available on the market. Many common vitamins and minerals are also considered nootropics.

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Did you know?
The term nootropics was coined from the Greek words for mind and bending.


Dosage and product form

The recommended serving size or dosage of a nootropic will vary depending on the supplement and manufacturer. Most come in capsule form and require a dose of one to three capsules per day. Some capsules take several months to work.

Nootropics are also commonly available in powdered form. Powders can get messy, but they are absorbed by the body quickly and work well for those who want to avoid taking pills or capsules. One scoop into a glass of water or a favorite beverage is usually all you need as a daily dose.

Additional health support

Many companies have developed nootropic formulas that not only improve brain function but also provide health benefits in areas such as weight loss and athletic performance.

For example, supplementing a compound such as caffeine with L-theanine creates a popular nootropic stack that can increase energy and focus, while keeping the mind relaxed. This can be an effective mixture in improving focus and performance at the gym or limiting anxiety and distraction while dieting.

Keep in mind stacked formulas can potentially have side effects, depending on what other active ingredients a proprietary blend contains. Pay close attention to ingredients and labeling so you are certain you’re not getting anything you’re allergic to or can’t tolerate (like high levels of caffeine).

Nootropics prices

Inexpensive: The most affordable nootropics are generally pill formulas that land between $14 and $20. This is a great place to start for users new to nootropics. However, be aware that cheaper nootropic products may contain fillers and other unwanted ingredients.

Mid-range: Nootropics in the mid-level price range run from $21 to $39. This price range includes usually herbal and mushroom ingredients stacked for more potent results.

Expensive: The most expensive nootropic blends range from $40 to upwards of $100. Pricier blends tend not to include caffeine to boost the brain but an optimal combination of vitamins and herbs.


  • To reduce the risk of dependency or building up a tolerance, considering “cycling” nootropics. Take them for five to seven days, then take two days off.

  • If you’re prone to stress, try a nootropic with adaptogens, which boost your body’s resistance to stress and damage from high cortisol levels and increase mental focus. Look for ingredients containing Panax ginseng, ashwagandha, licorice root, rhodiola rosea, cordyceps, holy basil, and astragalus root.

  • If you’re looking to improve your memory, attention span, and processing speed, the best natural nootropic compounds to take are ginkgo biloba, caffeine in conjunction with L-theanine, or just caffeine.

  • If you’re looking to help clear brain fog and/or stabilize mood, nootropics containing medicinal mushrooms and adaptogenic herbs can help.

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Memory games are a great way to naturally boost your brain’s recollection power. About 30 minutes a day is all you need to see results in a short period of time.


Q. Are nootropics safe for long-term use?
Because more research needs to be done for long-term use of synthetic and natural nootropics, we suggest exercising caution for long-term use.

Q. Are there significant side effects when taking nootropics?
Generally, no, when taking natural nootropics (supplements). Prescription synthetic nootropics do carry a whole host of side effects. Some users are more tolerant of certain supplements than others, so begin with lower dosages if you have concerns and work your way up to the recommended amount. Because formulas contain multiple components, and if you’re already taking a multivitamin or other supplements, be sure to check that you’re not doubling up on one component. Also some nootropics, like adaptogens, can interfere with prescription medications so be sure to check with your healthcare practitioner or physician before taking any supplement.

Q. What is the typical shelf life of nootropic formulas?
Like other supplements, nootropic products have expiration dates. You can extend your supplement’s shelf life by keeping it in a cool, dry environment like a medicine cabinet.

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