Do Nootropics Actually Work?

In recent years, nootropics have become popular among the general population due to the fact that so many people struggle with attention, learning, and focus. Even individuals who already have top-notch performance at work or at school are using them to increase their efficiency.

Nootropics are also known as brain supplements and are believed to improve cognitive performance and overall brain power. They can be used to help improve focus, retain information, and become more efficient in your work. However, there are many questions that surround nootropics, their safety, and what they are doing in your brain.

In this article, we’ll discover exactly what these supplements are, how they work, and the difference between natural and synthetic products.

Nootropics Defined

Nootropics are sometimes referred to as “cognitive enhancers” or “smart drugs”. They are used to improve cognition and memory, facilitate learning, increase motivation and improve creativity. The term “nootropic” has Greek roots, translates into “mind-bending”.

Synthetic nootropics have been around for approximately 50 years- but natural cognitive enhancers date back thousands of years to ancient India and China.

What do Nootropics Do?

These days, many people have started using nootropics to improve their performance at work or at school. Whether you have ADD, ADHD, cognitive decline, or you just want to enhance your productivity, nootropics have been shown to offer an array of benefits.

Some of the most common nootropic functions include the following:

  • Improving memory
  • Increasing concentration and focus
  • Stimulating creativity
  • Improving brain energy/stamina
  • Increasing motivation

How do They Work?

The term “nootropic” is used to describe any substance that improves cognitive health, so the mechanisms behind them are not all the same. However, there are some common pathways that these drugs use within your brain. Some of the ways that nootropics improve brain health and functioning include:

Promotion of Neuroplasticity

The term “neuroplasticity” describes the ability of your brain to change and grow over time. There is a common belief that your brain stops developing after a certain age and stays the same. However, research now has revealed that our brains are always reshaping and developing. This is known as neuroplasticity.

Nootropics improve the ability of your brain to adapt and grow. It does this by increasing a molecule known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. Animal studies indicate that certain nootropics enhance BDNF in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus, which both play a role in learning and memory.

Increase Blood Flow

When blood flow is increased to your brain, so is oxygen and nutrients. If circulation isn’t optimal, you will feel it. After all, in order to create energy, your body needs oxygen. Energy is required for your brain to create memories, process information, and make new connections.

There are certain nootropics that improve blood flow by causing vasodilation, which increases the amount of blood that can be carried.

Offering Neuroprotection

There are several physiological and environmental factors that can cause oxidative stress and inflammation in your brain. Nootropics offer neuroprotective benefits that prevent this, keeping your brain cells healthy and functional.

Some of the ways that nootropics can protect your brain include the following:

  • Suppression of inflammatory molecules that could cause damage to neurons
  • Protection of mitochondria from damage
  • Protection against oxidative stress

It’s important to note that your brain functioning is electrical, so even the process of transferring information between brain cells releases free radicals.

Increasing Resilience Against Stress

Unfortunately, no matter how hard we may try, it’s impossible to completely avoid stress- but it is possible to manage stress. Managing stress can make a major difference in your overall quality of life.

Stress can negatively impact your brain health by increasing oxidative stress and inflammation. Research also indicates that prolonged stress can damage brain function and result in memory loss.

There are certain nootropics that help your brain and body fight off the physiological and emotional effects of stress, as well as calm inflammation and oxidation in your brain. They will not take away your stressors, but they will increase your resilience and ability to deal with the stressors.

What are the Common Natural Nootropics?

There are some natural nootropics that do not require a prescription. These can be found over the counter at your local pharmacy and can even be ordered online and include:

  • Caffeine
  • Panax ginseng
  • Ashwagandha
  • Ginkgo biloba

What are the Common Synthetic Nootropics?

Some of the most common synthetic, or man-made, nootropics include:

  • Noopept
  • Adderall
  • Modafinil

Read: Best Alternatives Alternatives to Adderall in 2023

Frequently Asked Questions about Nootropics

Below, we’re going to explore some of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to nootropics. Hopefully these can help you better understand these so-called “miracle” substances.

What is a “stack”?

A stack is a combination of 2+ nootropics. By combining 2+ nootropics, you get a synergistic effect, which optimizes the formula. Stacks are a common way of getting the biggest improvement in brain power. This is common when it comes to pre-workout supplements for gym goers.

Are nootropics really safe?

It’s important to understand that synthetic nootropics do come with some potentially serious side effects. These include addiction, increased heart rate, insomnia, and high blood pressure. That being said, the natural nootropics are generally regarded as safe, due to the fact that their actions within your body is more subtle.

Which nootropics are best?

There really is no clear answer on this because everyone is different and not all nootropics work the same for everyone. The best one for you will depend on what you need at the time. Some people gain more benefit from substances that improve blood flow while others need the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

What nootropics are most popular?

The most commonly used and researched natural nootropics are Ginkgo biloba and caffeine. On the other hand, the most popular synthetic options are Modafinil and Noopept. Some of the other popular nootropics include MCT oil, panax ginseng, bacopa monnieri, l-theanine, Rhodiola rosea, choline, and ashwagandha.

Are nootropics available over-the-counter?

Most of the nootropics and nootropic formulations are available over the counter without a prescription. That being said, nootropics that are formulated by pharmaceutical companies to treat certain conditions such as Provigil, Adderall, or Vyvanse are only available via a prescription from a medical provider due to safety concerns.

How can I get started with nootropics?

The best way to get started is to determine what your needs are. As mentioned, the best nootropics are the ones that support your personal needs and neurological health at the time. What works for a sibling may not work for you. You may even find that what worked for you in the past doesn’t work anymore. You can expect to go through a trial-and-error period while you find the best one.

Do I have to get nootropics overseas?

You may have heard that you can only buy these products overseas. However, this isn’t necessarily true. Nootropics can be obtained through a prescription, over-the-counter, or even online. Most of the research-backed options are available for purchase in the USA, as they have been tested for safety and efficacy. There are a few that have been banned in the USA due to lack of research.

Do I have to make my own brain pills?

You do not necessarily have to mix your own- unless you are willing to dedicate hours and hours of research to create your own formulation. You can find nootropics as individual supplements in capsule or powder form.

Will nootropics increase my IQ?

As we have mentioned, nootropics are known to improve your motivation, cognitive functioning, memory retention, attention, creativity, and learning capabilities. Therefore, if you find the right formula, you may be able to access higher levels of intelligence and learning capabilities. However, it is not clear at this time whether or not nootropics can increase your IQ.

Can nootropics be taken daily?

If taken consistently, you will get the most out of your nootropics. There are some experts who recommend that you do take some time off from certain ingredients to avoid building up a tolerance to them. Make sure that you always read package directions and before getting started, have a discussion with your medical provider.

Are there side effects associated with nootropics?

There are some nootropics that may not be compatible with your biological makeup, which means you may experience stomach upset or headaches. Some of the prescription nootropics have side effects including insomnia, increased heart rate, and increased blood pressure.

If you do experience side effects from your prescription, be sure to consult with your medical provider or pharmacist to find out if the side effects are expected. If you have side effects with OTC nootropics, stop using them and read through the package inserts to find out if the side effects are expected. If you are concerned, consult with your medical provider.

Is Noopept a nootropic?

The term “nootropic” covers a variety of brain-boosting supplements that include both natural and synthetic compounds. Noopept is a synthetic nootropic that was given originally to astronauts who were on long missions to improve their focus, memory, neuroprotection, stress, and reasoning.

Are all nootropics stimulants?

It’s important to note that not all nootropics are stimulating- but there are many that do include stimulants to improve alertness. One of the most common stimulants included in OTC nootropics is caffeine. On the other hand, prescription nootropics often include amphetamines. The all-natural nootropics are not stimulating.

Is there a vitamin or supplement that is best for brain health?

Again, the best vitamin/supplement for brain health is a personal decision. You must consider your needs. You may get more benefit by improving blood flow to your brain or you may find that you need more neuroprotection. You have to consider what you would benefit most. There is no specific vitamin/supplement that is best for everyone’s brain health.

Read: Best Nootropics


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“Free Radicals.” Neuropedia, Accessed 14 June 2022.

Logsdon, Ann. “Defining Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) without Hyperactivity.” Verywell Mind, Verywellmind, 7 July 2007,

“Neuroplasticity | Psychology Today.”,

Seladi-Schulman, Jill. “Is Vasodilation Good?” Healthline, Healthline Media, Nov. 2018,

“The Complete Introduction to Nootropics, from Beginner to Expert.”, 16 Feb. 2016,

“The Science of BDNF: Your Guide to the Brain Molecule.” Neuropedia, 22 July 2021, Accessed 14 June 2022.

Alexandra Lewis

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