An Idiot's Guide To Nootropics And Smart Drugs

Nootropics, or "smart drugs", are a rapidly growing category of nutritional supplements that can assist with improving focus, memory, mental clarity and your mood.

Nootropics are a relatively new category of supplements that are starting to gain more popularity on the market as companies look for the “next big ingredient.” These “smart drugs” are reported to improve focus, mental clarity, cognition, and improve mood. This makes them a perfect candidate for pre-workout formulas, stacked along with energy boosting and pump-inducing ingredients, or as stand-alone supplement to be used whenever focus and improved brain function are desired.

While none of these ingredients or compounds will offer a permanent increase in brain function or focus, continuous usage would be required to achieve the desired effects. Where the desired benefits of most supplements may decrease with long-term use, in the case of one compound (Noopept), users will not develop a tolerance and the effects will actually increase over time. [1]

Unlike their stimulant-based counterparts, nootropics have few adverse effects and a low overdose risk. [2] However, there is not much data on the effects of long-term use.

Some of the more popular ingredients that fall into the nootropic category are:

Nutrient & Herbal Nootropics

  • Bacopa Monnieri – Shown to increase blood flow to the brain and improve memory. [4] Standard dose: 300mg-1500mg a day, taken with a meal or dietary fatty acids.
  • Choline – An essential nutrient and precursor to Acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter responsible for attention, mood, and recall memory [5] Average dose: 250mg-500mg.
  • Huperzine A – A plant derivative used to improve memory and is currently being researched as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease [8,9] Suggested dose: 100mcg-200mcg 1-2 times a day.
  • Panax Ginseng – Used in traditional Chinese medicine, has been shown to increase mental performance [3] Standard dose: 200mg-400mg.
  • Phenibut – A derivative of GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) that can cross the blood-brain barrier and is reported to reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep and neurological function. [7] Average dose: 500mg/day.
  • Pikatropin – Also known as Picamilon, is a combination of Niacin and GABA. Can cross the blood-brain barrier, improve blood flow to the brain and enhance mood. Average dose: 50mg-100mg 1-2 times a day.
  • L-Theanine – Can cross the blood-brain barrier and is reported to reduce mental stress, improve cognition, and boost mood. [6] Average dose: 100mg-200mg.
  • L-Tyrosine – An amino acid used by the body to synthesize protein and can be biologically converted by the body to dopamine and epinephrine (adrenaline) Recommended dose: 500mg-2000mg.

Stimulant Nootropics

Stimulants affect the central nervous system and can improve awareness, endurance, mood, and relieve anxiety. Because of these effects they are worth mentioning but are not typically known as nootropics themselves. Instead, they offer a synergistic quality; in lower does, they can increase the effectiveness of other nootropic compounds. [10]

  • CaffeineCaffeine is one of the most popular and widely used stimulants, found naturally in coffee, tea and other sources including the kola nut and yerba mate. It's been reported that 90% of adults in North America consume caffeine every day. [11] Average dose: 100mg-200mg. 1 8oz cup of coffee contains about 100mg.
  • Phenylethylamine (PEA) – Found naturally in some foods, such as chocolate, it releases dopamine in the brain making it known for its stimulatory effects on mood. Average dose: up to 500mg a day.
  • Rauwolscine – Derived from plants and almost identical to Yohimbine, Rauwolscine is a CNS stimulant that also shows some aphrodisiac qualities [12] Average dose: 3mg 1-2 times a day.
  • Synephrine – Found naturally in many types of Citrus leaves and juices, most notably Citrus aurantium (bitter orange), Synephrine is structurally similar to PEA and can be found in many different fat burning products formulated to provide energy. Average dose: 10mg-20mg up to 3 times a day.
  • Yohimbine – Extracted from yohimbe bark and found as a stand-alone supplement or in fat-loss products, Yohimbine will block alpha-2 receptors in fat cells, allowing the stored fat to be released for energy. This blocking of the alpha-2 receptors also allows the release of nitric oxide and norepinephrine in the central nervous system. Average dose: 3mg 1-2 times a day.

Racetam Nootropics

Racetams are a class of synthetic compounds with nootropic properties and are reported to modulate neurotransmitters, including acetylcholine, and increase memory capacity. The most popular include:

  • Aniracetam – One of the most potent compounds in the racetam family. It is fat-soluble, can cross the blood-brain barrier and has cognitive enhancing and neuroprotective properties. [13] Effective dose: 800mg 1-3 times a day.
  • Noopept – Derived from the racetam family of compounds and is similar in function. Shown to enhance memory and learning ability and has neuroprotective properties. [17,18] Effective dose: 10mg 1-3 times a day.
  • Oxiracetam – Also a stimulant, shown to improve attention, memory, logical performance and spatial awareness in patients with ADHD and dementia. [14] Effective dose: 400-750mg 1-2 times a day.
  • Piracetam – Shown to enhance verbal memory [15], general cognition and used as treatment for cognitive disorders. [16] Effective dose: 400-1600mg 1-3 times a day.

Stacking Nootropic Ingredients

Many of these ingredients will be effective on their own, but when stacked together, the desired effects can be increased or even more noticeable; combining the right ingredients will have a synergistic effect. Here are some notable combinations to consider:

L-Theanine + Caffeine

One of the most popular stacks and a great starting point for those new to nootropics. Theanine is naturally found in many varieties of tea, along with caffeine, so many have already used this stack without even realizing it! The theanine will help reduce the negative effects of caffeine (jitteriness, anxiety, etc.) while improving the positive effects. A typical dose will be 200mg Theanine to 100mg Caffeine.

Racetams + Choline

The racetam family of nootropics are all very similar and will have some over-lapping effects, making them popular to stack together. However, when stacked with Choline, the turnover of acetylcholine in the brain will be reduced, and the potency can be increased. The standard dose of Choline is 300-600mg of Alpha GPC but effective doses for racetams will differ with the individual and the specific compound used.

Phenibut + 5-HTP

This stack is slightly different than the others listed in that it's main use is for it's calming and relaxation effects and is typically taken before bed to aid in falling asleep and staying asleep. Phenibut is known for it's potency and it's effects on stress and anxiety, while 5-HTP is an amino acid derived from L-Tryptophan, that converts to melatonin and serotonin in the body which will help improve sleep. This makes it an excellent night-time combo, however, it should only be used occasionally due to Phenibut's high potency. Effective doses are 500mg Phenibut to 100-200g 5-HTP.

Many of these ingredients can be found in stand-alone versions or pre-stacked together in many different pre-workout formulas. Being stress-free, having an improved mood and intense focus and mental clarity will always come in handy when it's time to hit a new PR, or when that next big project is due.

Anyone looking for a boost in their pre-workout supplementation or overall well-being may want to take a closer look at nootropics.