What Are Nootropics? | A-Z Guide

What are nootropics?


Nootropics are cognitive enhancers that help improve brain performance in a number of ways.

They’re brain boosters.

Brain boosters found in pill or powder form that keep you focused, engaged, and alert throughout the day. Oh, and these bad boys increase productivity too.

But where did these brain-boosting pills come from and why are the so popular? Before 2011, only a handful of people knew what nootropics were, and even fewer used any type of nootropics.

All that changed when a movie titled “Limitless” was released in the same year.

The movie chronicles the life of Edward Morra, a struggling writer who resides in New York City. Edward seems to lack focus, creativity, and the will power to finish his book or make any progress in life [1].

Later, he is introduced to a novel smart drug called NZT-48, which gives him the ability to use his brain to the fullest and completely upgrade his lifestyle.

Although the movie is based on a fictional smart pill called NZT-48, it helped to bring the use of brain enhancement drugs to the limelight.

What Are Nootropics?

Nootropics, also known as smart drugs or cognitive enhancers, are compounds, natural or synthetic, that help to improve cognitive function or brain performance in healthy individuals [2].

They’re often used to improve executive cognitive functions like these [3]:

  • Creativity
  • Focus
  • Memory
  • Motivation
  • Alertness
  • Attention

While many consider nootropics a new phenomenon, that simply isn’t true. Humans have been trying to increase cognition, focus, and attention forever.

People have been using smart drugs and nootropics before we had a new for these products. Even coffee can be considered a nootropic. Oh, and nicotine is a nootropic too.

The origin and use of nootropic substances for cognitive enhancement predates modern medicine. Prehistoric Indians used adaptogenic herbs like Ashwagandha to reduce stress and anxiety in a practice called Ayurvedic Medicine as early as 5000 BCE [4][5].

Egyptians, as far back as 1500 BCE, had already identified over a hundred compounds that had profound impact on the central nervous system. These included hypnotics, motor stimulants, sedatives, motor depressants, and narcotics [6].

Mind Lab pro

Why Do Healthy People Need Nootropics?

Our world is more complex than it was 5000 years ago.

This exerts increasing demands on cognitive functions — functions that evolved for a fundamentally different environment [7].

As a result, there has been an increase in the need for strategies to improve the acquisition and maintenance of cognitive skills.

This has fostered the search for ways to enhance human cognitive function.

While people have for thousands of years sought to improve their performance, the present era is unique. It is unique because not only are the challenges growing rapidly, but so are technologies that promise to meet them.

And so, just like the computer hacking culture, an increasing number of individuals experiment with strategies to creatively overcome the natural limitations of human cognitive capacity. In simple terms – to hack brain function.

What Qualifies As a Nootropic?

In 1964, Corneliu E Giurgea, a Romanian Psychologist and Chemist developed a compound called Piracetam. He described this compound as a Nootropic, a term he coined 8 years later in 1972 [8].

Dr. Giurgea is regarded as the founding father of Nootropics. And according to him, a true Nootropic should have the following features:

  • Nootropics should improve memory and learning.
  • Nootropics should improve the resistance of learned behaviors/memories to conditions which tend to disrupt them.
  • Smart drugs should shield the brain from various injuries, physical or chemical.
  • Nootropics should improve conscious and subconscious behaviors.
  • Nootropics should lack the usual pharmacology of other psychotropic drugs like sedation and motor stimulation.
  • Smart drugs should have very few or no side effects and extremely low toxicity.

If we use this as a checklist, not many substances will qualify as a Nootropic or smart drug, including Caffeine.

Fortunately, we have learned a lot more about the brain and have discovered more compounds that improve mental performance. And this has, in many ways, broadened Dr. Giurgea’s checklist.

Types of Nootropics

There are a few ways we can classify Nootropics.

Each classification is based on different factors. While some are based on the source of the compound, others are based on factors like use, supplementation, and acquisition, just to name a few.

Let’s look at some of these classifications…

  • Natural vs. Synthetic

Natural nootropics are compounds found in food materials or certain herbs.

They could either be consumed directly or processed to extract the active ingredient(s). Examples include: Bacopa Monnieri, Lion’s Mane Mushroom, Ashwagandha, choline, phospholipids, essential nutrients, etc.

On the other hand, Synthetic Nootropics are man-made compounds.

They are derived from the chemical reaction of two or more compounds, either through biosynthesis or chemical synthesis. For example: Modafinil, racetams, and Methylphenidate.

  • Prescription vs. Over The Counter

Prescription Nootropics are those that require a doctor’s prescription before they can be consumed.

They are commonly prescribed for the treatment of conditions such as narcolepsy, ADHD, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Examples include: Modafinil, methylphenidate, and memantine [9].

Over-the-counter Nootropics are those you can get with or without a doctor’s prescription.

They may be natural or synthetic. Examples include: Caffeine, racetams, ginkgo biloba, panax ginseng, and L-theanine.

  • Individual Nootropic vs. Nootropic Stack

This classification is based on how they are packaged and consumed.

Individual nootropics are single extracts that are acquired for a specific purpose. For example, Choline is a single ingredient that can be bought for the purpose of improving brain plasticity, repair, and regeneration [10].

Conversely, nootropic stacks are smart drugs created from the mixture of several Nootropic ingredients.

Many nootropic substances affect only one or two aspects of your cognitive function.

And so, creators of nootropic stacks combine all the strengths of several Nootropic substances into a powerful formula that can enhance all aspects of brain performance in one go.

Examples include: Mind Lab Pro and Qualia Mind.
  • Mechanism Of Action

Nootropics or smart drugs are also classified into about 18 categories according to their mechanism(s) of action [11].

In particular, drugs that interact with receptors, enzymes, ion channels, nerve growth factors, re-uptake transporters, antioxidants, metal chelators, and disease-modifying drugs, i.e. small molecules, vaccines, and monoclonal antibodies interacting with amyloid-β and tau.

For drugs, whose mechanism of action is not known, they are either classified according to their structure, e.g. peptides, or their origin, e.g. natural products.

Qualia Mind

Do Nootropics Work?

Clinical trials and research conducted for several nootropic compounds show that they significantly improve cognitive functions in healthy people.

Since 1998, several studies prove that Modafinil, is in fact effective.

This particular report compiles a plethora of reports from the study of Modafinil since 1994. In sum, the preclinical and clinical studies cited in the aforementioned report prove beyond doubt that Modafinil can and does [12]:

  • Improve cognitive functions.
  • Protect the brain (neuroprotective).
  • Increase wake-time.
  • Improve the condition of people with narcolepsy and stimulant addiction.

As for nootropic stacks like Mind Lab Pro, there have been no large, controlled studies that show that they work consistently.

However, each of the individual ingredients used for creating Nootropic stacks have been studied extensively for years. And most of these studies report that these Nootropic ingredients do in fact improve brain performance.

For example, nootropic compounds such as:

  • Phosphatidyleserine
  • Choline
  • Caffeine [13]
  • Omega-3 fatty acid,
  • L-theanine
  • Lion’s Mane Mushroom Extract
  • Bacopa Monnieri
  • Ginkgo
  • Ginseng
  • Artichoke
  • Rhodiola Rosea

…make up the key ingredients in Nootropic stacks like Qualia and MindLab Pro. Over the years, studies and results from over a thousand years of consumption attest to the effectiveness of each ingredient in enhancing cognitive functions [4] [6] [13].

And so…

If each individual ingredient has been proven to be effective as a standalone nootropic, it is safe to say that they work when combined.

A couple of years ago, a pilot study was conducted to determine efficacy of Qualia Mind. This study was sponsored by the Cambridge Brain Sciences, a leading provider of cognitive testing tools [14].

The data gathered from test subjects just after 5 days of using the smart drug is riveting…in both good and not so good ways.

Let me say this…

Not every nootropic or smart drug will work for you. Our bodies are different, and therefore we may respond differently to the same substance.

However, by testing some of the best nootropics available, you’ll be able to find something that works for you.

Nootropic Effects | How Do Nootropics Work?

The human brain is a complex machine. And even with years of study, we still can’t tell exactly how it works.

However, there are a few things we have learned so far.

We understand that the brain needs certain substances such as vitamins & minerals to function optimally. As we use our brains, it slowly runs out of some of these essential substances. When this happens we experience mental fatigue and will need to rest for a while to recover them.

Nootropics help to provide or extend the production of some of these crucial substances when we need it.

Smart drugs improve brain performance by affecting brain processes in the following ways [9]:

  • Improving cell membrane fluidity
  • Balancing neurotransmitter levels
  • Stimulating neurogenesis
  • Improving blood flow in the brain
  • Controlling synaptic activity
  • Increasing nerve growth rate

A boost in any one or all of these processes will improve learning, memory, focus, and attention. It will also increase processing speed and mental flexibility.

Additionally, Nootropics help to fight mental fatigue, stimulate brain repair, flush toxins, improve nutrient delivery, and protect the brain from damage.

Mind Lab Pro

Are Nootropics Safe?

Safety is a major concern when it comes to the consumption of supplements. It is important to be sure that whatever you ingest does not cause harm to you afterwards.

Dr. Giurgea’s criteria for a substance to be called a “nootropic” were zero side effects and low toxicity. He was obviously concerned about the safety of the end consumers, you and me.

Sadly, many substances are now classified as nootropics, some of which do not meet his safety criteria.

For instance, Adderall is a nootropic that is currently considered unsafe for use owing to the adverse impact it has on its users. The Addiction Center has a long list of nasty side effects that result from the use of this drug [15].

And so, to answer the question, “Are Nootropics safe” — I will say a definite yes, nootropics are safe when used properly. You also have to use the right smart drugs.

However, there are factors that you want to consider to better ensure your safety when using these substances.

These factors include:

  • Dosage
  • Underlying health problems
  • Physical conditions, such as pregnancy
  • Interaction with medications

Typically, you may consider a nootropic safe when:

  • It is backed by comprehensive clinical trial
  • Manufactured by a trusted brand
  • It has little or no side effects
  • Prescribed by your doctors

By following these guidelines and avoiding prescription stimulants, like Adderall, most users find nootropics to be 100% safe. Side effects should also be minimal, as well.

What Are the Best Nootropics | 2022 Guide?

Since we all have different body chemistries, it can be difficult to determine what the best Nootropics are.

Therefore, using my experience with smart drugs, clinical trial results, and tons of online reviews, here are the top 2 Nootropics of 2022:

  • Modafinil 

It’s difficult, even near impossible, to find a list of highly effective smart drugs that doesn’t have Modafinil in it.

You know why?

Because this smart drug has a reputation for being incredibly effective.

Just half an hour after taking this pill, the effects kick in. These include:

  • 12 to 15 hours of laser-like focus
  • Extended wake-time
  • Improved mood and sense of well-being
  • Increased drive
  • Heightened energy levels
  • Heightened cognition

The whole package!

Moreover, Modafinil was developed in 1998 and has undergone a plethora of trials to prove both its efficacy and safety. For instance, Modafinil was tested for use by the military and has been shown to improve the simulator performance of helicopter pilots [16].

With that, I can boldly say that it is effective and safe — two qualities that are in short supply in many other Nootropics. Modafinil is the #1 rated nootropic in the world for damn good reason.

  • Mind Lab Pro

The effectiveness of Mind Lab Pro as an over-the-counter smart drug is truly insane. This nootropic made from the combination of over a dozen other substances, each potent in its own right.

And the result?

A synergistic smart drug that enhances nearly all aspects of your brain, giving rise to an explosive boost in cognition. This pill really does pack a punch.

Unlike Modafinil, the effects of Mind Lab Pro last for only 6-9+ hours. For an over-the-counter drug, this is a feat. Every single ingredient in Mind Lab Pro has been clinically tested to ensure both efficacy and safety.

And so, it is safe.

It is also legal. Mind Lab Pro is considered as a food supplement by the FDA. This means that you can purchase it without a doctor’s prescription with zero legal risk.

What’s more?

Mind Lab Pro has an uncanny ability to spark up creativity in users. So, if you are an artist or a business owner looking for a break-through strategy, Mind Lab Pro is your best bet.

Nootropics and Smart Drugs | Verdict

What are Nootropics?

Nootropics are incredibly valuable substances in a world where efficiency and productivity is in high demand. Sometimes to get ahead of your competition, you need to out-think and outperform them. Smart drugs can be just the edge you need to leave them in the dust.

However, do not forget that safety is the top-most priority. That’s why I have only endorsed ootropics or smart drugs in the best nootropics section that I’ve used personally.

Every detail in this post is backed by results from thorough research.

But do not substitute this article for medical advice. You should consult your doctor before you use any supplement, regardless of what anyone else says about it.

And for those looking to try nootropics out for the first time, take it slow. Follow the prescribed dosage to the letter for best results and your safety, too.

P.S: Click here to order the top nootropic in the world.

Generic Modafinil


  1. Limitless (Film). (2020, May 12). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limitless_(film) 
  2. Nootropic. (2020, May 19). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nootropic
  3. Frati P, Kyriakou C, Del Rio A, Marinelli E, Vergallo GM, Zaami S, Busardò FP (2015, January). Smart drugs and synthetic androgens for cognitive and physical enhancement: revolving doors of cosmetic neurology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462043/
  4. Ayurveda. (2020, May 19). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayurveda
  5. Chandrasekhar, K., Jyoti Kapoor, Sridhar Anishetty. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of Ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3e46wQF
  6. Gael h. Von klein, A.M., M.D. The medical features of Papyrus Ebers. Retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/cu31924000900849/cu31924000900849_djvu.txt
  7. Martin, D., Anders, S., Christoph, B., Kathrin O., Carlos T., Aleksandra M., Simone K., & Dimitris R. (2018, December). Hacking the Brain: Dimensions of Cognitive Enhancement. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6429408/
  8. Corneliu E. Giurgea. (2020, January 5). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corneliu_E._Giurgea 
  9. Berry, Jennifer. “Nootropics: Types, Safety, and Risks of Smart Drugs.” Medical News Today, Medilexicon International, 18 Sept, 2019. www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326379.
  10. Office of Dietary Supplements – Choline. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Choline-HealthProfessional/
  11. Froestl, W., Muhs, A., & Pfeifer, A. (2012, January 1.) ‘Cognitive Enhancers (Nootropics). Part 1: Drugs Interacting with Receptors’. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22886028/
  12. Paul, G., & Robert, M. (2007). Mechanisms of Modafinil: A Review of Current Research. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2654794/
  13. Bryan, J. (2008, February). Psychological effects of dietary components of tea: caffeine and L-theanine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18254874
  14. Qualia Mind. (2018). Pilot Study: Qualia Mind. Retrieved from https://neurohacker.com/qualia-mind-pilot-study
  15. Addiction Centre. (2018). Adderall Symptoms and Warning Signs. Retrieved from https://www.addictioncenter.com/stimulants/adderall/symptoms-signs/
  16. Caldwell JA, Jr, Caldwell JL, Smythe NK, Hall KK. A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Investigation of the Efficacy of Modafinil for Sustaining the Alertness and Performance of Aviators: A Helicopter Simulator Study. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10923755/


After utilizing nootropics for the better part of a decade, I realized the potent results these products produce -- with regards to productivity and cognitive enhancement. Soon thereafter, I became obsessed with finding the premier smart drugs on the market. Then using them to improve my life. When I'm not devouring everything I can about nootropics and the science behind why they work, you'll find me traveling around the world or in the gym.

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