The 7 Types Of Nootropics & Smart Drugs

By Nootropic Blend staff

Below is a guide that discusses types of nootropics and smart drugs, their different categorizations according to the effects, and the group to which they belong. We also want to provide you with a complex library of 85 researched nootropics. All in one place.

types of nootropics
Nootropics, brain boosters, smart drugs, memory enhancers, study drugs

Alternance and variety are the default mode of the whole human experience. Whether we know it or not, almost everyone uses different types of nootropics and smart drugs to improve memory, focus, energy, and mood. 

The caffeine, green tea, fish oil, vitamin B, choline, creatine, carnitine, guarana, ginseng, ginkgo, minerals like magnesium or zinc – there is a myriad of natural nootropic substances that can benefit cognition.

Besides nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and neurotransmitter precursors (amino acids), there are also man-made synthetic nootropics. Those that are typically issued on prescription are called nootropic drugs, or smart drugs.

So cognitive enhancers are in use either as nootropics or smart drugs, depending on whether you prefer a natural or synthetic form.

Summary of cognitive enhancers types

In our introductory article about the history of nootropics, we learned that while all nootropics are cognitive enhancers, not all drugs that improve cognitive functions are nootropics.

This is the distinction:

Cognitive enhancer definition:

Cognition enhancer is pharmacological compound that enhances the mnemonic and cognitive function that can cross the blood-brain barrier. 

Josef van der Staay (link)

Nootropic definition:

Nootropics are substances that enhance learning and memory, with being safe and neuroprotective of the brain. 

In the last 50 years, tremendous advances are made in the pharmacological characterization of substances with cognitive enhancing properties. So allow’s start with the three broad classifications of cognitive enhancers.

    • Dietary supplements

Those freely available, over-the-counter ingredients (e. g., methylxanthines such as caffeine, various botanicals, vitamins, and nutrients.)

    • synthetic cognitive enhancers

Prescription nootropic drugs and unregulated supplements (e. g., antidementia drugs, methylphenidate, racetams.)

    • pharmaceutical drugs

Illicit smart drugs (E.G., illicit amphetamines such as Adderall)

In a narrower sense, we can classify six types of nootropics without a prescription. And a group of prescription nootropics that we commonly call ‘smart drugs’.

We can also classify (known) types of nootropics mechanisms of action by which they affect different systems and make effects on cognition.

Types of nootropics:

Natural Nootropics, Racetams, Choline, Ampakines, Vitamin B Derivatives, Peptides, and so-called “Smart Drugs” (prescription nootropics).

Nootropic mechanism of action:

Cholinergic, Dopaminergic, Serotonergic, Glutamate/Gabaergic, Metabolic, Neurohormone, Nerve growth promoter, Adaptogenic, Stimulant

Types of nootropics
& Smart drugs

guide to a different substances that affect 

cognitive function

Nootropics mechanism of action

Nootropics can modulate a range of biological processes that aid in neurotransmission, intracellular signaling, and various molecular processes. Many nootropics can also improve the production of proteins that offer neuroprotection and promote brain health.

There are two kinds of effects that nootropics can participate in:

Direct effects:

  • altering or participating in neurotransmission
  • participating in or influencing energy metabolism

Indirect effects:

  • altering the levels of hormones that affect the brain

  • protecting the brain from damage and dysfunction

  • ameliorating disorders that can affect cognitive functioning

nootropics mechanisms of action
Nootropics mechanisms of action

Six brain pathways in neuroenhancement

Let’s take a look at six primary brain pathways and corresponding nootropic mechanisms of action.

1. Brain energy

  • Enhancing the metabolic activity of mitochondria, the powerhouses of brain cells (and other cells).

  • Helping to transport fatty acid material into brain cells, where they fuel mitochondria.

  • Increasing cerebral uptake of oxygen and nutrients, supplying the brain with “fuel” for energy production.

2. Neurotransmitters optimization 

  • Supplying brain chemical precursors

  • Promoting neurotransmitter synthesis

  • Enhancing receptor sensitivity

  • Inhibiting neurotransmitter breakdown

3. Cerebral blood flow

  • Promoting nitric oxide activation and relaxation of blood vessels

  • Inhibiting homocysteine and oxidative damage on blood vessels

  • Making blood cells less “sticky” and thus less likely to clump

4. Brain waves

  • Nootropics can raise Alpha brain waves that promote alert-yet-relaxed mind states for free-flowing creativity

5. Neuroprotective

  • Increasing the brain’s capacity to reduce free radicals and oxidative stress

  • Helping to fight the formation of irregular protein clusters (amyloids)

  • Clearing the brain tissue of neurotoxins

  • Protecting the brain against the negative effects of stress

6. Brain regeneration

  • Boosting natural brain-boosting growth factors, such as NGF

  • Providing raw neuronal building block materials, like choline

  • Maintaining brain cell membrane flexibility and plasticity

A few of these effects are achievable by the most effective stand-alone nootropics. But, typically only good stacking methods will provide all of these various mechanisms to work as a team. 8
Neuron Cell Spinal cord Neurotransmitter

 Nootropics types by effects on neurotransmitters

Acetyylcholine nootropics

Tyrosine, Choline, Phosphatidylcholine, Citicoline, Alpha-GPC, Vinpocetine, Noopept, Phosphatidylserine, Sulbutiamine, Aniracetam, Citicoline, Huperzine-A

Serotonin nootropics

Tryptophan, Vinpocetine, Noopept, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, Rhodiola rosea, Vitamin B6 as P-5-P, Vitamin B12

Dopamine nootropics

Vinpocetine, Noopept, ALCAR, Tyrosine, Phosphatidylserine, Sulbutiamine, L-DOPA, NADH, Vitamin B12

Norepinephrine nootropics

Tyrosine, L-Phenylalanine, NADH, Ephedra, DHA, P-5-P, Vitamin B12

Epinephrine nootropics

Tyrosine, Taurine, SAMe, P-5-P (B6)

GABA nootropics

Inositol, Picamilon, GABA, Phenibut, P-5-P (B6)

Collection of different nootropics effects

types of neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitter Serotonin-norepinephrine–dopamine reuptake inhibitor

Commercialized nootropics on market in the first place affect or mimic certain neurotransmitters. The main mechanisms influence the change in the concentration of brain chemicals that mediate the effects of nootropics on cognitive performance.

Cholinergic nootropics

Cholinergic refers to a large number of nootropics or to any substance affecting the acetylcholine system. Acetylcholine is vital in muscular as well as cognitive function. 

Types of nootropics with cholinergic activity:

    • Positive Allosteric Modulators (Acetylcholine)

Positive allosteric modulators are substances that enhance the signal at a receptor. The racetam group (piracetam, aniracetam, oxiracetam, etc…) are positive allosteric modulators of the acetylcholine receptor. This is the main method of action for most types of racetams. 

    • Acetylcholine Precursors

Acetylcholine precursors are also considered to be types of cholinergic. This is because they directly or indirectly increase the amount of acetylcholine in the brain.

    • Acetylcholinesterase Inhibitors

Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors influence the amount of acetylcholine by eliminating an enzyme known as acetylcholinesterase. They are potent and require a small dosage. 

Choline, Alpha GPC, Citicoline, Centrophenoxine, Choline Bitartrate, Choline Citrate, Lecithin, DMAE, Phosphatidylcholine, Racetams, Huperzine A


Serotonergic substances are a class of compounds that relate to the natural chemical serotonin and boost its impacts on the body. Each substance that can do that works to either increase or subdues serotonin flow in order to achieve its impacts. Serotonin is the natural chemical that corrects nerve impulses, balances mood, as well as promotes general sensations of health.

Tryptophan, 5 HTP, Griffonia seed extract


Dopaminergic are a group of compounds that have an influence on dopamine levels in the brain. They work by handling the metabolic process as well as the synthesis of dopamine and are often straight precursors to dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter prevalent in cognitive functioning and in our psychological reward system. It plays a huge role in memory formation, mood, and focus/attention. Dopaminergic provides natural mental and physical energy while increasing performance, motivation, as well as focus.

Sulbutiamine, DL-Phenylalanine, Tyrosine, Phenylethylamine, L-Dopa, Mucuna Pruriens, Theanine, Rasagiline, Stablon, Deprenyl


Glutamate is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter, and the precursor for GABA, the brain’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter. A glutamatergic agent (or drug) is a chemical that directly modulates the system of excitatory amino acids in the body or brain.

Popular synthetic nootropics work by binding to glutamate receptors, primarily AMPA receptors, and NMDA receptors.

Piracetam was the first modern nootropic to act as a positive allosteric modulator of AMPA receptors. Racetams and especially Ampakines bind to the glutamatergic AMPA receptor and enhance its activity. By doing this they increase synaptic responses and enhance long-term potentiation (LTP).

Excessive glutamate in the brain is supposed to convert to inhibitory GABA automatically through an enzyme glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD). 

L-glutamine (main precursor for glutamate and GABA)N-Acetylcysteine (NAC), Piracetam, Aniracetam, Noopept, Sunifiram

GABAergic nootropics (Anxiolytics)

GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) is a natural chemical that has an inhibitory effect on stress reactions in the nervous system. The class of GABAergic nootropics is able to complete this task by increasing ‘alpha wave’ production in the brain. GABAergic nootropics have a calming effect that is known to create a sense of well-being and relaxation in individuals. These nootropics are commonly used to promote correct sleep cycles, especially for people who have insomnia. 

Vitamin B6, Zinc, PharmaGABA™, Kava Kava, Valerian Root, Magnesium, Taurine, American Ginseng, Theanine


Adaptogens or adaptogenic are compounds of plant and fungi origin that help maintain stabilization of physiological processes, so that brain cells can return to homeostasis. They do not serve only one function. Instead, they are able to adapt to what the body is facing and help alleviate or reduce symptoms. They promise to reduce stress, to improve attention and endurance in fatigue.

Ashwagandha, Ginseng, Eleuthero, Pine Pollen, Moringa, Rhodiola, Maca, Astragalus, Shilajit, Medicinal mushrooms


Cognitive Metabolic Enhancers boost the energy and metabolism of human brain cells. They improve vasodilatory blood circulation to the brain or improve the performance of cell membranes. By increasing the oxygen consumption of cells, they enhance metabolism and energy production. This supports the activity of different neurochemicals, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and acetylcholine. Benefits can include mood improvement, wakefulness, and awareness, enhanced memory, and cognitive functions. This neuroprotective group enhances the health of neural cells by eliminating toxins as well as promoting the upkeep of brain cells.

Acetyl L-Carnitine, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Creatine, Pyritinol, Vincamine, Vinpocetine

Nerve growth promoters nootropics

Nerve growth factor (NGF) is a naturally occurring protein that consists of a group of molecules present in the brain for cognitive functioning. It is one of four proteins (among BDNF, NT-3, and NT-4) that contain neurotrophins. NGF takes care of survival and maintaining developed neurons while producing new ones. It contributes to the overall health of the brain. This class of substances includes some natural nootropics that are great free radical scavengers (antioxidants). Many cognitive problems associated with aging arise from oxidative damages. Nerve growth promoters may contribute to increased longevity and mental capacity protecting the neural cells from free radicals.

Lion’s Mane, PQQ,  Quercetin, Zinc,  Lithium, Royal Jelly, Rosemary, ALCAR, Huperzine A, Polygala tenuifolia, Co-Enzyme Q10, Idebenone


A neurohormone is any kind of hormone created and released by specialized neuroendocrine cells. They release them into the blood or to the cells of the body organ whose development it regulates. Neurohormones can also perform as neurotransmitters in the brain. In that case, they are processed in the hypothalamus and transferred for release through the pituitary gland. Dopamine, Epinephrine, Norepinephrine, and Oxytocin are a few well-known examples. These hormones have different specific effects. The benefit of mood support to bring back sleep/wake cycles, alertness, and concentration.

DHEA, Melatonin, Vasopressin, Desmopressin, Pregnenolone


Central nervous system stimulants are pharmacological compounds that induce short-lived changes to mental and physical energy levels, wakefulness, and alertness. Stimulants produce these effects by boosting or inhibiting various activities of the central and peripheral nervous systems. These effects can be achieved via the production of neurohormones like norepinephrine as well as dopamine, along with the interaction of specific receptor cells.

Modafinil, Adderall, Xanthines, Nicotine

Psychostimulants as Cognitive enhancers 

Cognitive enhancers on prescription

The common prescription drugs, or ‘smart drugs’ as we like to call them, are types of CNS stimulants known as psychostimulants.

While smart drugs are not officially defined, references to this group generally include Provigil (modafinil), armodafinil, Adderall, and Ritalin (Methylphenidate).

Although they have been extensively described online as safe nootropics, we do not believe that, by original nootropic definition, they are.

Stimulants aren’t nootropics because they aren’t neuroprotective

Types of the stimulants

  • Amphetamine group

Amphetamines like Adderall is a schedule II controlled substance prescription drug for focus and energy. Invented by Big Pharma for ADHD patients with mild brain dysfunction. This kind of cognitive enhancer is not the best choice for otherwise healthy individuals without a history of medications. The problem is their potential for addiction and could have serious side effects if taken in the long run. 

  • Non-amphetamine group

Modafinil is a wakefulness-promoting agent (eugeroic) prescribed against sleep attacks during the day or nightmares in the waking state. It increases focus and problem-solving ability. But it is not in the same class of drugs as Adderall and it is not a classic stimulant.

“Part of the way Modafinil works is by shifting the brain’s levels of norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters; it’s not clear what effects these shifts may have on a person’s health in the long run.”

Markham Heid

In 2011, while the movie “Limitless” came out, 650,000 people had Modafinil prescriptions. That changes in 2012 with almost 3x more prescriptions – 1,900,000. 

Psychostimulants such as modafinil and methylphenidate (Ritalin) are popular among students around exam time. Army personnel that needs to remain awake for long missions. Athletes also have an affinity for modafinil, as well as entrepreneurs and Wall Street executives. Senior people worried about cognitive decline and college academics keen to keep their efficiency are also their supporters.

Adderall and Ritalin have been linked to insomnia, hallucinations, seizures, heart trouble, and sudden death in healthy individuals. 

So why not look for the best amphetamine alternatives instead?

Over-the-counter nootropics

Over-the-counter nootropics refer to natural and synthetic supplements that can be purchased independently of a doctor. 

Dietary supplements

Maca dietary supp Image by ML Photography from Pixabay
Maca Dietary Supplements

Different types of natural dietary supplements are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as being pure, accurately labeled, and of good quality. 

When produced with a certification known as Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), or other types of certificates, it follows a system that ensures the products are consistently produced and controlled by strict quality standards. Here are the categories of the most popular dietary supplements.

  • Vitamins and minerals – multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin B/B complex.
  • Specialty supplementsomega-3/fatty acids, supplements including fiber, probiotics, glucosamine/chondroitin, and CoQ10.
  • Sports nutrition and weight management – protein supplement, energy drinks, and gels, Garcinia Cambogia, green coffee, and hydration drinks and gels.
  • Herbal/botanical nootropic supplements – botanicals, green tea, garlic, cranberry, echinacea, and ginseng.

Establishing natural nootropics

Nootropic brain herbs are proven for cognitive function. They are less addictive and much safer than synthetic drugs. Herbs naturally supply a myriad of active brain-boosting compounds. The products are made from whole plants, plant parts, or plant extracts. Also from fungi, which have one of the longest histories in traditional medicine and health practices. 

Read about the best natural nootropics in this article.

herbalism and many herbs
Herbal nootropics, ayurvedic medicine

The most popular herbal nootropics:

  • Bacopa Monnieri
  • Rhodiola Rosea
  • Lion’s mane mushroom
  • L-theanine (found in green tea)
  • Huperzine A
  • Mucuna pruriens (L-dopa)
  • Curcumin (found in turmeric)
  • Panax ginseng

As well as chemicals produced by the body such as:

  • Magnesium
  • Alpha-GPC (a compound found in the brain)
  • Tyrosine (an amino acid)
  • Citicoline and taurine (occur naturally in our tissues and organs)

We recommend: Natural nootropics from

Status of synthetic nootropics 

Federal Drug Administration (FDA) looks if the ingredient fills the definition of a dietary supplement by their DSHEA criterion. One of the popular ingredients among nootropic enthusiasts is Piracetam. By late 2003 its status was to ”not fit the description of a dietary ingredient.” FDA sent a warning letter about it in 2010 and named Piracetam a ”New drug”.

The status of synthetic nootropics could change in the years to come. In many countries around the world, they can still only be taken with a prescription. In the US, they are supplements or banned substances.

It’s a gray area, and the supplement companies still selling them on Amazon and eBay, but sometimes as “not for human consumption”.

In its renewed attempt to fulfill its 2010 warning, the FDA is trying to withdraw Piracetam from all dietary supplements containing this substance (August 2020).

“Its pretty much impossible to find Piracetam in the EU now as well. You can however still buy some highly experimental, potentially dangerous compounds without issue. Meanwhile the quite well researched Piracetam is off the market. It’s a strange time we live in.”

– Reddit Nootropics 2020

Why is that so a big deal when synthetic nootropics are by original definition non-toxic?

Well, synthetic nootropics are invasive and skipping a few steps in the natural metabolism of primary chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, GABA. That’s why they are effective in the short term with faster results than natural nootropics. Although non-toxic, they can cause side effects in the long run if taken unreasonably. Extensive human clinical trials are also required.

Best synthetic nootropics to use with caution

  • Piracetam-like nootropics

Racetams are neuroprotective agents that can speed out the rate at which brain cells reproduce and slow down the rate at which they deteriorate. Many beginners choose the original nootropic Piracetam to get started with the benefits of better memory. For a particular demand like having more energy or creativity boost, they look at its derivatives. Other top racetams are Aniracetam, Oxiracetam, Pramiracetam, and Phenylpiracetam.

  • Adrafinil

Adrafinil is a pro-drug and a replacement for banned Modafinil. It means that its supplementation increases the concentration of Modafinil in the body. Adrafinil is similar to Modafinil as it has a strong effect on day-time alertness, motivation, mood, and energy levels. It is recommended for clients with sleep disorders like narcolepsy or sleep apnea. While stimulating, it does not generate side effects like other stimulants. In the US, it is currently legal and prescription-free. It is allowed for purchase from British residents, but only for personal use. 

  • Noopept

Noopept was created in the mid-1970s by Russian scientists and earned the track record of being a thousand times more powerful than Piracetam. Its action of crossing the blood-brain barrier implies that you can take fewer doses and still attain great results. Noopept stimulates both AMPA and NMDA receptors, control glutamate and acetylcholine levels. This makes it in a close relationship with the racetams and ampakines. In Russia, Noopept is sold without a prescription. It was patented with the same original formula in the US and is sold as a dietary supplement.

  • Phenibut

Phenibut is a GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) analog, working as a GABA receptor agonist in the brain. It stimulates neuroreceptors like GABA and dopamine, reducing stress and pain throughout the body. This nootropic has a strong effect and is best used only occasionally and even then with longer breaks. Some individuals do not experience withdrawals from this substance just like there are people who are complete non-responders to it. Phenibut is legally bought and owned, but illegally sold or produced from the standpoint of the law.

We recommend: Synthetic nootropics from

7 types of nootropics & smart drugs

Picture of the man and Various types of nootropics substances
Summary of 7 types of nootropics and smart drugs

I. Natural nootropics

Natural nootropics are safe types of nootropics but somewhat less potent than synthetic nootropics. They have diverse cognitive effects through a wide range of mechanisms of action. While some will improve the blood flow in brains, others may help restore nerve damage, or back to balance neurotransmitters. What’s convenient, they all combine well with each other making it possible to stack them for powerful natural enhancement.

  • Nootropics Nutrients

Nootropic nutrients are any natural compounds that the human brain can use to repair cell damage and to promote heightened states of cognition. While supporting the growth and repair of neural tissues, they can also stimulate the production of neurochemicals to manage various physical reactions.

Nootropics nutrients can regulate metabolism. They can generate energy in the short term, as well as provide long-term protection for various systems. People take them for organ support, immunity, to boost cellular health, and to help support healthy stress levels. According to research, they can create an environment of neuroplasticity for enduring mental health.

Nootropic nutrients:

Omega-3, Magnesium, Krill Oil, Fish Oil, Phosphatidylserine, SAMe, Taurine, Carnosine, Iodine, L-Glutamine, Lysine, Phenylalanine, Uridine

  • Herbal Nootropics

Plant-derived nootropics are the primal group of cognitive enhancers. There is an extensive list of herbal nootropics, known to man for millennia. As a rule, they are less effective as stand-alone supplements than some of their synthetic cousins. But if they are produced in the right form as standardized extracts, then they are the best. Herbal nootropics tend to be most effective when stacked into a synergy mix. The stacking between ingredients is where they shine. Fungi are also a part of this group, and they are the world of themselves. Medicinal mushrooms are some of the most powerful natural nootropics. 

Herbal nootropics:

Bacopa Monnieri, Rhodiola Rosea, Ashwagandha, Ginkgo Biloba, Panax Ginseng, Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, Red Reishi, and other medicinal mushrooms

  • Xanthines

Xanthines are a class of natural energizers derived from xanthine, a purine base found in the cells of nearly all organic life. These alkaloids show excitatory or stimulant effects in the central and sympathetic nervous systems. Xanthines restrict the effects of adenosine, a natural chemical that triggers sensations of drowsiness. Xanthines can elevate the heart rate and boost blood circulation. They can raise the activity of the breathing system and act as bronchodilators. Xanthines are taken for mild, short-term energy boosts. They can lift mood, give mental focus, and create a sense of alertness. Some of these substances are habit-forming and can generate strong withdrawal effects.


Caffeine, Green tea, Theobromine

II. Racetams

Racetams are the family of original laboratory invented nootropic compound Piracetam. This is a primal nootropic with which racetams share the same 2-pyrrolidone nucleus structure. This structure is a derivative of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Racetams stimulate acetylcholine that is active in the prefrontal cortex and glutamate receptors. 

There are about twenty different types of racetams. They boost cognitive functions by promoting acetylcholine receptors. Also, racetams speed up the rate at which the brain cells are regrown and reduce the rate at which they deteriorate and die. Some racetams stimulate glutamate receptors. This task is making them hybrids that additionally belong to the Ampakine type of nootropics.

Piracetam and Noopept (to some extent also a racetam) neutralize cognitive decline. Additionally, Aniracetam and Noopept are great options for reducing stress symptoms. They can help improve your mood. 

Some authorities say that racetams are not supplements, but unapproved drugs promoted online. But anecdotal experience teaches us that with responsible use racetams can be as safe as they are effective nootropics.

Learn more in our guide to the best 9 racetams nootropics.

Aniracetam, Oxiracetam, Pramiracetam, Phenylpiracetam 

III. Choline and acetylcholine intermediates

Choline is one of the most important types of nootropics for brain health, memory, and mental clarity. It is a precursor for the production of acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter facilitates communication between neurons. Choline is also a precursor to phosphatidylcholine, which is a key component of cellular membranes. The best sources of choline are alpha-GPC and citicoline. They produce higher levels of acetylcholine in the brain.

  • Choline donors

Choline donors work in synergy with other nootropics, so they are an important part of every modern nootropic stack. For racetams users, due to raised acetylcholine intake, it is better to replenish stacks with more choline to meet the needs. Choline donors are safe to use and have less chance of creating side effects. There are many sources of choline/acetylcholine donors. Some will be more reliable compared to others.

Alpha GPC, Citicoline, DMAE, Choline Bitartrate, Centrophenoxine

  • Acetylcholinesterase Inhibitors

Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors are a class of compounds that limit the activity of acetylcholinesterase enzyme. This enzyme reduces the amount of acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine facilitates comprehension, logical, and verbal reasoning, memory formation. It also raises sensitivity to stimuli and promotes the development of neural frameworks. Thus, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors increase the availability of this natural chemical. They have long-term neuroprotective benefits too. As well as the immediate gains in memory and learning features.

Huperzine A, Galantamine

IV. B-vitamin-derived nootropics 

B vitamins are vital for brain health and normal function of the nervous system. While we still don’t know what cognitive functions B vitamins can improve and how they are crucial for many processes. Vitamins B6, B9, and B12 are backed by the most research because of their ability to regulate homocysteine levels.

Vitamin B6 helps the brain circulation and neurotransmitters. It is a coenzyme for the synthesis of dopamine, epinephrine, GABA, melatonin, norepinephrine, and serotonin. 

Vitamin B9 (folate) is important for the optimized brain. As a nootropic, folate takes part in gene expression, amino-acid synthesis, and myelin synthesis. It is also required for the synthesis of dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. 

Vitamin B-12 helps form nerve-protecting myelin and maintains brain tissue. It is a cofactor in the synthesis of dopamine, GABA, norepinephrine, and serotonin. It affects alertness, cognition, memory, and mood.

Modified vitamin B derivatives are stronger than natural vitamin B. They can cross the blood-brain barrier, providing a key component in converting glucose into energy. Sulbutiamine is a derivative of vitamin B1 developed by the Japanese to combat fatigue. Picamilion combines vitamin B3 (Niacin) with GABA. Pyritinol is created from vitamin B6. 

V. Ampakines

Ampakines are new compounds in the area of brain research and have not yet been thoroughly tested. These compounds seem to be 1000 times stronger than piracetam. They induce stronger effects on glutamate receptors than racetams.

For comparison, Piracetam and Aniracetam are weak stimulants of AMPA receptors. While ampakines are extra-potent stimulants of glutamate receptors.

Ampakines function by antagonizing the AMPA and NMDA receptors. Both receptors depend on the natural chemical glutamate to work. This causes an increase in glutamate levels in the brain. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that has an essential duty in synaptic plasticity. It is vital to the process of learning and memory. By increasing the glutamate and acetylcholine levels in the brain, Ampakines raise attention span and alertness.

Ampakines have stimulant-like effects without the adverse side-effects reported in traditional stimulants like caffeine and Ritalin. This type of nootropics doesn’t create undesirable effects like uneasiness, sleeplessness, and anxiousness. They are researched as a potential relief for sufferers of psychiatric illnesses. But, likely are not without danger to teens, adolescents, and youngsters.

Sunifiram, Unifiram

VI. Peptide nootropics

Russia is the homeland of peptides, an intriguing compound that appears to be constantly evolving. The hallmark of this category is Noopept. It is one of the most preferred and strongest synthetic compounds in the legal marketplace. Noopept is derived from racetams and made to be highly bioavailable. This class can cross the blood-brain barrier, but it will need different routes of consumption – through the mouth, nose, and injections. 

A low dose of peptides will have the same effects as racetams. Also, they work better to heighten the release of glutamate. 

Peptides activate brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), an important protein that plays a part in neurogenesis. Also, peptides activate serotonergic and dopaminergic systems.

Noopept promotes the release of the Nerve growth factor, a protein essential for the growth and maintenance of neurons. The influence on memory, brain performance, and motivation are favorable. Noopept boosts mental state due to the enhanced oxygen flow to the brain, as well as maintenance of cells. Many individuals report similar results as with racetams.

The major disadvantage in taking other peptide nootropics remains in their route of administration. Semax should be taken nasally to have effects. Cerebrolysin is most likely one of the most reliable peptides, only it must be injected.

VII. Smart drugs

In addition to the aforementioned psychostimulants Adderall and Modafinil, other types of stimulants fit the category of a smart drug. In fact, according to the classical meaning, smart drugs are not nootropics. It is rather a border term between the nootropics and drugs. These sorts of drugs can be of some benefit for signs and symptoms associated with cognitive conditions. They offer an effective boost to normal reasoning, learning, memory, and focus. But, because long-lasting usage triggers several side effects, they are not the best selection for already healthy individuals. 

  • Nootropic drugs

Nootropic drugs are medicinal compounds that can enhance cognitive functions by connecting with natural brain chemistry. They originate from natural resources or consist of synthetic variations of those sources developed in a lab. Nootropic drugs work by creating, potentiating, or limiting the amounts of natural neurotransmitters, enzymes, and hormones. They can have either stimulating or relaxing effects. Nootropic drugs also elevate or decrease blood pressure as required.

This type of cognitive enhancer interacts with the growth, health, repair, and communication of neurons and synapses. Through this activity, they can enhance memory, lift mood, and heighten learning capabilities. These drugs are being researched in mental health to restore balance and combat symptoms of cognitive disorders such as ADHD or Alzheimer’s disease. Nootropic drugs promote mental efficacy and social confidence with applications for college students, business owners, and senior citizens. On the other side, they are not over-the-counter nootropics in many countries.

Cerebrolysin, Hydergine, Nicergoline, Propranolol, Semax, Selank

  • Stimulants

Stimulants are pharmacological compounds that induce short-lived changes to mental and physical conditions. That’s usually related to the energy levels. Stimulants produce these effects by boosting or inhibiting various activities of the central and peripheral nervous systems. These effects can be achieved via the production of neurohormones like norepinephrine as well as dopamine, along with the interaction of specific receptor cells.

Stimulant balance focus and alertness, higher motivation, sexual stimulation, athletic endurance, and reduced appetite. Stimulants can also be powerful mood enhancers. Prescribed by healthcare professionals, they help aid in the treatment of various cognitive disorders, such as OCD and ADHD. Under the technical definition for nootropics, stimulants are particularly illicit because of the frequency of associated negative effects. 

Nicotine, Ephedrine, Geranamine, Yohimbine HCL, Octopamine

List of nootropics

This list presents 85 supplements that are related to the brain. Including all of the most effective nootropics, you can buy on the market.

The list of 85 cognitive enhancing compounds:

  1. 5-HTP – an amino acid that regulates serotonin and other brain chemicals for relaxation, sleep, and appetite satisfaction.
  2. Acetyl L-Carnitine – a free radical scavenger that protects and nourishes brain cells well; may help age-related cognitive issues.
  3. Alpha Lipoic Acid – a fat-soluble that reduce free radicals and oxidative stress; can cross the blood-brain barrier and help protect the brain against aging.
  4. Alpha-GPC – phospholipid choline source suggested support brain structure and brain chemicals; used for age-related cognitive decline.
  5. Aniracetam – synthetic Russian racetam primarily used for memory and mood in the elderly.
  6. Apoaequorin – jellyfish protein used for neuroprotective activity; brand-sponsored research showed benefits for memory and focus.
  7. Artichoke – supplies luteolin, an active ingredient that may balance the cAMP that regulates memory and mental performance.
  8. Ashwagandha – adaptogen root herb with benefits for mental energy, stress resistance, and mood; may also help with healthy brain aging.
  9. Astaxanthin – potent free radicals scavenger found in algae and seafood that may offer some brain-protective activity, especially in the context of aging.
  10. Bacopa Monnieri – best nootropic herb for students, shown to improve retention of knowledge and strengthen stress resistance.
  11. Caffeine – not a true nootropic, but a stimulant that boosts alertness and almost always is accompanied by a subsequent crash.
  12. California poppy – suggested interact with GABA and HTP receptors for mood-soothing effects; also helps sleep.
  13. Cat’s Claw – South American vine herb with early research suggesting a neuroprotective activity that may help with brain aging.
  14. Catuaba – traditional Brazilian bark herb suggested in early animal research have neuroprotective potential.
  15. CBD – cannabis-derived compound that is suggested to support healthy levels of stress and possess some neuroprotective effects.
  16. Celastrus paniculatus –  woody shrub seeds used in Ayurvedic herbalism; animal research suggests it may help overall brain health.
  17. Centrophenoxine – synthetic smart drug-related to DMAE suggested in animal research help brain energy and cerebral vascular function.
  18. Citicoline – best overall nootropic choline source for brain energy and healthy brain structure; shown to help focus, attention, memory, mood.
  19. Clitoria Ternatea – traditional Asian herb suggested in animal research have memory-enhancing nootropic effects.
  20. Coluracetam – otherwise called MKC-231, a rarely seen synthetic racetams created to help with brain degeneration.
  21. Convolvulus pluricaulis – Indian tonic herb and Ayurvedic brain-booster; suggested help learning, mood, and memory in animal research.
  22. CoQ10 – coenzyme pseudo-vitamin that helps brain health by powering up brain cell mitochondria and reducing free radicals activity.
  23. Creatine – popularly used by athletes to charge-up their muscles may work in the same way in the brain to enhance mental energy.
  24. Choline – similar to B vitamins and related to lecithin, it declines with age but is important for brain chemical acetylcholine and maintaining healthy brain structure.
  25. DHA – an essential fatty acid that is crucial for early brain development and helpful for sharp cognition in old age.
  26. DMAE – found in sardines, helps to optimize brain cell structure and has been suggested to help with attention, mood, and cognitive decline.
  27. Forskolin – active ingredients of Coleus Forskohlii promotes cAMP molecules that help regulate cell to cell communication, mood, and memory storage.
  28. GABA – inhibitory amino acid that settles nerves producing relaxation and pleasant mood, suggested to help with sleep and potentially attention.
  29. Ginkgo biloba – an ancient Chinese wellness herb that enhances brain circulation, a strong reputation for helping with memory and age-related cognitive performance.
  30. Ginseng – adaptogen herb that supports brain chemicals and cAMP while countering stress; energizes mental and physical performance.
  31. Gotu Kola – traditional Chinese herbal best known for its blood-vessel support; maintains circulation to the brain to promote memory and mood, especially in the elderly.
  32. Guarana – South American Berry that is one of the best natural sources of caffeine, traditionally used to boost mental energy and physical endurance.
  33. Huperzine-A – synthetic alkaloid from Chinese Club Moss, used to sustain acetylcholine levels and shown to help with memory and degenerative brain concerns.
  34. Kanna (Sceletium Tortuosum) – South African herb shown in research to help with mental performance in seniors with brain degeneration.
  35. Kava Kava – psychoactive root herb used in traditional South Pacific ceremonies; may help promote relaxation, ease the mood and improve sleep.
  36. Kratom – controversial legality and questionable safety; a traditional Asian herb that is believed to promote feelings of calmness and positivity.
  37. L-Glutamine – an amino acid that supports glutamate, a key brain chemical for healthy cognition; may also help to protect the brain.
  38. L-Phenylalanine – an amino acid that is a precursor to many of the brain chemicals needed for sharp, clear mental function and mood balance.
  39. L-Theanine – green tea amino acid that raises Alpha brain waves to promote wakeful relaxation for creativity and productivity; also shown to support sharp mental clarity during aging.
  40. L-Tryptophan – a precursor to five HTP that helps enhance brain chemicals for calm, relaxed moods; also influences melatonin and has been shown to improve sleep quality.
  41. Lecithin – phospholipid found in egg yolk that supplies choline that in turn forms acetylcholine brain chemical while optimizing brain cell healthy structure.
  42. Lemon Balm – a traditional herb that regulates brain chemicals and their receptors to promote calmness and induce sleep.
  43. Lion’s Mane Mushroom – raises nerve growth factor to help with brain plasticity, regeneration, and repair; shown to enhance mood.
  44. Magnolia – bark herb supplies active honokiol, which is suggested to balance brain chemistry for relaxation without sedation.
  45. MCT Oil – supports the use of ketones for brain energy instead of carbohydrates; helpful for mental clarity on a keto diet.
  46. NADH – coenzyme related to vitamin B3 that is required for ATP energy production and reduces oxidative stress; also supports the brain chemical dopamine.
  47. Nefiracetam – synthetic racetam smart drug linked with brain chemicals and suggested for helping with age-related memory and cognitive issues.
  48. Nicotine – hard to classify it as a nootropic, but nicotine has shown nootropic effects in the realm of brainpower.
  49. Noopept – patented racetam, little research suggests it may have stimulating effects that help with cognitive function.
  50. Oatstraw – increases Alpha brain waves associated with a state of relaxed alertness.
  51. Oxiracetam – stimulating racetam used for acetylcholine; may help memory and focus.
  52. Passionflower – a traditional herb with calming properties, believed to balance brain chemicals for relaxation and healthy sleep.
  53. Phenibut – controversial synthetic nootropic appears to regulate dopamine; suggested help with mood issues.
  54. Phenylpiracetam – considered one of the harsher and more powerful racetams, suggested helping with higher-order cognitive function.
  55. Phosphatidylcholine – phospholipid nootropic that is key for brain regeneration; linked to benefits for memory, mood, and overall brain health.
  56. Phosphatidylserine (PS) – multitasking phospholipid that helps build, power, and protect brain cells; best evidence-backed nootropic for memory.
  57. Picamilon – synthetic compound that binds GABA with niacin; suggested help with attention and mood, but the complex legal status.
  58. Pine Bark Extract – free radicals scavenger that protects the brain and blood vessels; also promotes nitric oxide to boost blood flow to the brain; suggested help with attention and overall brain health.
  59. Piracetam – the original racetam, and the first “nootropic” – optimizes brain chemicals for stimulating, mood-balancing effects.
  60. Psychobiotics – The gut and the brain are closely connected, and science is discovering that the beneficial flora in the GI tract can influence mood and cognitive function.
  61. Pramiracetam – racetam suggested help with acetylcholine; may help with memory formation and recall.
  62. Pterostilbene – found in berries believed to help strengthen the brain’s resistance to aging and oxidative stress.
  63. PQQ – powerful free radicals scavenger that is required for the production of energy within brain cells’ mitochondria; suggested help with overall brain health during the aging process.
  64. Resveratrol – a compound found in red wine that helps to support healthy aging by protecting brain cells against free radicals and inflammation.
  65. Rhodiola Rosea – legendary adaptogen root herb from Russia that optimizes mental energy and physical endurance by regulating the body’s stress responses.
  66. Rosemary – Worn as a wreath by students in ancient Greece because its aroma sharpens focus; modern uses include age-related cognitive support.
  67. SAMe – catalyzes and supports several brain functions, including cell signaling and cell membrane function; most popularly used to support mood balance. 
  68. Schizandrol-A – Asian berry supplies these active ingredients suggested to have anti-stress activity and help protect the brain.
  69. St. John’s Wort – bright flower herb supplies active hypericin and hyperforin, which balance brain chemicals related to mood.
  70. Sulbutiamine – synthetic vitamin B1 that is molecularly altered to make it fat-soluble and capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier; may help general brain health.
  71. Taurine – an amino acid that regulates cell to cell communication, often seen in energy drinks though the only evidence suggests nerve-calming effects.
  72. Theobromine – caffeine-like compound sourced from cocoa believed to have stimulating properties with fewer side effects.
  73. Turmeric – root plant that supplies a free radical scavenger complex associated with brain cell protection and long-range cognitive health.
  74. Tyrosine – precursor used to form brain chemicals tied to attention and focus; shown in research to enhance multiple aspects of mental performance in distracting, multitasking settings.
  75. Uridine – the raw material that is used by the body to make brain-supportive choline and acetylcholine; suggested having potential for brain degeneration.
  76. Valerian – ancient root herb that may work by sustaining GABA (soothing brain chemical) levels to promote relaxation and ultimately, sleep.
  77. Vinpocetine – a synthetic form of periwinkle that has a complex legal status but is one of the best brain circulation boosters.
  78. Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) – low levels may be linked to poor cognitive performance; suggested help brain chemicals function properly.
  79. Vitamin B3 (Niacin) – suggested to have roles and brain chemical synthesis and brain protection; may help with healthy brain function later in life.
  80. Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) – suggested as part of a multivitamin to help with attention-related issues, although evidence is conflicted.
  81. Vitamin B6 – contributes to nerve sheathing, blood vessel flexibility, and brain chemical conversion and synthesis.
  82. Vitamin B8 – also called inositol, helps with brain cell membrane synthesis and optimizes some neurotransmitters, especially serotonin.
  83. Vitamin B9 – plays a key role in regulating homocysteine levels in the blood, thereby supporting cerebrovascular health.
  84. Vitamin B12 – the raw material for nerve-protective myelin, also a key player in brain energy; suggested helping maintain brain volume during aging.
  85. Yerba Mate – Traditional herb that is brewed into a stimulating tea with focus-enhancing support.


types of nootropics effects
Effects of nootropic types on the brain

There are various types of nootropics and their categorization according to mechanisms of action, effects, or market status. But the confusion is greatly alleviated by the fact that nootropics from different groups usually get along well.

How to combine or stack nootropics properly is an art in itself.

How to live the right lifestyle for biohacking, even more.

No matter what your intentions are, talk to a medical specialist first. 

Stay close with the family of natural nootropics. I found credibility in taking natural pre-made formulations from respected sources like Mind Lab Pro and Performance Lab. Both companies combine branded natural nootropic supplements together to touch all aspects of cognitive function in the right way. 

You can also supplement with simple but effective nootropics – vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, and superfoods. Synthetic compounds like racetams for your short-term and long-term goals.

Now that you have learned about nootropics types and effects, read about stacking nootropics.

Pick up nootropics that best reflect your goal

Read our next article to get you started

Stacking nootropics

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