Nootropics 101: Everything You Need to Know


For over five decades, nootropics, also known as smart drugs and cognitive enhancers, have quietly existed in the realms of scientific research and medical applications. Originally developed to address cognitive deficiencies and assist individuals with neurological disorders, their presence remained relatively unknown to the wider public. However, in recent decade, there has been a remarkable surge in the commercial use and popularity of these substances.

What was once a niche area of study and application has now captured the attention and curiosity of individuals seeking to optimize their cognitive abilities and enhance their mental and also physical performance. The increasing availability and marketing of these substances, combined with the ever-growing interest in biohacking and self-improvement, have contributed to the widespread adoption of nootropics outside medical settings.

Before delving into what nootropics are and what are not, it’s worth asking:

What has caused this growing buzz around cognitive enhancement and the widespread use of Nootropics?

Table of Contents

What influenced the nootropics buzz


Recent scientific research says that in the internet age the average human attention span is even shorter than the attention span of a goldfish!

Well, the modern way of living has been influenced by the technological advancements that resulted from the industrial revolution in the 19th century. Large factories and enterprises led to people leaving rural areas and settling in urban areas, which became polluted and cramped over time.

The improved standard of living brought about unhealthy diets and increased stress from modern workplaces. This, along with limited physical activity, improper rest, and disregard for natural laws, resulted in a reduced attention span.

Recent research has shown that the average human attention span has dropped as a direct result of technology and innovations. This has increased demands for labour productivity, leading people to seek ways to increase their brain strength and work efficiency, leading to the use of cognitive enhancers such as nootropics.

Nootropics can help counteract attention deficit and speed up mental processes, lower stress but they also offer other benefits to improve overall performance.

What are nootropics?

What are nootropic wallpapers
What are nootropics?

Nootropics are indeed a diverse group of substances that include supplements, herbs, extracts, medicines, and nutraceuticals. They are often referred to as smart drugs, brain boosters, memory boosters, neuroenhancers, drive drugs, or study drugs.

Nootropics can be classified into two main forms: pharmaceutical-like cognitive enhancers and natural mental performance boosters.

  • Pharmaceutical-like cognitive enhancers: typically refer to prescription medications that are designed to enhance cognitive function. Examples of these include medications like Modafinil, Ritalin, and Adderall, which are often prescribed for conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy. These drugs can improve focus, attention, and alertness in individuals with certain cognitive impairments.
  • Natural mental performance boosters: encompass a wide range of substances derived from natural sources such as herbs, plant extracts, or specific nutrients. Examples of natural nootropics include caffeine, ginkgo biloba, omega-3 fatty acids, bacopa, certain vitamins and minerals. These natural options are often marketed as dietary supplements and are claimed to enhance memory, concentration, and overall cognitive function.

It’s important to note that the efficiency of nootropics, whether pharmaceutical or natural, may vary from person to person. The effects of these substances can depend on individual factors such as genetics, overall health, and lifestyle. 

It’s always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplementation regimen, especially when considering pharmaceutical-like cognitive enhancers.

Unlocking the Power of Nootropics: Enhancing Cognitive Function and Treating Disorders

Nootropics target the brain areas to enhance cognitive functions and are helpful in the treatments of certain disorders. They work by:

  • increasing neurotransmitter levels
  • improving blood flow to the brain
  • protecting neurons from damage

In the realm of treatment, nootropics are used to address cognitive or motor function problems associated with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and ADHD. These substances aim to improve the quality of life for individuals with these disorders.

Additionally, nootropics have gained popularity in the community for cognitive enhancement. People turn to these substances to enhance memory, attention, motivation, and creativity, while reducing mental fatigue, stress, and depressive mood. However, it’s important to note that individual responses to nootropics can vary, and consulting with healthcare professionals is advisable before use.

In academic settings, stimulants and other nootropics have been used to increase productivity. However, the long-term effects of these substances on healthy individuals are still being studied.

While nootropics offer potential benefits, it is crucial to consider personal characteristics, drug qualities, and the social context when using them. 

Responsible and informed usage is key in optimizing their potential advantages while minimizing risks.

nootropic definition

what is nootropics?
Dr Corneliu Giurgea

The term “nootropic” is derived from two Greek words: “nous,” which means mind, and “tropein,” which means to bend or turn. The first nootropic compound, Piracetam, was synthesized by Belgian pharmacologists C. Giurgea and V. Scondia in 1963. In 1972, Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea coined the term “nootropic” to describe substances that improve cognitive functioning.

According to Dr. Giurgea, nootropics are safe, well-tolerated substances that are suitable for healthy individuals to take.

He determined that nootropics can be taken for long-term use.

  • Nootropic should enhance memory and learning
  • Improve brain function under disruptive conditions
  • Protect the brain against physical or chemical injuries
  • Improve cortical/subcortical neuronal control mechanisms
  • Possess few or no side effects and have extremely low to no toxicity.

The modern definition of a nootropic has changed over time. It was once only referred to as a specific type of drug that improved cognitive performance, but today it is used to describe any substance that enhances cognition. According to Merriam-Webster, a nootropic is defined as “a substance that enhances cognition and memory and facilitates learning.” However, this definition does not mention side effects or neurotoxicity. By Dr. Giurgea’s original definition, some of these substances might not be considered nootropics.

Nowadays, a substance is considered to be a nootropic only if it improves cognition and neuroprotection and does not pose a threat of neurotoxicity when used appropriately. So, while the modern definition of nootropics has broadened, the core principles of Dr. Giurgea’s definition still remain relevant in determining the safety and efficacy of these substances.

Are nootropics addictive?

The discovery of the original family of nootropics, racetams, by Dr. Giurgea has paved the way for a documented system of nootropic effects. This system is based on a combination of scientific research, human studies, and anecdotal evidence from individuals who have been using nootropics for years.

Despite the low risk of addiction associated with nootropics, it is important to avoid self-medicating with either herbal supplements or research chemicals. Interfering with one’s biochemistry can lead to harmful consequences.

Therefore, it is always recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before starting to use nootropics. The professional can perform tests to ensure that the usage of nootropics is safe and appropriate for the individual. Participating in a culture of responsible usage is essential for maximizing the benefits of nootropics.

What are the side effects of nootropics?

It is important to note that many substances labeled as nootropics have the potential to cause significant negative side effects. For example, Adderall and Modafinil, commonly used smart drugs among students and high-performing individuals, have differing levels of harm associated with their usage. While Adderall is considered dangerous, Modafinil is considered to be somewhat safer.

Despite being popular as cognitive enhancers among the nootropics community, these stimulants carry a multitude of potential side effects such as anxiety, insomnia, nausea, twitching, and even the possibility of developing amphetamine psychosis with Adderall. Moreover, these drugs can lead to a dependence and tolerance with prolonged use, resulting in withdrawal symptoms.

However, there are many safe natural nootropics that can provide similar benefits without the risk of harmful side effects. Thus, it is advisable to avoid relying on these potentially dangerous drugs and opt for safer alternatives instead.

Historical nootropics

A Ginkgo trees lane
Exercise or meditate with nootropics - Ginkgo

Humans have been using herbs and various substances for medicinal purposes, altering the mind, and connecting to spirituality since ancient times. The origins of natural nootropics can be traced back prior to recorded human civilization.

The earliest evidence of nootropic use can be found in traditional Chinese herbalism, Ancient Egypt, and Greece. Our ancestors collected plants from their surroundings and utilized them in their traditional mind-altering practices.

One example from this era is the use of coca leaves, which were chewed and brewed by South Americans for energy and alertness. Kava drinks, used for mood and socialization, may be a factor in the laid-back lifestyle of Pacific islanders. Peyote, used for amplifying emotions during religious and communal ceremonies, has been utilized by native Americans for at least 5,500 years.

Ayurveda, the ancient science of life, is a comprehensive system of health care that includes its own nootropics, known as Medhya Rasayana, such as Bacopa Monnieri, Ashwagandha, Celastrus paniculatus (an intellectual herb), and more.

Other well-known herbs and substances from ancient times include green tea, Rhodiola, Eleuthero, Ginseng, Lion’s Mane, and Cat’s Claw. These botanicals, along with many others, may now be considered nootropic herbs for advanced brain function, and the modern extraction methods have further enhanced their potential and efficiency.

What are nootropics drugs?

Nootropics, also known as “smart drugs,” are substances that enhance cognitive performance. They are used to address a variety of health issues related to lack of focus or energy. While some people may use smart drugs illegally or with a prescription, they are not a healthy solution as they often have harmful effects on the heart and liver.

There are both regulated and unregulated nootropics, with some of the latter being regarded as pharmaceuticals and banned by athletic organizations. Nootropics are often sold online or in stores without a prescription in some countries, while they are prescription drugs in others.

Each culture has its own unique history of nootropic use, including both popular and prohibited substances. However, it’s important to be cautious when using any substance that affects brain chemistry, as it can potentially be harmful. It’s always recommended to consult a healthcare professional before using any nootropic.

nootropics market dynamics

The man jumping in the exercise
Exercise or meditate with nootropics

In 2022, the Nootropics market was categorized into several product types, with the following segments holding the largest market share:

  1. Attention and Focus: Nootropics designed to improve attention, concentration, and focus were a prominent segment in the market. These products aim to enhance cognitive abilities related to sustained attention and mental clarity.

  2. Memory Enhancement: Nootropics targeting memory enhancement were another significant segment. These products aim to improve memory function, including both short-term and long-term memory retention and recall.

  3. Mood and Depression: Nootropics catering to mood enhancement and addressing symptoms of depression were also a notable segment. These products aim to support emotional well-being, reduce stress, and improve mood regulation.

  4. Sleep and Anxiety: Nootropics focusing on sleep quality and anxiety reduction formed a substantial market segment. These products aim to promote restful sleep, alleviate anxiety symptoms, and enhance relaxation.

  5. Others: The “Others” category encompassed various additional product types that contributed to the Nootropics market. This category may include nootropics addressing specific cognitive functions, overall brain health, or unique formulations targeting specific consumer needs.

It’s important to note that market dynamics can evolve over time, and the segmentation and market share may have changed since 2022. For the most up-to-date information on market trends and specific product segments, it is recommended to refer to recent market research reports or consult industry experts in the field of nootropics and cognitive enhancement.

nootropics in the age to come

The global nootropics market is projected to reach USD 29.24 billion by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 15.0%. The market is driven by the increasing demand for brain boosters and smart drugs, particularly among students and professionals looking to enhance focus and memory. The COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed to the market’s growth, with consumers turning to brain-health boosting supplements and online sales of nootropics.

Organic nootropics with natural ingredients like Brahmi and turmeric are witnessing a surge in demand. However, challenges such as high costs, limited evidence of effectiveness, and potential adverse effects hinder market expansion. Despite this, increased investment in R&D, a growing adult population, and the rise in demand for brain boosters are expected to drive market growth.

Capsules/tablets are the most popular form of nootropics, and online distribution channels are gaining traction. North America leads the market, followed by the Asia Pacific region, which exhibits the highest growth rate. Key players like Onnit Labs and Reckitt Benckiser Group plc. are actively launching new products to meet the increasing demand and stay competitive.

Statista research
Dietary supplements users vs non-users - Source: Statista 2017

Nootropics by effects

Nootropics can be categorized based on their effects on memory, focus, stress and mood, sleep, energy, neuroprotection. These substances or supplements are used to enhance cognitive function and promote overall brain health.

Nootropics have been shown to have a positive effect on memory. These compounds work by improving the function between brain cells and the production of neurotransmitters, which are essential for the brain health.

Memory-enhancing nootropics, in particular, help to improve memory recall and retention. They do this by increasing blood flow to the brain, promoting neuroplasticity, and enhancing the production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is essential for memory formation.

Common memory-enhancing nootropics include piracetam, aniracetam, and oxiracetam. These compounds have been shown to improve memory recall and retention in both young and aging individuals. They may also help to reduce the symptoms of age-related cognitive decline, such as forgetfulness and confusion.

These nootropic compounds work by improving the communication between brain cells and increasing the production of neurotransmitters, which are essential for brain function.

Focus-enhancing nootropics, in particular, help to improve attention and concentration. They do this by increasing blood flow to the brain, promoting neuroplasticity, and enhancing the production of neurotransmitters that are involved in the process of attention and concentration.

Attention-enhancing nootropics also help to improve attention and mental clarity. They may do this by increasing the production of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, that are involved in the regulation of attention and mental alertness.

Common focus- and attention-enhancing nootropics include caffeine, modafinil, and phenylpiracetam. These compounds have been shown to improve attention, mental clarity, and productivity in both young and aging individuals. They may also help to reduce the symptoms of age-related cognitive decline, such as forgetfulness and confusion.

Some of nootropic compounds are being studied for their potential to support mood and reduce stress.

One of the most popular nootropics for mood and stress support is Ashwagandha, an herbal extract with a long history of use in traditional Indian medicine. It is believed to have adaptogenic properties, meaning that it can help the body to cope with stress. Studies have shown that Ashwagandha may help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as improve overall well-being and quality of life.

Another popular nootropic for mood support is Rhodiola Rosea, an herb that is commonly used to enhance mental and physical endurance. It is believed to help reduce feelings of stress and fatigue, as well as improve cognitive performance. Some studies have shown that Rhodiola may help to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improve overall mood.

There are also several amino acids that are considered to be potential nootropics for mood support, including L-Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea that is believed to help reduce anxiety and improve mood. Additionally, 5-HTP, a naturally occurring amino acid, is thought to help boost serotonin levels in the brain, which can help to improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression.

Nootropics are sometimes used to enhance energy levels and support mitochondrial health. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells and play a crucial role in generating energy in the body. Supporting mitochondrial health is important for maintaining overall energy levels, as well as preventing age-related decline and other forms of cellular damage.

One popular nootropic for energy and mitochondrial health is Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a nutrient that is found in high concentrations in the mitochondria. CoQ10 is important for the production of energy in cells and is believed to have antioxidant properties, which can help to protect against oxidative stress and other forms of cellular damage. Some studies have shown that CoQ10 supplementation may improve energy levels, physical endurance, and reduce symptoms of fatigue.

Another popular nootropic for energy and mitochondrial health is PQQ (Pyrroloquinoline quinone), a micronutrient that is believed to have energy-boosting properties. PQQ is thought to support mitochondrial health by promoting the growth of new mitochondria, which can help to increase energy levels and improve physical endurance. Some studies have also shown that PQQ may have neuroprotective effects and improve cognitive function.

Nicotinamide Riboside (NR) is another nootropic that may support energy and mitochondrial health. NR is a form of Vitamin B3 that is believed to support the production of energy in cells and improve mitochondrial function. Some studies have shown that NR supplementation may improve energy levels, physical endurance, and reduce symptoms of fatigue.

Nootropics are sometimes used to enhance various aspects of sleep, including duration, quality, and restfulness. While they may not necessarily be traditional sleep aids, they may help to improve sleep by reducing stress, anxiety, and other factors that can interfere with sleep.

One popular nootropic for sleep is Melatonin, a hormone naturally produced in the body that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin supplements are often used as a sleep aid, especially for individuals who have trouble falling or staying asleep. They are available over-the-counter and can help regulate the body’s internal clock to promote a healthy sleep-wake cycle.

Another nootropic that may help with sleep is L-Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea that is known for its calming effects. It may help to reduce stress, anxiety, and promote relaxation, which can be beneficial for sleep. Additionally, L-Theanine may also help to increase alpha brain waves, which are associated with a relaxed, but alert state, making it easier to fall asleep.

Valerian root, a natural extract, is also sometimes used as a nootropic for sleep. It is believed to have sedative and calming properties that can help to promote a restful night’s sleep. Some studies have shown that Valerian root may help to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, as well as improve the overall quality of sleep.

Nootropics are sometimes used for their potential to promote brain health and neuroprotection. Neuroprotection refers to the preservation and protection of the structure and function of the brain, which can help to prevent age-related cognitive decline, brain injuries, and other forms of brain damage.

One popular nootropic for neuroprotection is Bacopa Monnieri, an herbal extract that has been used for centuries in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. Bacopa is believed to enhance cognitive function and protect against age-related cognitive decline by promoting the growth of new brain cells and improving the transmission of nerve impulses.

Another popular nootropic for brain health is Phosphatidylserine (PS), a phospholipid that is found in high concentrations in the brain. PS is important for maintaining healthy brain function and is believed to have neuroprotective effects. Some studies have shown that PS supplementation may improve memory and cognitive function, and help to protect against age-related cognitive decline.

Blueberries are also sometimes used as a nootropic for brain health. Blueberries are high in antioxidants, which help to protect against oxidative stress and free radical damage, and are believed to have neuroprotective effects. Some studies have shown that blueberry consumption may help to improve memory and cognitive function, and protect against age-related cognitive decline.


The commercialization and increasing popularity of nootropics mark a significant shift in our collective fascination with cognitive enhancement. While their potential benefits and limitations continue to be explored, the responsible use and informed decision-making should always be at the forefront. 

Although nootropics are a new approach, it’s important to keep in mind that natural rules still apply. To maintain a healthy, productive mind, it’s necessary to have an attention span longer than that of a goldfish. Use nootropics responsibly to achieve that goal.

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