What Are Nootropics?

Nootropics have been making quite the statement in the wellness industry for their brain-boosting effects and ability to improve cognition to ward off inflammatory disease, like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Yet, are they legit? And who should be taking them? Here’s what the experts have to say.

Photo: My Fit Station

What are nootropics?

Nootropics are cognitive enhancing compounds that can be either natural or synthetic. All compounds within the nootropic category enhance (or purport to enhance) cognition in one form or another.

“This includes physical or mental reaction speed, verbal recall, short- or long-term memory, attention span, and energy,” says James Beshara, author of the new book Beyond Coffee: A Sustainable Guide to Nootropics, Adaptogens, and Mushrooms 

You can find most nootropics available as an extract or in pill form.

“Nootropics tend to focus on cognitive enhancement, which is why they are so popular with students and tech-professionals in Silicon Valley,” as well as people 65 and older who want to lower risk for brain disease with age, says Dr. Nikola Djordjevic MD, co-founder of LoudCloudHealth.com.

What types of nootropics are there?

There are two main types you’ll see. 


Known as a type of “brain hack” drug, Modafinil increases alertness, reaction time and memory.

“What’s interesting is that it boosts your mental performance and can improve your mood as well,” says Djordjevic. Yet, similar to other stimulants, it can cause anxiety, insomnia, and nausea, and headaches. So, if you get any adverse reactions, don’t keep taking them.

“However, there is not enough evidence to suggest that the long-term use of Modafinil has negative side-effects. Currently, it’s been approved by the FDA and available by prescription,” she continues.


“Psilocybin is one of the newer nootropics on the market, and it’s extracted from psilocybin mushrooms. Studies have shown that a ‘micro-dose’ of 300mg or less can help fight anxiety, depression and improve mental function,” says Djordjevic.

Psilocybin is still being researched.

“Like Modafinil, it’s become popular with students and in the tech-circles, especially with software programmers in Silicon Valley. Similar to other nootropics, Psilocybin still needs to clear many FDA hurdles before becoming available as a prescription drug on the market, though,” Djordjevic says.

What are the components of nootropics?

Here are a few things you might see in nootropics that lead to benefits. 

Caffeine: The most popular nootropic in the world, this natural substance is found in coffee, cocoa, kola nuts, and guarana.

“Caffeine works by blocking adensine receptors in the brain, thereby making you feel less tired,” says Trent Jensen, owner of MBi Nutraceuticals. Doses are typically 40-300mg of caffeine in nootropic supplements.  

L-Theanie: This also occurs in nature and is found in tea beverages.

“This amino acid has recently gained popularity in nootropics for its ability to help calm the mind and improve creativity,” says Jensen. It has proven most effective when taken simultaneously with caffeine. Doses are typically found in the 50mg-200mg range.  

Creatine: Another amino acid that has been shown to improve cognitive function and is growing in popularity in the nootropic space, it improves short-term memory function and decision making, says Jensen.

“Patients who are vegetarian/vegan have shown the most improvement in these areas as this nutrient is more widely available in foods from animal sources,” he says. Doses are in the 1g-5g range.

Bacopa Monnieri and Rhodiola Rosea: Two herbal supplements that have grown in popularity in the nootropic supplement arena, Bacopa has been shown to improve memory and critical thinking while Rhodiola has shown efficacy in reducing mental fatigue, especially in times of high stress, says Jensen. 

Should you take nootropics?

Sure—you might as well try them out, providing that you’ve cleared it with your doctor first. However, “there are still grey areas in terms of actual benefits and negative long-term effects,” says Djordjevic. Luckily, there is a lot of research underway as we head into 2020—so stay tuned!

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About Isadora Baum

Isadora Baum is a freelance writer, author, and certified health coach. She writes for various magazines, such as Cooking Light, SHAPE, Men's Health, Women's Health, Health, Prevention, POPSUGAR, Runner's World, Bustle, and more. She is also the author of the book "5-Minute Energy." She can't resist a good sample, a killer margarita, a new HIIT class, or an easy laugh. Beyond magazines, she helps grow businesses through blogging and content marketing strategy.