Beginner’s Nootropics Guide

What are Nootropics?

Nootropics are substances which can enhance brain function. You may also hear them referred to as ‘brain pills’, ‘smart drugs’, or ‘cognitive enhancers’.

Why take Nootropics?

People are constantly under pressure to perform, whether its in their work, their studies or their home life. Nootropics can help people to become more motivated, productive and relaxed, enabling them to optimise their performance and reach their potential.

How do Nootropics work?

Nootropics work in various ways depending on the individual ingredient. Some examples of their mechanisms include:

  • Increasing blood flow to the brain.
  • Boosting and inhibiting production certain brain chemicals and hormones.
  • Increasing availability of neurotransmitters.
  • Enhancing metabolism

Natural or Synthetic Nootropics?

The key to cognitive enhancement can come in the form of a plant extract or a chemical compound synthesized in a lab. But which one should you choose?

Those who are new to nootropics may want to start with natural ingredients, as they appear safer and less intimidating.

However, others may worry that natural ingredients are unable to provide the benefits they really need. Synthetic ones may be more potent and effective, since they have been produced in a lab specifically for brain-boosting purposes.

A combination of both types is recommended to get the best results. Below is a list of some of the most commonly-used and most effective nootropics available, with details about their benefits and how they work.

Natural Nootropics

Caffeine is the most widely-used stimulant in the world, with around 90% of the population consuming it on a regular basis, whether it’s through coffee, tea, energy drinks, soft drinks or chocolate.

However, supplementation is a great way to experience its benefits without all the added sugar. It’s known for increasing alertness, although it’s possible to build up a tolerance with regular use, and there are some negative side effects.

They can be negated when stacked with some other ingredients, although there are better alternatives out there.

L-Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea with many proven benefits. It has been shown to improve quality of sleep in those with attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorders, reduce anxiety and improve the body’s psychological and physical response to stress.

Studies have also shown that L-Theanine improves focus and cognitive performance when taken with caffeine, which is why a combination of the two is one of the most commonly-used stacks.

Bacopa Monnieri
Bacopa Monnieri is a plant extract often used in Ayurveda which improves cognition, learning speed and memory by nourishing neurons and improving communication between them.

Gingko Biloba
Extracted from the seed of the gingko tree, this ingredient has long been used to enhance memory and cognitive function. It works by increasing blood flow to the brain, but also has neuroprotective properties, as it’s an antioxidant.

Ashwagandha, also known as ‘Indian Ginseng’, is an Ayuervedic herb. Historically, it was used as a tonic and aphrodisiac and believed to give the power of a horse, but it’s now widely used to combat anxiety and stress. It’s also used in the treatment of neurodegenetarive diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and Alzheimer’s due to its ability to slow and even stop the atrophy of neurons and synapses.

St. John’s Wort
Also known as Hypericum Perforatum, this herbal extract is commonly-used as an alternative anti-depressant due to its effects on dopamine and seratonin levels. However, it has not been strictly proven to be an effective treatment for depression, and more research is required into its side effects.

There are concerns about the safety of St John’s Wort as it’s known to interact adversely with other medication. It’s recommended to use caution and consult a doctor before taking it.

This cognitive enhancer is found in a plant called Chinese Club Moss or Huperzia Serrata. It improves memory and fights cognitive decline by protecting acetylcholine from being broken down by acetylcholinesterase.

Should be avoided by pregnant and nursing mothers due to the lack of research on its safety in this case. It should also not be used by those with heart conditions due to its ability to slow the heart rate.

Synthetic Nootropics

This is a widely-known drug due to its prescription for the treatment of attention-deficit disorders. It provides alertness, energy and concentration to improve memory and learning.

This happens due to and increase in the availability of neurotransmitters (namely dopamine and norepinephrine) to stimulate the central nervous system.

While Adderall has been prescribed for ADHD sufferers for many years, it’s not recommended as a nootropic because of its side effects and addictive potential.

This compound optimises brain function by increasing learning and memory, and has been used in the treatment of both Alzheimer’s and Dyslexia for this reason. It works by increasing the effects of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter and vital brain chemical.

The real name of this nootropic is N-Phenylacetyl-L-Prolyglycine Ethyl Ester, but of course the brand name, Noopept, is much easier to remember. It provides effects similar to those given by Piracetam, with an added neuroprotective element to boost long-term brain health.

If you’re looking a nootropic, you’re in for a treat as it’s probably the most effective one out here.

Choline Bitartrate
Choline sources are commonplace in nootropic supplements due to Choline’s importance for brain function and development, but Choline Bitatrate is the one you’re likely to come across the most. It boosts memory and cognition by increasing levels of acetylcholine.

Choline Bitartate is better when stacked with other nootropics rather than taken alone due to its lower effectiveness in crossing the blood-brain barrier on its own.

Phosphatidylserine occurs naturally in the brain, but the form used for supplementation is synthesised from soy-lecithin. It improves memory function, thinking skills and cognition, and is therefore used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.

How do Nootropics make you feel?

The effects of nootropics will vary, depending on the individual ingredients, their dosages, and the way they work with each other. It’s also important to remember that each individual’s brain chemistry is different and therefore response may vary from person to person. Always research before buying and be cautious of side effects and interactions with existing medical conditions.

What to watch out for

New nootropic supplements are appearing on the market all the time, especially since their surge in popularity after the release of the Limitless movie. Unfortunately, some exist just to take advantage of that popularity and are little more than placebos. It can be hard to tell which ones are the real deal and which ones are marketing scams, but to help you see the difference, here are some key questions to ask before buying any nootropic:

  • Is it manufactured in a GMP-certified facility?

GMP is a system used to ensure consistent quality control of manufacturing processes. Look for the GMP logo before buying from any nootropics website.

  • Are the ingredients FDA-approved?

The Food and Drug Administration tests and approves substances for medicinal use, and bans ones that pose health risks. Substances not approved and regulated by the FDA may be dangerous.

  • Does the manufacturer provide all of the ingredient details or just use a proprietary blend?

Proprietary blends are a clever way of not disclosing the entire formula. When using these, manufacturers will show some of the ingredients and the total amount of them combined, but not their individual dosages. This makes it impossible to gauge how effective the pill can actually be.

  • Are there any unnecessary ingredients?

Some supplements use fillers to bulk out their products instead of quality ingredients. This is just a money-saving tactic which the user will end up paying for. It also means the formula will be less potent and therefore less effective.

  • Is there a money-back guarantee?

Any reputable and reliable supplement retailer will provide a guarantee so that customers who aren’t satisfied with their results can claim a refund. Absence of this is cause for concern.

  • How many times will your credit card be charged?

Some retailers sell via a subscription service, which means that the first purchase automatically signs the customer up for another one later, perhaps the following month. This will continue until you cancel your subscription. Some websites are sneaky about it and make it easy to miss, just putting it in the fine print. Be vigilant and read everything to make sure to avoid credit card stings.


‘Stacking’ is a term used to describe the combination of two or more nootropic supplements. It is highly recommended, especially for beginners to nootropics, to use pre-stacked blends rather than individual ingredients.

Weighing and mixing various powders is not only laborious and time consuming, but also dangerous. In many cases, the difference between a medicine and a poison is simply the dosage, and taking individual ingredients in this way can pose harmful risks.

Instead, buy a stack which has all of the necessary ingredients put into one simple formula that you can take together, without any of the fuss.

Where to buy Nootropics

Nooshift, Nitrovit and CILTEP are some of the most popular stacks available and make good starting points for first-time nootropics users, but there are lots more options out there. Research thoroughly before buying to find what’s best for you.

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