Many deep thinkers, CEOs and people of mastery are taking nootropics, commonly known as smart drugs, for increased brain function.
(This is your ability to learn, focus, remember things, and solve complex problems)
From Joe Rogan to Tim Ferriss, smart drugs were being talked about years ago before recently hitting mainstream.
Nootropics work, but you got to be careful.
Since nootropics are such a hot topic right now, it can be hard to separate what’s legit and what’s whack.
Our research team looked at the scientific research in-depth to find the best nootropics on the market right now.
1. Mind Lab Pro
Mind Lab Pro is one of the most exciting nootropics out on the market right now. It is not just a single nootropic; it is a nootropic stack, a combination of 11 evidence-backed nootropics that are all known to work synergistically (they help improve each other).
Mind Lab Pro promises to help boost energy metabolism, which can help you think quicker, react to situations faster, and avoid brain fog during periods of physical or mental fatigue.
Nootrogen is a powerful, research-backed, nootropic designed to optimize your cognitive function. It has been shown to improve memory, increase focus, and lower stress.
It achieves this with three powerful main ingredients:
- Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE) to increase the blood supply to your brain
- Glutamic Acid to naturally increase your focus
- Acetylcholine to increase reaction time and attention
It backs this trio up with a medley of great vitamins and minerals that increase mental function and support brain health, such as magnesium, vitamin B3, bacopa extract, and more.
Nootrogen is a fantastic choice for anyone looking to give their brain a boost.
3. Performance Lab Mind
Performance Lab Mind is a cognitive enhancer that also acts to support brain health and enhance mental recovery from fatigue and stress. It does this by boosting blood flow to the brain, increasing brain energy, helping you to focus more and think clearer during stressful moments, and improving your ability to learn.
There are four main ingredients contained within Mind: Citicoline, Phosphatidylserine, N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine (NALT), and Maritime Pine Bark Extract. These offer a solid nootropic foundation which works very well either on its own or in combination with other supplements – such as the multivitamin, Energy or Sleep – in the Performance Lab range.
4. Alpha Brain
The widely-known nootropic supplement from Onnit, made famous in part thanks to Joe Rogan’s ringing endorsement, fares well thanks to the strong results from a clinical trial conducted at the Boston Center for Memory and published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal in 2016 (1).
Alpha Brain’s blend of supplements seems particularly effective at boosting verbal skills, so it’s great if you need to read or write a lot.
NeuroIgnite contains high doses of several powerful nootropic supplements, and moreover, the label actually tells you how much of each extract is in the supplement, unlike other companies who hide the specifics of their blend under the veil of a “proprietary blend.”
The heavy hitters in this blend are bacopa monnieri, DMAE, and ginkgo biloba, all heavily-researched supplements with evidence for nootropic effects.
Zhou Nutrition’s Neuro-Peak is an immensely popular nootropic supplement that includes a massive dose of vitamin B12 and a slew of herbal extracts. Rhodiola rosea extract is one of the distinguishing factors in Neuro-Peak; this herbal extract appears to be effective at staving off mental fatigue.
Because of this, Neuro-Peak is a good choice if you’re faced with a long stretch of continuous, mentally challenging work to do.
7. Neura Spark
Neura Spark goes heavy on the and ginkgo biloba, but includes some of the newer nootropic supplements like vinpocetine, bacopa monnieri, and huperzine-A as well.
It’s a well-balanced, stimulant-free nootropic that’s well-suited for boosting your performance at any cognitively challenging task.
Ciltep by Natural Stacks is a little unusual–it doesn’t follow the lead of the more popular nootropic supplements. It chooses to include unconventional nootropic compounds like artichoke extract and forskolin extract (better known for its use as a weight loss supplement).
As you might guess, there’s far less research on the cognitive enhancement properties of these supplements, but if normal nootropics aren’t doing it for you, Ciltep might be worth a shot.
TruBrain focuses on delivering amino acids, plus the tried and true caffeine (only 100 mg per shot) and magnesium to achieve its nootropic effects. This approach is more about providing your brain with the natural building blocks it needs to function properly, versus trying to boost its function above its natural level. If you want more of a tune up than an upgrade, TruBrain is a good choice.
Neovicta’s Clarity supplement is firmly in the “kitchen sink” camp, which is to say that it includes just about everything that might affect cognitive function. It’s got vitamins, minerals, supplements, extracts, and synthetic compounds.
This betrays a lack of an overarching strategy when it comes to boosting cognitive function, but if you just want to cover your bases, it’s not a bad choice.
11. Brain Boost
Brain Boost is essentially a multivitamin along with several herbal extracts that affect biological processes related to cognitive function. Its purpose to to make sure your body is fueled up with the right micronutrients and biological precursors to function at its best.
Unfortunately, because its nootropic ingredients are part of a “proprietary blend,” it’s impossible to see how much of each ingredient is present in the supplement.
Who should buy nootropics?
Nootropics are great for boosting cognitive abilities, especially in trying circumstances.
There are plenty of supplements out there that are thought to help sustain your cognitive abilities, ranging from acute agents like caffeine pills to long-term strategies to preserve cognitive function as you get older, like fish oil. But with nootropics, the strategy isn’t just to maintain cognitive ability—it’s to enhance it.
As a result, nootropics are popular among students, consultants, start-up employees, writers, creative types, and other people who need their brain functioning at a high level.
Different nootropic compounds enhance different types of cognitive tasks. If you are studying for an exam, for example, you likely want something that enhances memory.
On the other hand, if you are working through a complex product visualization as an engineer, you want something that fires up your visual/spatial functioning.
Nootropics are a relatively new category of supplement, and as such, they’ve mostly been adopted by people who are in cognitively demanding tasks.
Paradoxically, much of the research (though not all) on individual ingredients in nootropic formulations is done on older adults, with motivations towards preserving cognitive function in older adults.
As such, individual ingredients like bacopa monnieri might be better suited for older adults who want to preserve cognitive function, while nootropic blends are better suited for people who want to tune up their brain for maximum cognitive abilities.
How we ranked
To formulate our nootropic rankings, we first pooled all of the supplements on the market that use a multi-ingredient strategy to improve cognitive function. We didn’t focus on formulations that used only a single ingredient, as we have separate rankings pages and research articles for specific compounds like bacopa, St. John’s Wort, or ginkgo biloba.
We also immediately scrapped anything that relied mostly on caffeine for its cognitive benefits. While caffeine is indeed a potent nootropic (hence the ubiquity of coffee at any serious workplace), you don’t want to bother with a fancy nootropic if the only or primary benefit is going to be from plain old caffeine.
Since nootropics are specifically geared towards tuning up cognitive abilities, we used whatever research was available to evaluate the potential cognitive ergogenic effect of either the supplement as a whole, or the combination of the different ingredients.
Some supplements, such as Alpha Brain, had actual research conducted on the precise formulation used in the supplement that supported its efficacy.
More often, though, only some of the ingredients used in a product had scientific research backing their use. In this case, we sifted through products to seek out combinations of ingredients that had complementary effects on cognitive ability. For example, we strove to find ingredient combinations that spanned multiple domains of cognitive function from memory and recall to verbal reasoning and spatial ability.
If a supplement didn’t have any ingredients with solid scientific evidence, we dropped it from further consideration.
After narrowing the field only to those supplements with high-quality ingredient combinations, we applied our usual criteria for purity and clean supplement design.
This meant that products with excessive binders, fillers, or coloring agents got dropped, and supplements that were functional but minimal were rewarded. At last, we had our final rankings of the best nootropic supplements available on the market right now.
Nootropics are supplements that are designed to boost cognitive function. That is, they enhance your brain’s ability to learn, remember, and solve problems.
Though they are extremely popular among students, nootropics have a much broader appeal. Just about anybody in a complex job wants the ability to work faster and more effectively, and people who are getting older like the appeal of staving off brain fog and some of the cognitive decline that comes along with aging.
When a supplement claims to impact cognitive function, it’s a fairly easy claim to test. Unlike other supplements that claim to boost “well-being” or “promote a healthy immune system,” testing cognitive function is straightforward: you get a group of subjects, give them the supplement in question or a placebo, then subject them to a battery of psychometric tests to assess their cognitive function.
There are a variety of types of these kinds of tests, and different supplements seem to affect different aspects of cognitive function. Some seem to boost memory, while others influence verbal abilities or help reduce mental fatigue (the diminishing of cognitive performance after long, challenging efforts).
A good case study in how testing nootropics work can be observed in the 2016 study that validated the effects of Alpha Brain (2). Researchers split a group of volunteers into two groups, one of which was given Alpha Brain, and the other of which was given a placebo supplement. Both groups were tested for their cognitive abilities at the outset of the study, then took their assigned supplement for six weeks before being tested again.
The psychometric battery of tests used in the study included visual, spatial, logical, and verbal reasoning and memory. The results showed no improvement in most metrics, but a statistically significant increase in verbal memory.
Other supplements have been studied on an individual level to identify potential nootropic benefits. As you might guess, the most popular ingredients among the top-ranked nootropic supplements are also among the best-studied and most effective.
Bacopa monnieri, for example, is an herbal extract that’s been demonstrated to have specific cognitive enhancing effects. A 2001 study in the scientific journal Psychopharmacology conducted a similar protocol to the Alpha Brain study–a group of healthy adult subjects were given a 300 mg dose of bacopa monnieri extract or a placebo for twelve weeks, and were subjected to a battery of cognitive tests before and after the supplementation period (3).
In this case, the researchers found that the bacopa supplement increased the speed of visual information processing, learning rate, and memory consolidation.
Ginkgo biloba and vinpocetine looks to be an effective supplement when it comes to speeding up your short-term working memory.
A study published in the journal Human Psychopharmacology used a similar placebo-controlled experiment to study the effects of a combination of ginkgo biloba and vinpocetine on cognitive function, and found that the supplement combination increased the speed at which your working memory functions after being taken for two weeks (4).
When looking at nootropic supplements, you’ll have to think specifically about what kind of cognitive enhancement you are looking for. When working on a major writing project, or attempting to work through a lot of reading material, taking something like Alpha Brain that increases verbal memory is could be very helpful.
On the other hand, something that improves visual information processing and learning rate, like bacopa monnieri extract, would likely speed your ability to learn math flash cards or process on-screen visual information.
If you were doing data entry, you might want something to improve short-term working memory, like ginkgo biloba and vinpocetine.
It’s clear that taking the time to analyze the specific cognitive demands of the task in question will help immensely when you are deciding what the ideal nootropic supplement is for you.
Other nootropic supplements were studied initially to help with cognitive decline and dementia in the elderly, but have been hypothesized to be effective as well in healthy people.
One example of cognitive protection effects from a nootropic is the herbal supplement huperzine-A. Early research found that it had a strong anti-dementia effect. A 1999 experiment described using a huperzine-A supplement to reverse natural dementia in elderly monkeys, as well as reversing chemically-induced cognitive decline in young monkeys (5).
Research into whether it can be used to actually boost cognitive performance in healthy humans is still lacking, but this hasn’t stopped people from betting that it will.
An entirely different strategy in nootropics is simply providing your brain with extra “building blocks” to use in the process of synthesizing neurotransmitters, which are chemicals your brain uses to think. Many nootropics simply provide high doses of the amino acids that are associated with cognitive function.
These are less well-studied, perhaps because simply keeping your brain’s amino acid reserved topped off isn’t as exciting as artificially enhancing its performance, but it’s nevertheless a strategically sound approach.
Nootropic supplements with ashwagandha could enhance memory. Ashwagandha is a plant native to India that has a long history in traditional medicine, but has become popular recently for increasing energy and endurance.
Modern scientific research suggests that biologically active compounds in ashwagandha could enhance cognitive performance and also reverse some of the neurodegeneration that occurs in the brain as a result of aging.
A review article published in 2016 in the journal Neurochemistry International cited a host of recent scientific experiments that attest to the beneficial neurological effects of ashwagandha, including studies that demonstrate a potential for ashwagandha to enhance memory (6).
This memory-enhancing effect suggests that ashwagandha could be a useful ingredient as a part of a nootropic formulation, especially in combination with ingredients that improved verbal reasoning.
Polyphenols in green tea and green tea extract could improve multiple domains of memory at once. Green tea and green tea extract are well-known for their antioxidant abilities and their potential to act as weight loss promoting agents, but some compounds in green tea and its extract also show the potential to act as broad-spectrum nootropics.
A scientific review article published in 2018 in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism reviewed the current state of supplements to enhance cognitive performance, and concluded that many lack sufficient evidence (7).
However, it noted that evidence indicates that the polyphenols that are found in green tea can have the ability to protect neurons against injury and inflammation, but more importantly, appear to promote learning, memory, and cognitive function all at the same time.
While other nootropic compounds appear to be more focused on specific areas of cognitive function, polyphenols from green tea and its extracts appear to be a versatile option for many different applications.
This means that green tea extract could be a good ingredient for pretty much any nootropic application, which is great given its crossover capabilities as a fat burning and antioxidant supplement.
Since nootropic supplements are so new, their side effect profile is not well-studied. So far, there have been no major adverse side effects reported that are associated with the ingredients used in the best and most popular nootropic supplements.
In this regard they appear to have a safer safety profile than other categories of multi-ingredient supplements, like weight loss supplements.
The one caveat to this applies to nootropic supplements that contain caffeine. While caffeine is one of the best-studied and most effective cognitive enhancement supplements (as every coffee addict knows), it can cause side effects like jitters and nausea in people who are sensitive to it.
Further, taking it at night is a bad idea, thanks to caffeine’s ability to act as a stimulant–unless, of course, you are trying to stay up all night. There’s nothing wrong with caffeine in a nootropic supplement, but make sure you know how many milligrams each serving contains.
Only a small number of nootropics have established effective doses, and these are mostly derived from the dosages chosen in scientific studies that examined the supplement in question.
Bacopa monnieri, for example, appears to be effective at doses of 300 mg, and ginkgo biloba extract can be effective at doses as low as 40 mg.
Vinpocetine seems to require doses of 30 to 60 mg, but this comes from scientific literature using it to study cognitive decline and dementia in the elderly, so it’s not clear if boosting brain function in healthy people can be accomplished with a lower dose.
DMAE’s studied dosage range is typically about 100 mg, but this seems to come from studies looking at its use to induce lucid dreaming!
Clearly, more work is needed to establish optimal doses for nootropic supplements, but looking for dosages close to these guidelines is at least a good place to start.
Q: What is the most effective nootropic?
A: Effectiveness of a nootropic is hard to evaluate, because there are many different ways to measure cognitive function. Little research has compared different nootropics head to head, which makes comparisons even more difficult.
We do know a few things, though: if you want to improve reaction time and cognitive performance while sleep-deprived, caffeine is the way to go. If you want long-term neuroprotective effects along with short term cognitive enhancement, green tea extract and fish oil appear to be effective ways to achieve that goal.
In contrast, if your goal is visual information procession, bacopa monnieri is a superior nootropic. Barring future research that pits different ingredients or different formulations against each other head to head, relative comparisons like this across different domains of cognitive function are the best that you can do.
Q: What is the definition of a nootropic?
A: The definition of a nootropic is any supplemental or pharmaceutical compound that increases cognitive functioning. “Cognitive function” is a pretty broad category, so nootropics can range in their effects from the creativity-increasing effects of Provigil (modafinil) to systemic increases in central nervous system activity generated by caffeine to improvements in the processing of visual information, which can be achieved using bacopa monnieri.
With so many ways to define what constitutes better brain functioning, it should not be surprising that there is a crowd of different compounds that could be useful as nootropic ingredients, depending on your goals.
Q: Are nootropics safe?
A: Safety of nootropics as a broad category of supplements is hard to assess. So far, most nootropics do not appear to generate some of the side effects seen in some other categories of supplements, like weight loss pills, but any time you have multiple ingredients from a wide range of sources, there is some risk of side effects.
No case studies have emerged detailing any serious health problems linked to nootropic supplementation, but that does not mean it isn’t possible. To be as safe as possible, it’s wise to investigate the benefits and side effects of each of the ingredients in any nootropic supplement that you take.
Q: Are nootropics addictive?
A: No reports have surfaced regarding nootropics displaying addictive properties–at least, not the kind of nootropics you’ll find in most over the counter supplements.
Oddly, the nootropics that are known to be addictive are also the most common and well-known. Nicotine is thought to be a mild nootropic, which accounts for its popularity among writers and artists. Of course, the addictive properties of nicotine are well-known.
Caffeine is also addictive, in that rapid reductions in intake can produce caffeine withdrawal, which can cause a headache, fatigue, and anxiety. Aside from these examples, there aren’t any herbal extracts used as nootropics that are known to be addictive.
Q: What nootropic is most like adderall?
A: Adderall is a stimulant (technically, it’s an amphetamine), so it functionally works as if it is overclocking your brain. Adderall is an oft-used and oft-abused pharmaceutical, but ironically, the nootropic compound that’s most similar to adderall is also one that’s the most common: caffeine.
Caffeine, whether in the form of caffeine pills, a cup of coffee, or an energy drink, acts as a fairly potent stimulant. It has broad-spectrum effects on your central nervous system, and as such is used for everything from enhancing athletic performance to improving attentiveness, memory, and concentration.
While other nootropics have more sophisticated effects, like enhancing verbal reasoning or executive function, caffeine, like adderall, is a blunt and broad-spectrum tool—though not the right tool for every job.
Q: What are some natural nootropics?
A: Some of the best natural nootropics include green tea extract, bacopa monnieri, and ashwagandha. These are all plant extracts, and have multiple studies that support their cognitive enhancement abilities.
While there’s an argument to be made that caffeine is one of the simplest and most reliable “natural” nootropics, fans of nootropic supplementation are generally looking for something beyond what you can get in a cup of coffee.
That’s why you’ll see nootropic enthusiasts choosing compounds like guarana for caffeine-like effects with a little more natural bent to the effects.
If staying within the confines of natural plant extracts doesn’t matter much to you, you can check out some of the more exotic nootropic agents like 5-HTP or acetylcholine—these compounds are copies of neurotransmitters that function in your brain, and might offer benefits beyond what you could get from natural ingredients alone.
Q: What do nootropics do?
A: A nootropic is supposed to enhance your cognitive abilities. The functional side of how this works can come from many different pathways, but essentially all of them have to do with improving your brain’s ability to process neuronal information.
Some supplements based on amino acids deliver nutrients to the brain directly; others, like caffeine, up-regulate the central nervous system across the board.
Some of the more cutting edge nootropics, such as those found in medicinal mushrooms, appear to enhance cognitive abilities but the precise mechanism is not yet known.
Reducing inflammation appears to play a role in the function of some nootropics, given the neuroprotective and neuro-enhancement effects seen in well-known anti-inflammatory supplements like green tea extract and fish oil.
Beyond these examples, relatively little is known about how nootropics achieve their effects, partially as a result of how new the research on nootropics is.
Q: What are nootropics made of?
A: Nootropic supplements are always a blend of many different ingredients, which themselves may have one or more chemical constituents.
For example, a nootropic supplement might use acetylcholine, which is a single molecule, alongside ashwagandha, which is an herbal extract with dozens or even hundreds of different, unique molecular compounds within the extract.
So, getting to the bottom of what’s in a nootropic can be tricky, because even looking at the ingredients list of a supplement won’t tell you the whole story.
A single ingredient, such as a plant or mushroom extract, could have many different ingredients. This is one of the reasons why our research team prioritized supplements with research on the whole formulation, versus individual ingredients by themselves: you don’t always know which compounds or molecules are going to interact to enhance or inhibit each others’ effects.
Nootropics are a new field of supplementation, but there is fairly strong evidence emerging that a number of different supplements can positively affect your cognitive functioning.
Each seems to serve a slightly different purpose, so think about the cognitive demands in your life before you choose a nootropic supplement. Once you know the kinds of problems you want to solve, make sure your supplement of choice has dosages of the major nootropic compounds you want that are at least close to the range studied in the scientific literature.
When done with care, nootropics appear to be a safe and effective way to increase your brain power and help you work faster, smarter, and more effectively.
For BodyNutrition‘s #1 nootropics recommendation, click here.