Are Nootropics Banned by the NCAA?

Updated on January 28, 2024
 by — reviewed by Jason Williams, PhD (Contributor: George Collins / Editor: Yoko Hill)
Insight into the NCAA's stance on nootropics and their impact on athlete performance.

Are nootropics banned by the NCAA?

Nootropics, also known as smart drugs or cognitive enhancers, have gained popularity as individuals seek ways to enhance their mental performance. These substances provide benefits such as increased focus, improved memory, and improved cognitive abilities.

However, when it comes to collegiate sports in the United States, the use of certain substances is strictly regulated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The NCAA is responsible for upholding fair play, protecting the health and well-being of athletes, and maintaining a level playing field. Therefore, it is important to understand whether nootropics fall under the list of banned substances according to NCAA regulations.

In this article, we will explore whether nootropics are on the list of banned substances by the NCAA, so you can make informed decisions on your wellness journey. 

Understanding Nootropics and Their Uses

Nootropics, also known as cognitive enhancers, smart drugs, brain boosters, or memory enhancers, are substances or supplements that claim to improve cognitive functions such as memory, focus, creativity, and mental clarity. They are often used by individuals looking to enhance their cognitive performance, including students, professionals, and athletes.

Commonly used nootropics include substances like the following:

These substances, some of them natural nootropics, are believed to have various mechanisms of action that enhance brain function and mental performance.

Many people wonder whether the use of nootropics is allowed in competitive sports, particularly in collegiate athletics. In the case of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), their policies on performance-enhancing substances will shed light on the use of nootropics by student-athletes.

NCAA’s Stance on Performance-Enhancing Substances

The NCAA has a strict anti-doping policy in place to ensure fair competition among student-athletes. Their policy aims to maintain a level playing field by prohibiting the use of substances that may offer an unfair advantage or pose health risks.

The NCAA conducts drug testing on student-athletes, targeting banned substances that can enhance performance or have potentially harmful effects. The organization maintains a comprehensive banned substances list, which includes categories such as anabolic agents, stimulants, hormones, and metabolic modulators.

While the NCAA’s banned substances list covers a wide range of performance-enhancing substances, it does not specifically address nootropics. However, it is important to note that some nootropics may fall under the categories of stimulants or other prohibited substances on the NCAA’s list.

The NCAA’s anti-doping policy prohibits the use of substances that are potentially performance-enhancing or pose health risks. Therefore, even if a specific nootropic is not explicitly mentioned on the banned substances list, its use may still be considered a violation if it falls under a prohibited category or offers an unfair advantage.

It is crucial for student-athletes to be aware of the NCAA’s policy on performance-enhancing substances and consult with their team’s athletic trainers or medical professionals before considering the use of nootropics or any other supplements.

As the field of nootropics continues to evolve and scientific research advances, it is possible that the NCAA’s policies may be updated to address certain substances or categories of cognitive enhancers. Student-athletes should stay updated with the NCAA’s guidelines and any changes to the banned substances list to ensure compliance and protect their eligibility.

Overall, while the NCAA’s policies do not explicitly mention nootropics, their use by student-athletes should be approached with caution due to the organization’s broad prohibition of performance-enhancing substances. Student-athletes should prioritize their health and adhere to the NCAA’s anti-doping policy to maintain fair competition and preserve their eligibility.

NCAA’s Banned Substances List

The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) has strict regulations in place to ensure a level playing field for college athletes. These regulations include a comprehensive list of banned substances that athletes are prohibited from using. The NCAA’s banned substances list is regularly updated to stay abreast of the latest scientific advancements and to address emerging concerns in the world of sports.

The banned substances list encompasses a wide range of substances, including stimulants, anabolic agents, diuretics, and masking agents. Stimulants are substances that increase alertness, attention, and energy and can potentially enhance performance. Anabolic agents are substances that promote muscle growth and increase strength.

Diuretics are substances that increase urine production and can be used to mask the presence of other banned substances. Masking agents are substances that interfere with the detection of banned substances in drug tests.

Are Nootropics Banned by the NCAA?

While nootropics are not specifically mentioned on the NCAA’s banned substances list, it is important to note that the list is not exhaustive. The NCAA’s banned substances list serves as a guideline, and the regulations are designed to encompass a broad range of substances that could potentially enhance athletic performance.

According to the NCAA’s definition of banned substances, any substance that meets two of the following criteria can be considered a performance-enhancing drug and therefore banned:

  1. The substance has the potential to enhance or enhance actual sport performance.
  2. The substance has the potential to pose a health risk to student-athletes.
  3. The substance is being used with the intention of improving performance or to gain a competitive advantage.

While not all nootropics fall under the traditional categories of banned substances such as stimulants or anabolic agents, their potential to enhance cognitive function and energy could be viewed as an advantage in certain sports.

For example, nootropics such as Caffeine and Modafinil are banned due to their stimulant qualities. Additionally, medications like Adderall that include amphetamines are also banned.

It is worth noting that the NCAA’s regulations on banned substances could differ from other athletic organizations, such as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) or professional sports leagues. Different organizations may have varying policies and regulations regarding the use of nootropics and other substances.

While nootropics may not be explicitly listed on the NCAA’s banned substances list, it is essential for college athletes to exercise caution when considering the use of any substances that could potentially enhance cognitive function or athletic performance.

Nootropics and NCAA Compliance

As the popularity of nootropics continues to rise, many individuals, including student-athletes, may wonder if these cognitive-enhancing substances are allowed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The NCAA has strict guidelines regarding the use of substances, including banned substances, and it is important for student-athletes to understand the rules and regulations surrounding the use of nootropics.

The NCAA bans certain drug classes, including stimulants and anabolic agents. However, the use of nootropics is not explicitly addressed in the NCAA’s list of banned substances. This can lead to some confusion and uncertainty for student-athletes who are considering using these substances.

It is important to note that while nootropics themselves may not be explicitly banned by the NCAA, the organization has a comprehensive policy on drug use and requires schools to provide drug education to all student-athletes.

Points to consider regarding nootropics and NCAA compliance:

  1. Drug Education: According to NCAA guidelines, schools are required to provide drug education to all student-athletes. This includes educating them about the list of banned-drug classes and products that might contain banned substances.
  2. Nutritional/Dietary Supplements: The NCAA advises student-athletes to exercise caution when consuming nutritional/dietary supplement products. These supplements are not well regulated, and some may contain banned substances not listed on the label. Student-athletes have tested positive and lost their eligibility because of the use of contaminated supplements.
  3. Banned-Drug Classes: While the NCAA does not provide a complete list of banned substances, it does provide examples of substances within each drug class. Some examples of banned substances include amphetamines, anabolic agents, and marijuana.
  4. Regulations and Legal Compliance: The legality of nootropics can vary depending on the country and its regulations. It is important for student-athletes to be aware of the legal status of nootropics in their respective locations and comply with any applicable laws and regulations.
  5. Doping Policies: The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) sets the standards for doping control in sports. While the NCAA follows many of the WADA guidelines, their policies differ sometimes. Student-athletes should familiarize themselves with both NCAA and WADA policies to ensure compliance.

Conclusion: Are Nootropics NCCA Banned?

While not all nootropics explicitly banned by the NCAA, substances that have stimulant qualities (such as Modafinil and Caffeine), or substances with amphetamines (such as Adderall) are non-complaint. Student-athletes must exercise caution and comply with the organization’s guidelines regarding drug use. It is important for student-athletes to be well-informed about the substances they consume, including nootropics, and to consult with qualified athletic staff members if they have questions.

By staying educated and compliant, student-athletes can ensure they are competing within the guidelines set forth by the NCAA. 


Sources, Studies, and Scientific Research
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  5. Van Puyvelde, Martine et al. “A State-of-the-Art Review on the Use of Modafinil as A Performance-enhancing Drug in the Context of Military Operationality.” Military medicine vol. 187,1-2 (2022): 52-64. doi:10.1093/milmed/usab398 
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