Can Nootropics Cause Anxiety? (The Truth)

Updated on March 6, 2024
 by — reviewed by Jason Williams, PhD (Contributor: George Collins / Editor: Yoko Hill)
Exploring the dual impact of nootropics on mental health and anxiety.

Can nootropics really cause anxiety?

Nootropics, also known as smart drugs, are substances that enhance cognitive function and improve mental performance. They are widely used by individuals seeking to boost their productivity and cognitive abilities. While some nootropics are known to have anxiety-reducing effects, it is important to note that not all of them have the same impact.

However, can nootropics cause anxiety? In this article, we will share everything you need to know about this potential side effect of nootropics. Read on to learn how nootropics affect anxiety levels and how to manage the effects.

Understanding Nootropics and Their Effects

There are different types of nootropics available, each with its intended benefits. Some target memory enhancement, helping individuals keep information and recall it more efficiently.(1) Others focus on improving concentration, enabling users to stay attentive and productive for longer periods.

Some of the best nootropic supplements effectively reduce anxiety symptoms.(2) These substances work by modulating neurotransmitters in the brain, such as GABA(3) and serotonin,((Gordon, Joshua A, and Rene Hen. “The serotonergic system and anxiety.” Neuromolecular medicine vol. 5,1 (2004): 27-40. doi:10.1385/NMM:5:1:027 which plays a key role in how nootropics regulate mood and anxiety levels. 

However, commonly used nootropics include caffeine, creatine, and omega-3 fatty acids. Caffeine, found in coffee and tea, is known for its ability to stimulate alertness and improve focus. Creatine, often associated with physical performance, also has cognitive benefits, such as increased mental energy. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil, are known for their role in brain health and may support memory, as well as increase physical and mental functions. These compounds potentially increase the risk of negative effects from nootropics, and this risk may increase when nootropics are used long term.

While nootropics enhance cognitive functions; they are not a magic solution for intelligence or success. A balanced lifestyle, including proper nutrition, exercise, and quality sleep, is still crucial for overall brain health.

Benefits of Nootropics for Anxiety

Nootropics have been found to help relieve anxiety symptoms in some individuals. They promote a sense of calm and relaxation, reducing feelings of stress and overwhelm. Here are some key benefits derived from nootropics that reduce anxiety:

  • Improved Focus: Nootropics improve cognitive function and clarity, allowing individuals to better manage their anxiety.
  • Relaxation: Certain nootropics, such as L-Theanine, have been shown to have anti-anxiety effects and reduce heart rate.
  • Mental Wellbeing: Nootropics can support overall mental well-being and provide a boost to mood and positivity.
  • Confidence: They may help individuals feel more confident and better equipped to manage their anxiety symptoms.
  • Fewer Side Effects: Nootropics can be a natural alternative to traditional anti-anxiety medications, with potentially fewer side effects.
  • Enhanced Anxiety Management: They can be used in combination with other treatment approaches, such as therapy, to enhance anxiety management. Nootropics can be customized and tailored to individual needs, allowing for personalized anxiety relief.

Overall, nootropics offer a wide range of potential benefits for individuals with anxiety, providing support for improved mental well-being and anxiety management. Some nootropics have been studied for their potential to address specific anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or social anxiety disorder (SAD).

Potential Risks of Nootropics for Anxiety

Some individuals experience heightened anxiety when taking certain nootropics. This is counterproductive for those seeking relief from their anxiety symptoms. Here are some key factors to consider about nootropics that potentially cause anxiety: 

  • Lack of Regulation: Many nootropics are not regulated by health authorities, which means there is no guarantee of their safety, purity, or effectiveness. This can pose a risk to individuals with anxiety who are seeking reliable and evidence-based treatments.
  • Individual Variability: Nootropics can have varying effects on different individuals. What works for one person may not work for another, or it may even worsen symptoms of anxiety.
  • Lack of Scientific Evidence: The research on the effectiveness and safety of nootropics for anxiety is limited, making it difficult to make informed decisions about their use.
  • Dependency and Withdrawal: Some nootropics have the potential to cause dependency and withdrawal symptoms. This can be especially concerning for individuals with anxiety, as it may worsen their symptoms and create additional stress.
  • Unknown Long-Term Effects: Long-term effects of nootropics on mental health, including anxiety, have not been extensively studied. The potential risks and benefits of long-term use remain unclear.

The Connection Between Nootropics and Anxiety

While some nootropics have gained popularity for their cognitive benefits, there is a growing concern about their connection to anxiety. Some individuals experience anxiety as a side effect of using certain nootropics. This occurs due to various reasons, such as an imbalance in neurotransmitter levels or a negative reaction to the specific substance. 

Anxiety, defined as a feeling of worry or unease, can be experienced by individuals for various reasons, including stress and a variety of medical conditions. Some individuals have reported experiencing increased anxiety after using specific types of nootropics. This raised concern is attributed to the stimulatory effects of these substances on the nervous system.

Some nootropics, especially those classified as stimulatory, such as caffeine, potentially trigger anxiety in susceptible individuals. These substances may increase the activity of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, which leads to heightened arousal and anxiety. The effects of nootropics on anxiety can vary significantly depending on individual physiology and the specific compound being consumed.

Not all nootropics are created equal, and different substances have different effects on the body and mind and target specific conditions. Some nootropics promote relaxation and reduce social anxiety, while others may have stimulatory effects that potentially lead to increased anxiety and stress.

Factors That Influence Anxiety from Nootropics

The use of nootropics has been associated with the onset of anxiety, particularly with stimulatory compounds. Understanding the potential risks and benefits of these substances and their effects on anxiety is vital for individuals considering their use.

Cautious experimentation and professional guidance are key in navigating the complex relationship between nootropics and anxiety.

  • Dosage: The dosage of a nootropic can play a significant role in its effects on anxiety. Higher doses of stimulatory nootropics, such as caffeine or Modafinil, can increase heart rate and blood pressure, and potentially trigger anxiety in sensitive individuals. On the other hand, moderate or low doses of nootropics may have a more subtle and balanced effect.
  • Individual Sensitivity: Each person’s body and brain chemistry are unique, meaning that their response to different substances varies. Some individuals may be more sensitive to specific nootropics and may experience heightened anxiety. It’s essential to start with low doses and monitor your body’s reaction to determine your tolerance.
  • Stacking and Combination: Some individuals may choose to stack or combine different nootropics to enhance their effects. While this is beneficial for some, it’s important to note that some combinations have synergistic effects that increase the risk of anxiety. Researching and understanding the potential interactions between different substances is crucial to avoid unwanted side effects.
  • Drug Interactions: It’s also essential to consider any potential drug interactions when using nootropics. Some substances may interact with medications or other supplements, leading to adverse reactions, including increased anxiety.
  • Ingredients: When it comes to stimulation and mental clarity, stimulants are often used to improve focus. However, ingredients, such as caffeine, have the potential to cause anxiety in individuals with a low tolerance. Synthetic study drugs also include ingredients that have a higher risk of anxiety.

While nootropics potentially cause anxiety, the risk is influenced by various factors, such as dosage, individual sensitivity, and combinations with other substances. It’s important to approach their use responsibly, with a focus on finding the right balance for your specific needs and listening to your body’s response.

Managing and Preventing Anxiety from Nootropics

To effectively manage and prevent anxiety when using nootropics, it is important to follow strategies and guidelines. Here are some key points to consider:

  1. Start with a low dosage: It is advisable to begin with a low dosage of the nootropic supplement. This allows your body to adjust and minimize the risk of experiencing heightened anxiety.
  2. Monitor effects: Pay close attention to how your body and mind respond to the nootropic. Keep a record of any changes or symptoms you may experience, including anxiety levels. This will help you identify patterns and determine the most suitable dosage for your needs.
  3. Gradually increase dosage: If you find that the initial low dosage is well-tolerated and provides the desired cognitive benefits, you may consider gradually increasing the dosage. However, it is important to do this in small increments and monitor your anxiety levels closely.
  4. Combine with other anxiety management strategies: Nootropics can be a helpful tool in anxiety management, but they should not be relied upon as the sole solution. It is essential to incorporate other strategies, such as practicing relaxation techniques, maintaining a balanced lifestyle, and seeking therapy or counseling, if needed.

Conclusion: Do Nootropics Really Cause Anxiety?

Yes, some nootropics can cause anxiety. This side effect is mostly found with synthetic smart drugs with ingredients that increase heart rates and blood pressure, such as Adderall or Modafinil. However, the effects of different nootropics vary depending on the individual and the specific substance being used. Some natural nootropics, such as L-Theanine and Ashwagandha, decrease anxiety.

It is always recommended to consult with a doctor who will provide personalized guidance and recommendations based on your individual needs and help determine the best course of action. Taking this precaution will ensure that you make informed decisions and prioritize your mental well-being in order to prevent anxiety when using nootropics.

Sources, Studies, and Scientific Research
  1. Malik, Ruchi et al. “Towards better brain management: nootropics.” Current medicinal chemistry vol. 14,2 (2007): 123-31. doi:10.2174/092986707779313408 ↩
  2. Petkov, V D et al. “A study of nootropic drugs for anti-anxiety action.” Acta physiologica et pharmacologica Bulgarica vol. 13,4 (1987): 25-30. ↩
  3. Nuss, Philippe. “Anxiety disorders and GABA neurotransmission: a disturbance of modulation.” Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment vol. 11 165-75. 17 Jan. 2015, doi:10.2147/NDT.S58841 ↩