Hops: Nootropic Benefits, Uses, Dosage, & Side Effects

An artistic representation of the brain being enhanced by nootropic compound in hops.

Hops (Humulus lupulus), best known as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, have been gaining attention for their potential nootropic benefits.

This flowering plant contains several bioactive compounds that may enhance cognitive function, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep quality.

This article explores the science behind hops as a nootropic and how it can benefit cognitive function.

What is Hops?

Hops (also known as ‘wolf of the woods‘) is a climbing plant in the Cannabaceae family, native to Europe, western Asia, and North America.

Hops have been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia.

A photorealistic image of hops, featuring its green, cone-shaped flowers prominently displayed in a natural setting.

The female flowers, known as hop cones or strobiles, are used as a flavoring and stability agent in beer.

What Are The Bioactive Compounds in Hops?

Hops contains several bioactive compounds that contribute to its potential nootropic effects:

  1. Alpha acids (humulones, cohumulone, adhumulone): Have sedative, hypnotic, and anti-inflammatory properties.
  2. Beta acids (lupulone, colupulone, adlupulone): Antimicrobial effects, beta acids also possess sedative properties.
  3. Flavanoids (xanthohumol, isoxanthohumol, 8-prenylnaringenin): Act as antioxidants and phytoestrogens.
  4. Essential oils (myrcene, humulene, caryophyllene): Have sedative and anxiolytic effects.

How Bioavailible is Hops?

The bioavailability of hop compounds varies depending on the specific compound and the route of administration.

The oral bioavailability of xanthohumol in rats was found to be around 0.33%, suggesting poor absorption in the gut.

However, other compounds like humulones and lupulones have shown better bioavailability.

Up to 30% of ingested alpha acids were absorbed in the intestine.

What Are The Nootropic Uses of Hops?

Hops is primarily used as a nootropic for its calming, sleep-promoting, and cognitive-enhancing effects.

Its main nootropic uses include:

  1. Reducing anxiety and stress: One of the primary nootropic uses of hops is reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation
  2. Improving sleep quality and duration: Hops have long been used as a natural sleep aid due to their sedative properties.
  3. Potential cognitive benefits: While research on the cognitive benefits of hops is limited, some studies suggest that certain compounds in hops may have neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing properties.

What are the Mechanisms of Action for Hops?

Hops exerts its nootropic effects through several mechanisms of action:

GABA modulationAlpha acids in hops can enhance the activity of GABA, the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, leading to calming and sedative effects.
Melatonin promotionHops has been shown to increase melatonin levels, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles, thereby improving sleep quality.
Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effectsCompounds like xanthohumol have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which provide neuroprotection and support cognitive function.
Dopamine and serotonin regulationSome studies suggest that hops may modulate dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain, neurotransmitters involved in mood, learning, and memory.

What Are The Cognitive Benefits of Hops?

The cognitive benefits of hops include:

  1. Reduced anxiety and stress
  2. Improved sleep quality
  3. Enhanced memory and learning
  4. Neuroprotection
A photorealistic image of hops, showcasing its green, cone-shaped flowers and a depiction of its nootropic effects on cognition.

These benefits are attributed to the synergistic effects of the bioactive compounds in hops, which modulate neurotransmitters, provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection, and promote neuronal health.

How Can Hops Increase Memory and Learning?

Hops can increase memory and learning by:

  • Enhancing sleep quality: Sleep is crucial for memory consolidation. The sedative effects of hops improve sleep, which can lead to better memory retention and recall.
  • Modulating neurotransmitters: The compounds in hops interact with GABA and serotonin, which play roles in learning and memory. Optimizing these neurotransmitters can enhance cognitive function.
  • Providing neuroprotection: The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of hops protect brain cells from damage, preserving neuronal function and promoting healthy cognitive aging.

A clinical study found that supplementation with matured hop bitter acids improved attention and memory in older adults.(1)

How Can Hops Improve Sleep Quality?

Hops can improve sleep quality by:

  1. Sedative effects: The alpha acids in hops, particularly humulone, bind to GABA-A receptors and produce sedative effects, promoting relaxation and sleep onset.
  2. Melatonin content: Hops contains small amounts of melatonin and can stimulate its production, helping regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
  3. Anxiety reduction: The anxiolytic properties of hops can reduce stress and promote a calm state conducive to sleep.

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study from BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that a combination of valerian and hops improved sleep quality and reduced the time to fall asleep in adults with insomnia.(2)

How Can Hops Provide Neuroprotection?

Hops can provide neuroprotection through:

  1. Antioxidant activity: Hops is rich in flavonoids like xanthohumol which have strong antioxidant properties. These compounds scavenge free radicals and reduce oxidative stress in the brain, protecting neurons from damage.
  2. Anti-inflammatory effects: The essential oils and flavonoids in hops, such as humulene and xanthohumol, have anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce neuroinflammation and protect brain cells.
  3. Acetylcholinesterase inhibition: Some compounds in hops, like xanthohumol, can inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, which breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. By preserving acetylcholine levels, hops supports memory and cognitive function.

A study demonstrated that hop extracts protected neuronal cells from oxidative stress-induced damage in vitro.(3)

How Can Hops Reduce Anxiety and Stress?

Hops can reduce anxiety and stress by:

  1. Modulating GABA activity: The alpha acids in hops bind to GABA-A receptors and enhance the calming effects of GABA, leading to reduced anxiety and stress levels.
  2. Regulating serotonin: The flavonoid 8-prenylnaringenin in hops can increase serotonin levels, which is associated with improved mood and reduced anxiety.
  3. Reducing cortisol: Hops may help lower cortisol, the primary stress hormone. A combination of hops and melissa officinalis reduced cortisol levels and improved stress resilience in healthy adults.
  4. Promoting relaxation: The sedative effects of hops can induce a state of relaxation, which can alleviate anxiety and stress.

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial showed that a hops-melissa officinalis combination significantly reduced anxiety scores in mildly anxious individuals.(4)

What Are The Potential Side Effects and Risks With Hops?

While hops are generally considered safe when used in recommended doses, some potential side effects and risks include:

  1. Drowsiness and sedation: Due to its calming effects, hops may cause excessive drowsiness or sedation, especially when combined with other sedative substances.
  2. Digestive discomfort: Some people may experience digestive issues like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea when consuming hops supplements.
  3. Hormonal effects: Hops contains phytoestrogens, which can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. This may be a concern for individuals with hormone-sensitive conditions.
  4. Allergic reactions: Rarely, some people may experience allergic reactions to hops, such as skin rash, itching, or difficulty breathing.

Who Should Avoid Hops?

Certain individuals should avoid or use caution when considering hops supplements:

  1. Pregnant and breastfeeding women: Due to limited safety data and potential hormonal effects, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid hops supplements.
  2. People with hormone-sensitive conditions: Those with conditions like breast cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids should consult a healthcare provider before using hops due to its phytoestrogenic properties.
  3. Individuals taking sedative medications: Hops may enhance the effects of sedative drugs, leading to excessive drowsiness or impaired cognitive function.

What Are The Potential Interactions Between Medication and Hops?

Hops may interact with certain medications, including:

  1. Sedatives and hypnotics: Hops can potentiate the effects of sedative drugs like benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and sleep aids, increasing the risk of excessive drowsiness or impaired cognitive function.
  2. Hormonal medications: Due to its phytoestrogenic properties, hops may interfere with the effectiveness of hormonal medications like birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy.
  3. Blood thinners: Some compounds in hops may have antiplatelet effects, potentially increasing the risk of bleeding when combined with blood-thinning medications like warfarin or aspirin.

Always consult a healthcare provider before combining hops with any medication to avoid potential interactions.

How To Use Hops as A Nootropic?

A photorealistic image of hops, featuring its green, cone-shaped flowers prominently displayed in a natural setting.

Hops can be used as a nootropic in several forms:

  • Supplements: Hops extracts are available in capsule or tablet form, often standardized for specific compounds like alpha acids or xanthohumol.
  • Tinctures: Liquid hops extracts can be taken sublingually or added to water or other beverages.
  • Tea: Dried hops flowers can be steeped in hot water to make a calming, sleep-promoting tea.
  • Essential oil: Hops essential oil can be used in aromatherapy or diluted and applied topically for its calming effects.

The recommended dosage for hops depends on the specific product and the desired effects. The following dosages are considered safe and effective:

Dried herb0.5-2 gramsUp to three times daily
Liquid extract (1:1)0.5-2 mLUp to three times daily
Standardized extracts100-500 mgOnce a day

Pro Tip: It’s always best to start with the lowest effective dose and gradually increase if needed, while monitoring for any adverse effects.

Can Hops Be Used in A Nootropic Stack?

Yes, hops can be used in a nootropic stack to enhance its calming and cognitive-supportive effects. Some complementary nootropics to consider include:

  1. L-theanine: An amino acid found in green tea, L-theanine promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety without causing drowsiness, making it an excellent companion to hops.
  2. Valerian root: Another herb with sedative and anxiolytic properties, valerian root can be combined with hops to promote better sleep and reduce stress.
  3. Bacopa monnieri: This adaptogenic herb has been shown to improve memory, learning, and stress resilience, potentially synergizing with the cognitive-enhancing effects of hops.
  4. Ashwagandha: An adaptogenic herb that can reduce stress, anxiety, and cortisol levels, ashwagandha may complement the calming effects of hops.

When creating a nootropic stack, it’s essential to consider individual needs, potential interactions, and dosages.

Sources, Studies, and Scientific Research
  1. Fukuda, Takafumi et al. “Supplementation with Matured Hop Bitter Acids Improves Cognitive Performance and Mood State in Healthy Older Adults with Subjective Cognitive Decline.” Journal of Alzheimer’s disease : JAD vol. 76,1 (2020): 387-398. doi:10.3233/JAD-200229
  2. Cornu, Catherine et al. “A dietary supplement to improve the quality of sleep: a randomized placebo controlled trial.” BMC complementary and alternative medicine vol. 10 29. 22 Jun. 2010, doi:10.1186/1472-6882-10-29
  3. Xia, Tianshuang et al. “Humulus lupulus L. Extract Protects against Senior Osteoporosis through Inhibiting Amyloid β Deposition and Oxidative Stress in APP/PS1 Mutated Transgenic Mice and Osteoblasts.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 28,2 583. 6 Jan. 2023, doi:10.3390/molecules28020583
  4. Kennedy, David O et al. “Anxiolytic effects of a combination of Melissa officinalis and Valeriana officinalis during laboratory induced stress.” Phytotherapy research : PTR vol. 20,2 (2006): 96-102. doi:10.1002/ptr.1787

Jacob Kovacs is a cognitive neuroscientist and author at WholisticResearch, specializing in nootropics and neuroactive peptides. His expertise in neuroscience and psychopharmacology bridges cognitive science with drug development. Kovacs’ work focuses on enhancing cognitive functions and brain health through innovative, efficient neuroactive compounds that overcome traditional pharmacokinetic challenges. His contributions are pivotal in advancing the understanding and treatment of neurological diseases.