Types of Nootropics: Smart Drugs & Cognitive Enhancers

Updated on January 17, 2024
 by — reviewed by Jason Williams, PhD (Contributor: George Collins / Editor: Yoko Hill)
Overview of different nootropics, smart drugs, and cognitive enhancers enhancing neural connections.

Nootropics, also known as cognitive enhancers, smart drugs, and brain boosters, have gained significant attention in recent years for their potential to enhance mental performance and protect long-term cognitive health. There is a wide range of nootropics available, each with their unique benefits and mechanisms of action.

In this comprehensive guide on types of nootropics, we will explore the different categories, including racetams, ampakines, cholinergic agents, stimulants, adaptogens, and natural nootropics. Dive into their respective benefits and effects, as well as any potential side effects and recommended dosages.

Regardless of your goals or needs, this article will help you understand the diverse world of nootropics and guide you in choosing the right type of cognitive enhancer for your individual situation.

Natural Nootropics

Natural nootropics are a popular category of cognitive enhancers that are derived from plants, amino acids, and other nutrients sourced from nature. They are generally considered safe and effective for improving mental performance in healthy individuals.

Some examples of natural nootropics include caffeine, ginkgo biloba, creatine, omega-3s, L-theanine, and herbal extracts like Bacopa Monnieri, Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, and Lion’s Mane Mushroom.

These natural substances have been used for centuries in traditional medicine and have shown promising results in scientific studies. They can provide numerous benefits, such as heightened mental alertness, enhanced memory, increased motivation, and reduced stress levels.

When combined with a healthy lifestyle and proper nutrition, natural nootropics can help individuals achieve their cognitive goals and improve their overall well-being.

Herbal Nootropics

Herbal nootropics have become increasingly popular as more people turn to natural remedies for optimizing their cognitive and mental function too. Among the most commonly used herbal nootropics are Bacopa Monnieri, Ginkgo Biloba, Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, Ginseng, and Lion’s Mane Mushroom.

Bacopa Monnieri is renowned for its ability to enhance working memory and cognitive function, while Ginkgo Biloba helps improve mental clarity and focus.

Ashwagandha is great for reducing stress and anxiety, and Rhodiola Rosea boosts cognitive energy while mitigating the negative effects of stress.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom has been shown to stimulate nerve growth and support mental clarity.

Overall, these herbal nootropics offer a natural and safe way to enhance cognitive function and combat the effects of the aging process and stress.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are essential for brain performance and maintaining a healthy brain and body. Choline is a nutrient that plays a crucial role in cognitive function and memory. B vitamins, including B6 and B12, are also important for nerve function and brain health. Magnesium is involved in the regulation of neurotransmitters, which are crucial for maintaining brain function.

These nutrients can be found in a variety of natural sources such as eggs, liver, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables. Incorporating these nutrients into your diet or taking supplements can help improve cognitive performance and overall mental health.

When combined with other natural nootropics, like amino acids and herbal extracts, these vitamins and minerals can work synergistically to optimize cognitive function and productivity.

Amino Acids

Amino acids like L-tyrosine and L-theanine are popular natural nootropics known for their cognitive enhancing properties.

L-tyrosine is a precursor to two key neurotransmitters, dopamine and noradrenaline, both of which are essential for focus, motivation, and mood regulation.

On the other hand, L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea and is well-known for its anti-anxiety properties. It has been shown to promote relaxation and improve cognitive function, making it a popular addition to nootropic stacks.

Both L-tyrosine and L-theanine work synergistically to improve memory, mood, and overall cognitive function.

Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids are considered a type of natural nootropic due to their many health benefits for brain function. These fatty acids are found abundantly in algae, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds, and are essential for healthy brain function, repairing and restoring brain cells, and preventing cardiovascular and brain diseases together.

DHA, which is an essential brain food, boosts neurotransmission, cognition, memory, and is particularly beneficial to vegans as it can also be found in algae. Omega-3 fatty acids have the potential to help throughout the lifespan of a brain, with supplementation with EPA and DHA aiding in school-age and teenage children’s mental development.

Synthetic Nootropics

Synthetic nootropics are man-made pills designed to improve cognitive function using chemical ingredients. They are subject to FDA regulation and are typically more potent than their natural counterparts. Some of the most widely used synthetic nootropics include racetams, ampakines, eugeroics, peptides, and prescription drugs such as Adderall and Methylphenidate.

These substances can have a significant impact on how the brain works, and they are more highly regulated than natural nootropics. However, research suggests it’s still important to approach synthetic nootropics with caution and to consult with a healthcare professional before use. Despite their potential risks, synthetic nootropics offer individuals a way to improve cognitive function in a way that natural nootropics may not be able to.

The decision to use synthetic nootropics should be carefully considered and based on human research and on an individual’s specific needs and circumstances.

Racetams

Racetams, which include Piracetam, Aniracetam, Oxiracetam, Pramiracetam, and Phenylpiracetam, are synthetic nootropic substances that are believed to improve brain function, particularly focus and attention. These nootropics possess a low toxicity and are generally safe to consume.

Each racetam offers its own unique set of benefits, side effects, and recommended dosage. Racetams are widely used and studied, making them a popular choice for anyone looking to enhance their cognitive performance.

When combined with other nootropics, Racetams can further enhance their cognitive effects.

Ampakines

Ampakines are synthetic nootropics that act as positive allosteric modulators of the AMPA receptor, which plays a crucial role in learning and memory processes. This class of nootropics has shown potential in treating Alzheimer’s disease and improving cognitive function, attention, and motivation in healthy adults.

They are often used in combination with other nootropics to enhance their effects. However, it is crucial to note that studies on the long-term safety of Ampakines are limited, and their potential adverse effects on the brain are still unclear.

Eugeroics

Eugeroics, including Modafinil, Armodafinil, and Adrafinil, are a type of nootropic that promote wakefulness and alertness. They are often used to treat sleep disorders like narcolepsy, and have gained popularity as cognitive enhancers.

Modafinil and Armodafinil are FDA-approved drugs used to treat sleep disorders, while Adrafinil is not approved for medical use in the United States. These eugeroics work by stimulating certain receptors in the brain to promote feelings of wakefulness and focus.

Unlike traditional stimulants like caffeine, eugeroics do not produce jittery or anxious side effects.

Peptides

Peptides are an interesting and popular class of nootropics, and two synthetic regulatory peptides, Semax and Selank, stand out in particular.

Semax has been used primarily in Russia and Ukraine for its purported nootropic, and neuroprotective effects, and neurorestorative properties. Studies have shown that it can also help treat TBI, ischemic stroke, various eye disorders, negative side effects of alcohol consumption, among others.

Selank, on the other hand, is a synthetic derivative of the human body’s naturally produced tetrapeptide Tuftsin, and has been used to treat anxiety and phobic disorders. Both peptides are considered safe and effective, and they have been the basis for the creation of new drugs that help enhance various cognitive functions and mental abilities.

Peptides are just one of the many classes of nootropics available to enhance cognitive performance and promote mental wellness, and they can be used alone or in combination with other natural or synthetic compounds of nootropics.

Prescription Nootropics

Prescription nootropics are powerful drugs that can improve cognitive function in individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Two drugs that fall into this category are Adderall and Methylphenidate (Ritalin). Adderall, an amphetamine, or stimulant medication is often prescribed to help manage symptoms of ADHD. Methylphenidate is another drug that is commonly used to treat ADHD, and it is also a stimulant that can enhance cognitive performance.

While these drugs have proven benefits, it is important to note that they can be addictive and have potential side effects. Individuals who are considering using prescription nootropics should always consult with a doctor before doing so.

Combination Supplements

Combination supplements, as the name suggests, are pre-formulated blends that contain a variety of nootropic ingredients combined into a single supplement. This category of nootropics emerged largely due to the growing demand for nootropics that can provide a broad range of cognitive benefits.

Combination supplements often contain a mixture of natural and synthetic nootropics, as well as other brain-boosting compounds like vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Examples of pre-formulated nootropic supplements and blends include Mind Lab Pro, NooCube, and Vyvamind.

Alternatively, users can create their own custom nootropic stacks tailored to their specific needs and preferences.

Whether you choose a pre-made nootropic supplement or concoct your own blend, combination supplements are an excellent option for those seeking a comprehensive approach to cognitive enhancement.

Pre-formulated Nootropic Blends

Pre-formulated nootropic blends are a popular option for those seeking to boost their cognitive abilities without having to create their own customized stack. Mind Lab Pro, NooCube, and Vyvamind are three examples of pre-formulated nootropic blends that are known for their effectiveness.

These blends typically contain a combination of natural and synthetic ingredients, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and plant extracts. The ingredients in these blends are carefully selected to work together synergistically, providing a comprehensive approach to cognitive enhancement.

While pre-formulated blends may not be as personalized as a customized stack, they offer a convenient and effective option for those looking to improve their mental performance.

Custom Nootropic Stacks

Creating custom nootropic stacks can be an exciting process for those seeking to personalize their cognitive enhancement regimen. With a basic understanding of the various types of nootropics and their effects, individuals can tailor their stacks to target specific areas of cognitive performance.

Some tips for creating a successful stack include choosing ingredients carefully and starting with a small number of supplements before gradually adding others. It’s also important to watch for negative interactions and potential side effects.

Finally, tracking progress through journaling or an app can help fine-tune the stack over time. Custom nootropic stacks offer a unique and dynamic approach to enhancing cognitive performance for those willing to experiment and find the right combination of dietary supplements for their needs.

Conclusion

The popularity of nootropics has increased significantly because of the benefits that they provide to the human brain and cognitive impairment. The use of different types of nootropics can improve memory, cognitive function, and overall mental performance in healthy people.

However, it is crucial to use nootropics responsibly and only after consulting a healthcare professional. The combination of certain nootropics may produce a positive effect, while others can lead to negative outcomes.

It’s important to choose the right nootropic drugs, taking into account one’s health condition and lifestyle. In other words, smart drugs can be a helpful tool in optimizing brain function, and brain aging, but should not be used haphazardly.

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