What Are Nootropics And How Do They Work?

What are Nootropics

The pharmaceutical industry is one of the most powerful, influential and profitable superpowers in the world, often churning out new 'groundbreaking' drugs on a seemingly weekly basis; all claiming to be the next big thing.

Walk into any pharmaceutical or supplement store and you will be hard done by to miss the nootropic section, a vast array of wonder pills, all claiming to boost brain power: Better, faster and for longer than those sitting either side.

Such bold claims will always provoke questions – what are nootropics? Are they safe? Are they even legit? etc. 

What Are Nootropic Drugs?  

In a time where the pace of life is speeding up, deadlines are becoming shorter and projects ever longer, people are always on the hunt for new ways to be more productive and get a '1-up' on them selves. Anything that will give them that extra little edge, or 30 minutes of concentration would be treated as valuable as gold.  

This is where the billion-dollar business of nootropics found its market, in those searching for that something.  

Nootropics are commonly introduced as 'smart drugs' or 'cognitive enhancers', but the term nootropic is the given term for anything that can boost brainpower.

Often miss-advertised as 'brain health supplements', nootropics don't have to have any effect on brain health to be classified as such, they instead only have to contain substances that have the potential to increase alertness, concentration and focus.  

All nootropics can be split into 2 categories – natural nootropics and synthetic nootropics.  

Synthetic nootropics.  

Synthetic nootropics are manmade pills formulated out of a substance, or mix of substances, that show potential to boost brain function. These 'smart pills' include:

  • Modafinil.
  • Racetams.
  • Adrafinil.
  • Adderall.
  • Noopept.  

Synthetic nootropics are often prescribed to sufferers of sleep disorders, those with ADHD and other mental health disorders.

Whilst it is not conclusive whether or not these artificial nootropics increase brain power and improve concentration, what is certain is that they all can present a host of negative side effects, ranging from insomnia to hallucinations and even death.

What are natural nootropics?  

Natural nootropics are naturally occurring substances that, like synthetic nootropics, show potential to boost brainpower. 

For anything to be classified as a nootropic there is no specific criteria, although, they do usually have to offer:

  • An improvement in learning and short-term memory.
  • Increase the brains resilience to stress and trauma.
  • Increase the protection and communication of brain cells.
  • Boost mental stamina.  

There are countless natural products out there that can meet these requirements, and usually without and adverse side effects. Plants, roots, herbs and other foods have been used for thousands of years to relieve stress, support concentration and increase focus.

Here are some examples of natural nootropics:  

Green tea.  

Green tea is full of L-Theanine which countless studies have shown to increase attention span, improve sleep quality and promote brain relaxation. L-Theanine also demonstrates neuroprotective traits, meaning that it can aid in the healing/regeneration of the brain. 

brain smart drugs


Ginseng is one of the many ancient eastern medicines used to lower blood pressure, reduce blood sugar and increase concentration. Ginseng is a very powerful natural nootropic and is not advised to be used in conjunction with other medications.   

Lion mane mushroom.  

Lion mane mushroom can be consumed cooked, or raw to benefit from its nootropic qualities. Often brewed in tea's, LMM has been found to potentially slow down the onset of Alzheimer's disease and other cognitive issues.  


Coffee is the most commonly consumed stimulant and many avid drinkers are completely unaware that their favourite hot drink is a powerful nootropic. What gives coffee its 'spark' that gets you going in the morning is all thanks to the substance caffeine. Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in high concentrations on the coffee bean and is linked to alertness, concentration and increase brain power.      

Oily fish. 

Usually not considered a nootropic due to its slow effects, but oily fish and the omega 3 that it contains, meets all the requirements of the nootropic. However, instead of offering the effects immediately, omega 3's positive effects only present themselves over time and regular consumption.

Omega 3 is one of the best nootropics for genuinely improving brain health and increasing brainpower.  

Brain health

Are They Legal?  

Almost all nootropics are legal, although there are a few exceptions. Many people consider illegal controlled substances to be nootropics due to their brain-stimulating effects.  

Drugs such as cocaine are used widely by not only by party-goers but by businessmen, chefs and shift workers as well. Cocaine, along with other drugs can boost energy levels to incredibly high levels for longer periods than legal ones, making them incredibly popular amongst those who work long, hard hours.

Illegal drugs, however, are illegal for a reason. Made without regulation there is no telling what some substances are made up of making consumption a risky practice.  Most illegal drugs are also highly addictive and can cause serious effects on health.        

Can You Get Nootropics On Prescription?  

Whilst most drugs labelled as nootropics are over the counter medications, some require a prescription. 

It is not the case that you can make an appointment with your doctor, argue that need some extra concentration and they will right you up for a cycle of Adderall.

All prescription medications, including nootropics, are reserved only for those who truly need them.

Because prescription medication is usually far stronger than what is available on the shelves, they often need to be treated accordingly. Taking prescription nootropic medication when not entirely necessary will most likely result in many negative side effects. 

What Makes Nootropic Drugs Different to Other Drugs?  

How the brain, smart drugs, the body, etc. Interact with each other is greatly dependant on the individual; which is what makes nootropic drugs different from other drugs.  

Drugs such as aspirin will thin the blood in all individuals, whereas the caffeine found in coffee may not have the same mind-stimulating effects on all people.

Nootropic is also one of the broadest pharmaceutical terms, with over 80 substances being regarded as nootropics, and im sure there will be many more to follow as they become ever more popular.    

Nootropics And The Impact On The Brain.  

Whilst the effects of most nootropic drugs are short-lived, others can have a positive effect on the brain for longer periods of time, although, there is little evidence to suggest that any can improve brain power long term.  

The only practices that are proven to improve brain health and power for extended periods of time are:

  • Exercise.
  • Regular mental tasks.
  • Omega 3.  

The use of some nootropics can actually have a negative impact on brain health after sustained periods of uses, especially when used in high doses. Prescription nootropics are incredibly powerful and are advised to only be used in cycles of no more than a few months.  

brain health supplements

A note to leave with.  

Nootropics are gaining popularity at an ever-increasing rate as the demand for quicker, more effective ways to improve brain power reaches an all-time high.  

There are countless over the counter and prescription 'smart pills' available to the consumer, however, in most cases, concentration, focus and most importantly brain health can be improved significantly through natural supplementation, diet and exercise.  

Synthetic nootropics are both a safe and viable option for many, however, it must be remembered that their effects are usually short-lived and can also result in negative side effects. Continuous use of powerful nootropics (usually nootropic prescription drugs) can lead to a decline in brain health if used for long periods of time.  

I would strongly recommend being mindful, exercising regularly and experiment with your diet before being tempted by any synthetic nootropic.

If you need an extra boost in concentration or alertness, a coffee, green tea or ginseng juice shot might be all you need.