What is in Nootropics? [smart drugs]

I’m glad you asked! We really need to talk about what Nootropics are. You may have seen the term around.

nootropic \ nō-ə-ˈtrō-pik 

What They Are:

There are two very basic categories of nootropics: Natural substances like some supplements and some foods I talk about here at mywellbrain.com and some are man-made drugs, like Adderall, as well as some over the counter drugs.

So it’s any substance that helps memory and brain function. It’s not what’s in Nootropics but certain substances that are classified as nootropics.

If you want to get into it, I’ll give the detailed categories of Nootropics here but our discussion will revolve around the natural or over the counter options (which can be among the detailed categories below).

Science of nootropics


Science of it

From an article on Mental Health Daily online (2014) [Only included for educational purposes. Not all have been thoroughly tested or proven safe. Some have. Be careful]:

  • Acetylcholinesterase Inhibitors – Inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase which is known to break down acetylcholine in the brain, which lowers brain function. ex. Galantamine
  • Ampakines – Stimulant-like properties, affect AMPA receptors. Drugs thought to improve symptoms of neurodegenerative disorders and some psychiatric illnesses. ex. Unifiram.
  • Cholinergic – Influences neurotransmission of acetylcholine in the brain. Not to be confused with acetylcholinesterase, above. ex. Choline, Lecithin
  • Dopaminergic – Influences dopamine. Includes some enzymes and other antidepressants. ex. L-Theanine, Phenylethylamine (PEA).
  • Eugeroics – Wakefulness-promoting. Said to influence arousal-promoting neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine and dopamine. ex. Modafinil.
  • GABAergics – Opposite of Eugeroics. It decreases levels of arousal and stress in the central nervous system. It can reduce anxiety and gives feelings of calmness. ex. GABA.
    Puritan’s Pride GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric Acid) 750 mg-90 Capsules
    What is in Nootropics? [smart drugs] 1
  • Herbal Supplements – self-explanatory.
  • Hormones – ex. Cortisol, DHEA.
  • Metabolic Enhancers – Increase metabolic processes and helps give brain cells more energy. ex Acetyl l-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid.
  • Neuroprotective AgentsAntioxidant properties and repair damage and promote nerve growth. ex. Co-Enzyme Q10, Lion’s Mane Mushrooms.
  • Nutrients – ex. Iodine, Magnesium, Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  • Psychostimulants – Stimulate dopamine, stimulant properties. ex. caffeine, nicotine, Ritalin.
  • Racetams – Compounds promoted to improve cognition. ex. Parecitam.
  • Serotonergic – You guessed it. Serotonin. Serotonin is the ‘happy chemical’ which nerve cells produce. It effectively is 5-HTP. It can be included in supplements, enzymes, and some antidepressants. ex, Tryptophan, 5-HTP.
  • Stacks – Just compounds of various nootropic substances, labeled and sold as a one pill nootropic compound.
  • Vitamins – Obviously found in foods and available in supplements. ex B1, B5.

Okay. Enough of the science-ese. I think it does help to realize there are many categories of substances that can help memory and brain function though.

Blueberries have great nutritional properties

Popular Natural Nootropics (growing list):

Taken from: Mental Health Daily (2014)

Acetyl l-Carnitine: Metabolic Enhancers. Found to significantly reduce neurotoxicity and possibly prevent substances from killing brain cells.

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA): Metabolic Enhancers. Believed to prevent damage from free radicals that may lead to tissue damage and/or inflammation in the brain. Antioxidant. Considered essential for brain health.

B-Complex: Vitamins. Most of the B-complexes have great properties for health and especially brain health. The one you don’t want to overdo is B6 (Pyridoxine) as it has toxicity when taken in higher doses (>200mg/day) over long periods.

Blueberries and grapes (contains Ptersbilbene): Foods. Antioxidant properties. In studies, reversed cognitive decline and improved motor skills.

Bacopa monnieri: Herbal Supplements. In history, has been used as a treatment for asthma and epilepsy as well as inflammation and oxidation. Several studies have shown it helps provide memory enhancement.

Caffeine: Stimulants. Increases alertness and many report major performance enhancement.

Co-Enzyme Q10: Neuroprotective Agents. An enzyme that helps cellular functioning and generates energy. Helpful for the heart and brain.

DHEA: Hormones. A steroid hormone produced in adrenals, gonads, and the brain. Stimulates testosterone and/or estrogen and helps energy, mental performance, and memory functioning.

GABA: GABAergics. Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid. It helps with relaxation during stressful times. Naturally produced in the body, it’s an amino acid that functions as a neurotransmitter.

Ginkgo biloba: Herbal Supplements. Used throughout history in traditional medicine. Mixed reviews on whether this provides cognitive benefits. Some say that long term use improves attention, executive functioning, and long-term memory.

Isoflavones: Herbal Supplements. In the same family of natural compounds as isoflavonoids. Studies have shown better spatial working memory and studies on soy isoflavone can improve verbal fluency, dexterity, and spatial memory.

L-theanine (found in green tea): May help the ability to concentrate without the stimulant effects. It can be found as a supplement.

Lion’s Mane: Herbal Supplements. Mushroom. Ancient Chinese traditional medicine. Some research shows improved mental functioning. It is found to repair nerves and promotes regeneration of neurons.

Melatonin: Hormones. It helps with insomnia and improves the quality of sleep. Found naturally in the body. Helps with circadian rhythm and some have suggested it offers nootropic benefits by restoring the brain after significant stress.

Panax Ginseng: Herbal Supplements. The ‘Panax’ species of ginseng has been found to improve the accuracy of memorization, increase quickness in mental performance and enhances the performance of complex arithmetic tasks. Reviews I’ve seen show people find it gives great energy! Some people also use it to improve feelings of well-being. Used for depression, anxiety, fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome, MS and more.

Piperine (in black pepper): Aids in transporting essential nutrients within the body. It can influence levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

Rhodiola Rosea: Herbal Supplements. Supplement to improve mood and depression. Touted to improve mental performance. Believed to stimulate AMPK enzymes.

St. John’s Wort: Herbal Supplements. Used to treat mild depression. Believed that mood improves improvements might help with increased focus and attention.

Turmeric (Curcumin): One of the best lines of defense for the brain. See article.

Yerba Mate: Herbal Supplements. Found in several health beverages. Delivers antioxidants which help protect the brain and nervous system.

What is in Nootropics? [smart drugs] 2What is in Nootropics? [smart drugs] 3


Recap on Nootropics and Final Notes

As you can see, they come in a vast number of forms and sources. Many of the supplements and foods discussed here at mywellbrain.com are nootropics. But I also go into more well-rounded techniques for memory and brain function so you’ll find additional topics that I hope you find helpful around the site. I also recommend not trying too many things at once. If you’re going to add supplements to the mix, try one or two at a time so you know what works.

You can certainly test your brain with the link on the right side of every page to a free brain function test. It doesn’t tell you if it’s good or bad but gives a baseline to see what effect various activities or supplements have on you. You can create your own experiment and just repeat it every day, either before or after your activity or supplement to test it out. 🙂

Above all, I hope this has clarified the classifications of different supplements and substances that abound in the world of Nootropics and brain health as you pursue your brain health quest. I’ll be creating more articles on the different nootropic supplements, foods, and substances individually as mywellbrain continues to grow. 🙂

If you have questions, comments or suggestions, please leave them below and I’ll be sure to answer or respond. Thank you!

If you want to know what You actually need, try this out:

Balance Your Brain, Balance Your Life Measures 7 important brain chemicals related to overall health. Save 10% with code GETBALANCEDWhat is in Nootropics? [smart drugs] 4


Matthews, M. Men’sHealth (2018) Retrieved from https://www.menshealth.com/health/a22737582/what-are-nootropics/

Mental Health Daily. Extensive List of Nootropics: 130+ Smart Drugs. (2014). https://mentalhealthdaily.com/2014/11/26/extensive-list-of-nootropics-130-smart-drugs/

Merriam-Webster online dictionary. (2019) https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nootropic

8 thoughts on “What is in Nootropics? [smart drugs]”

  1. I’ve heard about nootropics, but didn’t really quite understand what it all entailed. I thought it was just supplements for brain health but I can see from your site that its so much more. I didn’t see a newsletter to sign up to and I’d really like to hear about updates. Where can I find the link to sign up?

    • Hi Anne, Glad you learned more about Nootropics! I have a link to sign up for my newsletter on the right side of any page. 🙂 Thanks for asking. 

  2. Hi there, Paula! I haven’t encountered the word Nootropics but when I read your article, I have to say that I am a believer of those products. My mom started to give me brain boosting supplements when I was in college. Studying was pretty intense back then. I thought my time is not enough for reviewing, project making and reports. When I started working, it was pretty much the same dilemma because of too many demands that I have to accomplish. From time to time, I had to take this supplements to help me cope up and function better with my tasks. 

    Honestly, I am more confident to take supplements out of natural substance. Maybe it’s just me but I always think that it’s much safer to use. Now, my son whose in high school keeps on telling me that studying is getting tougher for him. He’s only 13 years old and I wanted to ask if you have a natural brain boosting supplement that you can recommend which is safe for his young age. Thank you very much for all the information you shared about nootropics. In my own opinion, natural supplements are better option because it has no additional synthetic compounds.

    • HI MissusB. I’m not a doctor but turmeric/curcumin is a good one that is completely natural. Thank you for your input. 🙂 Paula 

  3. Thank you Paula for this great article. If i didnt stumble across your page I wouldnt know at all about what Nootropics is and how it enhances brain activity. It was also good to learn that some of the foods that I eat almost everyday help brain functionality. And the many options that is available to people is definitely useful information. Thank you for taking the time to share and teach. 

    • Hi Joseph. I’m happy to spread the word about brain health and how Nootropics fit into that. Thank you for visiting! 🙂

  4. Hello, Paula.  

    My head is spinning a little after reading your lists.  I didn’t know there were so many compounds that could possibly help brain function.  Honestly, I found it a little confusing, (maybe I need a brain boost).

    Are you familiar with or used any of the products that you have linked and do you have a recommendation.  Or is this one of those things that work for some and another brand works for someone else?

    I read a few of the reviews on Amazon, both positive and not so positive.  A product worked for one and not for another.

    Would like to read your thoughts on this,


    • Hi Wayne,

      I am familiar with many of the products and have used. Obviously not some of the prescribed meds. lol. I have some informational pages on those I’m using now and plan to add additional information on the others as I can. 🙂 This was more of a background on the term ‘Nootropics’ since many of the products I’m discussing throughout the site can be classified as Nootropics so I thought i’d better address it. Thanks for reading and asking. Paula


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