How Nootropics Actually Work

brain focus and concentration

Nootropic supplements are becoming a popular product among many. They claim to have a variety of health benefits and advantages, but what do you really know about Nootropics? Below you’ll find a guide to help navigate the world of Nootropics. What are Nootropics? How do they work? And what do they do?

What Are Nootropics?


Nootropics are a broad term that cover substances, drugs, or supplements that have the intention of improving mental performance. They can also be referred to as “smart drugs” or “memory/cognitive enhancers.” The name derives from the Greek words “nous” and “trepein,” which mean “mind” and “to bend or turn.”

These enhancers are characterized by their cognitive boosting-capabilities, but also their low-prevalence of side effects. Synthetic Nootropics like Piracetam, Phenylpiracetam, Oxiracetam, Nefiracetam, Aniracetam, and Coluracetam are created in labs.

There are also naturally-found Nootropics, which can be added to synthetics to enhance benefits. These include grape seed extract, fish oil, yerba mate, and licorice.

How is a Substance classified as “Nootropic?”

In order for something to be considered “Nootropic,” it must meet 5 criteria. All types of Nootropics are considered “true” when they contain the following 5 characteristics:

  • Enhances memory
  • Helps brain function
  • Protects the brain
  • Increases the efficacy of neuronal firing
  • Is virtually non-toxic/minimal long-term side effects

A Nootropic can only be called this if the substance grants you more control over your neurochemistry and the behavioral/experiential results.

A Look at the Brain

nootropics brain activity

The brain is a giant network of billions of neurons that are connected by billions of synapses. These neurons have the job of communicating and working together, through the use of signals, to help your brain function. This system of neurons and synapses work in-tandem with each other through the use of neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters are basically chemicals that send signals/impulses from one nerve to the next. These messengers can be either excitatory or inhibitory. Excitatory neurotransmitters cause/continue a message and inhibitory neurotransmitters stop a message.

Depending on the type of message that is received in the brain, neurotransmitters begin working with receptors to form a system. These systems are what perform the functions of your brain and body, and you have a multitude of them.

How Do Nootropics Work?

Many people are under the impression that Nootropics simply make a person smarter. In reality, Nootropics increase both the creation of- and signaling of- various neurotransmitters in the brain. This means that Nootropics helps neurotransmitters send and receive signals in your brain more efficiently.

Nootropics target specific systems in the brain and work to increase their efficiency. While various types of Nootropics can target different areas, they generally work for systems related to brain/cognitive function. What a Nootropic does and how it works will be further specified below.

What are the Types of Nootropics?

nootropic pills

There are different kinds of Nootropics and each one works differently; producing different results. The most common Nootropics (and how they work) include:

1) Racetams:

This is considered the broadest and most-common class of Nootropics. It includes Piracetam [1], the first and oldest form, as well as Aniracetam [2], Pramiracetam [3], and Oxiracetam [4]. Racetams have a similar structure to a naturally-found nucleus and increase the levels of neurotransmitters that exist for proper brain function. They also prevent damage to current brain cells; increasing communication between various areas of the brain.

2) Ampakines:

These Nootropics are known to be “stronger” than Racetams. They powerfully-increase levels of glutamate in the blood, which is essential in synaptic plasticity. This is important to processes of the brain like memory and learning. Ampakines [5] are used to increase alertness and attention span.

3) Nutraceuticals:

This category includes food or food products that blend together the effects of the other types of Nootropics. They are known to be “weaker” than other types but are known to preserve and improve brain-activity.

4) Choline:

This is typically added to Nootropic “stacks,” or blends. It specifically increases the production of a particular neurotransmitter, which is known for memory performance. It is also an essential component to phospholipids, which make up the membranes of brain-cells.

5) Pyritinol:

This is a component found in many stacks, as it has anti-oxidant effects on the brain. In particular, Pyritinol [6] helps use glucose accordingly for periods of time when the brain is feeling tired or stressed. When your brain has more energy, cognitive ability and concentration increase.

6) Vinpocetine:

This is found in many stacks, and its job is mostly to dilate blood vessels. While this doesn’t sound like much, it improves circulation and blood-flow to the brain. This can improve concentration, energy, focus, and mental-agility.

What Do Nootropics Do?

As Nootropics increases both the production and efficiency of neurotransmitters in the brain. When the brain’s neurotransmitters can send these signals more efficiently, the brain experiences an improvement in processing ability, longer attention spans, mood elevation, and better memory.

As the long-term level, Nootropics can improve the plasticity and overall health of neurons, which helps create the long-lasting improvements to the brain associated with the supplements. Some types of Nootropics can also have effects on the blood-flow to the brain, or vasodilation. With more glucose, nutrients, and oxygen going to the brain, it experiences an increase in focus and brain-energy.

Not only do Nootropics help with energy, focus, memory, and cognitive function, but they can also help slow down the effects that aging has on the brain. They have been shown to preserve and protect parts of the brain in long-term use; increasing/stimulating the growth and production of neurons, while also decreasing the rate in which they are damaged.

Nootropics, depending on type, can also help with other functions. Many users report an increase in social ability, which includes boosts to confidence, verbal fluidity, and extroversion. Others report that Nootropics can be used as a pre-workout supplement, to boost motivation and focus.

Are there Side Effects?

nootropic medication tablets

Some supplements (Piracetam) have been around for decades and there are a ton of studies related to the effects and benefits. Newer Nootropic-versions contain less scientific background, but it should be remembered that one of the characteristics of Nootropics is their complete lack of long-term toxicity.

Though Nootropics are not approved by the FDA, science indicates that Nootropics’ side effects are rare and/or extremely-mild. Of course, benefits and side effects vary by type, person, and personal health. It is important to follow safety and dosage instructions for each type of Nootropics.

The most common side effect from taking any supplement comes from “mega-dosing,” or taking too much at once. If you do not follow the dosage instructions properly, your brain and body could receive too much bio-activity. This could result in the “short-circuiting” of cognition or trigger the over-release of substances from the G.I. tract.

Science has determined that side effects of Nootropics could be dependent on personal variation. This means that a wide variety of factors can determine individual side effects, like a person’s current health status, medications, genetics, diet, and lifestyle.

Though side effects of Nootropics are uncommon or rare (with the proper usage), the most commonly reported from users include:

  • Brain fog
  • Headaches
  • Digestive discomfort
  • Insomnia
  • Strange/lucid dreams

Nootropics to Know

There is a lot of Nootropic information out there, but here’s a few reputable products and brands to get you started on your journey.

  • Qualia by Neurohacker
  • Awaken by Awakened Alchemy
  • Nootrobox by HVMN
  • Cerebral Key by Infinite Intelligence Labs
  • Optimind by Alternascript, LLC
  • TruBrain products by TruBrain
  • NooCube by Wolfson Berg Limited (More About NooCube…)

Before you begin taking any type of supplement, it is important to consult your medical-care team first. It is important to remember that any change to diet, medication, or lifestyle should not be taken lightly. After taking the proper precautions, you could be on your way to improving and preserving brain-function in no time.


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