What Are Nootropic Drugs? Beginner’s Guide to Increase Brain Power through Supplements

What Are Nootropic Drugs? How They Really Work, Side Effects, and Safe Use

Your Mind on Nootropics: Part One

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Originally published at Biohacking Entrepreneur.

In this series, we will be discussing substances that can improve cognitive function, examining which engineered and natural nootropics can safely and effectively increase brain power, improve your memory, and improve concentration, and providing our own research and results for using different nootropics, natural and engineered.

do nootropics work
As we seek to increase brain power, nootropic drugs claiming miraculous results are incredibly tempting

Jane owns a small local business, has two children, ages 5 and 10 years old, and desired to drive results and take charge in her personal and professional life. Yet, between the struggles of balancing work and family, taking care of her kids, and also growing her business, she often felt that her mind was crowded and her ability to learn new things, make decisions, and relax was nearly non-existent.

This is a feeling that we personally can relate with and have seen evidenced in the lives of many of the entrepreneurs we coach.

Do nootropics work?

What if there were drugs for concentration, cognitive enhancement, and memory improvement? By simply taking a pill, you could increase brain power, learning new languages in days, developing miraculous focus, and dominating your field of business. Perhaps you have seen advertisements or blog posts touting similar effects that have been experienced with a particular smart drug, nootropic supplement, or pill claiming to be the “REAL NZT48” from the movie, Limitless.

The idea reeks of Hollywood and sounds like a scam.

As someone who has spent a lot of time trying and researching nootropics, I hate to break it to you, but it is a scam.

Just like there is no “quick, easy method to become a millionaire,” there is also no drug that can grant superhuman cognitive function.

However, once Jane began adding natural nootropic supplements to her diet, she began to develop improved mental clarity, increased memory power, and a feeling of confidence in her decisions.

The key word here is “develop.” Just like you do not gain muscle by increasing your protein intake, you do not gain gray matter by increasing the nutrients that nurture and feed your brain. You must combine exercise with diet, activity with education.

“Extra protein ≠ extra muscle. #Nootropics ≠ smarter brains. We must combine exercise + diet, activity + education.”

We have personally experienced great success combining education on the way our brain functions, changes in our daily routines, and brain boosting foods and supplements. Our goal for this series is to share the knowledge, processes, and substances that have proven to be the most effective at cognitive enhancement.

The term “nootropic” does not indicate a scam, nor is it impossible to improve cognitive function through different substances.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “nootropic” merely refers to “a substance that enhances cognition and memory and facilitates learning.” Many include substances that improve concentration and mood in the definition as well.

There are many naturally occuring nootropics, such as phytochemicals (found in fruit), iron, and the B vitamins. We discuss the natural nootropics you can add to your diet in our post on how to increase brain power through a mind diet.

Today, we will answer the following questions:

  • How do nootropics work?
  • What are nootropics’ side effects? Are nootropics safe?
  • Free Guide on Nootropic Ingredients, covering:
  • What are the ingredients I should look for in a nootropic supplement?
  • Which of these ingredients are most effective?
  • Where do these ingredients come from?
  • What do these ingredients do?

How Do Nootropics Work?

natural nootropics
Many nootropics are already a part of our diet

Here at the Biohacking Entrepreneur, we have tougher requirements for what substances our included in our list of nootropics.

First of all, it has to be clear to us and to the scientific community how a cognitive enhancer works. There are nootropics that have been staples in diets for centuries, with decades of research behind them. There is no reason to risk your short and long term health on a new, chemically engineered, and yet-untested drug.

You only have one brain, one body, and one life. Our goals in biohacking are to improve effectiveness, increase longevity, and maximize potential and there is no need to risk damaging these outcomes by turning ourselves into human guinea pigs (no offense meant to guinea pigs).

Second of all, a nootropic must be sustainable, i.e. it must have negligible negative side effects.

Many so called “nootropic” stimulants, such as Adderall, function as reuptake inhibitors, blocking the uptake of other neurotransmitters such as dopamine. This leads to a spike in dopamine and a depletion of available neurotransmitters, which, while this provides the temporary increase in focus Adderall is associated with, can also produce dependency, tolerance, and damage the long term functions of the brain.

If a nootropic substance provides a very fast and dramatic boost in cognitive function, it will most likely end in a very fast and dramatic crash. A sustainable cognitive enhancer will most likely increase brain power at a gradual pace, which, if and when it wears off, will never cause the user to fall below their typical brain function.

Unfortunately, we have been conditioned to expect instant gratification without considering the long-term effects. Want to lose stomach fat without going to the gym? Get liposuction. Want to ease pain without changing your lifestyle? Use habit-forming drugs. Want food without cooking? Eat fast food.

I don’t know about you, but we want to break this pattern for ourselves and our families. We want to share knowledge and set examples of the immeasurable payout realized when you play the long game.

We know what it is like to live each day focusing on getting through the next few hours. Drinking a pot of coffee just to make it through our high-stress jobs, only to hit heavy crashes, withdrawal symptoms, and messed up sleep cycles.

We have made the choice to break the cycle. To set a new pattern. To pull the “long-con.” And we have never felt better.


Jesse Lawler, of Smart Drug Smarts, has built an infographic defining nootropics that does a great job of taking into account these additional requirements that the biohacking entrepreneur should use when examining a nootropic substance.

With this in mind, here are the top ways that well-researched and sustainable nootropic drugs improve cognitive function.

With this in mind, here are the top ways that well-researched and sustainable nootropic drugs improve cognitive function.

Increased production of/efficiency in neurotransmitters

There are many nutrients you are already consuming that already accomplish this, although it can often be hard to get the optimal amount through diet alone. Whether a substance increases the production of a specific neurotransmitter, the efficiency of the neurotransmitters, or the strength of synapses, this increase in neural and synaptic plasticity is linked to staving off Alzheimer’s and depression, as well as improving the ability to learn new things.

Natural nootropics in this category: B Vitamins (promote communication between different parts of the brain), Vitamin D (influences neuron growth)

Increased flow of blood and oxygen to the brain

Increased blood flow, or vasodilation, can help ensure enough blood and oxygen gets to all extremities (including the brain). This helps to improve brain function.

Natural nootropics in this category: iron (assists in the transportation of oxygen in the blood)

Protecting brain cells against damage/reducing inflammation in the brain/eliminating free radicals

As much as we would love to deny it, we are getting older every day.

It is unavoidable that, as we age, our cells will begin to decay. However, by reducing the stressors (one of the biggest is inflammation) and reinforcing our cells, we can slow down this decay.

Natural nootropics in this category: Omega 3 (reduces inflammation), flavonoids (prevent brain cells from dying)

Other improvements to brain function

Our brains are incredibly complex and there are a multitude of ways that different nutrients have been shown to increase brain power and improve brain health. Antioxidants have been shown to decrease the decline in cognitive functions associated with aging, Vitamin D has been linked to improvements in mood, and water can keep your brain tissue from shrinking due to dehydration.

Every statement regarding cognitive enhancement should be evaluated in light of the scientific research, but just because it does not fall into one of the first 3 categories does not mean that it does not have the ability to improve cognitive function.

Are Nootropics Safe?

cognitive enhancement

Many substances labeled as a “nootropic” are in fact dangerous, dependency-forming substances

As stated earlier, if a “nootropic” substance is not safe, than it does not belong on the biohacking entrepreneur’s list.

We already discussed the dependency and tolerance forming effects of some “nootropic” stimulants, such as Adderall or Ritalin. A similar effect has also been observed in Modafinal in high doses, as well as risk of a very serious skin disease.

Here are some tips to ensure the nootropics you use are safe and to minimize side effects:

  • Does it require a perscription? Even if you can get it relatively easily without a prescription overseas or online, stay away from it.
  • Is there limited research behind it? There are plenty of well-researched alternatives. Stay away from it.
  • Does it promise unrealistic results? Regardless of whether or not it can deliver on these promises, is it safe to take a pill that causes 20lbs of fat loss in 2 weeks? Consider the same when thinking about taking a pill that promises “instant boost in focus, memory improvement, and alertness!”
  • Are the ingredients (and amounts of each) clearly listed? Are the ingredients naturally occurring (DHA is found in many fish, choline is found in eggs, etc.)? If it is not naturally occurring, this does not mean it is not safe (piracetam is one of the oldest, most researched, and safest artificial nootropic), but it should definitely be evaluated much more closely.
  • Everyone has different dietary habits, genetics, and reactions to certain substances. While a common nootropic, Noopept, has been linked to memory improvement in most trials, it was found to cause headaches in those who had a deficiency of choline (naturally found in eggs). Start any new supplement in small doses, carefully gathering your own data to determine any effects that may be specific to you, your diet, and your level of mental activity.

There is a LOT of information out there regarding nootropics. It can be tough to sort through the data and try to decide where to start. Download our free nootropic ingredient list, covering the most effective and safest nootropic ingredients. If you need additional help building your nootropic stack, shoot us a line or comment below. This is an involved community and we love sharing knowledge and helping others reach their maximum potential.

Wondering which nootropics to start with?

Enter your email at Biohacking Entrepreneur to receive our free guide on nootropic ingredients.

Nootropics are not a magical key to instantly increase brain power, improve your memory, and improve concentration. However, when combined with education and healthy mental activity, they can provide a powerful edge and help you realize these results. You should still consult your doctor before you begin taking any new supplements or making drastic dietary changes.

Take Aways

  • Nootropics are already a part of our diet and can be supplemented safely, as long as we:
  • do not buy into the hype. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.
  • realize that our brain health is a long term investment. We must not be willing to trade instant gratification for long term negative effects.
  • realize that our brain health is the result of the sum of many parts. We must combine education on cognitive function, healthy mental activity, and nootropic nutrients/substances.
  • Nootropic substances, both natural and engineered, can provide an extra edge for those looking to maximize their potential.

In the next part of our Nootropics 101 series, we will be discussing in more detail nootropics’ effects on neurotransmitters and how to maximize on these potential effects. Subscribe below to receive the latest mind hacks and optimization tips for entrepreneurs.

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Originally published at Biohacking Entrepreneur.