Nootropics, or “smart drugs” that alter your neurochemistry in a positive way, are becoming widely known as a way to enhance memory, focus, creativity, energy, and neural processing speeds in healthy adults. With so many nootropic options available, however, consumers want to know–how do you cut through the marketing and find the most effective nootropics? You know, the supplements that are actually backed by science?
If you, like many consumers, want to avoid the gimmicks and skip right to the nootropics that actually work, the research below is what you’re after. Here are the most effective nootropic supplements according to science:
Table of Contents
What are Nootropics?
We mentioned that nootropics are known as “smart drugs,” but let us elaborate:
Nootropics are substances that impact the production and regulation of neurotransmitters to alter brain function in a positive way. Each nootropic substance has a unique interaction with the nervous system, so they each offer their own benefits. For instance, some may help to upregulate dopamine to increase focus, while others help to promote GABA production to improve the stress response and reduce anxiety.
Because everyone’s neural environment is unique, nootropics will also affect people in unique ways. For instance, someone who doesn’t lack dopamine may not benefit from a dopamine-enhancing nootropic in the same way as someone who does lack dopamine.
What are the Most Effective Nootropics?
For the intents and purposes of this article, we’re going to discuss natural nootropics and not prescription nootropics (like some of the medications prescribed for mental health conditions or ADHD) or synthetic nootropic stacks, which often have undefined and unresearched benefits.
Why? Because prescription nootropics are obviously proven effective for very specific conditions (and some off-label uses), and they can be prescribed by your doctor when necessary. Those who are scouring the internet for effective nootropics to improve memory, energy, or other cognitive functions, however, are not looking for a prescription. They are usually looking for a more natural solution, preferably one that’s actually effective.
So, we’re going to stick to the tried and true, research-backed natural nootropics that we consider to be the most effective for a variety of ailments, including memory, focus, energy, and stress relief. Let’s jump in:
Nootropics Most Effective for Memory
Lion’s mane may help to enhance memory in a number of ways, but most significantly by increasing the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This helps to promote the growth of new neurons, improving the communication pathways in the brain, and possibly increasing processing speed.
Aside from the potential benefits of lion’s mane for healthy brains, the mushroom is also associated with several advantages for older adults with mild cognitive impairments. One study found a trend of significant improvement in cognitive function for these adults when taking lion’s mane daily, though the benefits stopped after they quit taking lion’s mane.
Lion’s Mane is also full of prebiotics that help to alter the gut’s microbiome in a positive way. Although it’s not always been well understood how the gut microbiome impacts mental health, researchers now understand that many neurotransmitters are made in the gut, which communicates with the brain via the gut-brain axis.
In other words, healthy gut flora is the key to good mental health, and to preventing other cognitive disturbances, like brain fog.
Traditionally, ginkgo was used for many reasons, like improving kidney health, treating respiratory conditions, and managing memory loss and cognitive decline in elderly patients. Now, researchers believe that ginkgo’s ability to improve blood flow in the body, and especially to the brain, is behind its diverse health potential.
In one study, researchers used a standardized ginkgo extract called EGb 761 to effectively manage dementia in 216 outpatient subjects. A later study confirmed these results using the same standardized extract, and added that it may help improve both cognitive function and social patterns in adults with dementia.
Ginkgo may also be healing for the brain and nervous system, which can help it to provide greater cognitive benefits over time. In animal animal models and test-tube models, it’s been shown to help promote the growth of neurons. Ginkgo may also have preventative effects that help keep cortisol and blood-pressure levels low during stress-related experiences, which can help decrease the risk of tissue damage and improve overall performance.
Bacopa monnieri is another ancient remedy we’ve added to the list thanks to continual research that proves it may have a multitude of benefits. For instance, bacopa monnieri has been linked to improved processing speed and reduced reaction times, as well as memory enhancement and the prevention of age-related cognitive decline. Researchers believe that it has powerful antioxidant properties that can help prevent oxidative stress, a primary cause of neurodegeneration as we age.
Alpha-GPC helps to increase acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps facilitate learning and memory. That’s why Alpha-GPC has come to be known as a powerful nootropic for improving memory. So much so that it is sold as a prescription medication for managing Alzheimer’s Disease in some other countries. Of course, it exists as a natural dietary supplement in the U.S. and can be purchased without a prescription, which is why it still fits on this list of natural nootropics.
One study suggests that alpha-GP. may have an even wider range of cognitive benefits. More specifically, it found that alpha-GPC may target four primary areas of cognition–verbal memory, visual memory, verbal learning, and executive function.
Another study comparing the impact of caffeine and alpha-GPC found that alpha GPC supplementation increased mental performance speed in young adults by 18%.
Nootropics Most Effective for Focus
L-theanine is one of the primary amino acids found in tea leaves. It’s thought to have a few therapeutic benefits, acting both as a nootropic (cognition enhancing) and adaptogenic (stress regulating) compound.
Theanine is thought to act like glutamine in the body, an amino acid that impacts the production of three essential neurotransmitters–GABA, serotonin, and dopamine. By helping to regulate neurotransmitter production, L-theanine may change the way that the brain responds to stress, promoting relaxation that can help improve focus.
In fact, theanine’s signature benefit is promoting a sense of calm, which is why it pairs nicely with caffeine. Some evidence suggests that it may negate any negative side effects related to caffeine, like anxiety or increased blood pressure. If you’re wondering “How will feeling more calm help me focus?”, let us explain:
By calming the brain and improving the response to stress, L-theanine may help to streamline your focus and prevent you from getting distracted. A reactive nervous system, essentially the opposite of feeling calm, makes you more susceptible to outside distractions.
There’s some research to help us understand L-theanine’s focus-enhancing potential. A small 2011 study found that L-theanine had a pronounced effect on attention and reaction time response in healthy adults who are prone to anxiety.
Another 2019 randomized controlled trial involving 30 healthy adults concluded that L-theanine was safe and well-tolerated as a “nutraceutical ingredient for improving mental conditions in a healthy population.” Specifically, L-theanine supplementation was found to decrease stress-related symptoms (involving depression, anxiety, and sleep) and increase cognition scores (involving verbal fluency and executive function).
Read "How Much L-Theanine to Take With Coffee" to learn more.
L-tyrosine is one of the most common forms of supplemental tyrosine, an essential nutrient that helps the body make dopamine (for motivation), norepinephrine (for muscle recovery and blood flow), and adrenaline (for focus). Stress can cause tyrosine levels to become depleted, which is why stress can prevent you from being able to focus, even when you need to the most.
Luckily, L-tyrosine may help to improve your ability to focus by providing building blocks for these crucial neurochemicals. In fact, one study shows us exactly this–tyrosine supplementation can help the brain perform well at various cognitive tasks even while under stress. In fact, L-tyrosine is one of the most common natural nootropics chosen by those hoping to manage ADHD and related conditions.
Nootropics Most Effective for Energy
Caffeine is the most well known natural nootropic in the world, and it has undeniable benefits for boosting energy and focus. It works by blocking the production of adenosine which can help you feel less tired and more alert.
Caffeine doses range from 20-400 milligrams per day, with larger doses leaning towards more severe side effects. In fact, regular doses of caffeine can lead to dependence or other unwanted side effects, like adrenal fatigue, which is the opposite effect from what most people are trying to accomplish when taking natural nootropics.
This is where stacking comes in–caffeine can be even more powerful at smaller doses (and may have fewer side effects) when paired with some other nootropic supplements. L-theanine is a perfect example of a nootropic that pairs well with caffeine, and it’s next up on the list.
Cordyceps is a more popular functional mushroom with an age-old reputation. It was first used by herdsmen to combat the effects of low oxygen levels while working at high altitudes, and researchers now believe that it can improve many aspects of both mental and physical health by improving blood flow.
In fact, it was once given credit for helping the Chinese Olympic women’s running team break several work records. Cordyceps is most often linked to increased endurance, though research has also found it to have possible benefits for improving memory and learning in animal models thanks to extraordinary antioxidant properties.
Nootropics Most Effective for Relieving Stress
Rhodiola Rosea is another natural herb that's often penned as a nootropic thanks to its potential ability to improve memory and learning, and an adaptogen, or a compound that improves the body's stress response. Most research agrees that Rhodiola Rosea counteracts the stress response, though sources disagree on the exact mechanism that makes stress relief possible. Some resources suggest that rosea rhodiola can help by increasing endurance and therefore lowering fatigue levels.
Other sources suggest that it alters the release of stress hormones while boosting energy metabolism and that it may help to treat stress symptoms and prevent chronic stress-related complications. It may also improve oxygen flow throughout the body, which is frequently associated with improved health and lower stress levels.
Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)
GABA is naturally the antidote for stress and anxiety. It’s naturally produced by the body but can also be taken in supplement form. A number of studies have shown that the level of GABA in the brain directly corresponds to feelings of anxiety, restlessness, and general symptoms related to stress.
Additionally, GABA may help influence the production of new neurons and the proliferation of existing ones. Plus, some evidence suggests that GABA may help to lower blood pressure which may help to mediate some of the effects of high stress environments.
The Most Effective Nootropics are Stacked
After seeing so many nootropics and what they have to offer, you may be wondering–do I have to choose just one? Luckily, that’s not the case, and the most effective way to use nootropics is to combine them together into nootropic stacks.
Nootropic stacks, or blends of nootropics compounds designed to provide synergistic cognitive support, are used to offer more full coverage support than any one compound can on its own.
Our Lucid Mushroom + Nootropic instant beverages include many of these brain-boosting nootropics alongside small amounts of caffeine from either coffee, matcha, or chai tea. Unlike other nootropic stacks that are encapsulated and limited in dosage, Lucid is an instant drink that’s not only tasty, but incredibly potent and effective.
To learn more, read about why we chose our unique ingredient blend.
How to Effectively Use Nootropics to Improve Brain Health
Once you’ve narrowed down a nootropic supplement or two to add to your daily routine, there are a few basic things to remember:
Quality is Key
Nootropics are supplements, meaning they are not as well regulated as pharmaceuticals in the U.S. So, it’s up to you to check the quality and safety of the brand you choose.
Look for a brand that uses a cGMP certified marketing facility, third-party lab testing, and has experience in the wellness supplement field. Then, check that the label lines up with the test results so that you know exactly what you’re getting.
Choose Nootropics That Work for You
First and foremost, you want to choose a nootropic blend that meets your needs. If you’re booking for very specific benefits, you may choose only one nootropic supplement. If you’re looking for something more diverse, you may choose a nootropic stack.
Luckily, most nootropics come in the form of amino acids or vitamins that are safe to take even if you don’t have a deficiency. In many cases, any extra passes through and is eliminated through your urine.
Daily Use is Most Effective
When it comes to brain supplements, consistency is key. While some supplements may have fast-acting effects that makes them okay for on-the-spot use, most work better with daily use.
Regular neural support helps to keep neural pathways (and neurotransmitter levels) balanced, leading to more prominent and consistent effects. You should take your nootropic blend daily for the best results.
Start Low and Slow
Nootropic dosage can be confusing, and the dosage used for each specific supplement varies quite a bit. Generally speaking, you can follow the recommendations given on the label, assuming you chose a high-quality, trustworthy manufacturer.
Start with the lowest recommended dose. Then, you may choose to increase your dosage slowly after some time to achieve optimal effects.
Best Nootropic Supplements for Daily Use
Our Lucid stack contains four powerful medicinal mushrooms, including Maitake, Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, and Tremella, plus nootropics like BCAA’s, L-Theanine, L-Tyrosine, Ginkgo Biloba, and more. This functional formula can help boost your performance, improve immunity, support healing, and more–a slew of benefits that most energy drinks and coffee blends just don’t provide.
When it’s all said and done, this nootropic + mushroom super blend adds up to offer these benefits and more:
- Increases endurance
- Improves athletic performance
- Helps to manage fatigue
- Boosts immunity
- Supports fat burn
- Improves neurogenesis
- Enhances focus, learning, and memory
- Supports a healthy stress response
- Promotes relaxation
- Supports a balanced mood