Mushrooms have been used medicinally since nearly the beginning of medicine. At least 200 mushroom species have been identified to have medicinal effects, usually for regulating immune functions or stimulating blood flow–but only 6 mushrooms have been found to have substantial benefits for cognitive health.
These 6 mushrooms are classified as nootropics, substances that promote cognitive function by acting on the nervous system to alter the production or uptake of neurotransmitters.
So, you know that mushrooms are good for you, but what brain-boosting benefits do mushroom nootropics bring to the table? And how do nootropic mushrooms compare to other types of nootropic supplements?
This complete guide will help you understand everything you need to know about nootropic mushroom supplements, including what they are, how to use them, what benefits to expect, and how to identify high-quality products.
Ready? Let’s take it from the top:
Table of Contents
Mushroom nootropics are a natural option for regulating nervous system functions. They may improve many mental and physical functions.
Many pharmaceuticals are made based on the biometabolites found in mushrooms.
Being a high-quality nootropic mushroom supplement is the best way to reap the benefits of nootropics without adverse effects.
What are Nootropics?
We mentioned that nootropics are substances that enhance cognitive function, usually by changing the way the body produces or uses important neurotransmitters. Most often, nootropics work by altering the production or uptake of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, or GABA.
You may recognize these neurotransmitters as important for mental health, but they actually do much more.
Dopamine and norepinephrine, for instance, play key roles in your ability to focus, gain motivation, and spring into action. Serotonin heavily impacts many bodily processes, like healing, sleep, mood, cognition, learning, memory, and more. GABA is your primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, and it’s crucial for regulating the stress response to keep anxiety in check and make you feel calm.
So, by regulating the body’s use of these neurotransmitters, nootropics are able to positively impact sleep, learning, memory, focus, energy, stress responses, and much more.
Every nootropic compound has a unique mechanism of action, meaning you can fine tune your nootropic regimen to meet your specific needs. Think about prescription medications: Stimulants and anti-anxiety medications, for instance, act on different neural pathways to regulate the production and uptake of neurotransmitters. Each has a different mechanism of action, producing very different, but specific effects.
This is how nootropics, including mushroom nootropics, work in the body. Of course, not all nootropics are mushrooms–some are amino acids, herbal supplements, and even synthetic drugs. Mushroom nootropics, however, are heavily sought after for a number of reasons:
Benefits of Mushroom Nootropics
It’s true that mushrooms were among the first medicines ever recorded, and their legacy lives on today in many areas with a heavier traditional medicine practice. In fact, one of the earliest recorded accounts of mushroom medicine dates back to 450 bce when Hippocrates, a great Greek physician classified the amadou mushroom as a potent anti-inflammatory that could be used to cauterize wounds.
Mushrooms produce various bio-metabolites, called beta-glucans, that are now the model for various synthetic medications. These biometabolites are the reason that mushrooms may offer a range of nootropic benefits that herbal supplements just can’t offer.
While it’s true that beta-glucans are found in some plants, like oats and barley, in much smaller amounts, they are primarily present in the cell walls of bacteria, fungi, yeasts, and algae. Many of these substances, including yeast and mold, are subsequently used to make modern pharmaceuticals.
Using mushrooms for their medicinal properties simply takes advantage of the medicine at the source. Proponents of medicinal mushrooms believe that combining medicinal mushrooms, if you know how to do it properly, can give you effects that are similar to the lab made concoctions, but with fewer side effects.
Mushrooms with Research-Backed Nootropic Benefits
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
Although chaga is lumped in with other medicinal mushrooms, it’s very different from most mushrooms in that it’s woody and herbal and cannot be eaten. However, it is safe to consume–it just needs to be dried and ground and brewed as tea or consumed in capsules as a workaround for its woody texture.
The reason chaga is so different from other medicinal mushrooms is because it is technically a canker fungus, or a type of fungus that causes cankers in dying or infected trees. Still, chaga is among the most beneficial therapeutic fungi in the world, and it has been used for centuries for various anticancer, antitumor, anti-mutagenic, antiviral, antidiabetic, antioxidant, and analgesic applications.
More recently, researchers have begun to investigate Chaga’s medicinal benefits more closely, and they’ve found that it may act as a acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, which can help to boost acetylcholine levels in the brain to improve learning and memory.
Other choline supplements, like alpha-GPC, are classified as nootropics for this very reason–but unlike other choline-boosting supplements that contain choline, chaga helps the body produce more choline naturally.
Research has also found that chaga has significant antioxidant effects, which may help to reduce free radicals that cause tissue damage as we age.
Need to Know
- Chaga may improve the body’s ability to produce choline, which can improve learning and memory.
- Chaga is high in oxalates, so it shouldn’t be used in excess or by those with kidney problems or who take medications to thin the blood or regulate blood sugar.
- Chaga is usually available as a powder or as capsules. A Chaga extract is the best way to reap the therapeutic benefits, but dried, whole chaga can also be steeped in hot water to activate its therapeutic compounds.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris)
Cordyceps is one of the world’s most interesting fungi–often known as the “zombie mushroom” because it grows parasitically on caterpillars. This wild version of cordyceps, scientifically known as cordyceps sinensis, is hard to come by in the wild due to overharvesting and is not easy to farm.
Fortunately, Cordyceps militaris, a cultivated form of the fungus that doesn’t need a caterpillar host, carries many of the same benefits. In fact, some evidence suggests that cordyceps militaris, the form of cordyceps that’s used in most supplements, may have even more active components than cordyceps sinensis.
It contains plenty of cordycepin, a bioactive metabolite that’s found only in a few forms of Cordyceps mushroom. It was originally investigated for its antibiotic potential, but that research fell through to a much wider therapeutic potential. A review published in 2020 stated:
“Cordycepin is known for various nutraceutical and therapeutic potential, such as anti-diabetic, anti-hyperlipidemia, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, antioxidant, anti-aging, anticancer, antiviral, hepato-protective, hypo-sexuality, cardiovascular diseases, antimalarial, anti-osteoporotic, anti-arthritic, cosmeceutical etc. which makes it a most valuable medicinal mushroom for helping in maintaining good health.”
So, what are its nootropic benefits? Traditionally, cordyceps has been used to help manage fatigue, as well as for various respiratory and kidney related conditions. Now, clinical evidence shows that cordyceps may work by improving blood flow, which may have a wide range of benefits for both the body and the brain.
For instance, Cordyceps is thought to boost ATP production, which can help to increase energy, prevent free radical damage to tissues, increase choline levels, and reduce fatigue. Some evidence suggests that cordyceps may help to naturally increase creatine levels, acting as a performance enhancer and increasing endurance during vigorous or prolonged exercises.
Cordyceps is sometimes called one of the best nootropics for energy. Ultimately, proponents of cordyceps mushroom nootropics claim that regular doses promote better focus and better mental and physical endurance, but you need to take it daily to reap the benefits.
Need to Know
- Cordyceps may help improve blood flow, which may be the mechanism behind several nootropic benefits.
- Research has found cordyceps to possibly increase endurance and physical performance, which is why it may be useful for athletes.
- Cordyceps mushrooms are edible, but a cordyceps extract is the best way to reap the benefits of cordycepin, the primary active component in cordyceps.
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceu)
Lion’s Mane is a medical mushroom that’s often called the “mind mushroom” thanks to purported benefits surrounding memory and focus. It's also often described as one of the best nootropics for memory.
A 2017 study, for instance, found Lion’s Mane to increase object recognition and memory in mice. Further animal research found that the medicinal mushrooms may even help prevent cognitive decline caused by neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson's and Alzheimer’s.
Human evidence is limited, but one older study did evaluate the benefits of the medicinal mushroom on cognitive performance in older adults. This research concluded that daily consumption of mushroom extract for 4 months improved cognitive performance in adults between 50 and 85 years of age compared to the placebo control group. The cognitive performance scores decreased after discontinuing the extract.
In the long term, when taking lion’s mane daily, it may help to promote neurogenesis, or the growth of new neurons. This may help improve many aspects of mental and cognitive health, improving focus and mood over time.
Most significantly, though, Lion’s Mane may help to promote neurogenesis by increasing the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). In other words, it may stimulate the growth of nerve cells in the brain, which may help to improve memory from a less direct angle by improving overall brain function.
Need to Know
- Lion’s Mane may improve neurogenesis, or the body’s ability to create new neurons.
- Lion’s mane has been linked to increased focus, memory capacity, and brain healing, and is often suggested as a supplement for combating dementia.
- Lion’s mane extract is a great option for reaping the nootropic benefits of this mushroom, but Lion’s Mane is also a common addition to nootropic stacks intended to promote focus, which may be a more well-rounded option.
Maitake (Grifola frondosa)
Maitake has traditionally been used to treat various forms of cancer, though it wasn’t until more recently that this application has been researched. Along with varying research on its cancer-treatment applications, though, came evidence that it may impact brain function and neurotransmitter levels.
More specifically, research has found maitake to have potential antidepressant effects by sensitizing AMPA receptors. AMPA expression is reduced in patients with depression. It’s also known to have a fair amount of beta-glucans that may also offer significant antidepressant effects.
One trial found that when maitake was combined with ashwagandha, it could significantly decrease cortisol production (or the stress response) in animal models. More research is needed to verify maitake’s nootropic potential, but taking it daily may lead to significant immune system benefits, which can enhance any nootropic supplementation routine.
Need to Know
- Matake may help to regulate mood, making it a potential option for managing depression.
- Although it may have some nootropic benefits, Maitake is most often linked to increased immunity. Its diverse benefits mean that it can complement any wellness regimen.
- Maitake extract is a great option for reaping the therapeutic benefits of this mushroom because it is already biologically active.
Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Oyster mushrooms are popular in cuisine and are packed full of vitamins and minerals, but they have more benefits than just being a nutritional powerhouse. Evidence suggests that oyster mushrooms have antiviral, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, and anti-bacterial benefits that may help it to reduce oxidative stress. Some proponents claim that this may help oyster mushrooms to increase cognition, especially by suppressing free radical damage and oxidative stress.
According to a 2021 study, oyster mushrooms may improve gut health by decreasing the growth of pathogenic bacteria and increasing the production of short-chain fatty acids. Another study found the mushroom to have significant anti-inflammatory potential.
While the nootropic benefits of this mushroom are mostly unexplored by research, anecdotal reports point to a significant impact on cognition overall. Oyster mushrooms are one of the more common and accessible mushrooms on this list, so they may be a great option for adding to your regular diet or supplementation routine.
Need to Know
- Oyster mushrooms are not as well researched as other nootropic mushrooms, but still are thought to have some anti-inflammatory and gut-boosting benefits.
- Anecdotal reports claim that oyster mushrooms have a significant impact on cognition.
- You can eat oyster mushrooms or look for an oyster mushroom extract, which will contain a more concentrated version of the mushroom’s beneficial compounds.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
Reishi is one of the world’s oldest medicinals, with its first use dating back over 2000 years. Originally, the mushroom has been used to promote relaxation and control cancerous tumors, but modern research shed light on its diverse therapeutic potential, including its nootropic benefits.
Most significantly, the mushroom may have some anti-anxiety benefits and some potential for reducing fatigue. In fact, one of the most heavily cited studies on reishi mushroom involved 50 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome who were given either reishi or a placebo. Patients were given a questionnaire to evaluate fatigue and quality of life after 4,8, and 12 weeks, and those taking reishi reported a significant increase in quality of life and energy levels.
Resihi may also support the growth of Nerve Growth Factor, which helps to promote the production of neurons and may improve focus, memory, and endurance over time.
Need to Know
- Reishi is often used to enhance sleep and promote relaxation, but it may also have several benefits for the nervous system and brain.
- Reishi mushroom may help to calm anxiety and promote focus, though research is limited.
- A Reishi extract is preferred over whole mushrooms because it contains an active form of the mushroom’s beta-glucans.
How to Use Mushroom Nootropics
Before you can get started with a mushroom nootropic regimen, you need to consider the dosing style and quality of the product you choose. Plus, you’ll want to figure out the dosage necessary to reap benefits, and the best time of day to take each specific type of mushroom.
It can seem like alot to keep up with–which is why nootropic mushroom blends are often the way to go. These multifaceted mushroom formulas are formulated to help you reap the synergistic benefits of many medicinal mushrooms without having to work in a handful of supplements.
Our Lucid Mushroom+Nootropic Formula is a perfect example.
If you want to take full advantage of the "functional" side of functional mushrooms, consider a mushroom super-blend like our Lucid Coffee, Chai, or Matcha powders. It takes full advantage of the benefits of these superfood mushrooms by pairing Cordyceps, Maitake, Tremella, and Lion's Mane, plus powerful nootropics, like BCAA's, L-Theanine, Alpha-GPC, and more.
To help you choose the best mushroom nootropic product, consider these factors:
Choosing a Mushroom Product
There are many different forms of mushroom products available, ranging from raw, fresh mushrooms to double-extracted powders to tinctures. Not all supplements are made equal, however.
Generally, for supplementing, a powder or extract is the best option. Tinctures contain mushroom material that has been exposed to alcohol, which is known to kill the beta-glucan content. Both capsules and powders can contain concentrated versions of the beta-glucans and other bioactive metabolites found in most medicinal mushrooms, though powders may give more control over the dosage.
Mushroom Supplement Quality
Mushroom supplement quality varies greatly from product to product, and mushroom consumers are at risk of falling victim to the industry’s shady tactics. Not all products that claim to be mushroom products are made from actual mushrooms–many are made from mycelium, the web of “roots” that grow beneath the surface and support the mushroom’s life.
Mycelium vs Mushroom
While the mycelium is crucial to the early stages of mushroom growth and the production of the fruiting body (the cap and stem portion, or “mushroom”), it does not contain a high beta-glucan content. Furthermore, the mycelium is usually grown on a grain substrate and is difficult to separate from the substrate at harvest. That means that many mycelium products contain a lot of grain fillers. In other words, they offer little to no therapeutic benefits, but can still be marketed as mushroom products.
To enjoy the benefits of nootropic mushrooms, you need to find a product made with mushroom extract from fruiting bodies, not mycelium products or whole mushroom products.
Read more about Mushroom Mycelium to learn the difference.
Another trick of the mushroom trade is to market “double extraction” products as though they are superior, but you actually need to stick with single, hot water extracted mushroom formulas.
The second phase in a “double extraction” involves alcohol which kills the beta-glucan content. Although manufacturers will tout this double extraction as better, products made via alcohol extraction are weak and diluted and will not provide the same benefits as single hot water extracted mushroom formulas.
Mushroom Nootropic Dosage
Figuring out the dosage needed for different mushroom nootropics can be tricky–each has their own unique dosing thresholds, and the formula heavily impacts the necessary dosage as well. For instance, some extract powders contain 20% beta-glucans or more, and some contain far less, meaning you need to adjust the dosage to meet your beta-glucan needs.
Plus, when combining mushrooms, you may find that you need a smaller dose of each one. This is because many have overlapping biometabolites and other compounds that work synergistically with each other. So, you either need to research the dosage for each mushroom individually, or you need to find a high-quality combination product and follow the suggested dosage. You can always slowly increase or decrease your dosage as needed, allowing a few days in between alterations to see the effects.
Lucid instant beverages are perfect for this. Our powerhouse combination of Lion’s Mane, Reishi, Tremella, Cordyceps, and a handful of other nootropic herbs and amino acids is a one-stop shop for total wellness. Just one scoop a day blended into water (plus all your favorite add-ins for coffee or tea) is all you need to reap the brain and body benefits of mushroom nootropics.
Who Shouldn’t Take Mushroom Nootropics?
Some people may not be able to safely take medicinal mushrooms due to certain health conditions or taking medications. Talk to your doctor before using mushroom nootropics if you:
- Take medications to thin the blood or manage blood pressure and blood sugar
- Take antidepressants or antianxiety medications
- Have a diagnosed lung or heart condition
- Are allergic to mushrooms
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
Side effects caused by medicinal mushrooms are rare, but may include:
- Bowel changes
- Allergic reaction
If you experience any adverse effects after trying medicinal mushrooms, stop taking them and talk to your doctor.
If you're interested in trying mushroom nootropics for yourself, check out our three flavor varieties of our mushroom+nootropic stack instant beverages: