The term “smart drugs'' circles through holistic and wellness communities often, but what are smart drugs? And how are they used to promote overall well-being?
Smart drugs, otherwise known as nootropics, are substances that regulate neurotransmitter production in a positive way to promote healthier neural function. Nootropics include both prescription and holistic substances that each have unique mechanisms within the body. Nootropics are not designed to treat diseases, but some prescription nootropics are designed to treat conditions affecting mental health and learning abilities.
While some smart drugs help to promote focus and increase cognitive energy, others help to regulate stress and neuron production related to mood. The truth is that smart drugs, especially natural nootropics, offer an endless opportunity for cognitive enhancement, as long as you know how they work and how to use them.
So, let’s dig into everything you need to know about smart drugs before you try them out for yourself:
Table of Contents
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. That’s true no matter which nootropics you choose, although every nootropic compound has a very specific mechanism and will therefore have its own unique range of benefits. Let’s discuss:
Smart Drugs (Nootropics): Natural vs Synthetic
Nootropics come in two varieties–natural and synthetic. Synthetic nootropics can include over the counter supplements, but also include prescription medications that are prescribed for ADHD, mental illness, and related conditions. Adderall is a common example of a prescription nootropic medication that works by regulating dopamine in a way that enhances focus for people with ADHD.
Natural nootropics, on the other hand, are derived from herbs, mushrooms, and plant-based sources of various amino acids. Natural nootropics have a few advantages over many synthetic nootropics, like lower risk factors and more accessibility. Many natural nootropics are less expensive, too. Plus, most natural nootropics can be taken together in stacks, known as “nootropic stacks,” which can help to offer more full coverage cognitive coverage.
To help you discern the difference in natural smart drugs and synthetic nootropics, let’s take a closer look at both.
Prescription nootropics refer to stimulant medications that can alleviate symptoms of medical conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, or Alzheimer’s disease. They are typically prescribed by a doctor and should not be taken without a prescription.
Commonly prescribed prescription nootropics include:
- modafinil (Provigil) for narcolepsy
- adderall for ADHD
- methylphenidate (Ritalin) for narcolepsy and ADHD
- memantine (Axura) for Alzheimer’s disease
However, prescription nootropics carry risks of side effects and interactions, such as:
- high blood pressure
- a fast heart rate
- vision problems
- impulsive behaviors
Therefore, it is important to take them only under a doctor’s care and closely monitor any side effects. Healthcare providers should work with people taking prescription nootropics to manage their condition and minimize the risks of side effects.
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.
L-Theanine is an amino acid that's found in most kinds of tea leaves, and it’s the compound that’s most often associated with the health effects of green tea. Green tea is known for providing a caffeine boost that’s smoother and less jittery than what you may get from coffee or synthetic energy drinks–and it’s probably because of the L-theanine content.
L-Theanine is known for its relaxing effects that are soothing without making you drowsy. According to research, taking L-theanine with caffeine may reduce caffeine’s impact on your blood pressure or anxiety levels.
Another study found that L-theanine may help to regulate your sleep schedule, which can be helpful for anyone who’s sleep schedule is sensitive to caffeine consumption. Overnight, L-theanine may help you get more slow-wave sleep, the sleep cycles that help you feel more rested, thus decreasing the need for caffeine over time.
Plus, the two compounds synergize like no others. According to research, a combination of L-theanine and caffeine has been associated with improved reaction times, improved word recognition, and improved attention, improved ability to switch between tasks more easily, and higher accuracy upon completing tasks.
We mentioned ginkgo earlier as an example of how natural herbal compounds have been used as nootropics for centuries. It is, in fact, one of the oldest nootropic supplements we have and it comes from one of the world's oldest trees–the Ginkgo tree.
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.
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%.
Lion’s mane was once one of the more obscure medicinal mushrooms, but it’s gaining some traction thanks to its natural nootropic benefits. The mushroom is chock full of polysaccharides that help support a healthy gut microbiome–a colony of good bacteria that experts now know plays a role in most aspects of both mental and physical health.
Most notably, though, Lion’s Mane is thought to stimulate neurogenesis, the growth of new nerve cells, which may help to improve nerve signaling speed and heal damage within the nervous system.
This may be the working factor behind many of Lion’s Mane’s benefits, though more research is needed to understand how the mushroom truly works. According to the research we have, though, lion’s mane is thought to improve memory, focus, and mental endurance, and may be in the running for new medications designed to treat dementia.
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.
Rhodiola is another age-old remedy that’s chock full of active medicinals–including rosavin and salidroside, two compounds known to be potent adaptogens. Adaptogens are compounds that help the body respond to stress.
In traditional medicine, Rodiola was used to treat psychological conditions, but its benefits may span even further. One review of 36 animal studies stated that “R. rosea L. can improve learning and memory function” possibly due it’s “antioxidant properties, cholinergic regulation, anti-apoptosis activities, anti-inflammatory, improving coronary blood flow, and cerebral metabolism.”
Thanks to its adaptogenic effects, taking it daily has been linked to reduced mental fatigue and increased feelings of well-being while under stress.
Curcumin is the yellow substance that gives turmeric its brilliant color–and it’s well known for its potential anti-inflammatory effects. You may not know, however, that it’s been shown to have a positive impact on serotonin and dopamine levels, and has been highlighted as a potential treatment for depression and related disorders.
Other research has linked curcumin to total body benefits, like prevention against cancer, arthritis, and heart disease.
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.
Ginseng is easy to find on nutrition labels for energy drinks and brain-boosting supplements–and for a good reason. It’s often linked to reduced mental fatigue and improved cognitive performance, especially when doing difficult tasks.
Like other nootropics on this list, it may not act directly on any neurotransmitter pathway, rather it may increase blood flow to the brain. Others believe that many of its benefits may have to do with its anti-inflammatory effects, which may help to reduce oxidative stress.
Omega-3 fatty acids (which can be divided into two main categories–DHA and EPA) are necessary for most brain function. In fact, they are required for brain development, which is why they can be found in most infant formulas and toddler supplements.
Omega-3 is known to help improve many facets of cognitive function, from increasing focus to decreasing anxiety and depression. A lack of omega-3 is associated with cognitive dysfunctions.
One study published in Neurology® measured the mental function of 1,575 people with an average age of 67. These tests also evaluated their brain structure, body mass, and the omega-3 fatty acid levels in their blood.
The researchers concluded that people with low Omega-3 levels had lower brain volume and scored lower on tests involving visual memory and executive function, like tasks involving problem solving, multi-tasking, and abstract thinking.
Another study looked at the impact of a fish oil diet (or a diet containing plenty of omega-3) on fruit flies’ ability to learn. In this study, fruit flies fed the fish oil had a positive impact on learning and memory compared to fruit flies fed a standard diet.
Where to Buy Nootropic Smart Drugs
Some nootropics, such as Provigil and Adderall, require a prescription. Many over-the-counter nootropics are available in supermarkets and online, but you need to be careful to assess the quality of supplements because they are not regulated as strictly as prescription medications.
As always, you should speak to a doctor before trying a supplement.
Stacking Smart Drugs for Improved Efficacy
We mentioned “nootropic stacks'' above–combination supplements that pair up several nootropic supplements to create a product with well-rounded benefits. These types of supplements will usually combine the best nootropics for memory, focus, energy, and other aspects of cognitive and physical health to help target all areas of wellness at once.
If you’re looking for this type of nootropic diversity, let us introduce Lucid Instant Drinks.
Lucid beverages are the perfect blend of nootropics + functional mushrooms designed to support healthy brain functional and optimal health. The Lucid formula combines many of the nootropics above (and more) to help promote neurogenesis, improve focus and energy, increase endurance, support immunity, and help you unleash the full potential of your brain and body.
Our nootropic stack includes:
- Lion’s Mane
- Ginkgo Biloba
Want to learn more? Read “Why We Chose Our Ingredients? What’s in a Lucid Stack?” Or, check out one of our three flavor varieties: