Which Nootropics Actually Work? 15 Smart Drugs Backed by Research

Which Nootropics Actually Work? 15 Smart Drugs Backed by Research - Lucid™

Nootropics, also referred to as “smart drugs,” are a class of substances thought to help improve cognitive performance. 

Some of these substances are thought to help improve conditions characterized by cognitive decline, like dementia. However, many are also thought to help improve memory, focus, creativity, energy, and processing speeds in healthy adults, which explains why nootropics are gaining so much traction in today’s high-demand society.       

But which nootropics actually work? The truth is, they all work differently for different people, but there are some tried and true remedies that may serve as a good place to start. Here, we’ll work our way through some of the most well-known (and well-researched) natural nootropics on the market today:

10 Research-Backed Nootropics That Really Work

Now to the good stuff: Which nootropics actually work (according to science)? Here are the top 10 research-backed nootropic supplements:

1. Caffeine

Caffeine is easily the most well-known nootropic in the world, and it’s used daily by the majority of adults to help enhance energy and focus. It works by blocking the production of adenosine which can help you feel less tired and more alert. 

Doses range from 20-400 milligrams a day, but larger doses (especially when taken consistently) may lead to adrenal fatigue, a condition where you feel increasingly tired, fatigued, and unfocused, even when consuming caffeine. 

Caffeine is also habit forming, so it’s best to restrict caffeine use to lower doses. Pairing low dose caffeine with other synergistic supplements can help you reap the benefits of caffeine without the side effects linked to high doses. 

2. L-Theanine

Speaking of synergistic blends–L-theanine is a perfect match for caffeine that may even help to negate some of the side effects associated with larger caffeine doses. L-theanine is an amino acid found in tea leaves that is known for relaxing effects that don’t cause drowsiness. Both caffeine and L-theanine are found in green tea, and are believed to be behind the mood and cognition enhancing effects associated with regular green tea consumption. 

Regular doses sit around 200 milligrams, but even doses as low as 50 milligrams have been found to increase alpha brain waves that are linked to creativity. 

Learn more about L-theanine's Nootropic Benefits and How Much L-Theanine to Take with Coffee.

Lucid beverages contain L-theanine and small amounts of caffeine, plus a blend of other brain-boosting nootropics and powerful mushrooms designed to unlock your brain's full potential.

Ready to become lucid?  Check out our starter kit. 

3. Creatine

Creatine is an amino acid that is commonly used in pre-workout supplements to help the body make protein and improve endurance and gain during workouts. This popular body-building supplement does more than build muscles, though–it’s also good for your brain. 

According to research, creatine binds with phosphorus to create an energy molecule that fuels the brain. This form of energy is quick to use, which can help to improve processing speeds. 

In fact, research suggests that this energy boost for the brain leads to improved reasoning skills and short-term memory. This was found to be even more true in some sub-groups, like vegetarians and people who reported high stress levels. 

According to research, doses up to 5 grams are safe, but doses vary by person. 

4. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba is an age-old health-boosting supplement derived from one of the world’s oldest trees. Traditionally, it has been used for improving kidney health, treating asthma and bronchitis, and for managing senility in older adults. Now, though, researchers have revealed many cognition and memory enhancing benefits of this herbal supplement. 

One study found that a standardized extract of ginkgo biloba called EGb 761 was clinically effective in treating dementia. Another study furthered these results, suggesting that EGb 761 was safe and effective for stabilizing and possibly improving cognitive function and social behavior patterns in dementia patients. 

Research has also found that Ginkgo Biloba may be capable of reducing nerve damage in the brain both in animal models and test-tube models. Plus, it may 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. 

Researchers aren’t sure what makes ginkgo effective, but they theorize that it has something to do with its ability to improve blood flow to the brain. 

5. Alpha-GPC

Alpha-GPC is a choline supplement known to promote the release of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps facilitate learning and memory. For this reason, it’s well known as a memory-enhancing supplement. In fact, it’s sold as a prescription drug for managing Alzheimer’s disease in some other countries, but it exists only as a dietary supplement in the U.S. 

This increased choline level may also help to improve overall cognitive performance. One study found improvement in four areas in healthy adults, including 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%.

6. Lion’s Mane

Lion’s Mane is a medical mushroom that’s been linked to several cognition-enhancing benefits. Most notably, Lion’s Mane is thought to stimulate Nerve Growth Factor production, which means it aids in neurogenesis, or the growth of new nerve cells. 

A 2017 study found that lion’s mane may have a positive impact on memory in animal models, and further research repeated these results, concluding that lion’s mane may help to prevent cognitive decline caused by neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson's and Alzheimer’s. 

More human trials are necessary, but other potential benefits include improved focus, processing speeds, and cognitive endurance. 

Lion's Mane may be paired with caffeine (such as in Lion's Mane coffee beverages) to enhance it's potential cognitive benefits

Learn Where to Buy Lion's Mane.

7. Cordyceps

Cordyceps is another functional mushroom that makes the list because it’s known to improve blood flow. This is often linked to increased physical endurance, but it may also have powerful benefits for the brain. 

Thanks to this effect, Cordyceps may also have some memory-enhancing benefits according to one animal study that found it capable of improving memory and learning in mice by “scavenging oxygen free radicals, preventing oxidative damage, and protecting the nervous system.” 

Learn more about Cordyceps by reading:

8. Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola, also known as “arctic root” and “golden root,” has been well-known as a medicinal herb for hundreds of years. It contains over 140 active ingredients–but most notably contain rosavin and salidroside, two compounds known to be potent adaptogens.

Traditionally, Rhodiola has been used to treat psychological conditions, but now we believe it to have benefits for the whole brain. In fact, one large review of 36 animal studies concluded this to be true–stating 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. 

9. Bacopa Monnieri

Bacopa monnieri is another ancient remedy that’s been used to improve cognitive function since nearly the beginning of medicine. According to research, it may help to increase processing speed and reduce reaction times. It may also help to enhance memory, both in the short term and the long term. 

Bacopa monnieri is composed of bacosides, active compounds that help to protect the brain from oxidative stress. Over time, this can help prevent cognitive decline and age-related brain damage and may even improve signaling in the hippocampus, the memory-portion of the brain. 

Bacopa Monnieri has no immediate effect, rather it needs to be taken daily for a few weeks to enjoy its benefits. 

10. Panax Ginseng

Ginseng is perhaps one of the most well-known energy and performance enhancing herbs, but did you know it may also have cognitive benefits?

A 200-400 milligram dose of ginseng has been linked to reduced mental fatigue and improved cognitive performance when doing difficult tasks. Some researchers theorize that its brain boosting effects are due to an increased blood flow, but others think it has more to do with ginseng’s anti-inflammatory benefits, which may help to reduce oxidative stress.

Unlike many of the herbs and supplements on this list, ginseng has immediate effects and can be used on the spot when enhanced cognition is needed. In fact, the body may build a tolerance to ginseng over time, making it less effective, so it’s best to only use it as needed.

Stacking Smart Drugs for Improved Efficacy

No more searching for "which nootropics actually work the best?" The answer is clear - the nootropics above have research-backed benefits. 

Of course, if you want to reap the true benefits of the smart-drug revolution, you really need more than just one nootropic supplement or another. You'll want a "smart stack" of synergistic nootropics designed to work together to improve all areas of cognition. 

Think about it:

Supplements like lion’s mane, cordyceps, alpha-GPC, and L-theanine need to be taken daily to enjoy their benefits, while supplements like creatine, caffeine, and ginseng can be used on the spot for immediate effects. While you may not want to combine caffeine and creatine, it may make perfect sense to build a nootropic regimen that helps to improve cognition and support brain health over time, but also gives you extra support when you need it. 

This nootropic-stacking method is a form of biohacking, and it may be the best way to reap the true benefits associated with nootropic supplementation. You could take the time to single out and match up the most worthy nootropics, or you could try out a pre-built nootropic stack. 

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.

Read more like "Which Nootropics Actually Work?":


  1. “Caffeine and adenosine” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20164566/
  2. “Effect of Green Tea Phytochemicals on Mood and Cognition” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28056735/
  3. “Green tea effects on cognition, mood and human brain function: A systematic review” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28899506/
  4. “L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18296328/
  5. “Mitochondrial creatine kinase in human health and disease” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S092544390500133X
  6. “Effects of creatine supplementation on cognitive function of healthy individuals: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29704637/
  7. “The influence of creatine supplementation on the cognitive functioning of vegetarians and omnivores” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21118604/
  8. “Risk assessment for creatine monohydrate” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16814437/
  9. “Proof of efficacy of the ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761 in outpatients suffering from mild to moderate primary degenerative dementia of the Alzheimer type or multi-infarct dementia” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8741021/
  10. “A placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trial of an extract of Ginkgo biloba for dementia. North American EGb Study Group” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9343463/
  11. “Reduction of rise in blood pressure and cortisol release during stress by Ginkgo biloba extract (EGb 761) in healthy volunteers” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12369732/
  12. “Cognitive performance, SPECT, and blood viscosity in elderly non-demented people using Ginkgo biloba” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12905098/
  13. “The effects of alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine, caffeine or placebo on markers of mood, cognitive function, power, speed, and agility” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4595381/
  14. “The relation of dietary choline to cognitive performance and white-matter hyperintensity in the Framingham Offspring Cohort” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252552/
  15. “The effects of alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine, caffeine or placebo on markers of mood, cognitive function, power, speed, and agility” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4595381/
  16. “Neurotrophic properties of the Lion's mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24266378/
  17. “Dietary Supplementation of Hericium erinaceus Increases Mossy Fiber-CA3 Hippocampal Neurotransmission and Recognition Memory in Wild-Type Mice” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5237458/
  18. “The Neuroprotective Properties of Hericium erinaceus in Glutamate-Damaged Differentiated PC12 Cells and an Alzheimer’s Disease Mouse Model” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5133811/
  19. “Improvement of Learning and Memory Induced by Cordyceps Polypeptide Treatment and the Underlying Mechanism” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5874985/
  20. “Rhodiola rosea L.: an herb with anti-stress, anti-aging, and immunostimulating properties for cancer chemoprevention” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6208354/
  21. “Rhodiola rosea L. Improves Learning and Memory Function: Preclinical Evidence and Possible Mechanisms” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6288277/
  22. “A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of the stimulating and adaptogenic effect of Rhodiola rosea SHR-5 extract on the fatigue of students caused by stress during an examination period with a repeated low-dose regimen” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10839209/
  23. “Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials on cognitive effects of Bacopa monnieri extract” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24252493/
  24. “The cognitive-enhancing effects of Bacopa monnieri: a systematic review of randomized, controlled human clinical trials” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22747190/
  25. “Bacopa monniera, a reputed nootropic plant: an overview” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15898709/
  26. “Single doses of Panax ginseng (G115) reduce blood glucose levels and improve cognitive performance during sustained mental activity”https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15982990/
  27. “Protective effects of ginseng on neurological disorders” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26236231/ 

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