Beginners Guide to Nootropics


Nootropics is an umbrella term for a class of chemicals — some naturally-occurring, some manmade — that give cognitive benefits to the human brain.  There’s so many gimmicks out there on the market lately that boast the term “nootropic” but are they really? Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, the man who coined the term “nootropic” set out a criteria that a substance needs to meet in order to be called a nootropic. 

The substance must…

  1. Enhance memory and ability to learn.

  2. Help the brain function under disruptive conditions, such as hypoxia (low oxygen) and electroconvulsive shock.

  3. Protect the brain from chemical and physical assaults, such as anti-cholinergic drugs and barbiturates.

  4. Increase the efficacy of neuronal firing control mechanisms in cortical and sub-cortical regions of the brain.

  5. Possess few or no side effects and be virtually non-toxic.

In common online usage, the term ‘nootropic’ is applied to any substance that can provide safe cognitive benefits to users, where ‘benefits’ has a very broad range of meaning.

For example, phenibut is often used as a socialising and extroversion booster, whilst tianeptine is often used for its mood-brightening and anti-stress effects.

In general, a substance can be called a nootropic if it grants the user more control over their neurochemistry and the resulting behavioural and experiential outcomes.


At Neuro Athletics we want every athlete performing at their peak and as we become more educated in the area of brain health research can now show how supplementing with nootropics can be beneficial for a person especially someone who is training competitively. 

People want control over their mental states, their moods and their cognitive functions. Smart drugs, or ‘nootropics’ help with that! They are used for a wide range of function benefits such as; 

  1. Focus 

  2. Attention

  3. Productivity 

  4. Social anxiety 

  5. Brain health 

what to take

Here’s a cheat sheet of 10 of the most commonly touted cognitive-boosting pills that have also been studied in clinical trials:

  1. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

    Why brain hackers use it: This herbal supplement is used to calm anxiety and increase focus.

    The evidence? Several small human studies have found it can effectively reduce anxiety, although study size and controls varied.

    You should know: Headaches are the most commonly reported side effect, according to WebMD, though the herb can also cause reduced blood pressure, irritate stomach ulcers, and affect thyroid disorders.

    2.Bacopa monnieri

    Why brain hackers use it: This supplement is thought to enhance thinking, learning, and memory.

    The evidence? A 2014 meta-analysis of double-blind, controlled trials found a “potential to improve cognition, particularly speed of attention” in healthy patients and people with dementia.

    You should know: Can cause frequent bowel movements, cramps, nausea, dry mouth, and fatigue. Can also slow your heart rate, making it a concern for anyone who already has bradycardia (a slow heart rate.) It may also worsen lung conditions, ulcers, urinary tract and gastrointestinal obstructions, and thyroid disorders.

    3. Carnitine / Acetyl-L-Carnitine

    Why brain hackers use it: Acetyl is advertised as supportive of “memory, learning, computation, analysis” and “perception” in the brain-hacking community.

    The evidence? Studies have not shown that the supplement has any cognitive effect in healthy people. It may improve brain health in people with liver disease, and in people with dementia.

    You should know: It can lead to gastrointestinal distress, including vomiting and diarrhea. May cause “fishy” body odor.

    4. Creatine

    Why brain hackers use it: Said to enhance mental function in sleep-deprived adults and generally improve performance on difficult cognitive tasks.

    The evidence? It has shown promise to help treat cognitive decline,  in combination with other therapies, in people with Huntington’s Disease and Parkinson’s.

    You should know: Can cause gastrointestinal issues, weight gain, and anxiety when used in excess.

    5. Donepezil (Aricept)

    What brain hackers believe it’s good for: The drug is said to improve memory and ability to complete complex tasks.

    The evidence? Donepezil is FDA-approved to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s. In one small, well-known trial, it improved procedural memory—the type that allows us to remember how to do things like walk or ride a bicycle—in healthy pilots.

    You should know: Taking it can lead to sleep problems, appetite loss, vomiting, and other more serious side effects.

    6. Huperzine A

    Why brain hackers use it: This supplement is thought to improve short-term memory and long-term cognition by protecting acetylcholine—a neurotransmitter—from degradation.

    The evidence? A 2013 meta-analysis of clinical studies suggests it may improve memory and mental function in adults with dementia, though the authors of the review appended a warning that “the findings should be interpreted with caution due to the poor methodological quality of the included trials.”

    You should know: May worsen many health conditions, such as heart disease, epilepsy, peptic ulcers, asthma, and emphysema.

    7. L-Deprenyl (Selegiline hydrochloride)

    Why brain hackers use it: This monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) is considered a mood booster and believed to help with attention and planning.

    The evidence? Used to treat symptoms in early Parkinson’s and is in a family of drugs (MAOIs) that includes a number of last-resort antidepressants. Small studies show it can improve cognitive functioning in stroke patients, and enhance cognitive skills in ratswith traumatic brain injury.

    You should know: Might trigger sudden high blood pressure when taken in high doses or in combination with certain foods, like cheese. Can also be dangerous in combination with other drugs.

    8. Noopept

    Why brain hackers use it: Nootropic proponents claim that noopept enhances memory retention and learning skills, and increases focus

    The evidence? A 2007 study with mice showed that it may enhance cognitive function (and especially spatial reasoning) connected to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

    You should know: The drug was developed in Russia to treat age-related cognitive decline, but it is unregulated in the US, UK, and elsewhere.

    9. Piracetam

    Why brain hackers use it: Another member of the “racetam” classof nootropic drugspiracetam is thought to enhance learning, memory, and concentration by improving blood flow to the brain.

    The evidence? Found helpful in reducing bodily twitching in myoclonus epilepsy, a rare disorder, but otherwise little studied. Mixed evidence from a study published in 1991 suggests it may improve memory in subjects with cognitive impairment. A meta-analysis published in 2010 that reviewed studies of piracetam and other racetam drugs found that piracetam was somewhat helpful in improving cognition in people who had suffered a stroke or brain injury; the drugs’ effectiveness in treating depression and reducing anxiety was more significant.

    You should know: Piracetam is generally well-tolerated, though it can cause an allergic reaction, nervousness, anxiety, balance and coordination problems, and other side effects.

    10. Tyrosine

    Why brain-hackers use it: To enhance memory, alertness, focus, and ability to solve problems creatively.

    The evidence? Military studies suggest this supplement may aid memory, focus, and alertness in healthy patients under the extreme stress of military setting. And although working memory is normally hampered in cold environments, taking a tyrosine supplement buffers that effect, according to another small study.

    You should know: Side effects include nausea, headache, fatigue, heartburn, and joint pain.


Combing your nootropics is a great way to get the most out of your cognitive enhancement supplements. Stacking refers to taking two or more nootropics at the same time. Why would someone do this? 

Put simply, nootropics can be compounding, which means their effects are stronger combined than when taken separately. 


  • Caffeine and L-Theanine: Caffeine is a well-known stimulant and wakefulness agent, but it also has the tendency to cause jitters and anxiety. In contrast, L-Theanine is an anxiolytic that can help reduce jitteriness while not affecting the positive effects of Caffeine. This is one of the most well-known and effective stacks.

  • The ‘racetams and Choline: Aniracetam, Piracetam, Phenylpiracetam and Noopept (which is similar to the racetams) sometimes cause headaches. It is generally believed that this is due to the depletion of the brain’s natural supply of choline, which is used in the process of creating the nootropic effects. 

  • Tianeptine and Adrafinil: Tianeptine is an effective mood booster but can sometimes make users drowsy. Adrafnil, on the other hand, is a wakefulness agent which can be employed as a counter-measure.

This should clear up any questions you have. In the following articles we will start to release which nootropic work well for what challenge you are currently facing. 

This will include a manual on where and how to start taking nootropics based on what you want to enhance.