Brain 23

What Are Nootropics?


Simon Körösi

Reviewed by: Joanna Elmes

Nootropics are substances that purport to boost cognitive function and brain performance. they are sometimes referred to as "smart drugs," memory-enhancing substances, or cognitive enhancers. they may include certain types of prescription medications as well as nonprescription substances. nootropics claim to improve mental functioning, including thinking, memory, mood, attention, creativity, and motivation.


History of nootropics


Romanian psychologist and chemist dr. corneliu e. giurgea, the founding father of nootropics, was the first to attempt to define nootropics. he developed six key criteria to qualify substances as true nootropics. giurgea's criteria:


Enhancement of memory and learning



Improved cognition under stress



Protection of brain cells (neuroprotective)



Facilitation of cell-to-cell communication



Backed by human research demonstrating brain bioactivity



Absence of usual pharmacological effects of psychotropic drugs

By the strictest definition, only a handful of true nootropics exist. but as science has learned more about the brain and identified more brain-beneficial supplements since the 1960s, the original definition has expanded dramatically


Modern definition of nootropics


Now, if a supplement helps the brain in any way, it may be considered a "nootropic." this encompasses a long list of nootropic supplements - over 80, in fact - that have been linked to better brain health and cognitive function in some way.
as the list of nootropics has grown, so has the appreciation for a healthy brain's capacity to improve all aspects of life in all types of people - broadening the potential of brain-boosting nootropics even further.


Types of nootropics


Some different types of nootropics that do not require a prescription include:

Caffeine: caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world. while many people might not realise it, caffeine is also a nootropic that can increase attention and alertness.


Creatine: this amino acid has gained popularity for its potential effects on memory and reasoning abilities.


L-theanine: this amino acid can be found in dietary supplements and green or black teas and can boost alertness and cognitive performance.

Omega-3 fatty acid: these are polyunsaturated fats found in fish oil supplements and fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and cod.

Panax ginseng: this chinese and siberian shrub has long been used for medicinal purposes and is purported to improve brain health and reduce the risk of certain brain diseases, including alzheimer's and parkinson's.

Rhodiola: this plant, native to parts of europe and asia, has long been used as an herbal treatment for fatigue, stress, and anxiety. as a nootropic, it is also used to help improve memory, learning, and brain function.


Ginkgo biloba: this herbal supplement comes from the leaves of trees native to china, korea, and japan. it has gained popularity for its potential effects on the brain, including enhancing cognition, fighting brain fog, and improving dementia symptoms.

What are nootropics used for?


In the early days, before "nootropic" was a popular class of supplements, brain supplements were used primarily by seniors seeking memory support.
now, nootropics are used by all age groups, for a wide variety of potential benefits. in general, these uses can be divided into performance benefits and health benefits.


Cognitive function benefits of nootropics


Cognitive performance benefits associated with various brain supplements and smart drugs are more numerous and expansive than ever before. the more that science investigates nootropics, the more potential nootropic benefits are uncovered. these include enhancements for:

Memory - traditional one-dimensional long-range memory pills have evolved into dynamic nootropics for short term memory, recall, learning and more.


Mental energy - the brain has high energy demands. when brain energy runs low, mental functions suffer. nootropic supplements can both fuel the brain and optimise energy metabolism within the brain, helping to naturally rejuvenate cognitive performance.


Attention - nootropics enhance various aspects of attention, focus and concentration; these cognitive function benefits can give users an edge in productivity.

Learning - students of academia and lifelong learners can benefit from nootropics' various enhancements for cognitive learning processes like memory formation, storage, and recall.

Mood & mental health - nootropics that help with relaxation, confidence, mood balance, motivation, sociability, anxiety, happiness, and more can optimise cognitive function and improve life performance.

Creativity - brain wave-tuning nootropics can foster relaxed, free-flowing thinking that is conducive to creative thinking, artistic exploration and quiet contemplation.


Physical - although they are brain supplements, nootropics are now in the sports nutrition canon due to their ability to improve motivation, training intensity, and focus in the gym.


Stress Resistance - Nootropics, especially the class of herbs known as adaptogens, have well-documented anti-stress benefits. Stress reduction can enhance brain performance of everyone from multitasking professionals to competitive athletes.


The magical synergy of caffeine and l-theanine to boost focus


Before we dive into the synergy between caffeine and l-theanine, we should talk about their best qualities as individuals. we’ll start with the more familiar of the two: caffeine.




Coffee. we were all thinking it because we’re all using it; about xx% of swedes drink at least one cup of coffee every day.
even when it’s not in coffee, caffeine is a hot topic. it has many benefits, and consequently, many side effects. caffeine may boost your memory, help you power through your strength and endurance workouts, and even decrease the odds of developing certain types of cancer. but it can also raise your blood pressure, increase anxiety, and give you a case of the jitters. caffeine is also a diuretic, which will cause you to urinate more frequently to help rid your body of excess water and salt.




L-theanine is an amino acid extracted from the leaves of camellia sinensis — the fancy name for the common tea plant. it’s actually responsible for some of the savoury notes in green tea and is a common relaxant, often mixed with other natural supplements to induce feelings of calm and relaxation.
as a nootropic, theanine can help improve cognitive function. however, its most significant benefit is its ability to reduce mental fatigue and stress in humans. l-theanine affects the brain in several ways, and amplifies alpha brain waves, allowing for a type of calm alertness — and even heightened creativity. Theanine has also been shown to boost levels of GABA, as well as other hormones and compounds that promote calm, focus, regulated mood, and more.

By itself, l-theanine is an effective nootropic. but when combined with caffeine, there’s a pronounced synergistic effect. this means you experience heightened focus, awareness, and energy, as well as reduced stress and improved mental endurance to even higher levels. Again, sounds too good to be true, right? there must be some negative side effects. Luckily, l-theanine has been shown to have basically zero levels of toxicity, dependency, or tolerance, meaning you could theoretically take large doses every day without negative side effects. 


The synergy


The perfect pair of ingredients in a nootropic stack can enhance not only the ingredients’ effects but also the overall cognitive benefits you can enjoy.

We know about caffeine’s worst attributes: anxiety, restlessness, increased blood pressure. like any good partner, l-theanine does its best to correct these qualities for everyone to enjoy caffeine’s company a little more easily.
Caffeine inhibits the actions of our adenosine receptors in the brain, which is the stimulatory activity. l-theanine can help reduce physiological responses to stress by inhibiting excitatory responses in the brain. When these two meet, they don’t just fight each other to stalemate–instead, they work out a compromise.
l-theanine has been shown to allow caffeine to work its brain-boosting charm without letting it raise your blood pressure or induce anxiety.
If you can’t focus on anything because caffeine crashes leave you with headaches and fatigue, bringing l-theanine along may be able to help; human subjects in a 2008 study reported fewer headaches and less tiredness when mixing the two compared to taking caffeine by itself.

Accomplishing tasks together

It can be difficult to work with a partner, but caffeine and l-theanine have found their mechanisms. their groove of working together can be beneficial to help you find your groove.
like by significantly improving reaction times. in one study, subjects improved their reaction times for delayed word recognition. in another, subjects reduced the amount of time it took to respond to flashing light cues on a computer, which suggests an improvement in acute attention.
Whether you're looking to increase your cognitive performance or just get that extra level of focus, getting ahold of these supplements may be your best hack.