Best Nootropics to Unlock Your True Brain

Nootropics are drugs, supplements, and other substances that may improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals

Nootropics – sometimes called smart drugs – are compounds that enhance brain function. They’re becoming a popular way to give your mind an extra boost. According to one Telegraph report, up to 25% of students at leading UK universities have taken the prescription smart drug modafinil [1], and California tech startup employees are trying everything from Adderall to LSD to push their brains into a higher gear [2].

I’ve been actively benefitting from nootropics since 1997, when I was struggling with cognitive performance and ordered almost $1000 worth of smart drugs from Europe (the only place where you could get them at the time). I remember opening the unmarked brown package and wondering whether the pharmaceuticals and natural substances would really enhance my brain.

They did, and I’ve been a big fan of certain cognitive enhancers ever since.

I’m wary of others, though. The trouble with using a blanket term like “nootropics” is that you lump all kinds of substances in together. Technically, you could argue that caffeine and cocaine are both nootropics, but they’re hardly equal. With so many ways to enhance your brain function, many of which have significant risks, it’s most valuable to look at nootropics on a case-by-case basis

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BaCognize® Bacopa Monnieri Capsules

Bacopa Monnieri is a popular adaptogen used in Ayurvedic traditional medicine, known as “Brahmi”, which has now been expertly formulated into an exact fingerprint of its bioactive constituents (called Serotonin-Active Bacopa Glycosides, or SABG).

 Bacognize® Bacopa Monnieri Benefits

  • Promotes improved cognitive processing 
  • Supports mood and well-being 
  • Promotes improved memory (
  • Supports focus and attention                     

Bacognize® Bacopa Monnieri Mode of Ac                      

 Bacognize® has been clinically tested in humans and has strong scientific evidence to support its benefits (1).

The unique formulation of Bacognize® enables the Bacopa extract to be active at the serotonin receptors in the brain (1) and may increase serotonin levels (2).

Bacopa Monnieri’s active chemical compounds are bacosides and bacogenins.  Bacosides A and B enhance the transmission of impulses between neural synapses.  Bacosides can also protect and repair neurons (2).

Most of Bacopa extract’s effects in the body are cognitive.  The neurotransmitter acetylcholine is found in large amounts in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.  Maintaining acetylcholine in the brain is an integral part of cognitive health. Bacopa Monnieri extract suppresses an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, called acetylcholinesterase (or AChE), in the cerebral cortex.  Since the enzyme responsible for breaking down acetylcholine is reduced, the amount of available acetylcholine remains higher and cognitive health is improved (3).

Together, these mechanisms provide the brain with improved conditions that improve memory, attention, focus, mood and cognitive processing from supplementation with Bacognize® (1).

Bacognize® Bacopa Monnieri Capsules

Pure Nootropics’ Bacopa Monnieri Capsules provide 300 mg of (standardized to 12% SABG) Bacognize® extract.  Suggested use for adults is 1 capsule by mouth daily, or as directed by your healthcare practitioner.

Bacognize® Bacopa Monnieri Side Effects and Toxicity

Bacopa is well tolerated but may cause mild gastrointestinal side effects, such as nausea, abdominal cramps, and increased stool frequency (5, 4).  Other side effects may include dry mouth, fatigue, drowsiness, and rarely, heart palpitations (5).

Bacopa extract has been studied in humans and is considered possibly safe when used orally and appropriately.  The LD50 in rats of an alcohol extract of Bacopa was 17g/kg, which is a dose many, many times higher than humans consume (4).

There is not a large body of research with Bacopa and any interactions it might have with pharmaceutical medications, herbs or supplements.  If you are taking any medications, please consult with your healthcare practitioner before beginning supplementation with Bacopa.  Do not use if pregnant or nursing (5

For further information, please see our References Tab above.

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Optimal Mood Complex Capsules

Pure Nootropics’ Optimal Mood Complex is formulated with a blend of herbal extracts, minerals, and amino acids to help support a calm and relaxed mood.

Optimal Mood Complex Benefits

  • Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate promotes relaxation and mood support 
  • Zinc Bisglycinate Chelate supports positive mood 
  • Lemon Balm and Valerian Root Combination promotes a calm mood 
  • L-Theanine promotes a calm mood 

 Optimal Mood Complex Mode of Action

Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate is a mineral which has sedative properties. The bisglycinate form of the mineral has the highest bioavailable absorption (1).  Its structure of a chelated amino acid means that there are 2 glycine molecules (bisglycinate) attached to the magnesium molecule.  The bisglycinate form is stable and avoids a breakdown in the gastrointestinal tract before it is completely absorbed.  It is also tolerated better and has less gastrointestinal side effects.  The bisglycinate chelate aids in mineral absorption because it is a small sized molecule and can be absorbed directly by intestinal cells.  Pure Nootropics chooses to use TRAACS® by Albion Minerals which is a certification that the mineral content is guaranteed to be an authentic chelated mineral amino acid for superior bioavailability (2).

Magnesium helps promotes a calm mood through its ability to promote relaxation and calm the nervous system (2).

Zinc Bisglycinate Chelate is a trace element which has a higher bioavailability than zinc gluconate and other forms of zinc supplements.  Its structure of a chelated amino acid means that there are 2 glycine molecules (bisglycinate) attached to the zinc molecule.  The bisglycinate form is stable and avoids a breakdown in the gastrointestinal tract before it is completely absorbed.  It is also tolerated better and has less gastrointestinal side effects.  The bisglycinate chelate aids in mineral absorption because it is a small sized molecule and can be absorbed directly by intestinal cells.  Pure Nootropics chooses to use TRAACS® by Albion Minerals which is a certification that the mineral content is guaranteed to be an authentic chelated mineral amino acid for superior bioavailability (2).

Zinc regulates neurotransmitter systems and a deficiency in zinc can result in mood disturbance (17).

Lemon Balm and Valerian Root Combination is a combination of the herbal extracts of Lemon Balm and Valerian root.

They are often used together because they exhibit synergy that may improve mood and sleep. Lemon Balm acts as a GABA transaminase inhibitor; GABA is broken down into Glutamate by GABA transaminase, so the inhibition of this enzyme frees up more GABA in the brain. Valerian stimulates GABA by stimulating glutamate decarboxylase; glutamate is converted into GABA with this enzyme.  The combination of Lemon Balm and Valerian is then able to stimulate the production of GABA within the brain by stimulating conversion of GABA and preventing the breakdown of GABA (4).  Activation of GABA within the brain promotes sleep (5).

L-Tryptophan is an essential amino acid which is converted in the body into serotonin (6).

L-Theanine is an amino acid which naturally occurs in tea leaves and some forms of mushrooms
(8).

L-Theanine promotes relaxation and improves sleep quality due to its ability to provide relaxation by increasing alpha-brain waves and regulating excitatory neurotransmitters that may inhibit a calm mood or restful sleep.  Alpha-brain waves (8-13 Hz) are the brain waves associated with relaxation and alertness and are produced within 30-40 minutes after ingestion.  The alpha-brain waves (or “a-waves”) occur in the occipital and parietal regions of the brain and prepare the body for a relaxed state prior to sleep (9,10).

Optimal Mood Complex Dosage

Pure Nootropics’ Optimal Sleep Complex was formulated based on researched and recommended dosages.

Pure Nootropics’ Optimal Mood Complex provides 30 mg Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate, 25 mg Zinc Bisglycinate Chelate, 400 mg L-Tryptophan, 400 mg Valerian root extract (standardized to 0.8% valerenic acid), 100 mg Lemon Balm extract, 100 mg L-Theanine per (2) capsules.  Suggested use for adults is 2 capsules by mouth daily, or as directed by your healthcare practitioner.

Optimal Mood Complex Side Effects and Toxicity

As with any supplement, adequate research should be done regarding the ingredients and their use in combination. Always consider consulting with a healthcare practitioner if you have questions or concerns regarding supplement usage or dose.  Pure Nootropics’ Optimal Mood Complex was formulated based on researched and recommended dosages.

The most common side effects from taking this product may include daytime sleepiness, headaches, and dizziness.  However, as it is a product combining many effective supplements, we encourage you to check the side effects and possible interactions with any other medications or herbs or supplements that you may already be taking, as the list of side effects provided on this website is by no means complete and other side effects may occur based on individual reactions and interactions.

For further information, please see our References Tab above.

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Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate Capsules

Magnesium is an essential mineral and electrolyte responsible for supporting bone and heart health and participates in over 300 enzyme processes in the body. Magnesium is found in dietary sources–but a typical modern diet leaves approximately 68% of adults getting less than the recommended daily amount needed for the body’s processes (1).

Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate Benefits

  • Supports bone health 
  • Promotes heart health 
  • Mood support 
  • Promotes sleep quality 

Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate Mode of Action

Dietary sources of Magnesium include leafy green vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts, and animal meat (1).  Due to modern farming and soil quality, a mere 16% of the magnesium found in whole wheat stays intact after the refinement process, and most magnesium has been eradicated from drinking water (2).  In the United States, 19% of adults aren’t even consuming half of the Recommended Daily Allowance, with about 68% of adults still below recommended daily amounts (1).

In addition to bone health, heart health, and enzymatic function, Magnesium can also be used as a nootropic because of its abilities to support mood and sleep, specifically Magnesium Bisglycinate (sometimes referred to as Magnesium Diglycinate, or Magnesium Glycinate) (2, 3).

Magnesium Bisglycinate is a chelated amino acid where 2 glycine molecules (bisglycinate) are attached to the magnesium molecule.  The bisglycinate form is stable and avoids a breakdown in the gastrointestinal tract before it is completely absorbed. The bisglycinate chelate aids in mineral absorption because it is a small sized molecule and can be absorbed directly by intestinal cells (4). The bisglycinate form of the mineral has one of the highest bioavailable absorption (1).

Other forms of Magnesium such as oxide, citrate, aspartate, orotate, and L-Threonate are available, but Magnesium Biglycinate is gentle on the stomach because it is absorbed in different areas of the intestine than the others (1).

This form of Magnesium and glycine provides the benefits of glycine and magnesium together.  Glycine is a nonessential amino acid that is very important to metabolism and neurological health — glycine functions as a neurotransmitter in the nervous system and an antioxidant.  Glycine has been used to improve sleep quality in humans (5).

Research in animals suggests that Glycine’s ability to promote healthy sleep patterns is due to its ability to modulate body temperature and circadian rhythms through activating the NMDA receptors in the brain (6).

Pure Nootropics chooses to use the Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate from TRAACS® by Albion Minerals for superior bioavailability.  TRAACS® by Albion is a certification that the mineral content is guaranteed to be an authentic chelated mineral amino acid (4).

Magnesium Bisglycinate contains 14.1% elemental magnesium, meaning that in 100 grams of Magnesium Bisglycinate, 14.1 g is elemental magnesium, and 86 g is glycine (7).  However, some supplement fact panels may already be adjusted to reflect this:  labels that say X amount of Magnesium Bisglycinate (as magnesium bisglycinate) mean that the milligrams listed are for the elemental magnesium provided in that dose.  Supplement fact panels that do not include these parentheses do not refer to the amount of elemental magnesium provided (8).

Pure Nootropics’ Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate provides 150 mg of elemental magnesium per (2) capsules, as indicated on its label with the parentheses.

Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate Dosage

Pure Nootropics’ Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate provides 150 mg of elemental magnesium per (2) capsules.  Suggested use for adults is 2 capsules by mouth daily, or as directed by your healthcare practitioner.

The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for Magnesium for adults 18-30 is: females 310 mg, males 410 mg; and adults 31 and older is: females 320 mg, males 420 mg (1).

Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate Side Effects and Toxicity

Magnesium is generally well tolerated.  Side effects may include gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.  Magnesium toxicity does occur but is rare.  Renal insufficiency (kidney functions less than optimal) increase the possibility of consuming too much magnesium, called hypermagnesemia (9).

If you are taking any medications, please consult your healthcare practitioner before beginning supplementation with magnesium and to learn about any of the interactions which can occur.

The lethal dose of magnesium oxide for female rats was 3990 mg/kg; for male rats 3870 mg/kg; and for mice 810 mg/kg (10).

For further information, please see our References Tab above.

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Optimal Sleep Complex Capsules

Pure Nootropics’ Optimal Sleep Complex Plus is formulated with ingredients to help support healthy sleep patterns by promoting sleep quality and duration and may reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.  Optimal Sleep Complex Plus encourages restful sleep and supports a refreshed mood when awakening.

Optimal Sleep Complex Benefits

  • Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate promotes longer sleep times and falling asleep faster 
  • Zinc Bisglycinate Chelate promotes and regulates sleep quality 
  • Lemon Balm and Valerian Root Combination may promote better sleep quality 
  • L-Tryptophan may decrease the time it takes to fall asleep 
  • L-Theanine promotes sleep qualit
  • Melatonin may decrease time it takes to fall asleep 
  • Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate, Melatonin and Zinc Combination may improve sleep quality, sleep times, and support a refreshed mood when awakening 

Optimal Sleep Complex Mode of Action

Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate is a mineral which has sedative properties. The bisglycinate form of the mineral has the highest bioavailable absorption (1).  Its structure of a chelated amino acid means that there are 2 glycine molecules (bisglycinate) attached to the magnesium molecule.  The bisglycinate form is stable and avoids a breakdown in the gastrointestinal tract before it is completely absorbed.  It is also tolerated better and has less gastrointestinal side effects.  The bisglycinate chelate aids in mineral absorption because it is a small sized molecule and can be absorbed directly by intestinal cells.  Pure Nootropics chooses to use TRAACS® by Albion Minerals which is a certification that the mineral content is guaranteed to be an authentic chelated mineral amino acid for superior bioavailability (2).

Magnesium helps promote longer sleep times and falling asleep faster through its ability to promote relaxation and calm the nervous system (2).

Zinc Bisglycinate Chelate is a trace element which has a higher bioavailability than zinc gluconate and other forms of zinc supplements.  Its structure of a chelated amino acid means that there are 2 glycine molecules (bisglycinate) attached to the zinc molecule.  The bisglycinate form is stable and avoids a breakdown in the gastrointestinal tract before it is completely absorbed.  It is also tolerated better and has less gastrointestinal side effects.  The bisglycinate chelate aids in mineral absorption because it is a small sized molecule and can be absorbed directly by intestinal cells.  Pure Nootropics chooses to use TRAACS® by Albion Minerals which is a certification that the mineral content is guaranteed to be an authentic chelated mineral amino acid for superior bioavailability (2).

Zinc promotes and regulates sleep quality, but the entirety of the mechanisms behind its actions with regards to sleep is still being researched (3).

Lemon Balm and Valerian Root Combination is a combination of the herbal extracts of Lemon Balm and Valerian root.

They are often used together because they exhibit synergy that may improve sleep quality.  Lemon Balm acts as a GABA transaminase inhibitor; GABA is broken down into Glutamate by GABA transaminase, so the inhibition of this enzyme frees up more GABA in the brain. Valerian stimulates GABA by stimulating glutamate decarboxylase; glutamate is converted into GABA with this enzyme.  The combination of Lemon Balm and Valerian is then able to stimulate the production of GABA within the brain by stimulating conversion of GABA and preventing the breakdown of GABA (4).  Activation of GABA within the brain promotes sleep (5).

L-Tryptophan is an essential amino acid which is converted in the body into serotonin, which helps support healthy sleep patterns (6).  This mechanism may decrease the time it takes to fall asleep (7).

L-Theanine is an amino acid which naturally occurs in tea leaves and some forms of mushrooms
(8).

L-Theanine promotes sleep quality due to its ability to provide relaxation by increasing alpha-brain waves and regulating excitatory neurotransmitters that may inhibit restful sleep.  Alpha-brain waves (8-13 Hz) are the brain waves associated with relaxation and alertness and are produced within 30-40 minutes after ingestion.  The alpha-brain waves (or “a-waves”) occur in the occipital and parietal regions of the brain and prepare the body for a relaxed state prior to sleep (9,10).

Melatonin is a hormone made in the human body within the pineal gland, retina, bone marrow cells, and gastrointestinal tract.

Melatonin regulates circadian rhythms and may decrease sleep latency (or the time it takes to fall asleep).  Some research indicates that it reduces body temperature and that is mainly responsible for its ability to induce sleep.  Melatonin decreases with age, especially between 41 and 60 years of age (11).

Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate, Melatonin and Zinc Combination combine the benefits of all 3 of these supplements and has been studied in this combination in humans.  This beneficial combination demonstrates the ability to promote healthy sleep patterns in adults (18, 19).

Optimal Sleep Complex Dosage

Pure Nootropics’ Optimal Sleep Complex was formulated based on researched and recommended dosages.

Pure Nootropics’ Optimal Sleep Complex provides 30 mg Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate, 25 mg Zinc Bisglycinate Chelate, 400 mg L-Tryptophan, 400 mg Valerian root extract (standardized to 0.8% valerenic acid), 100 mg Lemon Balm extract, 100 mg L-Theanine, and 3 mg Melatonin per (2) capsules.  Suggested use for adults is 1 capsule by mouth for light rest, or 2 capsules by mouth for deeper sleep, or as directed by your healthcare practitioner.

Optimal Sleep Complex Plus Side Effects and Toxicity

You should consult with a health care practitioner before taking this product if you are taking any medications, herbs, or supplements.

As with any supplement or over the counter sleep aid, adequate research should be done regarding the ingredients and their use in combination. Always consider consulting with a healthcare practitioner if you have questions or concerns regarding supplement usage or dose.  Pure Nootropics’ Optimal Sleep Complex was formulated based on researched and recommended dosages.

For further information, please see our References Tab above.

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Vitamin B12 Sublingual

B12 is an essential vitamin that is known for its crucial role in overall health, especially nervous system functioning, mood, energy, memory and prevention of neuro-degenerative diseases.  

Vitamin B12 Benefits

Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin, meaning it is necessary for your body to function properly. Low vitamin B12 levels have been positively associated with cognitive decline..  The CDC estimates about one in 31 adults over the age of 50 are deficient in Vitamin B12.

B12 supplementation may result in improved memory, energy, mood and digestion.

Vitamin B12 Dosage

A single dose of Pure Nootropics Sublingual Vitamin B12 contains 2500mgc (2.5 milligrams) and should be taken once per week.

Vitamin B12 Mode of Action

B12 has several mechanisms of action in your body that are crucial to maintaining overall heath.

B12 works by maintain level of myelin in the body. Myelin is a white fatty substance that insulates nerve cells and is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Damage to myelin prevents nerves from communicating effectively and impedes nervous system function.

Vitamin B12 also helps with hemoglobin synthesis, hemoglobin is a protein molecule that helps your body transport oxygen. Without B12, your body cannot produce enough hemoglobin, which can result in anemia and may further cause low energy, shortness of breath and other symptoms.

Vitamin B12 Toxicity 

No toxic or adverse effects have been reported with large intakes of B12 supplementation in healthy people. If you are taking any medications, always consult with you Healthcare Practitioner before beginning any new supplement.

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Noopept Powder, Capsules, & Sublingual Solution

Noopept is a synthetic nootropic molecule grouped in the racetam class but structurally different from racetams.

  • Noopept (N-phenylacetyl-L-prolylglycine ethyl ester) lacks a 2-oxo-pyrollidine nucleus that a true racetam is defined by (ref)*
  • Synthesized in 1996 (ref)*
  • Assured Purity: Rigorously tested for quality & purity by third-party Certificate of Analysis*

Noopept Chemical Properties

In animal research, Noopept may increase alpha waves in the brain similarly to the function of Piracetam; however, Noopept also increases beta waves and decreases delta waves.  In animals, Noopept is believed to work with acetylcholine and neurotrophin in the brain, although it is not entirely understood (1).

Noopept’s molecular formula is C17H22N2O4 and it has a molecular mass of 318.373 g/mol (2).

It is also known as GVS-111 and the CAS number is 157115-85-0 (2).

Noopept Powder, Capsules and Sublingual

Pure Nootropics offers Noopept in 20 mg capsules or 15 g bulk powder quantities or 60 ml sublingual preparation.

Noopept Toxicity

In mice, doses of 10-100 mg/kg did not induce any irreversible toxic changes (3).

For further information, please see our References Tab above.

Notice: This product is a chemical compound. All chemicals have risks. This product is not approved by the FDA. Please research and understand the associated risks before handling. None of the information provided in our references are meant to be considered comprehensive or representative of the entire body of research on this compound. Please consult a qualified professional if you are unsure of how to handle this chemical. Misuse of this product may result in adverse reactions.

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Mucuna L-Dopa 15% Capsules

Mucuna pruriens is a legume known as “velvet bean” or “Cowhage” containing a phenolic compound in the seeds, L-Dopa (1).

Mucuna Pruriens (L-Dopa 15%) Capsules Benefits

  • Stress support 
  • Promotes sexual health in males 
  • Precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine 

Mucuna Pruriens (L-Dopa 15%) Capsules Mode of Action

Mucuna belongs to the sub-family Papilionaceae which includes 150 species of legumes.  Mucuna is indigenous to tropical and sub-tropical areas and is regarded as a food source due to its viable proteins and digestibility.  It was widely cultivated in eastern India and southern China and is cultivated for food use in Africa, Asia, America, and the Pacific Islands (1).

“Cowitch” and “cowhage” are the names the English gave to Mucuna for the species that have long hairs on the pod which cause stinging and itching by mucunain.  The other species of Mucuna that have silky hairs which do not sting are known as “velvet bean” (1).

Mucuna’s seeds contain L-Dopa which is a precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine (1).   L-Dopa, or Levodopa, is the main constituent of Mucuna, along with nicotinic acid, serotonin and the precursor 5-HTP, tetrahydroisoquinoline alkaloids, bufotenine, beta-carboline, mucunain (which causes itching when it comes into contact with skin), behenic acid, CoQ10, NADH (nicotine adenine dinucleotide), Inositol (D-chiro inositol and myo-inositol), selenium, iron, magnesium, and other saponins, flavonoids, anthraquinones, terpenoides, cardiac glycosides, and tannins (2).

Mature seeds contain between 3-12.5% L-Dopa, and the leaves contain only 0.5%(2).  L-Dopa is a direct precursor of dopamine and can also be directly synthesized from the non-essential amino acid tyrosine, or indirectly from acidphnylalanine, an essential amino acid.  Both amino acids are found in protein and tyrosine is the most abundant in food sources (3).

L-Dopa synthesizes dopamine in the body after ingestion through a rapid conversion in the peripheral tissue (2).  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which functions in a neuromodulatory system known as the dopamine system, consisting of dopaminergic pathways and cell groups.  Dopamine is involved in motor control, executive functions, reinforcement and reward, motivation, and arousal.  Other functions it influences include nausea, lacatation, and sexual gratification. Dopamine is also involved in some aspects of pleasure-related cognition (3).

Dopamine circulating in the bloodstream is small and can be produced by the digestive system or sympathetic nervous system.  Dopamine receptors in the peripheral tissues may receive the dopamine or it can be metabolized and converted in norepinephrine and then released by the adrenal glands (3).

Mucuna Pruriens (L-Dopa 15%) Capsules Dosage

Pure Nootropics’ Mucuna Pruriens (L-Dopa 15%) Capsules provide 800 mg of Mucuna seed extract (min. 15% L-Dopa, naturally occurring) and 120 mg of L-Dopa per 2 capsules.  Suggested use for adults is 2 capsules by mouth daily, or as directed by your healthcare practitioner.

Mucuna Pruriens (L-Dopa 15%) Capsules Side Effects and Toxicity

Mucuna is generally well tolerated, and most common side effects are gastrointestinal symptoms.  Side effects may include headache, sweating, palpitations, diarrhea, flatulence, dry mouth, pruritus, rash, changes in urine color, and symptoms of psychosis have been noted (4).

If you are taking any medications, please consult your healthcare practitioner before beginning supplementation with Mucuna.

For further information, please see our References Tab above.

What are nootropics (smart drugs)?

Nootropics, or “smart drugs,” are a class of substances that can boost brain performance. They are sometimes called cognition enhancers or memory enhancing substances.

Prescription nootropics are medications that have stimulant effects. They can counteract the symptoms of medical conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, or Alzheimer’s disease.

Nonprescription substances that can enhance brain performance or focus — such as caffeine and creatine — are also considered nootropics. They do not treat diseases but may have some effects on thinking, memory, or other mental functions.

This article looks at prescription and nonprescription smart drugs, including their uses, side effects, and safety warnings.

Prescription nootropics
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A person may take a nootropic to treat ADHD, narcolepsy, or dementia.

A doctor may prescribe a nootropic to treat a medical condition. Usually, the drug is a type of stimulant, such as an amphetamine, that can help treat ADHD, narcolepsy, dementia, or a similar condition.

Prescription nootropics include:

  • modafinil (Provigil), a stimulant that addresses the sudden drowsiness of narcolepsy
  • Adderall, which contains amphetamines to treat ADHD
  • methylphenidate (Ritalin), a stimulant that can manage symptoms of narcolepsy and ADHD
  • memantine (Axura), which treats symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

While these can be effective in treating specific medical conditions, a person should not take them without a prescription.

Like any prescription medications, they carry risks of side effects and interactions, and a person should only take them under a doctor’s care.

Common side effects of prescription nootropics include:

  • high blood pressure
  • a fast heart rate
  • insomnia and other sleep disturbances
  • trouble with vision
  • addiction

Some evidence suggests that people who use prescription nootropics to improve brain function have a higher risk of impulsive behaviors, such as risky sexual practices.

Healthcare providers should work closely with people taking prescription nootropics to manage any side effects and monitor their condition.

Over-the-counter nootropics

The term “nootropic” can also refer to natural or synthetic supplements that boost mental performance. The following sections discuss nootropics that do not require a prescription.

Caffeine

Many people consume beverages that contain caffeine, such as coffee or tea, because of their stimulant effects. Studies suggest that caffeine is safe for most people in moderate amounts.

Having a regular cup of coffee or tea may be a good way to boost mental focus. However, extreme amounts of caffeine may not be safe.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend that people consume no more than 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day. This is the amount in 4–5 cups of coffee.

Caffeine pills and powders can contain extremely high amounts of the stimulant. Taking them can lead to a caffeine overdose and even death, in rare cases.

Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant may need to limit or avoid caffeine intake. Studies have found that consuming 4 or more servings of caffeine a day is linked to a higher risk of pregnancy loss.

L-theanine

L-theanine is an amino acid that occurs in black and green teas. People can also take l-theanine supplements.

A 2016 review reported that l-theanine may increase alpha waves in the brain. Alpha waves may contribute to a relaxed yet alert mental state.

L-theanine may work well when paired with caffeine. Some evidence suggests that this combination helps boost cognitive performance and alertness. Anyone looking to consume l-theanine in tea should keep the FDA’s caffeine guidelines in mind.

There are no dosage guidelines for l-theanine, but many supplements recommend taking 100–400 mg per day.

Omega-3 fatty acids

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Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids are important to fight against brain aging.

Omega-3 fatty acids are among the most well-known and well-studied mental enhancers.

These polyunsaturated fats are found in fatty fish and fish oil supplements. This type of fat is important for brain health, and a person must get it from their diet.

Omega-3s help build membranes around the body’s cells, including the neurons. These fats are important for repairing and renewing brain cells.

A 2015 review found that omega-3 fatty acids protect against brain aging. Other research has concluded that omega-3s are important for brain and nervous system function.

However, a large analysis found “no benefit for cognitive function with omega‐3 [polyunsaturated fatty acids] supplementation among cognitively healthy older people.” The authors recommend further long term studies.

A person can get omega-3 supplements in various forms, including fish oil, krill oil, and algal oil.

These supplements carry a low risk of side effects when a person takes them as directed, but they may interact with medications that affect blood clotting. Ask a doctor before taking them.

Racetams

Racetams are synthetic compounds that can affect neurotransmitters in the brain. Some nootropic racetams include:

  • piracetam
  • pramiracetam
  • phenylpiracetam
  • aniracetam

A study conducted in rats suggests that piracetam may have neuroprotective effects.

One review states that “Some of the studies suggested there may be some benefit from piracetam, but, overall, the evidence is not consistent or positive enough to support its use for dementia or cognitive impairment.” Confirming this will require more research.

There is no set dosage for racetams, so a person should follow instructions and consult a healthcare provider. Overall, studies have no found adverse effects of taking racetams as directed.

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba is a tree native to China, Japan, and Korea. Its leaves are available as an herbal supplement.

A 2016 study found that gingko biloba is “potentially beneficial” for improving brain function, but confirming this will require more research.

Ginkgo biloba may help with dementia symptoms, according to one review, which reported the effects occurring in people who took more than 200 mg per day for at least 5 months.

However, the review’s authors note that more research is needed. Also, with prescription nootropics available, ginkgo biloba may not be the most safe or effective option.

Panax ginseng

Panax ginseng is a perennial shrub that grows in China and parts of Siberia. People use its roots for medicinal purposes.

People should not confuse Panax ginseng with other types of ginseng, such as Siberian or American varieties. These are different plants with different uses.

A 2018 review reports that Panax ginseng may help prevent certain brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease. It also may help with brain recovery after a stroke.

Panax ginseng interacts with many medications, so consult a doctor before taking it. A typical dosage for mental function is 100–600 mg once or twice a day.

Rhodiola

Some evidence suggests that Rhodiola rosea L., also known as rhodiola or roseroot, can help with cognitive ability.

One review reported that rhodiola may have neuroprotective effects and may help treat neurodegenerative diseases.

Another review found that rhodiola helped regulate neurotransmitters in the brain, having a positive effect on mood.

Rhodiola capsules have varying strengths. Usually, a person takes a capsule once or twice daily.

Creatine

Creatine is an amino acid, which is a building block of protein. This supplement is popular among athletes because it may help improve exercise performance. It may also have some effects on mental ability.

A 2018 review found that taking creatine appears to help with short term memory and reasoning. Whether it helps the brain in other ways is unclear.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition report that creatine supplementation of up to 30 grams per day is safe for healthy people to take for 5 years.

Another 2018 review notes that there has been limited research into whether this supplement is safe and effective for adolescent athletes.

Do nootropics work?

Some small studies show that some nootropic supplements can affect the brain. But there is a lack of evidence from large, controlled studies to show that some of these supplements consistently work and are completely safe.

Because of the lack of research, experts cannot say with certainty that over-the-counter nootropics improve thinking or brain function — or that everyone can safely use them.

For example, one report on cognitive enhancers found that there is not enough evidence to indicate that they are safe and effective for healthy people. The researchers also point to ethical concerns.

However, there is evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can benefit the brain and overall health. In addition, caffeine can improve mental focus in the short term.

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