Smart drugs or nootropics
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Can a Pill or Supplement Unlock The Brain’s Full Potential?

The idea that Nootropics or Smart Drugs can improve various aspects of cognition is gaining popularity

If you’re into health and wellness, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the word ‘nootropics’ floating around lately. Normally, the term accompanied is by buzz words like ‘productive‘ and ‘alert.’ Both things that the majority of us would like to be, right? But what do nootropics actually mean? What it does involve is more similar to the movie Limitless. If you haven’t seen it, Bradley Cooper’s character takes a ‘smart pill’ that allows him to access 100% of his brain’s abilities. Because of this, he goes from a struggling copywriter to a financial wizard overnight. Now, in the real world, nobody has come up with a way to actually unlock the brain’s full potential (yet). But so far, the closest thing is nootropics.

What are nootropics?

nootropics, matcha
Image: iStock

Put simply, nootropics are any substance that increases your cognitive function. So, if you drink coffee or green tea — guess what, you already take nootropics! But it’s a very broad term that extends much further than hot beverages. The term has been around since 1972 when it was coined by Dr. Corneliu Giurgea. The Romanian scientist created the world’s first nootropic (a drug called piracetam) and derived the term from the Greek words ‘nous’ (mind) and trepein (to bend).
Since then, many different kinds of nootropics have emerged. They all vary in strength and type but fit the same criteria — they boost your memory, focus, and brain function with no health side effects. Perfect for when you’ve got a lot to get done and not much time to do it! Yep, there’s a reason they’re all the rage in the startup hub of Silicon Valley at the moment. Not only that, they’ve can improve your performance in the gym, boost your mood, and help protect your brain from the effects of aging. But in order to decide which nootropic is right for you, it’s important to be familiar with the different kinds.

The different types of nootropics

Cognitive enhancers

coffee, nootropic
Image: iStock

Examples: Coffee, green tea, black tea, matcha, Bulletproof coffee.

There’s a good reason you feel 10 x more productive after your morning coffee. Caffeine increases the level of neurotransmitters in your brain associated with focus, memory, and mental performance. But as far as drinkable nootropics go, green, black, and especially matcha tea are actually more powerful options. This is because they not only include caffeine, but also the amino acid L-theanine. Not only does this compound help reverse the negative effects of caffeine (those post-coffee jitters!) it also has strong brain-boosting benefits.


turmeric, nootropics
Image: iStock

Examples: Avena Satvia, Bacopa, Rhodiola, Ginseng, Gingko Biloba, Curcumin.

We’ve written before about the herb Avena satvia, also known as oat straw. Studies show that it works wonders for increasing cognitive function, making it a perfect example of a herbal nootropic. There are plenty of other herbs that nourish the brain — including the one you may already have in your pantry! Curcumin is an antioxidant naturally found in turmeric and it’s an absolute powerhouse when it comes to boosting your brainpower!


Image: iStock

Examples: Fish oil, L-theanine, L-tyrosine, Phosphatidylserine.

Kirsty Godso recently named a few nootropics as her must-have daily supplements.

I take fish oil each day and most days have a capsule of L-theanine in the morning when I’m drinking my coffee. It helps me to really zone in on what I’m doing.
-Kirsty Godso

The Nike Master Trainer (and our personal girl crush) is onto something, as both of these supplements have been proven to be fantastic for cognitive function. A few companies have already cottoned on to the positive effect of nootropic supplements on mental performance. Get Hapi and Onnit both sell natural nootropic stacks that combine various productivity-boosting supplements.

Smart drugs

Image: iStock

Examples: Modafinil, Adrafinil, Piracetam.

This is where nootropics start to get a bit iffy. These are the nootropics that will give you the most similar effect to the ‘Limitless’ pill, but they’re also the riskiest. Yes, many people have reported that they’re very effective for increasing cognitive function. But they’re usually either prescription for an existing condition (like Modafinil for narcolepsy) or there hasn’t been enough research into their long-term effect on the brain. Best to steer clear of these unless prescribed, if you ask us.

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