The Definitive Guide to the Best Nootropics & Cognitive Enhancers

nootropics guide

It is normal to desire a higher level of cognitive functionality. After all, studies have proven that there is a link between intelligence and wealth, and there is no good reason to allow the genetic lottery to determine how successful you can become. With this in mind, many people turn to science to help them increase their IQ.

The Quest for Enhanced Cognitive Performance

Scientists have been studying brain functionality for centuries, but many of the most exciting developments have occurred within the past 60 years. At this point, we have a good understanding of each cognitive mechanism, and research has determined that nootropics and other cognitive enhancers can have a positive impact on our mental performance.

Most nootropics have been created in a lab as a synthesized version of a naturally occurring substance, and they enable us to temporarily hack our bodies to achieve higher levels of success. There are many educational resources that take a close look at the latest nootropics research, including the Peak Nootropics blog.

Cognitive Mechanisms

Our cognitive mechanisms determine how we perceive the world around us. Additionally, these mechanisms are integral in the learning process, and they impact our ability to memorize new data and make rational decisions. These mechanisms can be hindered by everything from a low IQ to a lack of sleep, but you can overcome some of these obstacles by turning to cognitive enhancers.

Understanding Neural Mechanisms


The prefrontal cortex makes it easier to focus on tasks at hand by using a process known as attentional control. In a nutshell, this means that your brain determines which task is likely to be the most important, and it amplifies this information to help you pay attention. However, some people naturally struggle with their ability to pay attention due to an underperforming prefrontal cortex.


Your memories are sorted into two categories: Declarative and nondeclarative. The distinction between these two is based on the type of memory that you are trying to store and recall. For example, facts that you learned in school are in your declarative memory, but your ability to please a woman in bed stems from the information within your non-declarative memory.


People learn in two different ways: Through interaction and observation. Studies have shown that the data we take in while we are learning a new task is stored in the prefrontal cortex. The type of learning that you undertake will determine if your memories will be sorted into the ventromedial prefrontal cortex or the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Either way, it is vital for your prefrontal cortex to be performing well if you want to retain a new skill.


Although we often think of focusing on something as being somehow separate from our general ability to pay attention, the two things are the same from a neural mechanism standpoint.

The Mechanism-Based Approach for Enhancing Cognition

As you can see, your brain relies on the proper functionality of each aspect of the prefrontal cortex. If any portion of this is not up to speed, you can experience difficulty with memory retention, learning and the ability to focus. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that you can also enhance your cognitive skills by directly targeting each desired neural mechanism.

Neuroenhancement – Using Neuroscience-Based Techniques to Enhance Cognitive Functions

Scientists have spent a lot of time looking for the best way to enhance cognitive functionality, and three things stand above the rest: Brain training, brain stimulation and medication or supplements such as nootropics.
Acting Directly on the Human Brain and Nervous System

Your nervous system can decrease your cognitive performance if you are suffering from certain illnesses or taking medication, so it makes sense to create the opposite effect with a cognitive enhancer. By targeting the brain and nervous system through neuroenhancement techniques, you can boost your mental and physical performance.

Altering the Properties and Performance of Your Brain

If you have difficulty with certain aspects of your cognitive functionality, it is likely that you have a deficit of some type. Nootropics can temporarily alter the properties of your brain, and this will result in increased performance. For example, Piracetam helps the AMPA receptor.

Standard Neuroenhancement Techniques

1. TMS:

Transcranial magnetic stimulation can be used to stimulate targeted areas of the brain in a non-invasive manner.

2. tDCS:

Transcranial direct current stimulation involves placing electrodes onto an individual’s head in order to send a low current to the specified area of their brain.

3. Neurofeedback:

Neurofeedback can be utilized to train a brain to have a higher level of functionality in regards to the regulation of bodily functions.

4. Behavioral Training Techniques

Neurobehavioral training can be used to help the mind and body in numerous ways. For example, this technique can help people with pain management by training the brain to turn down its pain signals.

Nootropic Drugs Revealed

What Exactly is a Nootropic?

Nootropics are typically derived from naturally occurring compounds, and they can have a very beneficial impact on your mental and physical functionality.

1. Nootropics Offer Non-Detrimental Benefits

These chemical substances have been designed to offer neuroenhancements without negatively impacting the brain. Therefore, the few side effects that have been reported from users are generally extremely mild.

2. Reported Enhancements

Nootropics have been linked by medical studies and users to a long list of enhancements, including increased memory retention and recall, logical reasoning skills, learning, creativity, concentration, mood and overall mental energy.

3. Chemical Structures of Nootropics

Nootropics feature a variety of chemical structures, depending on which type of cognitive enhancer you choose. For example, Piracetam is a derivative of GABA. Additionally, the base structure of this nootropic is the same as the rare amino acid pyroglutamic acid.

How Do Nootropics Work?

The Distinction between Different Nootropic Types

There are multiple nootropic families, including stimulants, neutraceuticals, and racetams. Although all of these nootropics are meant to provide a mental boost, they do work in different ways and offer various results.

1. The Hippocampus:

One of the most commonly targeted areas of the brain is the hippocampus. Some nootropics have been shown to facilitate long-term potentiation in the region, and this contributes to enhanced memory and learning skills.

2. Glucose Levels and Oxygenation:

Without the proper amount of oxygenation and glucose levels, your brain will begin to slow down its overall functionality. Some nootropics can temporarily elevate these levels, which leads to a cognitive boost.

3. Influence and Modulation of Brain Systems and Chemicals:

Nootropics have the ability to influence and modulate the chemical makeup in multiple brain systems. For example, the glutamatergic system is targeted by the glutamate receptors AMPA and NDMA. Certain nootropics are also known to affect the dopaminergic and serotonergic systems, and this impacts everything from mood to memory retention.
Understanding the Brain System

Developing a basic understanding of how each brain system works will make it easier to determine which nootropics are the right choice to suit your needs.

1. Acetylcholine and the Cholinergic System

Many nootropics target the cholinergic system because this has a big impact on your ability to learn, form and retain memories, make decisions, focus and have proper sensory perception. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that works with the autonomic, central and peripheral nervous systems.

2. Glutamate and the Glutamatergic System

This system fulfills a crucial role in the health of your brain, and it is vital for learning and memory. Glutamate, which is also known as glutamic acid, is an amino acid and a neurotransmitter. Due to this, many people seek out a nootropic that targets the glutamatergic system.

3. Dopaminergic and Serotonergic Systems

Both of these systems control your overall feelings of happiness and pleasure. It should be noted that nootropics do not directly target these systems, but there are still some supplements that are known to elevate the user’s mood by having an impact on them.

Nootropic Effects and Mechanisms of Action

Before you can choose which nootropics to use alone or as part of a stack, you should take a few moments to review how each category of these supplements works within the human body.

1. Cholinergics

The primary purpose of a cholinergic is to increase the levels of acetylcholine in the brain. Studies have demonstrated that this can help with decision making, and it also gives users the increased ability to retain new information, access existing memories and control their attention span. Some of the most commonly utilized cholinergics include Centrophenoxine, CHP Choline, and Alpha GPC Choline. These nootropics are most commonly utilized as part of a stack.

2. Racetams

Racetams are perhaps the most well-known and popular family of nootropics. Their general function is to improve the sensitivity of the acetylcholine receptors, which increase the communication between the neurons. Although there are many racetams available, the three most commonly utilized options are piracetam, aniracetam, and oxiracetam.


This is the original nootropic, and it was first synthesized in 1964. A user reported benefits include a mild to moderate boost in cognitive functionality such as learning and memory retention.


This racetam is generally stronger than piracetam, and it has some anxiolytic effects. In scientific testing, aniracetam has proven to enhance learning and memory. Some users have also stated that it boosts their creative thinking.


This is believed to be the most mentally stimulating of the three main racetams, and it has been shown to enhance a high-affinity choline intake during lab testing.

3. Dopaminergics

Any nootropic or other smart drug that increases brain activity or the levels of dopamine in the brain is referred to as a dopaminergic. Boosting dopamine levels can have many positive benefits such as improved mood, and it can also increase libido in certain quantities. Due to this, dopaminergics are a popular choice for individuals who suffer from depression, anxiety or low libido.


This nootropic is touted by users as offering a big variety of benefits, ranging from elevated mood to cognitive enhancements.


This stimulating nootropic has been found by users to provide an energy boost and a reduction in anxiety. It is essentially a large dose of vitamin B1, and some users have stated that it gives a better form of enhanced energy than caffeine.


L-Dopa is the nootropic of choice for many users who have issues with low libido. This supplement is also reported to increase focus and overall energy levels.

4. Serotonergics

Serotonin is a vital neurotransmitter that helps the human body regulate a long list of mental and physical functions, including mood, libido, and memory retention. If your serotonin levels are low, you can turn to serotonergics for a boost.


5-HTP is touted as a mood enhancer, and some users have also reported that it reduces anxiety.


Tryptophan is a naturally occurring amino acid. Increasing the amount of tryptophan in your system could lead to reduced anxiety, improved mood, and a better night’s sleep.

5. Adaptogens

Adaptogens are believed to reduce stress and offer an improvement in the user’s brain health and cognitive functionality. It has also been reported that adding adaptogens to a nootropic stack can give brain cells the proper balance.


Users have attributed several positive benefits to taking ginseng, including improved memory retention and recall, higher levels of concentration and a reduction in the symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.

Kava Kava:

This natural supplement can be added to a nootropic stack to help promote mental well-being. User reviews often state that Kava Kava reduces anxiety and boosts mood.

Passion Flower:

People who have added Passion Flower into their nootropic stack generally regard this supplement as a viable option for reducing anxiety and insomnia.

Gotu Kola:

The Gotu Kola plant’s leaves have long been reported to give users a calming effect, and they have also been studied as a potential supplemental option for a variety of cognitive issues.

6. Metabolics

Your metabolic system helps the body break down food and supplement sources and convert them into energy. Metabolic disorders can lead to obesity and other health issues. From a nootropic standpoint, metabolics are utilized with the intention of helping brain cells optimize their energy supply.


Some people refer to Vinpocetine as a neural antioxidant. Nootropic enthusiasts have reported experiencing improvements in the short and long-term memory, along with enhanced concentration skills.


Creatine is commonly used in nootropic stacks. The reported benefits include better memory retention and increased IQ.


This naturally occurring compound has an impact on the functionality and health of brain cells. User reviews have pointed out numerous benefits such as enhanced mood, attention, learning skills and memory retention.

7. Stimulants

Stimulants are typically taken by users who wish to experience increased levels of wakefulness, alertness and energy levels. Caffeine is a natural stimulant, but there are also other nootropic options available for people are looking for these positive benefits.


Modafinil is one of the most popular nootropic stimulants. It has been approved by the U.S. FDA for medical usage. Nootropic reviewers commonly state that Modafinil raises their energy level and makes them feel more alert.


Adrafinil is often stacked with racetams, and its users claim that it offers enhanced focus, energy, memory retention, learning ability and physical performance.

Natural Nootropic Supplements

Many people assume that nootropics have all been lab created, but this is not the case. In fact, there are numerous natural nootropics. You have probably been using some of these supplements for most of your life without being aware that they belong to the nootropic family, including caffeine.


Caffeine is by far the most popular and widely used natural energy supplement. Studies have proven that it offers an energy boost, and this can temporarily increase many mental functions such as focus and alertness. However, caffeine is also typically associated with an energy crash a few hours later. Due to this, caffeine pills are usually stacked with other nootropics that can help even out this particular side effect.


L-Theanine is found naturally in green tea leaves. This analog of glutamate and glutamine is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier. Many energy stacks include caffeine and L-Theanine because of their synergistic connection. Multiple reviews point out that this particular combination gives people the perks of caffeine without the typical drawbacks. Other benefits that have been touted by users include increased cognitive performance, memory recall, and alertness.

Bacopa Monnieri

The medical ingredient bacopa saponins alkaloid is derived from this natural and effective antioxidant, which provides a viable method for improving energy. Bacopa Monnieri is also reported to offer better memory and enhanced cognitive functionality.

Ginkgo Biloba

The Ginkgo tree leaves contain terpenoids and flavonoid glycosides, and these act as monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Although there is some debate about whether or not Ginkgo Biloba should be classified as a natural nootropic, reports do indicate that it is a good herb for promoting brain health.

Lion’s Mane

This mushroom is an effective antioxidant, and it helps regulate blood glucose and lipid levels. Research has also indicated that Lion’s Mane can improve cognitive abilities and the secretion of Nerve Growth Factor. Many Nootropic users believe that Lion’s Mane can help boost intelligence.


This naturally occurring substance is found in the Periwinkle plant, and it is believed to improve brain oxygenation, which leads to a boost in memory and learning. This nootropic is placed in stacks when people are looking for increased focus, memory retention, and energy.

Fish Oil – Omega 3

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for proper health, and fish oil contains DHA and EPA acids. Research has indicated that Omera-3 is a critical building block for healthy brain development, and it is also believed to reduce the risk of dementia. As a nootropic, it is often utilized to reduce stress and improve memory.


This natural nootropic is extracted from the Huperzia serrata. Huperzine-A blocks the production of acetylcholinesterase, and its reported benefits include improved memory and cognitive functionality.
Finding the Appropriate Nootropic Supplements

There are many popular nootropics, so you will want to look carefully at the benefits and side effects that have been pointed out by reviewers.

Commonly Used Nootropics


Armodafinil is one of the newest nootropics available, and it has become popular because of user reviews that compare it favorably to Modafinil and Adrafinil. Armodafinil users indicate that it helps them focus, boosts their energy and increases their productivity. The most common dosage ranges from 50 to 150 mg per day.


Modafinil is often used by people who have issues with insomnia. It is believed to increase energy and alertness, and it is frequently put into a stack. Most users start with 100 mg per day, but 200 mg once a day is the standard dose after the first week.


This stimulant has been found to assist people with sleep disorders. Nootropic enthusiasts have reported experiencing a mental boost that also reduces anxiety and the symptoms of depression. Many users take 150 mg per day, and it is important not to greatly exceed this amount as there are more side effects associated with Adrafinil than most nootropics.


This racetam is touted as being 1,000 times more potent than Piracetam. Studies into Noopept have found that it can help memory retention and recall, along with learning and creativity. Noopept dosages range from 10 to 40 mg, and each dose is taken three times per day for optimal results.


This racetam compound is a derivative of Piracetam. User reviews indicate many potential benefits, including improved memory, better decision making, and enhanced mood. Most people take 200 mg of Coluracetam per day.


This natural amino acid reportedly provides increased energy and focus, improved mood and reduced anxiety. Dosages range from 200 to 400 mg daily.
Nootropic Stacks

As mentioned numerous times throughout this article, nootropic stacks are one of the most common methods that people use to get the reported benefits of each supplement. Stacking enables people to create the right blend to meet each of their specific needs.

For example, if you want to maintain focus, memory retention and concentration on a daily basis, you can stack Centrophenoxine, Piracetam, and Alpha GPC. If you want a temporary boost and will not be taking the stack each day, you can take Modafinil or Adrafinil in place of Piracetam.

Ultimately, the best way to find the right stack is to do some research into the exact results that you are looking for. Be sure to read user reviews and look for information regarding whether or not the stack can be taken daily.

Potential Dangers and Side Effects

Most nootropics are generally regarded as safe, but even the mildest supplement can have side effects. The most commonly experienced side effects include headaches, fatigue, and insomnia, and some people could develop GI tract issues. It is also possible that someone could have a rare allergic reaction to nootropics. Because the potential for these side effects can vary widely based on the specific nootropic and the dosage you take, it is best to look closely at any published information regarding your nootropics of choice.

Final Thoughts

There are numerous positive user reviews for nootropics, and many of these supplements have been studied by scientists to help discover their potential medical properties.

Overall, most nootropics are generally safe on their own and in a stack. Users can take advantage of the perks associated with these supplements on a daily basis or simply to help them focus for an important test or presentation.

Kallum Mitterer is a huge fan of non-traditional ways to bio-hack yourself to better performance. This interest led to him starting up several online nootropic and botanical companies. He enjoys blogging about smart drugs and other compounds that help readers bio-hack themselves to better well-being and mental & physical performance.

About the author Patrick Banks

Patrick Banks is an entrepreneur, full-time dating advisor, and total health & fitness freak. He provides tips on how to exercise and eat well, boost energy and feel confident in your own skin. He believes a healthy body and successful social interactions are two main keys to happiness.