Nootropics (Smart Drugs): Benefits, Side Effects

Nootropics Guide for Beginners

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The ketogenic diet is widely praised for its ability to help you achieve and sustain maximum weight loss, but one of the most overlooked and underappreciated benefits of the ketogenic diet is that it’s a natural brain enhancer.

Ketones are the secret ingredients. Not only are they are they a more efficient fuel source for your brain, but a ketogenic diet has also been shown to help you increase the number of mitochondria your brain by two folds, which is an area of your brain that is responsible for memory, learning, and cognitive performance (1).

Did you know that you can take the brain-boosting powers of the ketogenic diet one step further by adding nootropics to your diet?

Nootropics have brain-enhancing properties that have been shown to improve your cognitive performance. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about nootropics, including how they work and which ones are best to take.

What Are Nootropics?

Nootropics are brain-boosting supplements that you can take to improve your mental function. According to one study, nootropics are defined as “smart enhancers” that help boost your mood, memory, focus, attention span, and motivation (2).

Although they have been around for decades, nootropics aren’t very popular among the general population. They are mostly used by business entrepreneurs, computer programmer’s, and even college students who need to increase their mental performance and become better at staying focused for more extended periods of time.

However, because of their extraordinary, uplifting benefits, nootropics are becoming more popular than ever. Many people used them when they are crunched for time and can’t get the sleep they need but need their brain to stay as sharp as possible.

Typical examples of nootropics include herbs, amino acids, and even pharmaceutical drugs that increase mental focus, help you combat stress, and improve memory performance. When you pair nootropics with the ketogenic diet, you experience a level of cognitive function like no other.

Beneficial Effects of Nootropics on Human Brain

Research shows that nootropics help improve your brain function in several different ways, depending on the type. Here are five ways in which they do that:

Brain growth support

Research shows that some nootropics increase factors in your brain that support growth, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF). These factors are needed to regulate the growth and function of brain cells.

Specifically, BDNF is required for the growth and maintenance of general neurons while NGF is needed for the growth and development of sensory and sympathetic neurons.

Increasing the production of neurons can help you adapt to stressful situations better. It also promotes cognitive thinking skills.

One study found that lion’s mane mushroom boosts NGF levels to increase brain power (3).

Neurotransmitter regulation

Nootropics have such a powerful effect on the brain because they alter neurotransmitter regulation, which means that they can control the chemicals in your brain that are responsible for mood.

These include dopamine, acetylcholine, GABA, glutamate, serotonin, adrenaline, and epinephrine. As a result, you feel more relaxed, less stressed, and able to concentrate better.

One study found that the nootropic 5-HTP enhances your production of serotonin to improve your mood and sleep (4).

Additionally, nootropics also reduce neurotransmitters that make you feel stressed, such as cortisol.


In general, nootropics have neuroprotective benefits that fight age-related cognitive decline and keep your brain healthy well into your later years.

One study found that older adults who had mild brain impairment improve their memory, attention and the process in which they acquire information by taking ashwagandha (5).

Blood flow enhancement

Nootropics encourage blood flow throughout the brain, which helps you feel sharp and mentally alert. It also helps deliver oxygen and other vital nutrients to your brain to fight disease and mental fatigue.

One study indicated that ginseng improves blood circulation to the brain by increasing nitric oxide levels in the blood, which helps keeps blood vessels dilated so that more blood can flow through them (6).

Anti-inflammatory actions

Nootropics contain antioxidants that reduce inflammation in the brain.

Research shows that ginkgo biloba has been shown to reduce inflammatory mediators in the hippocampus, which is the part of your brain needed for memory and learning. With this area of your brain clear from toxins, you can enjoy better functioning (7, 8).

Possible Side Effects of Nootropic

Despite the numerous benefits of nootropics, it’s important to realize that there might be some side effects, especially if you combine more than one nootropic or take them in the form of prescription drugs.

Keep in mind that pharmaceutical medications are prescribed to treat a specific condition, such as ADHD, epilepsy or sleeping disorders.

If you’re taking them strictly for their mind-boosting benefits, you could experience some unpleasant side effects such as addiction, insomnia, depression, anxiety, increased heart rate, paranoia, and dizziness.

Different Types of Nootropics

There are two primary forms of nootropics: man-made and natural. Man-made or synthetic nootropics are created in a lab and are not found in nature, but that doesn’t mean they are better or worse.

On the other hand, natural nootropics include herbs and amino acids that are already found in the foods we eat or they are naturally present in our bodies.

A third lesser-known category of nootropics includes substances that are in-betweeners. In other words, they aren’t made in a lab, but they aren’t considered natural either.

Here are the different classes of nootropics.

#1 Man-made or Synthetic Nootropics

As mentioned above, man-made or synthetic nootropics are created in a lab using various compounds that you wouldn’t necessarily find in nature.

These include drugs such as Phenylpiracetam, Piracetam, Oxiracetam, Pramiracetam, and Aniracetam. All of these smart drugs contain a similar chemical structure.

The problem with many of these drugs is that they are so powerful that you run the risk of becoming addicted to them. Professional athletic departments even ban some of them because they are so stimulating.

They also tend to have more severe side effects than natural drugs. Studies show that they work by improving memory and protecting the brain against cell death.

Among these drugs, Piracetam is the most popular. It has been shown to improve attention and memory in people with heart surgery or age-related cognitive impairments, significantly reduce depression in people who suffer from cerebrovascular conditions and enhance color recognition among people who have had brain trauma (9).

Side effects appear to be minimal and include agitation, anxiety, insomnia, and drowsiness.

Other synthetic drugs include the use of pharmaceutical prescription drugs, such as Ritalin, Modafinil, and Adderall.

These drugs are commonly prescribed by doctors to treat attention deficit disorder, but many people take them to increase their energy and improve their concentration levels.

These types of drugs are highly addictive and should be taken with caution. Side effects may include insomnia, headaches, stomach problems, blurry vision, and withdrawal effects when you try to stop taking them.

Study shows that Adderall is highly addictive among college students who feel like they need to cram to get ahead (10, 11, 12, 13). It’s also considered a gateway drug for more serious drugs, such as opioids and other painkillers.

Ritalin is also used to treat attention deficit disorders and is considered highly addictive.

Modafinil is a prescription drug that is used to treat epilepsy and sleep disorders. Many people take it to enhance their brain function, especially when they are busy and need to get a lot done. This drug appears to be less addictive than drugs used to treat ADHD, but you still need to practice caution when taking it as the long-term effects of these drugs are unknown.

#2. Natural Nootropics

Natural nootropics contain herbal compounds that are considered safer and less addictive than synthetic drugs, but you still have to be careful with them.

They were used long ago during the times of Chinese medicine and are still used today for various reasons among those who practice Ayurvedic medicine.

One of the primary chemical compounds found in natural nootropics includes adaptogens, which are herbs and other natural substances that make your body better equipped at handling stress. Popular nootropic herbs include ashwagandha and ginseng. Research shows that they help improve cognitive function, reduce stress and fatigue, enhance memory and protect the brain (14, 15).

Here is a more complete list of natural nootropics:

Ginseng: a soothing herb that reduces cognitive fatigue to help you improve memory. It’s also useful to reduce stomach distress (16).

Lion’s mane mushroom: a medical mushroom that has been shown to contain neuroactive compounds that reduce anxiety, improve cognitive function and keep your brain healthy well into your later years (17).

Ashwagandha: a stress-relieving adaptogen herb that helps you concentrate and boosts memory. Many people drink ashwagandha tea to calm themselves down at night (18).

Rhodiola rosea: an herb that has been shown to fight fatigue, improve associative thinking, enhance short-term memory and calculation, speed up audio-visual perception, and help you concentrate better (19).

Eleuthero: an adaptogen herb that is used to combat stress, fight fatigue, improve athletic performance, boost immunity and protect against infections and disease (20).

Guduchi: an adaptogen shrub that has been shown to reduce stress, enhance memory and improve neurological function, thanks to its antioxidant properties. It’s also a good source of zinc and copper, which are needed to fight oxidative damage (21).

Cordyceps: a type of fungus or medicinal mushroom with pharmaceutical grade protective abilities. It has been shown to reduce fatigue, fight disease and help improve physical performance (22).

Ginkgo biloba: an herb with antioxidant and antiapoptotic properties that are used to protect the brain against Alzheimer’s disease and boost cognitive performance. Ginkgo has also been added to the list of antidementia drugs, thanks to its brain-boosting benefits (23).

Apocynum venetum: an herb that posses anxiolytic activities to reduce stress and help you think more clearly (24).

Schisandra berries: a type of herb that has high antioxidants and has been shown to boost immunity, cognitive performance, memory, and reduce the symptoms of anxiety (25).

Butterfly pea: a flowering plant that has been shown to improve memory and boost cognitive performance (26).

#3. The “Hybrid” Between Man-made and Natural

The last group of natural nootropics are consider more like “inbetweeners.” They don’t really fall into the category of man-made, but these natural substances contain properties that enhance mental performance, so they deserve to be on the list.

Examples include the following:

Caffeine: caffeine has been shown to enhance energy metabolism throughout the brain to promote memory, learning, and cognitive performance arousal. Most people get their fix by drinking coffee, but you can also get caffeine from green and black tea (27).

Huperzine-A: huperzine-A is extracted from a Chinese herb known as Huperzia serrata. It has been shown to increase a neurotransmitter in the brain known as acetylcholine that enhances learning (28).

Alpha GPC: alpha GPC is a compound that is extracted from soy lecithin or eggs that is high in choline, which has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and convert into the neurotransmitter acetylcholine to promote brain health.

L-theanine: an amino acid that is found in the leaves of black and green teas. L-theanine has a calming effect on the body, but it’s still able to promote brain health. This is why you might feel calm and focused when you drink green tea but jittery if you drink too much coffee.

GABA: GABA is a neurotransmitter that is naturally produced in the body. It’s used to help the body relax, fight stress, and promote a good night’s rest.

5-HTP: otherwise known as 5-hydroxytryptophan, 5-HTP is a compound that is extracted from an African plant known as the Griffonia simplicifolia. It is also naturally occurring in the body as a byproduct of the amino acid L-tryptophan. Research shows that you can use 5-HTP to improve your quality of sleep, reduce anxiety and lower depression levels (29).

L-tyrosine: another amino acid that acts as a precursor to adrenaline and dopamine. Many people use l-tyrosine to reduce stress, fight fatigue, and improve their brain power during times of stress.

A Beginner’s Guide To Using Nootropics

Before diving into nootropics, consider these tips:

Do Your Homework

Before rushing out and buying the first nootropic you see, make sure you do your homework. Research the company you’re interested in as well as any side effects regarding the formula.

Make sure you can take the product with other supplements that you are currently already taking, and run any questions you have by your doctor before starting, especially if you suffer from a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression as nootropics may worsen the condition.

Ask Yourself Why You Want to Take Them.

Most people have a specific reason why they want to start taking nootropics. Maybe you want to become more productive at work or school, and you’ve already reached your limit with coffee. Or you could be looking for something to help you wind down after a long day that isn’t alcohol.

Be clear about your reason for starting nootropics and then use it to help you find the best one for you. You can also use your “why” to help you set and reach personal goals for yourself.

Work With The Budget You Have

It’s easy to get carried away when it comes to supplements. Before starting on nootropics, review your budget and determine how much money you have to spend.

The worst thing you can do is become attached to a product that you can’t afford for longer than a month or so. Have a plan when it comes to how long you want to take nootropics for and find out how much it will cost you.

Keep in mind that premade stacks are more expensive because you are paying for convenience. They can run you anywhere from $20 to $150 per stack, depending on the quality of the ingredients.

Because of this, you might want to make your own stack to save a few bucks as individual formulas only tend to run about $12 per ingredient.

Go Slow First

Remember that too much of a good thing is bad. Start slowly with your nootropics, even if you are responding well to them.

Take about half of the recommended dose for a few weeks before boosting your intake to the full amount. Also, try taking one nootropic at a time before combining a bunch of them. Get familiar with each one and how they affect you.

Don’t Be Afraid to Change it Up

Remember that nootropics might not work for everyone. If you’ve tried several and they just don’t agree with you, stick with your ketogenic diet and remember that you’re still reaping the benefits of a natural nootropic.

Does Ketosis Act as a Natural Nootropic?

If you’re already on the ketogenic diet, then it’s probably safe to say that you’ve already experienced nootropic-like benefits just from being in ketosis.

This is because unlike glucose, ketones are the superior fuel for your brain.

Research shows that ketones are a more efficient source of energy for your brain. They also cause you to create more ATP, which is the fuel your cells need to function (30).

This means that by being in ketosis, you are already experiencing the benefits of a natural nootropic.

Additionally, ketones help you produce more energy in the brain. They also prevent pro-inflammatory molecules known as reactive oxygen species from forming in the brain.

This means that ketones have natural neuroprotective effects. It also means that your brain can use its energy to fuel your mental focus instead of trying to repair itself from inflammation and damaged tissues.

Some research shows that being on the ketogenic diet can also naturally reduce your stress and anxiety by encouraging neurotransmitter balance in the brain.

For example, glutamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter than binds to receptors in the brain and makes you feel excited. On the other hand, GABA competes for space in your brain with glutamate and attaches to the same receptors to make you feel calm instead.

When you have more GABA in your brain than you do glutamate, you’re more likely to feel calm and focused instead of jittery and anxious.

Research shows that ketones can help encourage a healthy balance between GABA and glutamate to give you just the right amount of mental focus you need. It also converts excess glutamate into GABA, so you have more of the calm stuff rather than the excitatory chemicals (31).

Finally, you can use the ketogenic diet to help keep your brain healthy for the long run, much like a nootropic would.

One study found that people with Alzheimer’s disease who were put into ketosis by taking MCT oil significantly improved their brain function after 90 days. Researchers noted that these improvements were because of the ketone bodies in their blood (32).

Another study found that people with Parkinson’s disease improved their symptoms by 43 percent when they followed a ketogenic diet for one month (33).

Supplementing with Nootropics on a Keto Diet

As we discussed in the previous section, you can use the ketogenic diet as a natural nootropic to enhance your brain power, but many people choose to take their cognitive function a step further by supplementing with nootropics.

If you’re new to the ketogenic diet and want better brain power, it’s best to become familiar with the diet first before supplementing with nootropics.

Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all plan. The supplements that work for you might not work for someone else and vice versa.

We also encourage you to practice safety by starting slow and keeping an eye on your symptoms. You’ll want to make sure you don’t become addicted to a stimulating drug.

What Is The Best Nootropic Supplement for Keto Dieters?
If you’re looking for a nootropic supplement for your keto lifestyle that combines nutrients with brain preferred fuels that support a healthy brain to help you stay sharp and enhance feelings of attentiveness, focus, clarity and concentration then Keto Nootropic is the right one for you.

Keto Nootropic has a combination of the best ingredients such as Ketones, MCTs, herbs, and collagen to energise your mind and help you think well.

Active Nootropics include Phosphatidylserine, Ginkgo Biloba, Alpha Lipoic Acid, L-theanine, Cat’s claw, DHA – Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and Alpha GPC.

This product has a similar to rich chocolate milk, which is perfect for any smoothie, milkshake, or just plain water.

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Specific Nootropics and Stacks to Consider

A nootropic stack is a term used to describe a combination of nootropics. For example, you might find that taking two or more supplements work better for you than just taking one.

You can purchase nootropic stacks at the health store, or you can create your own by combining a few that work well for you.

Here are some stacks to consider:

Caffeine and L-theanine

The most common nootropic stack is caffeine and l-theanine. Most people don’t even realize they are taking a “stack” when they drink green tea because both ingredients are found in one cup.

Caffeine provides you with mental stimulation while l-theanine makes sure you stay calm and focused.

According to one study, taking 250 mg of l-theanine with 150 mg of caffeine can increase your reaction time, boost alertness, reduce fatigue and headaches, accelerate your working memory, and increase your accuracy (34).

Ginseng and Ginkgo Biloba

Take ginseng and ginkgo biloba together if you want to become more productive.

One study found that this combination can help you increase your speed in memory tasks, enhance your attention to details, improve your mood, and boost working memory performance (35).

Additional research shows that gingko stabilizes your mood and boosts your performance under stressful situations by allowing you to stay calm and think more clearly (36).

Ginseng works by regulating neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine and choline. The best part is that this stack is caffeine free, so it won’t give you the jitters if you still want to enjoy your morning cup of coffee.

Eleuthero, Schisandra berries, and Rhodiola rosea

This triple threat combination is ideal if you want to turn on your smarty pants.

Research shows that when these three herbs are taken together, they upregulate a gene called SERPINI1, which is needed to make a protein called neuroserpin that controls nerve impulses that help enhance your learning and memory.

Neuroserpin is also anti-inflammatory and has been shown to improve speed, attention and accuracy during stressful situations (37).

Magnesium Glycinate, Ashwagandha, GABA, 5-HTP, and Valerian Root

For the best sleep of your life, try taking magnesium glycinate, ashwagandha, GABA, 5-HTP, and valerian root together.

Research shows that the combination of these nootropics helps you wind down after a long day to promote a restful sleep (38, 39, 40, 41).

Additionally, this stack is much safer than taking NyQuil or another over-the-counter sleep aid. They are also less addictive.

You can also try taking melatonin, l-theanine or Apocynum venetum to help you sleep better.

One study found that taking 100 mg of GABA and 50 mg of Apocynum venetum reduced the amount of time it took subjects to fall asleep by 4.3 minutes or 5 percent (42).

This might not seem like a lot, but these nootropics can also help you stay asleep once you fall asleep, which is a common complaint among many keto dieters.


Nootropics are a great way to get more out of your brain. If you need to improve your concentration and focus during the day or sleep better at night, nootropics can help.

Nootropics are also a good way to enhance the benefits that you are already experiencing on the ketogenic diet.

It’s a good idea to stay away from the pharmaceutical or synthetic nootropics and stick with herbs, amino acids and adaptogens as these are better tolerated and generally come with fewer side effects.

As with any supplement, you will want to make sure you have a plan and don’t abuse them. Addiction can lead to the use of powerful drugs. Inform your doctor before you start taking nootropics to make sure they are safe for you, especially if you have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

Up Next: Best Keto Nootropics – A Buyer’s Guide

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