What Are the Best Nootropics?
Would you like to cut to the chase and identify the best nootropics? Such knowledge would save time and avoid fruitless experimentation.
If you’re drawn to the idea of cognitive enhancement, you’re not alone. On some level, everyone hopes to realize their latent potential and perform at their peak. Whether that happens depends in part on how well your brain is working.
Nootropics and supplements are just one aspect of a brain optimization strategy, but they’re an important one.
There’s an element of self-experimentation that goes into figuring out which nootropics work best. But self-experimentation can only take you so far. One limitation is that cognitive enhancement and the self-perception of enhancement often do not align. Adderall might make you feel smarter, but how do you know it’s not just increasing your confidence?
Not everyone responds the same way to a nootropic, drug, or supplement. Despite this intrasubject variability, we can make some generalizations about what works. Over the years, I’ve gleaned a sense of what leads to tangible cognitive gains.
When most people begin their nootropics journey, they tend to ignore the fundamentals.
They are drawn to the cutting edge stuff and are less interested in basic nutrition.
Before delving into nootropics, cover the following bases:
- Vitamin D – a potent neurosteroid
- Probiotic – the number of papers published on the brain-gut axis is staggering
- Dietary iodine – iodine deficiency is the leading cause of intellectual disability worldwide. Even if you’re not frankly deficient, you don’t want to suboptimal either.
The Best Nootropics According To Reddit
Slate Star Codex and Gwern conducted a survey on people’s self-reported experience with nootropics. About 150 Redditors filled out their 2014 questionnaire.
The 2016 survey posted on Reddit attracted a whopping 850 participants. The participants ranked nootropics on a scale from 0 to 10, agreeing not to rate nootropics that they had not personally tested.
Anecdotal self-report isn’t particularly useful for evaluating the efficacy of nootropics. But it does reveal trends in consumer sentiment. Note that the highest rated nootropics in the 2016 study (Adderall, Phenibut, Modafinil, Tianeptine, LSD micro, Semax, and Caffeine) are all obviously psychoactive.
This reveals a bias for nootropics that you can acutely “feel” vs nootropics that exert beneficial effects which only manifest after weeks of daily consumption. It’s important to distinguish between mood elevation and cognitive enhancement. Also, it’s not necessarily true that you’ll be able to feel improvements in your brain function – but that doesn’t mean that you won’t accrue serious benefits over the long haul.
Remember that the criterion a substance must satisfy in order to be a nootropic are:
- Benign at nootropic dosages
- Improve at least one cognitive domain (attention, arousal, mood, memory, creativity, etc)
There are always trade-offs with nootropics. Amphetamine has the potential for harm but enhances attention in ADHD and some non-ADHD subjects. The trade-off here is that enhanced attention may interfere with cognitive flexibility and creativity. But a subset of individuals will experience cognitive improvement across the board from amphetamine, despite not having ADHD.
Best Nootropics List
Your mileage will vary.
|Nuvigil (armodafinil) Why I like it:|
It’s a more potent, purified form of modafinil, and the effects are very robust
|Wakefulness-promoting agent||Histamine/orexin release; catecholamine reuptakine inhibition; glutamate; orexin/hypocretin||Anti-fatigue; enhanced vigilence, arousal, motivation (Nuvigil vs Provigil).|
Really the only substance that reliably improves working memory in healthy individuals. But depending on who you ask, nicotine can be harsh on the cardiovascular system, and tolerance to its effects develops quickly.
|CNS stimulant||Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonist||Enhanced working memory; psychostimulant-like effects|
|Coffee (Caffeine) Why I like it:|
The world’s most popular drug may help prevent Parkinson’s. Coffee >> caffeine, because coffee delivers a potent blend of polyphenols which thwart oxidative stress.
|CNS stimulant||Adenosine receptor antagonist, phosphodiesterase inhibitor||Anti-fatigue, increased attention|
|L-theanine Why I like it:|
Safe, reliable, and synergistic with caffeine. Very safe in overdose.
|Amino acid analogue||Glutamate receptor antagonist/agonist depending on subtype; increases serotonin, dopamine GABA, BDNF, NGF||Reduced mental and physical stress; increased mood and attention; synergistic with caffeine|
|Magnesium (counterion irrelevant) Why I like it:|
Protects against excitotoxicity and is an essential dietary mineral
|Essential mineral||Endogeneous NMDA receptor antagonist||Neuroprotection; anxiolysis; decreased mental “noise”; increased clarity|
|CDP-Choline Why I like it:|
It replenishes acetylcholine stores, is safe for daily consumption, and is a uridine prodrug. Uridine is a nootropic in its own right.
|Choline is an essential nutrient||Choline precursor||CDP-choline restores the mylin sheath around axons and improves learning and memory|
|Rhodiola rosea Why I like it:|
Provides some much-needed stress relief. Chronic, severe stress is neurotoxic.
|Scandinavian herb||Neuropeptide Y, MAO, COMT, neurogenesis||Mitigates deleterious effects of chronic stress, abolishes memory impairing effects of scopolamine (rodents)|
|Cacao Why I like it:|
Improves cognitive function in older adults; offsets the negative impact of caffeine on cerebral blood flow.
|Food||Antioxidant; anti-inflammatory; neuroprotectant; cerebral vasodilator||Enhanced cerebral blood flow and functional brain connectivity; anti-dementia|
|Curcumin Why I like it:|
Curcumin has limited bioavailability, but if it can get into the brain, there’s hundreds of papers supporting beneficial effects.
|Blueberries Why I like it:|
Colorful foods are often conjugated (have alternating double bonds). This property also confers powerful free radical scavenging effects
|Food/Antioxidant||Neuroprotectant||Anti-dementia (long-term consumption); improved memory|
|Phenylpiracetam Why I like it: PhenylP is the racetam that feels like it’s a psychostimulant||Racetam/CNS stimulant||Poorly characterized||Psychostimulant-like effects; enhanced memory and verbal fluency; increased clarity|
Why I like it: Like nicotine, one of the few substances that improves memory
|Racetam||Enhanced high-affinity choline uptake (HACU)||Anti-amnesia; psychostimulant-like effects (mixed reports)|
|NSI-189 Phosphate Why I like it:|
The jury is still out on whether it works in humans, but who wouldn’t want to boost hippocampal volume?
|Nicotinamide derivative, pharmaceutical under development for depression.||Enhanced neurogenesis (neuronal targets are a trade secret)||Increased resilience to stress; antidepressant effect|
|Tianeptine sodium Why I like it:|
Clean, fast-acting mood elevation that doesn’t impair cognitive performance
|Prescription antidepressant in Europe, nutraceutical elsewhere||mu-opioid agonist, glutamate receptor modulator||Reverse stress-induced synaptic remodeling|
|Methylene Blue Why I like it:|
Promising drug for Alzheimer’s, and doesn’t perturb any neurotransmitter systems, which makes it cleaner than AChEI like Donepzil.
|Chemical dye; pharmaceutical under development for Alzheimer’s disease||Enhanced ATP synthesis; artificial electron donor/acceptor; MAO inhibitor||Mitochondrial enhancement; anti-dementia; general increase in cognitive performance (this post is about the nootropic effects of methylene blue)|
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