Nootropics are often referred to as smart drugs which are nutrients/chemicals that are specifically designed to increase brain activity and function. The word nootropic is a combination of two greek words, one meaning brain, and the other meaning turn or bend. Brain-bending or brain-turning may paint them in an inaccurate light, brain-enhancing would be more suitable.


Nootropic is a new word to add to your vocabulary, but it’s not as specific as you might think.

Exactly what falls under the definition of a nootropic is fairly broad and includes commonly consumed legal brain stimulants, like caffeine and nicotine. The definition then moves into prescribed amphetamines and into the murky waters of research chemicals, that are tough to regulate. These require a lab rat mindset and a whole lot of trust in whoever is recommending/supplying them to you. The biggest dangers are resting on the shoulders of the “pioneers”, who are out there trying to find where the boundaries are. Offering themselves as the first human test subjects, hoping for super powers of the mind.

What’s the point in all this? Sounds risky!

Enhancing cognitive function is the nootropic end game, plain and simple. Which is why nootropics are such a hot topic. Enhancing one’s mind is enhancing your potential and quality of life. Thus increasing your daily output, and earning potential, helping one achieve the loftiest of goals. Many in silicon valley wouldn’t consider working without it, and it has fast become the not so secret, secret weapon in the valley.


They view the potential benefits as invaluable, risking both legal ramifications and their health. However, seasoned exponents of “ biohacking” (a broad term encompassing anything that improves mind and/or body) would argue its safety. When time and effort are taken to understand, what and how much to take. 


Ok then, what and how much should you take?

Messing with one’s brain chemistry is a personal thing, requiring one to research and understand the risks themselves. If you can’t take the time to research things that could have a massive effect on your mind and body, you have already disqualified yourself by default.

There are lots of sites that will give recommendations around all of this. However, there is no long-term research on most of the more powerful nootropics. We won’t recommend anything here, except to say coffee is great! Although I bet you never thought about how much caffeine it would take to kill you?! Vice wrote an interesting article about exactly that here. Lethal amounts of anything depend on a lot of factors, but remember when a 14-year-old girl died from caffeine overdose, after just 2 energy drinks? It’s wise to treat every substance with caution and respect.


Which nootropics are most commonly consumed?

Nootropics as all drugs can be broken down into legal, illegal and prescription. As you’re reading this, different drugs and nootropics are going from legal to illegal, and legal to prescription. Or if you’re in the UK, you may or may not know that ALL DRUGS, are now illegal, even ones that don’t exist yet. That’s right, ALL DRUGS! Which theoretically includes caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. However, lawmakers have been sure to pass this law with explicit exemptions for these 3 drugs. More on this madness here.  

So for simplicities sake, let’s look common nootropics that have some consistency in their legality.


Some examples of legal nootropics are; caffeine, nicotine, 5htp, St John’s Wort, fish oil, zinc, ginseng, taurine to name but a small few. So anyone reading this has more than likely already taken some fairly effective nootropics.


Prescription nootropics start to get serious with effects and potential dangers. A good example of a prescribed nootropic is ADHD medication commonly know as Ritalin or Adderall. You probably didn’t know that Adderall is an amphetamine, your brain has probably already recognised that word as similar to methamphetamine. The words are similar because the chemical structure and effects of the drugs are very similar. Before your brain explodes with reasons why this can’t be true, best to check what a neuroscientist on the cutting edge of drug research has to say on the matter, link here. What this should do, is make you think about the ever increasing prescription rate of amphetamines to children. The New York times wrote a great article here.



Then there are illegal nootropics, which in some cases are street versions of their prescribed counterparts, like the example above about methamphetamine and Adderall. The typical street meth user is not going make the argument, that they are using meth as a nootropic and just want to be more productive in order to code the next multi-million dollar app. However, there is a legitimate argument that certain doses of methamphetamine, like its prescribed brother Adderall, would have some benefits. In fact, both sides of world war 2, used amphetamine and methamphetamine to increases alertness. (Link here, and here.) University and college students are now abusing these drugs at an age where doing so has so many more risks. I know, I keep mentioning silicon valley. but those boundary pushing scoundrels are evening using “micro” doses of LSD as a nootropic.

The words “prescription” or “legal” don’t automatically mean safe.

I would hope the discerning reader has not taken anything written here as encouragement to seek out strong and potentially dangerous drugs. But has come to see the murky line separating prescription and illegal drugs. Our caffeine example above illustrates that nothing is completely safe, even very legal nootropics.

Prescription drugs are often not treated with the caution they deserve. There is now more people each year dying from prescription drugs, than illegal drugs. Sure, there are more people taking prescription drugs than illegal drugs. However, many illegal drug users started their addictions on prescription pain pills. It’s actually one of the leading causes of heroin use. Without going into this more, as it requires its own blog post. Never take a prescription pain medication lightly, as the difference between what you get from a doctor and what you get on the street is often not as great as you may think.

Is there a danger of addiction?

Yup, as with any substance there are varying risks of addiction. However first we have to separate physical dependence from addiction, they are not the same thing.

Physical Dependence is when your body has withdrawal symptoms once you stop taking a substance. Most coffee drinkers will experience this if they go a day or two with no caffeine. Just because you have a physical dependence to caffeine, doesn’t mean you have an addiction. Although withdrawal symptoms and tolerance are still considered when assessing whether or not someone is addicted (substance abuse), they are not the only considerations.

Addiction or what is now being called “substance abuse” is categorised as having met 2 criteria from 11 over a 12 month period. The criteria can be found in this article, along with lots of other good information.
So are nootropics addictive? Well, you will develop tolerance to many of them and even a physical dependence to some. Substance abuse (addiction) problems occur mostly in the prescription and illegal category, with varying regularity depending on the substance. Prescribed stimulants seem to be the most common nootropics to have problems with addiction.

Are nootropics easily available?

So here we have to talk about legal nootropics, and yes they are easily available nowdays  This company nootrobox, has done all the research and guesswork for you, with “stacks” that are combinations of different nootropics at different dosages, taken at different times of the day. They are not pushing the boundaries with any experimental stuff, or unproven snake oil.  Two other credible companies are ONNIT and CogniTune . ONNIT offer a few different products targeting specific things and CogniTune offer one finely tuned product, both companies have done their homework.

Should you take nootropics?

Like we mentioned earlier, you probably already are. Should you be taking more? That’s dependent on your budget and your own body’s chemistry. A good place to start would be with ONNIT, Nootrobox or CogniTune, as they only deal with tried and tested substances, at safe dosages.