The Noo Kid on the Block: Understanding Nootropics

Imagine for a moment that a drug could improve the way you focus, think, and learn with just one serving a day.

While the plot of science fiction films such as Limitless have yet to be fully made into medical reality, there are claims that the cognitive enhancing drug class, known as Nootropics, has positive effects on the human mind never before seen. Developed in the 1970's, Nootropics, or Smart Drugs, were created to enhance learning and memory, and to improve focus.

However, due to their labeling as nutritional supplements that therefore do not require extensive testing and FDA approval, there are concerns to the validity of the effects the drugs offer. With the surge of companies offering Nootropics, it is important to consider what makes these drugs tick.


Virtually all Nootropics begin with L-Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea. Known for its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, L-Theanine has been noted for its ability to reduce stress and enhance focus naturally.

Caffeine, Ginkgo biloba, and Bacopa monnieri are three common secondary Nootropic components. Caffeine and Bacopa both work to increase blood flow throughout the body, which allows the L-Theanine to travel to the brain quicker for more immediate effect. Ginkgo is also said to increase memory and attention, though no definite conclusion has yet to be made by scientists.

Additional ingredients include B Vitamins and Rhodiola rosea for added focus and stress relief respectively.


The Nootropic spectrum ranges from increased energy and focus, to acting as a sleep aid, with memory balance centered somewhere in the middle.

Most manufacturers offer lines meant to be consumed during the day or in the morning, replacing a cup of coffee. Despite sharing ingredients such as caffeine, panax ginseng, and taurine commonly found in energy drinks, the L-Theanine unique to Nootropics counters the crashing effects stimulants have as they are used up.

Other products are meant to be taken closer to bedtime to allow for a more relaxed and fuller night's sleep.


With little medical research available, the jury is still out on the validity of Nootropics and its supposed effects. A growing concern is the presence of online communities serving as human lab rats, consuming Nootropics as a sort of home science experiement.

A less outrageous analysis of the drugs was featured as part of the Dr. Oz show to give a more visual example of how the drugs work. As national interest increases in Nootropics, there is a strong chance more research will be done to keep consumers safe and to understand the potential benefits.


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