Top 10 Best Thoroughly-Studied Nootropics

top 10 nootropics

There is no shortage of nootropics available for purchase online that can be shipped to you nearly anywhere in the world. Yet, many of these supplements and drugs have very little studies, particularly human studies, confirming their results.

While this lack of research may not scare away more adventurous neurohackers, many people would prefer to only take nootropics that have been well-studied. These studies help highlight the benefits and precautions of particular nootropics before a consumer chooses to use them.

With this in mind, below is a list of ten nootropics that have abundant human research trials backing up their claims. Read on to learn about the most thoroughly-researched nootropics and the benefits they offer.

cup of black coffeeCaffeine

Many people are surprised to learn that they are, indeed, using a natural nootropic compound daily: caffeine. Caffeine is classified as a nootropic because of its ability to fight fatigue, increase focus, and enhance mental energy. You’ll find caffeine in many forms, from natural products like coffee and tea to man-made caffeine supplements and energy drinks.

One significant advantage when it comes to using caffeine as a natural nootropic is that its benefits are extensively researched and well-understood.

Reduces Fatigue

As a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant, caffeine helps reduce fatigue and enhance feelings of alertness.1

Boosts Mood

Researchers have found that caffeine enhance positive moods in healthy human participants.

Improves Reaction Time

Studies suggest that caffeine reduces reaction time, boosting how quickly individuals think and process information.

Enhanced Physical Performance

Caffeine can help individuals perform well in a variety of physical tasks, including weightlifting and sprinting.2,3 It may even reduce how difficult a person perceives exercise to be.4

There is one thing to be cautious of when it comes to using caffeine as a nootropic: studies are not conclusive when it comes to how caffeine impacts memory and learning abilities. While it does appear to increase how quickly people think, it may not actually improve memories or how well you learn.5 Some studies have even found that caffeine may cause memory impairment, so you will want to experiment to see how it impacts you.

When used on its own, research suggests that caffeine may be best for when you are trying to do something quickly, stay awake, or perform physically. If you want to use it during exams or other tasks where memory is important, it’s best to use it in combination with the next nootropic, L-theanine.

a cup of green tea on white woodL-Theanine

L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea. It has been found to encourage relaxation without causing sedation, with research suggesting that there are synergistic effects when caffeine and L-theanine are used together. L-theanine is linked to two primary benefits:

Reduces Stress

Research suggests and L-theanine promotes relaxation and produces an anti-stress response in humans.6,7

Boosts Focus and Memory

When used alongside caffeine, L-theanine was found to enhance memory and focus more than caffeine alone. This study suggests that the relaxation benefits of L-theanine may help reduce the overstimulation caused by caffeine, and therefore counteract possible memory impairments that can be caused by overstimulation.

When it comes to receiving the greatest nootropic benefits from L-theanine, it appears that combining it with caffeine allows for all of the benefits of caffeine with the added benefits of L-theanine for memory and mood. Naturally, you can find this combination in green tea.

Alternatively, you can combine these two supplements or use nootropic supplements that contain both of these compounds.  

white pills coming out of bottleModafinil and Armodafinil

Modafinil and Armodafinil are two of the most powerful nootropic drugs discovered to date. Modafinil is used as a prescription medication for narcolepsy, but as a nootropic, it is known for its ability to improve memory, attention, and reaction time, all while acting as a stimulant.

Armodafinil is a stronger, longer-lasting version of Modafinil. In order to determine which one you prefer, most online retailers who sell Modafinil and Armodafinil will also sell a sample pack that contains multiple brands of each of these nootropics. Both of these compounds have been shown to provide a range of research-backed benefits.

Boosts Energy

Modafinil is unique in that it provides wakefulness without the traditional jittery feeling associated with CNS stimulants like Adderall and caffeine.8,9 In one study on healthy volunteers undergoing 60 hours of continued wakefulness, 300 mg of Modafinil was found to fight fatigue with similar efficacy as D-amphetamine, a drug used to treat narcolepsy and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).10

Enhances Attention

In the above study on healthy volunteers, 300 mg Modafinil during 60 hours of continued wakefulness was found to promote focus, allowing those who were sleep deprived to pay attention better. Benefits for attention have also been found in children with ADHD who were given Modafinil for six weeks.11

Improves Memory and Cognition

Modafinil has been found to enhance memory and cognition in healthy adults who are suffering from sleep deprivation, as well as those that have had enough sleep.12  

Boosts Feelings of Well-Being

Modafinil increases feelings of subjective well-being and may even boost motivation.13 In one study on healthy adults, Modafinil led to increased feelings of enjoyment during cognitive tasks, as well as improved performance.14

Bacopa MonnieriBacopa Monnieri

When it comes to all-natural nootropics capable of enhancing learning and memory, Bacopa monnieri may be the best. It has been used for millennia to enhance brain function and promote longevity in the traditional Indian medicinal practice, Ayurveda. More recently, human studies have been conducted that support many cognitive benefits.

Improves Memory

In studies on elderly patients, this natural nootropic has demonstrated efficacy in enhancing various aspects of memory, including working memory, delayed recall, verbal learning, and memory acquisition.15,16 Other studies in younger adults have found benefits for memory consolidation, learning rate, and retention of new information.17

Boosts Attention

Bacopa monnieri supplementation in healthy elderly adults has been linked to enhanced attention.18

Protects Brain Health and Function

This herb has demonstrated powerful antioxidant capabilities. As free radical damage can lead to difficulties with cognition and memory as people age, Bacopa monnieri may help protect the brain from age-related cognitive decline.19

Fights Stress

Twelve weeks of supplementation with Bacopa monnieri has demonstrated an ability to reduce anxiety in both elderly and healthy adults.

colorful pills in handPiracetam

Over 50 years ago, the first synthetic nootropic supplement came into existence: Piracetam. Piracetam is a great option for those who are new to nootropics or looking for an inexpensive racetam. Being the first of its kind, Piracetam has been thoroughly studied and its benefits are well-understood.

Enhances Memory and Cognitive Function

Many human studies on the elderly have found Piracetam to enhance memory and cognitive function. While there haven’t been many studies to confirm these benefits on healthy young people, there was one conducted that found improvements in verbal learning following 14 days of 400 mg/day of Piracetam.20  

Boosts Mood and Relieves Stress

In a meta-analysis of human studies published in 2010, researchers found that Piracetam reduced depression and anxiety symptoms.21

Improves Focus and Attention

In one study on children with ADHD, 70 mg/kg/day of Piracetam was found to improve attention when compared with a placebo.22  

Protects Brain Health and Function

As people grow older, many experience difficulties with memory and cognitive function. For some, this will result in neurological conditions, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Human studies have found Piracetam to help improve memory in those with cognitive impairment, dementia, and AD.23

Studies suggest that the benefits of Piracetam tend to kick in after prolonged use, generally two weeks or more, so be sure to take this nootropic steadily before deciding whether it is effective.

Phenylpiracetam

Phenylpiracetam is the most powerful nootropic in the racetam family. It kicks in quickly and lasts for a long time, allowing neurohackers to experience powerful benefits right away.

The benefits of phenylpiracetam are mainly centered around mental and physical stimulation, with its effects so robust that it’s banned by the Olympic World Anti-Doping Agency.24 Because of its ability to promote physical and mental stimulation, it is most commonly used by athletes and students.

As one of the newer members of the nootropic family, many of the studies examining its benefits have been preclinical, yet there have been a fair number of human studies confirming many of the findings. Most of the human studies have been conducted in Russia and are thus published in Russian. Fortunately, there are limited online resources that elucidate the benefits in English.

Improves Memory and Attention

Studies on patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and asthenia, a condition characterized by unusual physical weakness and a lack of energy, have found improvements in both memory and attention after Phenylpiracetam use.25

Enhances Mood And Reduces Stress

In studies on patients with heart disease and brain damage who were suffering from anxiety and depression, Phenylpiracetam was found to reduce stress and promote a positive mood.26,27

Boosts Brain Health and Function

Studies on epilepsy patients have found that this nootropic, when used in combination with epilepsy medication, led to a reduction in seizure frequency.28,29 Other studies have found that it may help improve brain function in stroke patients and cognition and memory in those with neurological diseases.30

Provides Mental and Physical Stimulation

Phenylpiracetam is most well-known amongst neurohackers for its impressive stimulatory abilities. Human studies have found enhanced stimulation as both a benefit and a side effect, depending on the study and the desired effects.

Alpha-GPC

Alpha-GPC is one of the most common additions to a nootropic stack, largely due to its ability to provide a quality source of choline that can cross the blood-brain barrier. It has demonstrated efficacy at increasing power in athletes, boosting memory and learning abilities, and protecting against age-related cognitive decline.

As part of a stack with other nootropics, particularly racetams and other nootropics that work to increase levels of acetylcholine (ACh) in the brain, it provides the raw material choline that is required for the ACh synthesis that promotes learning. Human studies have found many benefits to this all-natural nootropic.

Protects Against Cognitive Decline

Research suggests that alpha-GPC may help protect the aging brain because it contains choline and glycerophosphate, both of which support cellular membrane structure and function.31

In a multi-center, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, six months of 1,200 mg/day of alpha-GPC divided into three doses was found to improve symptoms of AD in those with mild to moderate AD.32

Enhances Memory

Research in animals, patients with AD, and young healthy participants with induced amnesia suggests that alpha-GPC can help improve memory.33 Additionally, as a source of choline, this nootropic can help support the memory and learning benefits of other nootropics, particularly those belonging to the racetam family.34

Improves Athletic Performance

Six-hundred mg of alpha-GPC 45 minutes prior to bench press throws was correlated with 14 percent improved power output and a greater increase in growth hormone.35

If you are taking a racetam nootropic or any other nootropic that works partly through boosting levels of acetylcholine in the brain, you’ll want to add a source of choline that easily crosses over the blood-brain barrier—alpha-GPC is one of the best options available.

Ashwagandha in a pileAshwagandha

Ashwagandha is an herb that has been used for centuries in Ayurveda, a traditional medicinal practice in India. Over the past few years, it has gained widespread popularity in the West for its anxiolytic benefits. The benefits of ashwagandha center on mood and overall emotional well-being rather than memory or learning. Human studies have found that ashwagandha provides a range of benefits.

Combats Stress

Ashwagandha is one of the most effective and widely-used adaptogens, herbs known to help the body cope with stress. Researchers have found improvements in stress following supplementation with this nootropic herb in adults with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and those with moderate to severe anxiety lasting more than six weeks.36

Another study found that supplementation with this herb reduced stress levels in individuals with chronic stress with a concurrent reduction in serum cortisol levels.37

Fights Fatigue

Ashwagandha has been found to help reduce fatigue in certain populations, including patients undergoing chemotherapy and individuals suffering from anxiety disorders.38

Enhances Mood

One human study found that six weeks of supplementation with ashwagandha herb helped improve mood in patients with GAD. Another study found Ashwagandha to improve feelings of subjective quality of life in those with chronic stress.

Rhodiola Rosea in a fieldRhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola rosea is another adaptogen. It appears that its adaptogenic potential centers around reducing the fatigue that often accompanies periods of increased stress. It also provides a few other well-documented health benefits.

Reduces Mental and Physical Fatigue:

Researchers have discovered that Rhodiola rosea can help fight fatigue caused by a variety of factors including stress and sleep deprivation.39,40 Additionally, in a meta-analysis, researchers concluded that this herb helped increase time to exhaustion during a physical activity.41

Enhances Subjective Well-Being

The benefits of rhodiola for mood and overall feelings of subjective well-being have been noted for those experiencing stress or fatigue.42

Boosts Cognitive Function

Multiple studies have found benefits that rhodiola enhances mental performance when people are suffering from sleep deprivation. This includes military cadets, physicians during night duty, and people experiencing work and life-related stress.

In a study on students during exam time, supplementation with this herb was positively correlated with better test scores.43

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort (SJW) is one of the most extensively-studied natural nootropics. It is best known for encouraging an optimal mood, with such strong results that it’s available only with a prescription in many European countries. SJW also provides a range of other benefits.

Enhances Mood

In a meta-analysis of 27 human clinical trials, researchers concluded that short-term studies of patients with mild-to-moderate depression have found SJW to be effective at relieving depression symptoms.44

Improves Sleep Quality

Limited research suggests that SJW may help improve sleep in certain populations. In one study, SJW significantly reduced the time to fall asleep without producing any other side effects.45

Safety and Precautions

While the nootropics listed above have been extensively studied, one must read through the potential risks of a nootropic before ingesting. Certain nootropics, like St. John’s Wort, are known to interact with a wide variety of drugs, so it’s important to talk to your doctor before adding it to your nootropic stack.

Conclusion

With so many nootropics out there to choose from, why not try one that has demonstrated efficacy in human studies? No matter what you’re looking for—energy, mental stamina, enhanced learning and memory, improved mood, or reduced stress—there is a nootropic that has been widely studied that can help you get to where you want to be.

Photo credits: DjordjeNovakov/shutterstock.com, LounoMorose/shutterstock.com, nevodka/shutterstock.com, ReginaNogova/shutterstock.com, IrynaImago/shutterstock.com, BUSINESS-CREATIONS/shutterstock.com, prizzz/shutterstock.com, shidlovski/shutterstock.com


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By Maddy Jenner

Maddy is a researcher and an essential oil advocate and loves learning about the intersection of these categories. She loves hiking, camping, exploring and being outside.

Favorite MONQ blend: Zen

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The above information relates to studies of specific individual essential oil ingredients, some of which are used in the essential oil blends for various MONQ diffusers. Please note, however, that while individual ingredients may have been shown to exhibit certain independent effects when used alone, the specific blends of ingredients contained in MONQ diffusers have not been tested. No specific claims are being made that use of any MONQ diffusers will lead to any of the effects discussed above.  Additionally, please note that MONQ diffusers have not been reviewed or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. MONQ diffusers are not intended to be used in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, prevention, or treatment of any disease or medical condition. If you have a health condition or concern, please consult a physician or your alternative health care provider prior to using MONQ diffusers.

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