Nootropic Side Effects, Risks, and Precautions

nootropic side effects

Nootropics are a category of natural and synthetic drugs selected for their capacity to improve brain health and generally have good benefits in the body. According to the original definition set forth by the father of cerebral pharmacology Dr. Corneliu Giurgea, a nootropic should cause no side effects or “rebound effects.”

Therefore, the question of negative effects from nootropics is contradictory to their basic nature. However, it is still an area worth exploring. As a matter of fact, many of the original nootropics created by Dr. Giurgea himself have been found to have some pretty undesirable side effects.

Does this mean a major discrepancy has been discovered and the whole nootropic scene is just an elaborate hoax to rip off the unassuming consumer? Far from it!

Brief History on Nootropics

Nootropic use has come a long way since its beginnings in the 1960’s and since then a lot of information has been acquired on their benefits and effects. Today we understand that nootropics, just like anything else, can cause potentially undesirable effects when used improperly or without consideration to individual needs or conditions.

In other words, just like chocolate, sleep, work, sunlight, water, or exercise, too much of a nootropic can be potentially harmful.  

Many nootropics are as mild as chamomile tea and do little more than soothe the nerves and relax the mind. Others are more potent and can greatly impact the activities of the brain. If this is done without proper respect for the consequences of messing with the body, health and brain function can be altered to an unpleasant degree.

The following nootropic review is for those looking to improve cognitive function without suffering from any potential hazards. By understanding that nootropic use is safe and nonaddictive when used as science intended, the experiences will be exciting, life-changing, and essentially risk-free.

Potential Nootropic Side Effects and Risks

The side effects of nootropics are not especially common and are considered mild. Furthermore, they are easily avoided when understood. This means taking recommended dosages and reading through the risks and precautions of each nootropic supplement. The most common side effects reported include:

woman holding headHeadaches

A wide variety of nootropics can bring about significant physiological changes and many can result in headaches of varying severities. Headaches are the main complaint from users since nootropics are designed to improve the activities of the brain so this is where troubles can begin.

Stimulants are the primary culprits in this calamity. Caffeine can narrow the blood vessels of the brain. As the effects of caffeine wear off, blood vessels widen again and headaches often result. Some people may be more susceptible to this than others.

Caffeine is found in many nootropic stacks. Headaches can sometimes result when a stack is not suitable for the subject and contains certain elements that cause or do not successfully counteract the occurrence of headaches.

Stacks to Avoid Headaches

A good stack will have the proper compounds to counteract a headache brought on by nootropic use.

An example of this would be using caffeine with l-theanine. Caffeine is a stimulant that increases concentration and focus while l-theanine is a relaxant. Combining these nootropics enhances the benefits and reduces the side effects.1  

Piracetam is another potent nootropic that has sometimes been found to cause headaches as well. Racetams cause the brain to work much harder and increases the demand for special neurochemicals required for increased output. If these neurochemicals are either not being produced fast enough or are otherwise deficient, synapses become over excited and burn out which can cause a headache.

Piracetam should be taken with a nootropic that increases the production of acetylcholine, like those that contain choline. Once the brain is receiving a balanced supply of neurochemicals, output can be increased without burning out.2

Disrupted Sleep Cycles

When it comes to increasing cognitive function using nootropics, drowsiness, tiredness, and lethargy are attacked from all sides. Some nootropics can increase focus and alertness, others provide increased energy to the brain for endurance, and others fight to counter the effects of the sleep cycle more directly.

While this may be a great temporary solution to staying up late and being productive, these benefits aren’t exactly free of side effects. By countering and interrupting the body’s natural sleep cycle, it is possible to do more harm than good.

Taking a mentally empowering nootropic too close to your regular bedtime may increase the time it takes to fall asleep. This results in sleeping for a shorter amount of time, having daytime drowsiness, and the beginnings of a downward spiral that may end with insomnia.

The best way to avoid this pitfall is by paying attention to how responsive the more potent varieties are and by taking them at the right time. Also one should take note of energy changes. While you might be looking for an energy boost, you do not want to be overstimulated to the point where you cannot focus on work or fall asleep at night.

woman holding stomach on bedGastrointestinal Discomforts

As the majority of nootropics are ingested, be sure to take some time to consider how they impact your digestive system. Those with sensitive stomachs may want to look for nootropics that are especially easy on the gastrointestinal tract.

Since nootropic supplementation often involves a large number of substances unfamiliar to the body, the presence of these compounds may be considered a threat and could result in a defensive response.

Nausea, diarrhea, cramping, and other conditions may be potential side effects. Some of the natural nootropics that have been especially hard on the stomach include gingko biloba and ginseng root.3


Addiction to these mind-altering supplements is a risk the individual must be cautious with as they continue to experiment with nootropics. Many long-time users report a mild to severe dependence on nootropics. This is accompanied by reduced cognitive performance when attempting to discontinue use.

Addiction can be a fine line to walk when taking nootropics regularly since the body naturally becomes accustomed to a regular intake. To avoid addictive potential, one must take a highly intuitive approach to supplementation. By paying very close attention to the supplements you are using and how they affect the body, you will be more likely to identify problems before they get severe.

One good way to avoid becoming dependent or building resistance to any particular ingredient in your regular stack is to cycle your products. By switching to a different product with a similar set of effects, your resistance levels will stay naturally balanced. Keeping a nootropic journal may be a helpful way of recording your experiences.

Other Considerations

Most safe nootropic use involves staying clear of the potential side effects. Those feeling the effects of a cognitive deficiency may want to seek out the underlying causes and address them before beginning nootropic supplementation. If not, this might only exacerbate the nootropic side effects.

The best results from nootropic use come from starting with a healthy and balanced mind. If the mind is exhausted and strained by stress, poor working habits, bad health, malnourishment, or insufficient sleep, the addition of a high-octane fuel won’t make the problems any better, and could potentially do more harm than good.    

In Conclusion

When negative side effects become evident it is advised to discontinue use and possibly seek medical attention. If you are suffering from other physical conditions or taking medication, chances of negative side effects increase. Be sure to consult a medical expert before starting a nootropic plan. Finally, breastfeeding and pregnant mothers should always take extra care with their diets and discuss supplementation plans with their health provider.

Photo credits: puhhha/, ESBProfessional/, khemmaratjittasupo/


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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