Nootropics: A Primer

What Are Nootropics?

If you’ve watched the movie “Limitless,” then you already know what a nootropic is, at least according to Hollywood. As usual though, Hollywood blows everything out of proportion.

Like the pill Brian takes in “Limitless,” nootropics are substances that help enhance your cognitive function. However, they’re not drugs and they’re certainly not illegal in the United States. Anything that enhances the way you think could be considered a nootropic – caffeine is a nootropic that most Americans consume every day.

Think about it: you roll out of bed, groggy, have your cup of coffee and suddenly you feel sharper and ready to face the day. That’s a nootropic effect. 

Types of Nootropics

PowderCity is one of the best online stores for high-quality nootropics, and there are several categories of nootropics that you might run into:


The most popular group of nootropics, all the substances in this group share similar molecular structures. The oldest is Piracetam, which along with Pramiracetam, Oxiracetam and Aniracetam, is composed of nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen. The substances generally work with acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter, which is why they have the reputation for improving memory, focus and learning more than any of the other nootropic groups. They’re all neuroprotective, which means that they protect cell degeneration and increase rates of growth. One thing to be aware of is that racetams can cause choline deficiency, so be sure to supplement choline if you delve into the racetams!

Choline Nootropics

Most people are deficient in choline, even though it’s essential for maintaining our cell membranes – the ‘egg white-only” craze hasn’t helped, since all the choline in eggs is contained in the yolks. Choline has been shown to improve cognition, memory and learning, and can be a good complement to taking nootropics in the racetam family. Without choline, the acetylcholine produced by racetams won’t be processed. Choline nootropics include Citicoline, Centrophenoxine, and Alpha GPC.

Vitamin B Derivatives

This is a small group of nootropics that act by mimicking the beneficial effects of B Vitamins. These can commonly be used to treat low energy and fatigue. Sulbutiamine is one of the main nootropics in this group.


The most common of the peptide nootropics is Noopept, which is similar to but 1000 times as powerful as Piracetam. It has high bioavailbility and is good at crossing the blood-brain barrier. The best way to absorb Noopept in particular is sublingually, or under the tongue, because it can be destroyed in the stomach, but prepare yourself for the taste! As a rule, nootropics don’t taste very good. Noopept is known for improving cognition, memory, and learning. Certain studies have supported the idea that Noopept could be used as treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related cognitive disorders – so you might consider getting some as holiday gifts for those older relatives!


This is the newest class of nootropics, but they are much stronger than the original nootropics in the racetam family. They tend to affect glutamate levels in the brain, which is essential for learning and memory.

Natural Nootropics

These substances are naturally occurring and are plant-based. You’ve probably heard of many of them, like ginseng, caffeine and ginkgo biloba. A couple of natural nootropics that are found in our Wise Ape performance teas are bacopa and ashwagandha, both of which have been shown to enhance cognitive function in a variety of studies. All of these natural nootropic substances can affect memory, concentration, and cognition and can easily be purchased at your local Whole Foods, Vitamin Shoppe, or any other store that sells supplements.

Others – ‘Smart Drugs’

This is an iffy category; some of the substances in this category can only be obtained with a doctor’s prescription, so be careful. Modafinil is a key nootropic that promotes alertness and awareness, but it’s regulated. Adrafinil is an unregulated prodrug of Modafinil, which means that when we consume it, our bodies turn it into Modafinil. It’s not regulated and is pretty easily accessible. Both have been shown to promote concentration and alertness, but all substances in this class have more side effects than other nootropics. For example, Adrafinil isn’t recommended if you’re using other medications. Substances such as Phenibut and Tienaptine, which help with mood (and interestingly, can soothe IBS) also fall into this category. 

Getting Started With Nootropics

    The most accurate way to experiment with specific nootropic ingredients is by buying them in bulk powder and putting them in capsules yourself. It’s easy to purchase unused gelatin or vegetable capsules and weigh out the amounts of nootropics that you want to take with a scientific scale.

    An alternative to the bulk powders and manual capping would be nootropic supplements. There are a variety of unique nootropic formulations which come pre-capped or in tablet form, but it's not nearly as cost-effective as the bulk nootropic powders if you’re looking to save a few bucks.

    Once you’ve figured out what nootropics might best serve your needs, you can go ahead and stack them. Stacking nootropics is a method to get increase benefit of the nootropics you take by taking those that complement each other together. As an example, it’s important to stack the racetams with choline nootropics to avoid choline deficiency and promote acetylcholine production. Otherwise, taking your nootropics will be a waste of time and potentially harmful. If you’re taking Noopept and start getting cluster headaches, it’s time to take more choline. 

    Benefits of Nootropic Supplementation

    Although developing, science is solidly on the side of supporting the value of nootropics. Admittedly, the exact mechanism through which nootropics in the racetam family improve memory is still uncertain, there is significant evidence that they do. Regardless, they’ve been shown to help with a variety of cognitive problems ranging from Alzheimer’s to schizophrenia and ADHD.

    In addition to supporting memory, multiple studies have also supported the idea that nootropics such as Noopept are neuroprotective. Specifically, they’ve been studied to prevent ionic disbalance, excitotoxicty, free radicals and the accumulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines (molecules that create extra inflammation and impair health).

    Additionally, the B nootropics and some natural nootropics like caffeine can support energy levels, while nootropics such as tienaptine can help support your mood. There’s a whole rainbow of positive uses for nootropics!

    And even more exciting if you’re getting into nootropics – the more you take them, the more cost effective they become. Studies have shown that certain nootropics, particularly noopept, have a cumulative effect when taken consistently. That means that over time they’ll make lasting changes to your cognition, and you’ll need less nootropic to improve your brain.

    For a little step up on a big day at work, a big test, or for generally improving your cognitive function, a little bit of nootropics can go a very long way. Each have their own qualities – some enhance memory better while others help enhance alertness – so what you might use depends on your goals.

    One thing to bear in mind with nootropics is that it can sometimes be hard to notice when you’re reaping the benefit. It takes some practice to start recognizing the effects of nootropics for many people, so if you’re not feeling it right off the bat, keep trying! It might take a few times before you really notice the mental alertness, cognitive openness, or any of the other cool benefits of nootropics.

    For more information about nootropics, check out, or The latter two provide both information and sell the supplements.


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    No Author. Nootropics Depot. Accessed 09 Nov. 2016.

    No Author. Accessed 09 Nov. 2016.



    January 29, 2017 — The Wise Ape