11 Awesome Nootropic Brain Booster Substances

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What if I told you it was possible to think more clearly, get more work done and feel more energetic by taking a few supplements?

Nootropics are “smart drugs” or memory enhancers. They may be natural supplements or prescription medications. These substances have the ability to improve memory, cognition, executive function and motivation in healthy individuals. I will present a few of these nootropic supplements in this post.

One or more nootropics are often taken together. This practice is known as “stacking”. By combining agents, a synergistic effect is obtained where the combined results are greater than the sum of the individual parts.

I get my nootropics from coffee, energy drinks, and the Sunshine Nutraceutical anxiety formula which I have a link to later in this post. My anxiety formula takes advantage of the stacking principle by combining Rhodiola, lemon balm, L-Theanine, passionflower, bacopa, St. John’s Wort, Vitamin B1, B5 and B6.

I am a firm believer in cognitive enhancers, including caffeine. Since I spend so much time working, I like to be as productive as possible. The substances listed in this post can make us all more efficient.

Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola Rosea, also known as golden root or arctic root, is an adaptogen which has been well studied.

Adaptogens can protect organisms from toxic, hypoxic, environmental, chemical, and infectious stressors, among others.

R. rosea grows in the high altitude northern regions of Canada, Europe and Asia.

This substance is currently in high demand due to its nootropic properties.

Scientists have extracted hundreds of compounds from the root of this plant, including organic acids, essential oils, phenolics, fats, and sterols.


Studies have suggested Rhodiola may increase levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.







This suggests Rhodiola may have the potential to help with anxiety and depression. R. rosea also helps limit the release of stress hormones such as cortisol during the fight-or-flight response.


Rhodiola has demonstrated the ability to improve memory, attention and accuracy in high school and college students. It has also shown the ability to enhance physical performance.





A study conducted in 2009, suggested Rhodiola can also decrease mental fatigue


The extracts used in the studies above were all well tolerated even in elderly subjects.

There have been no reports of significant drug interactions.

R. rosea does have a mild anti-platelet effect, so caution should be exercised when combining it with anticoagulants and other antiplatelet agents.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is native to West Asia, North Africa and Europe. It is part of the mint family of plants. This herb has lemon-scented leaves and has been used to boost mood and cognitive function.

A small study, conducted in 2004, showed 600mg of lemon balm was able to improve the negative mood effects of the Defined Intensity Stressor Simulation (DISS) battery. 

The study subjects felt more calm and less anxious. The 300mg dose was shown to increase mathematical processing rates with no reduction in accuracy significantly.


Sleep disorders and anxiety are common after coronary artery bypass surgery.

A double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial evaluated the efficacy of Melissa officinalis in improving these effects. The results showed an improvement of 49% in anxiety and 54% in sleep quality in the M. officinalis group as compared to the placebo group.


A study published in 2006 demonstrated the efficacy of lemon balm and valerian to treat restlessness and sleep problems in children.

Nine hundred eighteen children were evaluated. The combination of these herbs was very well tolerated.

An improvement in dyssomnia occurred in 80.9% of the subjects and 70.4% had an improvement in restlessness13

A study conducted in 2019 found no difference between Lemon balm and placebo in treating agitation in forty-nine nursing home residents.

Thirty-nine of these subjects had dementia, and ten did not.


Lemon balm has also been studied for its anti-cancer properties.

A study conducted in May of 2018 found both the leaves and stems of M. officinalis demonstrate cytotoxic effects. 

It appears the leaf extracts are more selective against cancer cells, whereas the stem extracts have higher cytotoxic activity against breast cancer cells.

Unfortunately, these stem extracts display less selectivity compared to healthy cells15


L-Theanine (LT) was discovered in 1949 as a compound present in green tea. This substance can help with sleep, relaxation and the ability to focus. 

L-Theanine increases alpha activity in the brain and has a significant effect on mental alertness and arousal


LT may inhibit glutamine receptors. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain.



 It may also increase GABA concentrations in the brain. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. 

 These two actions lead to a calming effect and reduced anxiety.


 A study of forty-six General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) patients published in March of 2019, found L-Theanine was no better than placebo in reducing anxiety.  

It should be noted that the patients in the LT group did report greater sleep satisfaction than the placebo group.


A double-blind study of sixty patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder found anxiety symptoms in the L-Theanine group were significantly less than those in the placebo group.

These patients received 400mg  of L-Theanine or placebo daily over eight weeks


Other studies have found L-Theanine can produce calming and anti-anxiety effects without causing sedation.


Passion Flower

Passionflower has been used for anxiety, insomnia, ADHD, pain, menopausal symptoms and diabetes.

There are approximately 500 species of the genus Passiflora. These vine-like plants can grow up to five meters in height and produce bright, colourful flowers.

An Australian study found passionflower tea improved subjective short-term benefits in sleep quality. This was a small study with forty-one participants ages eighteen to thirty-five.


Another study showed improvement in anxiety symptoms in patients scheduled for surgery. This occurred without inducing sedation


More studies are needed to determine the potential benefits of passionflower.


Bacopa monnieri is a herb which has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine. 

This is a holistic (whole-body) healing system developed in India. B. monnieri has been used either alone or in combination with other herbs as a sedative, memory enhancer, and anti-epileptic agent. 

Benefits of B. monnieri may be the result of its many closely related saponins. These vary only slightly in structure.


Animal studies have shown Bacopa possesses cognition-enhancing effects such as improved motor learning.


It has also been shown to improve memory retention in rats.


Bacopa demonstrates great potential in treating cognitive disorders.

It may also prove to be beneficial in reducing oxidative damage and improving cognition in healthy individuals. 

More long-term studies are needed on Bacopa combined with other substances to determine if synergistic effects on cognition are possible. This herb does show great promise for the future



Caffeine is one of my favourite subjects. In today’s society, we are constantly reminded of its existence.

There are Starbucks coffee shops on every corner, and we see coworkers drinking energy drinks at break time daily.

Caffeine is now put into Cliff bars and is found in soda pop.

We all know how caffeine makes us feel.

I use it mostly to help with concentration and focus. I can get more work done when consuming drinks containing caffeine.

There is a limit, though. Too much of this wonderful substance can make a person anxious and jittery.

It may also cause insomnia, and blood pressure and heart rate may increase.

It is essential to know your limit.

I have found most people believe dark roasted coffee has a higher caffeine content than lighter roasts.

This is not true. Coffee beans that are roasted for more extended periods contain less caffeine.

The heat of the roasting process destroys some of the caffeine.

There are plenty of charts available on the internet to reference for caffeine content of various foods and drinks.

A review of caffeine’s effects on cognitive, physical and occupational performance was published in 2016.

This review confirms what most of us already know:

  • Caffeine in doses up to ~300mg enhance many basic cognitive functions with limited side effects
  • The ability of caffeine to improve physical and cognitive functions is dose-dependent.
  • Physical performance enhancement generally requires a higher dose.
  • Caffeine is useful in improving physical and cognitive deficits associated with sleep loss.


Caffeine is a great pick-me-up.

It has saved me several times after sleepless nights.

Be sure not to consume too much.

Like everything else in this life, moderation is key!

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine to treat memory and cognitive impairment.

This substance is one of the top-selling herbal medications available today.




It also Improves blood perfusion,


And can reduce reperfusion injury due to ischemia.


Many studies have been conducted on G. Biloba.

A meta-analysis by Diamond and Bailey in 2013 found Ginkgo significantly improved executive function, memory, processing speed and fluid intelligence compared to placebo.


An overview of the systematic reviews of Ginkgo biloba extracts (GBE’s) for mild cognitive impairment and dementia found clear evidence supporting GBE use in these conditions.

Adverse effects and severe side effects were comparable to placebo in these studies. 


G. Biloba may interact with antiplatelet drugs, calcium channel blockers, and some antidepressants


Because of these interactions, I recommend speaking with a doctor or pharmacist before taking this supplement if you are currently being treated with prescription drugs. 

Ginkgo should be stopped two weeks before surgery to decrease bleeding risk. 


Ginkgo Biloba Drug Interactions

G. Biloba may interact with antiplatelet drugs, calcium channel blockers, and some antidepressants.


Because of these interactions, I recommend speaking with a doctor or pharmacist before taking this supplement if you are currently being treated with prescription drugs. 

Ginkgo should be stopped two weeks before surgery to decrease bleeding risk. 



Citicoline was first developed in Japan for the treatment of stroke. This substance is a naturally occurring chemical present in the brain and sold as a dietary supplement in the US. 

It can be used for dementia, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and memory loss. 

Citicoline works by increasing levels of phosphatidylcholine in the brain.

 It may also limit tissue damage occurring from a brain injury.

Some small studies have shown citicoline to be beneficial in Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) patients.





Observational studies have also demonstrated the effectiveness of citicoline in AD patients over a nine month period.



More studies are needed to confirm citicoline’s effects on healthy functioning individuals.


Aniracetam, piracetam and pramiracetam are synthetic substances belonging to a group known as racetams. 

These may act as stimulants and can improve memory and concentration. 

They may also prove to be useful for the treatment of ADHD in the future. 

Piracetam was the first racetam synthesized. It is the least potent racetam available. 

Since then, stronger and more effective molecules have been produced. 

Most studies have been performed in animal models and patients with mental conditions such as stroke, dementia, and schizophrenia.

 Aniracetam seems to be the most effective of the racetams for decreasing anxiety and depression. This has been shown in animal studies.


Racetams modulate the function of acetylcholine and glutamate receptors. 

These chemicals may release brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which may convey neuroprotective properties.


A randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial was conducted in 1987 on 225 children ages seven to twelve with dyslexia. This study showed piracetam improved reading ability significantly. It was well tolerated and no serious side effects were noted.




Creatine is a substance found in the muscles and brain. 

It has gained popularity as a supplement to help increase muscle mass, enhance strength and improve performance in athletes. Creatine also has nootropic properties. 

It has the function of helping to produce energy for cells by aiding in the formation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). 

  A systematic review of six studies conducted in 2018 found creatinine may improve intelligence and reasoning as well as short term memory in healthy human subjects.

Results were conflicting regarding other cognitive domains.


It is known that the brain uses large amounts of ATP when performing demanding tasks.


 A study in 2007 showed creatine supplementation in elderly individuals improved cognition.


 It may also improve brain function, limit the loss of muscle and strength, and protect against neurological diseases in this population.



Creatine has been shown to be safe in doses up to five grams per day. Larger doses, although effective, have not been adequately studied for long-term safety.


Panax Ginseng

Panax Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine since ancient times. Its original use was for boosting the immune system and increasing energy and stamina.

This herb was shown to improve cognitive performance and decrease fatigue in healthy adults.


It is unknown how Ginseng improves brain function.

One thought is it may protect the brain from oxidative stress due to its potent anti-inflammatory effects.


There have been studies suggesting the body may adapt to ginseng after a few months of use.

More research is needed to determine the long term benefit of this herb for cognitive enhancement.



Final Thoughts

I have covered eleven nootropics in this post. I believe most of these substances can be beneficial if used correctly.

Initially, I had planned to cover nootropic stacks here as well. Since there is so much information on that topic, I have decided to write a separate post on nootropic stacking. Look for it in the next couple of months. When finished, I will include a link to it in this post.

As mentioned earlier, I do consume nootropics daily — coffee and energy drinks, as well as the Sunshine Nutraceutical anxiety formula. Just remember not to consume too much of any of these products. More is not always better.

Always have a happy, healthy, healing life and be sure to contact me with any questions or comments.

Michael Brown in Lab Coat with arms crossed

Michael J. Brown, RPh, BCPS, BCPP

Mr. Brown is a Clinical Pharmacist specializing in pharmacotherapy and psychiatry.

Read Michael’s story here.

Feel free to send Michael a message using this link.