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Are Nootropics Safe? (Everything You Need To Know)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: January 26, 2023
Methodology
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Nootropics are natural or synthetic substances known to improve brain health and mental performance.

However, in an era where foods and supplements contain so many artificial and harmful substances, it’s only natural to wonder whether they’re safe.

And being in the fitness industry for over a decade has definitely taught me one thing: you must dive into the science.

So, I spent a couple of months reviewing the scientific literature on nootropics and their effects with the help of a dietician to answer this question.

Let’s jump right in.

Quick Summary

  • Natural nootropics are an alternative medicine known to safely enhance mental function and cognitive performance with little to no side effects.
  • By the definition of the man who coined the term, nootropics should be safe and beneficial compounds that don’t cause side effects under normal circumstances.
  • There are alternative ways to enhance brain function should someone decide against taking nootropics.

Are Nootropics Safe?

Pouring different smart drugs on hand

Yes, nootropics are safe when taken under normal circumstances, but that can also depend on the type, dosage, and combination.

In other words, if you’re a healthy adult who takes the recommended dosage of nootropic dietary supplements, you’re in the clear.

According to Dr. Corneliu Giurgea (who’s considered the father of nootropics), any cognitive enhancer that causes side effects under normal circumstances cannot be deemed a true nootropic [1].

Let’s take a look at some benefits of these compounds.

Benefits of Nootropics

According to various research studies, nootropics have the following benefits:

  • Memory and cognitive enhancement: Nootropics are generally known to enhance cognitive function and improve memory through a number of mechanisms [2].
  • Suppressed age-related mental decline: Certain nootropics may help you fight age-related brain diseases by preventing the aging of brain cells [3].
  • Increased blood flow to the brain: Nootropics increase blood circulation to the brain and increase its overall activity [4].
  • Improved brain health and function: Nootropics can help maintain proper brain health and functioning [5].

What Makes Nootropics Safe?

An old guy taking a nootropic pill

The fact that their benefits significantly outweigh their supposed risks is what makes nootropics safe.

Once again, as Dr. Giurgea said, if a nootropic isn’t safe, it’s not a real nootropic.

To better understand what makes a nootropic supplement safe, we need to distinguish between the two classes of nootropic drugs: natural and synthetic.

Natural nootropics are plant-based compounds that improve cognitive function. They’re usually consumed as herbs, plant extracts, and foods.

“Nootropic herbs, according to literature, may enhance your neurotransmitter levels while also increasing blood flow to the brain, increasing oxygen and nutrients.”

- Dr. Michael Lam, MD, Physician in Anti-Aging Medicine

Synthetic smart drugs (sometimes called prescription nootropics) are lab-made supplements, and they’re normally made with a combination of natural and synthetic compounds.

Natural nootropics tend to be much safer than their synthetic counterparts because they’re organic and usually used in some cultures for centuries.

What Makes Nootropics Unsafe?

Factors such as megadosing, poor quality of ingredients, misuse, and medication interactions could make nootropics potentially unsafe.

Let’s take a look at each of these factors:

  • Megadosing: This occurs when you consume the supplement beyond its recommended dosage. Many nootropics have dosage limits; when they’re crossed, they lead to adverse effects.
  • Poor ingredient quality: Using a smart drug with poor ingredient quality and artificial ingredients can increase the chances of negative effects.
  • Misuse: Misuse of nootropics can either come from unintentionally going over their recommended dosage (which can happen with natural and synthetic smart drugs) or out of dependence (which is usually a side effect of some prescription medications).
  • Medication interactions: When taken with certain medications, some synthetic nootropic supplements pose serious risks to the user’s health.

Are Nootropics Safe For Everyone?

Holding a supplement container pills

Yes, nootropics are generally safe for everyone, with a small subset of the population being sensitive to some of them when taken in varying amounts.

However, this doesn’t include people with a history of substance abuse or those who take medications that pose serious health risks when combined with nootropics.

Additionally, there are some smart drugs that require more research in human trials.

So, it’s best to avoid those until more human research trials are conducted.

Side Effects

Having a headache and brain fog

Both natural and synthetic nootropic drugs come with certain side effects, with the latter having much more reports of adverse side effects.

Side Effects of Natural Nootropics

While there aren’t many studies that show the negative side effects of natural nootropics (because these instances are so rare), here are the ones that I’ve noticed from personal experience:

  • Brain fog
  • Headaches
  • Digestive issues
  • Insomnia

These, however, mostly occurred when the nootropics were overused or not timed and combined well.

Side Effects of Synthetic Nootropics

Because they’re lab-made, a synthetic nootropic supplement is more likely to have adverse effects [6].

Here are some of them:

  • High blood pressure
  • Altered brain chemistry
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Increased heart rate
  • Insomnia and other sleep disorders
  • Vision problems
  • Addiction

Avoiding the Side Effects

Close up image of woman consuming a nootropic

There are some good practices to avoid the side effects of nootropics, such as:

  • Go with the safest nootropics: Nootropics like L-theanine (an amino acid), for example, don’t have any negative risks.
  • Don’t exceed the recommended dosage: Most nootropics come with recommended dosages, and exceeding them might cause side effects.
  • Speak to your physician: If you’re on any medication or unaware of the effects of certain ingredients in a nootropic supplement, speak to your local physician before taking it.
  • Take clinically-backed supplements: One of the best ways to avoid the potential risks of nootropic side effects is to take safe, natural, and science-backed supplements.

If you want to avoid the side effects, you may want to try nootropic foods instead.

FAQs

Do Nootropics Affect Hormones?

Yes, nootropics can affect hormones. They can alter your brain’s levels of neurotransmitters, hormones, and enzymes by increasing oxygen to the brain and stimulating nerve growth [5]. However, misusing nootropic supplements may lead to hormonal imbalance.

How Do Nootropics Affect the Brain?

Nootropics affect the brain by increasing blood circulation, providing it with essential nutrients, and boosting oxygen flow [7]. Additionally, they also manage inflammatory responses in the brain, which helps prevent cognitive decline and brain fatigue [5].

Do Nootropics Have a Permanent Effect?

No, nootropics don’t have a permanent effect. Some nootropics work as short-term cognitive enhancers; many others may improve brain function over time with continual use.

Should You Take Nootropics?

Nootropics are highly beneficial for your brain health and mental focus, which is why it’s important you do your research before taking any.

Always go for natural and clinically-tested nootropics to avoid the dangers of any side effects.

We personally tested many popular supplements at TotalShape. And after a few rounds of rigorous testing, we found these to be safe and effective in boosting mental focus.

Explore our list, and find one that best suits your needs.


References:

  1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ddr.430020505
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5021479/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27656235/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10978039
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/nootropic
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4756795/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5021479/
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