Nootropics to Boost Mental Acuity: A Wise Choice?

Nootropics to Boost Mental Acuity: A Wise Choice?
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Nootropics to Boost Mental Acuity

We live in an era of high competition where survival of the fittest is anticipated in every field of work. And while physical fitness is very important, it is mental fitness that is becoming more important than ever. Since the beginning of modern medicine, researchers and drug makers have been trying to develop ways to boost human brainpower.

The continuing efforts to improve cognition and mental performance, and the increasing demand for products that help with that, have stocked the market with a wide range of brain-boosting pills, which are commonly called nootropics.

What Are Nootropics?

These are nutritional supplements, drugs and various substances that can be used by healthy people to improve their cognitive functions. They are also known as smart drugs or cognitive enhancers and are most often used to improve mental clarity, thinking, concentration, memory, alertness and/or energy. Some nootropics are also taken to reduce stress and anxiety, which in turn leads to better cognitive performance.

With hundreds of nootropics available on the market, some of which have notable risks and some are downright useless; it’s worth looking at a few of them to get a better idea of how they claim to boost mental acuity.

With hundreds of nootropics available on the market, some of which have notable risks and some are downright useless; it’s worth looking at a few of them to get a better idea of how they claim to boost mental acuity.


Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant compound found in coffee, cocoa, tea and other plants. It is also added to many energy drinks and dietary supplements. Caffeine is the most commonly used natural nootropic that people around the world consume to increase energy and alertness, and reduce fatigue and sleepiness.

Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors in the brain. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that has an inhibitory effect, and its increasing levels make you feel sleepy. By reducing adenosine activity, caffeine intake increases alertness, concentration and wakefulness, and makes you feel less tired.

Rhodiola Rosea

This is an herb that reduces fatigue and improves general feeling of well-being, as has been shown in some studies. The use of rhodiola rosea has also been linked to reduced mental burnout, improved mood and increased ability of the body to handle stress.

Rhodiola supplementation can boost mental capacity, especially under mentally demanding or stressful circumstances. It is one of the most popular herbal nootropics taken by men and women for different purposes.


Adrafinil is a precursor to modafinil: a drug used to increase wakefulness in people with obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy or shift work sleep disorder. Adrafinil is used to enhance alertness, energy, focus and thinking. Although its efficacy has not been clinically proven in healthy subjects.

While modafinil is an FDA approved prescription medication, adrafinil is not approved by the FDA. The latter is not currently used as a treatment in most countries, but rather treated as an unregulated supplement.

People often buy adrafinil alongside other nootropics from online stores located in the U.S., Europe and other countries. These supplement stores are not regulated or licensed by any government agency, although the FDA continuously warns manufacturers about their products’ unproven health claims.

Adrafinil is not known to cause any noticeable side effects like most stimulant substances do, however, not much is known about its long-term safety, and some experts have questioned the quality and safety of such unregulated chemical nootropics.


Amphetamines, such as Adderall, are most commonly prescribed for patients suffering from narcolepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other conditions. These medications increase the availability of norepinephrine and dopamine neurotransmitters in the brain resulting in increased alertness and concentration.

Amphetamine medications boost energy, alertness, memory and focus. They are typically used by patients with certain health condition, although they may also be effective for healthy adults. Many people take amphetamines off-label to enhance their mental abilities, especially when working for long hours.

This class of drugs is highly addictive and their side effects may outweigh the benefits. Amphetamines require a prescription and they should only be used when advised by a doctor.


Piracetam is a general nootropic that is used to improve cognitive performance and combat cognitive decline. It may help improve memory in old people, although the mechanism by which piracetam modulates brain functions is not fully understood yet.

Piracetam has not been proven to be effective in healthy people, and there is mixed feedback from users who took it as a nootropic. It is not approved by the FDA, but it is available over the counter, and it seems to be safe when taken as recommended.

Usage and Prevalence

Technically, nootropics can be found in many natural foods and products. For example, caffeine is the most used nootropic since pretty much everyone drinks coffee or some sort of a fancy energy drink that contains this wicked stimulant drug.

Herbal nootropics like rhodiola rosea, ginkgo biloba, ashwagandha and others have been known and used for thousands of years in traditional medicine around the world. They’ve recently become very popular ingredients in nootropic supplements taken by young and old people for boosting brain health and functions.

The use of synthetic and prescription nootropics is also growing among consumers of different ages and professions. They are especially sought by students trying to improve their grades in school and professionals looking to increase their productivity and creativity in the workplace.

Are Nootropics Safe?

As they range from natural food extracts to some harsh drugs, safety concerns drastically vary from one type of nootropics to another, and from one compound to another.

Generally speaking, most natural and herbal nootropics are considerably safe with little side effects, although this may vary from one substance to another and from one user to another.

Synthetic nootropics, on the other hand, often come with some side effects and may not be safe for everyone. Some mild stimulant nootropics, like adrafinil and piracetam, have very few side effects and are generally safe if consumed moderately. Other unregulated nootropic drugs can be dangerous when used improperly or abused.

Prescription drugs, like amphetamines, do have many significant side effects and should not be used without consulting with a doctor or someone qualified to give medical advice.


Nootropics, or smart drugs, can improve many aspects of brain function and promote mental health and abilities. There are some promising supplements and drugs that improve focus, alertness, memory, thinking, and other cognitive skills.

As yet, most of them lack conclusive clinical evidence for efficacy and using them is more like a roll of the dice! They may provide some short-term benefits, but little is known about their long-term effects and risks.

There is still a remarkable rise in nootropics use, but more research is needed to fully understand their benefits and hazards. None of these drugs and supplements can be a replacement for a healthy lifestyle, and if we all maintained one, then this wouldn’t be a topic of discussion to begin with!

Mark Houben

Mark Houben is a freelance writer, coffee junkie and nature lover. He is a proponent of natural living and alternative remedies, and an opponent of Big Pharma. When he has some free time at hand, Mark enjoys honing his cooking skills by trying out new recipes, especially those loaded with flavorful and health-promoting herbs and spices.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the LA Progressive, its publisher, editor or any of its other contributors.

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