Before I get to the list of brain enhancing drugs, there is one thing I feel need clarification: what I mean by a drug which can enhance the brain.
Have you ever heard of nootropics? The terms nootropics and brain enhancing drugs get used interchangeably. After all, both are supposed to improve memory, focus, concentration, learning and a slew of other cognitive skills. So, it seems fair enough that they are considered to be one and the same.
There is, however, a significant difference between the two. When the definition of the term nootropics was first put to paper back in 1963 by Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, it included five standards that any compound must meet to be considered a nootropic. Two of those standards are relevant to us right now. They state nootropics must:
- Protect the brain against various chemical and physical assaults
- Have few or no side effects and possess extremely low toxicity
In other words, in addition to improving your cognitive skills, nootropics should improve the overall health of your brain and do it no harm. And while by definition, this is true for nootropic supplements, it cannot, unfortunately, be said of all mind enhancing drugs, which rarely respect the “do no harm” part.
So, all nootropics are brain enhancing drugs, but not all brain enhancing drugs are nootropics. Take products like Adderall and Ritalin. Both will give you mental clarity and make you feel more alert. I would certainly categorize them as drugs that enhance the brain. But considering their long lists of potential side effects and the fact they’re highly addictive, nootropics they are not.
This difference also partially explains why interest in and popularity of nootropics is increasing year over year, while the more general brain enhancing drugs category is not getting much love. Just take a look at this chart of Google search trends comparing the terms “brain enhancing drugs” and “nootropics.” Clearly, the better of the two product categories is leading the way.
So now, let’s get back to our list of brain enhancing drugs. Over the years, as I have experimented with improving my cognitive functions and hacking my brain, I made sure only to use supplements which fit the nootropics definition. I want to enhance my brain, sure, but not at the cost of doing harm to either it or the rest of my body. And because I would never recommend something that I haven’t researched or don’t have personal experience with, the list below is ultimately a list of nootropics.
The list is ordered alphabetically, not based on my preference. You can’t go wrong with any supplement on it, but depending on your goals, some will definitely work better than others.
Adrafinil is a cousin of the well know prescription drug modafinil. The major difference between the two is that adrafinil is a prodrug, and when ingested it needs first to be metabolized (converted) by the body. Once that process completes, it becomes modafinil.
This supplement has become hugely popular in the nootropic community as a very effective way to increase focus, boost mental energy, and promote wakefulness. Much research has been done demonstrating how adrafinil can improve cognitive functions as well as combat and manage fatigue . You can find out much more about adrafinil here.
A member of the racetam family of nootropics, aniracetam is the preferred choice of many. It is a multi-faceted supplement that on the one hand helps with memory and learning, and on the other improves mood and reduces anxiety.
When taken at proper dosages, aniracetam has few to no reported side effects. It also has minimal toxicity. For a supplement that has been around since the 1970’s, it has stood the test of time very well.
Not a single nootropic but rather a stack of several compounds, Alpha Brain is probably the top complete brain supplement in the market. Its primary ingredients are alpha-GPC and huperzine A, both of which increase the production of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter vital to memory functions.
The other Alpha Brain ingredients work to increase levels of dopamine, improve blood flow to the brain and have neuroprotective properties. If you’re not sure where to start, Alpha Brain is an excellent choice.
A cholinergic supplement, alpha-GPC increases the levels of choline in the brain. The effects are much improved cognitive functions and a proven reduction in cognitive decline, especially in the elderly .
Alpha-GPC is safe and has very few potential side effects. Because it stacks very well with other nootropics and is a source of choline, it is common to see alpha-GPC as an ingredient in most stacks.
Also called citicoline, CDP-choline is a powerful, safe and very well tolerated naturally occurring chemical. It is a vital building block of many stacks. This supplement is a strong potentiator (enhancer) of other nootropics, especially those in the racetam family.
On its own, CDP-choline has a direct effect on the increase of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is crucial for focus, memory and learning. In addition to its memory enhancing properties, research shows citicoline is also a neural protector and reduces cognitive decline .
Sometimes simply called theanine, this is a naturally occurring amino acid found in most teas, especially green. It has been observed to improve attention and reduce stress .
L-theanine promotes relaxation but is not a sedative. Because of this trait, it is an excellent choice for stacking with stimulants like caffeine. It will eliminate their adverse effects, including reduced sleep quality, anxiousness, and jitteriness.
Arguably the most popular nootropic supplement, Noopept is one of the strongest cognitive enhancers in the market. It has been proven to do it all, from increasing memory, focus and learning abilities, to improving mood, to offering neuroprotective properties . It even reduces fatigue and promoted daytime wakefulness.
Unlike many nootropics, Noopept is also very quick acting. Effects appear within minutes of taking it. At a price point that’s hard to beat, who could ask for more? There are so many benefits Noopept offers.
Another very popular nootropic supplement, oxiracetam is safe, potent and oh so effective. It’s a true brain enhancer and studies have shown how it covers the entire spectrum of cognitive processes, from improving memory and attention span to better sensory perception and prevention of age-related cognitive decline .
Oxiracetam also happens to be a mild stimulant. Taking it restores and increases mental energy, physical energy, and alertness. It can even help you feel more motivated.
Phenylpiracetam is part of the racetam group of nootropics. Although it is not nearly as well know as some other members of that group, over the last few years, phenylpiracetam has significantly increased in popularity.
Other than being a powerful cognitive enhancer and neuroprotector, this supplement can also heighten physical performance. This relatively unique effect is quickly making phenylpiracetam the go-to choice for many nootropic users, especially athletes.
Another member of the popular racetam family, pramiracetam is one of the strongest brain boosting nootropics available. In addition to the usual cognitive benefits like better focus, memory and learning abilities, research has demonstrated how pramiracetam also helps a great deal with long-term memory improvements and decreasing forgetfulness .
Very powerful on its own, pramiracetam works well in almost any stack and can increase the effectiveness of other nootropic supplements to levels they may never see otherwise. I have more information on pramiracetam here.