The term “nootropic stack” is common slang among the neurohacker community. In fact, it’s so common that we often forget not everyone necessarily fully understands what it means.
If a nootropic newcomer spends enough time on any community forum, the definition of “nootropic stack” will slowly reveal itself by how it’s used: What is your favorite nootropic stack? Is this a good nootropic stack? Is it safe to stack this nootropic with that nootropic?
But, it may take a while for complete clarity to set in.
A nootropic stack does consist of several nootropics – that part is probably obvious. It’s not, however, a literal stack in that we’re balancing nootropics atop each other, sort of like those balanced Zen rocks that are, admittedly, really pretty to look at.
Similarly to the Zen rocks, however, stacking nootropics is a bit of an art form, in that you can improve your craft with ongoing practice.
When you first attempt it, stacking nootropics may result in a headache – literally. There are stumbling blocks to figuring out the whole nootropic game. But, these slightly painful, somewhat annoying setbacks help guide you towards a better, more refined solution to your exact cognitive needs.
It’s fun, really, when you get deep into it. And the results speak for themselves. So, with that said, let’s dive in into the world of nootropic stacking.
Table of Contents
What Is a Nootropic Stack?
Simply put, a nootropic stack is a combination of two or more nootropic substances taken together.
More often than not, when we talk about nootropic supplements, we mean cognitive-enhancing products that supply more than one nootropic ingredient with the intended health goal specified on the label.
That is a stack.
A nootropic supplement that supplies only one ingredient is not a stack. Those do have a time and a place, but we usually buy such supplements with the intent of combining them with other standalone nootropics.
A nootropic stack may be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.
The simplest example, one that often works as a good beginner stack for nootropic newcomers, is the combination of the amino acid L-theanine plus the everyone’s favorite stimulant caffeine. We naturally ingest these two compounds by drinking green tea, which uniquely supplies both the amino and stimulant.
In supplement form, L-theanine and caffeine come at varying dosages, which we may manipulate to create an L-theanine to caffeine ratio that’s more conducive to mental performance enhancement.
A cup of green tea does not supply the oft-desired combination of 200 mg L-theanine and 100 mg caffeine.
This is why we buy and stack these two nootropics: we can manipulate their dosages how we see fit and in a way that works best for each of our individual brain chemistries.
This is only one simple example of a nootropic stack.
More advanced nootropic users not only concoct multi-faceted nootropic supplements, but they stack those nootropic stacks with other nootropic stacks, creating a complex combination to be taken at specified times and dates to meet highly specific cognitive goals.
The further you dive down these rabbit holes, the more the nootropic community appears to be a reincarnation of the Sorcerer Stone-seeking alchemists of yore.
Of course, not all nootropic stacks are the same, nor are all nootropic stacks universally effective or safe.
Before attempting your own beginner nootropic stack, it’s important you first consider the purpose of stacking nootropics, as well as the potential pitfalls of creating a not so great combination.
Why Stack Nootropics?
The obvious answer to why we stack nootropics is that to improve multiple aspects of our cognitive performance, we may need more than a single substance.
There’s not one single nootropic that addresses all bio-pathways involved in comprehensive cognitive enhancement. If that were the case, stacking would be pointless and wouldn’t exist.
To better explain why it’s a good idea to combine several nootropics, as opposed to taking one really good one, let’s go over the three measures of a good nootropic stack.
The L-theanine + caffeine combo is a classic example of cognitive enhancers that complement each other.
L-theanine relaxes the mind, caffeine stimulates it.
That sounds like a contradictory duo. However, what makes the two complementary is how L-theanine’s relaxing effects smooth out the “jittery” side effects of caffeine without removing its focus and energy benefits.
The result is calm, yet energized thinking, the likes of which you can’t achieve with caffeine alone.
Nootropics that engage the same bio-pathway from various angles may theoretically “multiply” their benefits.
Here’s an example: citicoline supplies raw choline for the formation of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine , while Bacopa monnieri inhibits acetylcholinesterase , the enzyme responsible for breaking down acetylcholine during a neuron synapse .
Together, these two nootropics’ bio-activities enhance acetylcholine activity from two separate angles:
- Citicoline produces acetylcholine
- Bacopa monnieri helps keep it around longer
The trick with multiplication is that too much of it may overwhelm the pathway, having a negative effect on brain health and performance. I’ll touch more on this in the section below on negative ingredient interactions.
Synergy takes place when one nootropic amplifies the effects of another nootropic, which in turn may amplify the effects of another, and so on and so forth.
A smart nootropic stack not only recognizes the benefits of each individual ingredient but how those ingredients potentiate the other ones, resulting in a 2 + 2 = 5 degree of synergy.
While in the world of math that makes no sense, in the context of nootropic stacks, it’s completely legitimate.
Stack Delivery Methods
Nootropic supplement stacks are typically offered in one of two forms of delivery: capsules and powders. Each type has its pros and cons.
The biggest benefits of capsules are standardized dosages and convenience of use.
With capsulated nootropics, you don’t need to worry about measuring out the right amounts or finding a tasty chaser to cleanse the nootropics’ bitter taste from your mouth.
What you get is what you get.
There is, however, a downside to capsules: the lack of customizability.
On the flipside, powder supplements allow for you to better monitor and finetune your dosages. You can better mix-and-match powder ingredients to test out different ratios and combinations.
But, of course, this is time-consuming: you’ll need a scale to weigh out each ingredient accurately. And it’s harder to take a bunch of powders with you on the go (just try that at an airport).
Dosages and Frequency of Dose
Anytime you use nootropics, regardless of whether they’re stacked or not, there are two things you need to keep in mind: the dosage levels and frequency of dose. By always doing so, you’ll both stay safe and get the most out of your supplement.
- Dosage: For each nootropic you use, research the recommended daily dosage, and never exceed it. I suggest starting at the lowest end of the scale and building up from there to assess your tolerance. This is especially important when stacking.
- Frequency of Doses: A modest serving of adrafinil in the morning is fine. But if you take several such servings throughout the day, especially late in the afternoon, you’ll increasingly notice adverse effects like insomnia. Just because a specific compound is part of a nootropics stack, doesn’t mean you can take it whenever.
If you ever end up combining multiple nootropic stacks, also be mindful of the exact ingredients in each. If the same compounds are present in both, you’re at risk of overdosing on them.
Beware of Negative Ingredient Interactions
Not all nootropics should be stacked together. While it’s smart to stack a choline source (e.g., citicoline) with a racetam (e.g., pramiracetam), other nootropic combos do not mix well.
This point is especially relevant where synthetic cognitive enhancers are concerned.
An example of one such negative interaction is the combination of phenibut and fasoracetam, as documented in one serious case of nootropic overdose.
Many synthetic cognitive enhancers lack research that backs up their safety, efficacy, or how they interact with each other (everyone’s favorite nootropic modafinil being one of the big exceptions). This partially explains the popularity of pre-made all-natural supplements, the safety of which is paramount to the supplement manufacturer’s success.
It should also go without saying that if you’re currently taking any medication, you should approach nootropics with caution. The two can negatively interact with each other. Consult a physician and check nootropic forums (such as /r/Nootropics on Reddit) to gather as much information as you can before proceeding.
An Excellent Beginner Nootropics Stack Example
More aptly, the following may be described as a “beginning to end” nootropics stack, as these nootropics may improve cognitive health and performance in both the short- and long-term.
250 mg Citicoline (CDP Choline)
One of the best multi-purpose nootropics, citicoline, or CDP choline, is a highly bioavailable source of choline that, unlike choline bitartrate, may easily cross the blood-brain barrier.
But unlike alpha-GPC, another bioavailable source of choline, citicoline also supplies cytidine , the precursor compound to nucleotide uridine, which helps with synaptic plasticity and neuron formation .
Citicoline also has excellent neuroprotective properties that help you maintain good brain health in the long run .
[You can get citicoline here]
100 mg Phosphatidylserine
A key component of the cell membrane’s lipid bilayer, phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid nootropic that helps maintain neuron membrane fluidity and permeability .
Under conditions of PS deficiency, neurons don’t transfer and uptake oxygen, nutrients, and other life-essential compounds as well as they should . Beyond middle age, as we get older, natural PS levels decline, thereby increasing our need for dietary PS intake.
However, young or old, PS supplementation may help support neurogenesis for long-term potentiation (LTP) and other memory formation processes , while also improving cell-to-cell communication for clearer, quicker thinking.
PS also has neuroprotective properties, and has even been shown to slow down some forms of cognitive decline .
300 mg N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine
High stress, high activity, and no sleep – this is a recipe for disaster and for catecholamine depletion. Under such conditions, the brain burns through catecholamine neurotransmitters (e.g., dopamine, norepinephrine) just to stay afloat .
Once those catecholamine reserves dry up, the brain burns out, and the stress cycle continues. By converting to dopamine and norepinephrine, N-acetyl L-tyrosine (NALT) sustains cognitive performance in the face of stress and fatigue.
With both citicoline and NALT included in the stack, the cholinergic and dopaminergic brain bio-pathways are covered.
[You can get L-tyrosine here]
75 mg Maritime Pine Bark Extract
Somewhat of a nootropic newcomer, maritime pine bark extract (MPBE) supplies a rich complex of proanthocyanidin antioxidants.
The two most significant benefits of proanthocyanidins are:
In addition to these benefits, MPBE also seems to improve synaptic plasticity and brain cell regeneration .
[You can get maritime pine bark extract here]
Stacking Multiple Nootropic Stacks
After establishing a baseline nootropic stack, one to supplement daily for general cognitive health and performance enhancement, you can add additional stacks that target specific health and performance goals.
Bodybuilders do this with workout supplements: one stack for pre-workout enhancement, another for post-workout recovery. Nootropics aren’t much different.
For example, one nootropic stack may be dedicated to shutting off cognition to achieve better sleep, another for reducing anxiety and stress.
Advanced neurohackers get incredibly specific with their nootropic stacks: one stack works for math assignments, another for public speaking. One stress-relieving nootropic may help while on a date, whereas another stress-relief stack works more as a sedative for evening relaxation.
Some supplement manufacturers offer pre-formulated nootropic stacks that, if the manufacturer’s any good, supply a synergistic mix of nootropics at high-quality standards and the right dosages. One of my favorites, The Performance Lab supplement series by Opti-Nutra, hits the synergy mark on two levels:
- Within each Performance Lab supplement
- Between each Performance Lab supplement
In other words, their supplements can more than stand on their own, but also stacks very well together.
One popular stack combination of Performance Lab’s supplements includes the following three products.
Performance Lab Mind
Performance Lab Mind stacks four nootropics in a simple, effective formula: Citicoline (as Cognizin®), Phosphatidylserine (as Sharp-PS® Green), N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine, and Maritime Pine Bark Extract (std. for min. 95% proanthocyanidins).
If this formula looks familiar, it’s pretty much identical to the example of the beginner nootropic stack I gave a little earlier. Why? Because it really is an excellent combination.
All four ingredients are supplied in bio-enhanced formats, and the nootropic stack comes pre-mixed in vegan, non-GMO capsules. There are no junk additives or fillers to bog down this product’s potency, one of the reasons why I’m such a big fan of it.
Performance Lab Sleep
Another excellent nootropic stack, Performance Lab Sleep is a sleep aid supplement that takes a simple and, more importantly, natural approach to better sleep with its 3-ingredient beginner-friendly stack: Montmorency Tart Cherry Extract (as CherryPURE®), L-Tryptophan (as TryptoPure®), and Magnesium (as BioGenesis™).
Many sleep aid products work with a synthetic form of melatonin, a reliable sleep enhancer with common, next-morning side effects (notably a headache).
Natural melatonin, sourced from tart cherry and standardized to a precise small dosage, works well without the side effects associated with the synthetic stuff.
[You can get Peformance Lab Sleep here]
Performance Lab Whole-Food Multi
This nootropic stack actually comes in two different versions: “For Men” and “For Women” multivitamin formulas. Each is specially designed for the particular needs of each sex.
Make no mistake, this too is a nootropic stack.
Multivitamins are super-stacks, offering a comprehensive, complex mix of micronutrients that are necessary for a healthy brain and body. They work synergistically with other nootropics to help them perform at levels they could never reach otherwise.
[You can get Peformance Lab Whole-Food Multi here]
The above is but one combination possibility of Performance Lab’s mix-and-match nootropic supplements. As you can see on their website, there are many other products you can use as your building blocks. It’s the best way I know of to start stacking stacks.
The Bottom Line
Whether you create your own nootropic stack by combining a favorite set of ingredients or go with a proven product like Performance Lab Mind, nootropic stacking is not complicated and by far, the most effective way to get the most out of your cognitive enhancement efforts.
The key is to not re-invent the wheel (at least at first) and start with what is proven to work. Then, slowly augment and tweak as needed. Be flexible, listen to your body, and I promise you’ll be an expert nootropics stacker and neurohacker in no time flat.
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