“Smart drugs,” also sometimes called nootropics, are all the rage in Silicon Valley.

Almost everyone has seen or heard of the pill in the movie Limitless that makes Bradley Cooper’s character a verifiable genius who goes from being a loser in a one room apartment to a Master of the Universe after taking a mysterious pill that supercharges his brain.  It’s too bad that this probably could only happen in a movie (at least for now!) but that doesn’t mean there aren’t supplements that can really improve your brain health!

We have written this article to help you understand some of the different pharmaceutical drugs and supplements that are being used for cognitive enhancement.



Modafinil.  Modafinil is a class of controlled substances known as eugeroics which are used to treat conditions such as narcolepsy and other sleep disorders.  However, in the past few years, off-label use of the drug to improve congnition has increased dramatically.  While researchers at the University of Oxford reviewed 24 studies published from 1990 to 2014 and concluded in a paper in European Neuropyschopharmacology that modafinil “can be considered a cognitive enhancer,” they also had some negative conclusions.  First, they noted that the “drug modafinil is not licenced for this use, and it will not be because it would be outside the current terms of reference of regulatory bodies.  Ok, that is concerning, as that essentially means the FDA will not approve the drug for use as a cognitive enhancer, so users of the drug for this unlicensed indication are caveat emptor.  And second, there has been no definitve study on the long term effects of use of the drug.  That’s another red flag for the more conservative-minded when it comes to use of pharmaceutical products.

Adderall.  This controlled substance is an amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, which are CNS (central nervous sytem) stimulants that effect the balance of chemicals in the brain and nerves having to do with impulse control and hyperactivity.  It is used to treat narcolepsy and ADHD.  It is generally known to have a high degree of risk of abuse, and is actually banned in many countries for this reason.  The effects of the drug have been analogized to the effects of cocaine.  Reasons enough to avoid off label use for cognitive enhancement—let’s move on!

Ritalin.  Ritalin is another CNS stimulant used to treat ADD, ADHD and narcolepsy.  With Ritalin, we have the doubly negative situation in which there are no conclusive studies confirming its efficacy as a cognitive enhancer and there are documented studies of the serious concerns regarding use of the drug in connection with addiction and serious cardiovascular complications.  Ok, so no proven benefit and serious “side” effects—pass!


Noopept is a potent nootropic agent that is a powerful memory enhancer, improving the formation, consolidation and retrieval of memories. Recent studies have identified that noopept also possesses neuroprotective properties, helping to attenuate the cognitive decline observed during aging. Its primary mechanism of action is through increasing the circulating levels of glutamate, an essential neurotransmitter. Noopept has an active onset, with cognitive effects noted within 15 minutes of oral intake.

Cognitive functioning is dependent on communication between brain cells, known as neurons. Neurons are arranged in neural networks, which are necessary to perform cognitive tasks like sensory processing and problem solving. Neurons “talk” to each other using chemical neurotransmitters. Noopept has been shown to prevent the breakdown of glutamate, one of the most important neurotransmitters involved in cognitive functioning. By potentially increasing the availability of neurotransmitters, noopept users may report improved clarity and sharpened critical thinking soon after ingestion.

All Natural Ayurvedic and Chinese Botanicals

Complementary and alternative medical systems like Ayurveda from India and the various botanicals used in Chinese medicine have generally been disregarded by Big Pharma and the mainstream Western medical establishment.  But I believe that this is like treating a wound that needs a scalpel with a sledgehammer.  It is true that we do not have definitive studies on how or whether these substances work, but we also do have numerous studies over long periods of time (and of course, centuries of actual usage in India and China) that these substances have real medical benefits when used properly.

We have highlighted some of the major all natural botanical substances and their perceived medical benefits here.

Bacopa monnieri.  Bacopa monnieri is an Indian herb which has been used in Ayurvedic alternative medicine for centuries.  The herb has been historically used as a natural brain enhancer to improve memory and mental focus, which has been borne out by modern scientific research.  Bacopa contains natural nutrients called bacosides which help to improve the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain and also have adaptogenic properties.  Adaptogens are substances that help the body cope with external stresses such as toxins in the environment and internal stresses such as anxiety and insomnia. In addition, bacosides have been clinically shown to have antioxidant properties which may provide protection against the damaging effects of free radicals in the brain.

Rhodiola.  Rhodiola rosea is a perennial flowering plant which grows naturally in wild Arctic regions of Europe, Asia and North America.  Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb which has beneficial effects on energy production and reduction of fatigue as a result of the rosavin compounds which it contains: rosavin, rosin and rosarin.  Adaptogens are substances help the body cope with external stresses such as toxins in the environment and internal stresses such as anxiety and insomnia.  Research suggests that rhodiola activates the synthesis or resynthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the main energy source of the body.

Ashwagandha.  An Ayurvedic herb, Ashwagandha is also called Withania somnifera or Indian ginseng, and contains many useful medicinal chemicals, including withanolides, alkaloids, choline, fatty acids and amino acids.  Ashwagandha is known for its adaptogenic properties.  Also, ashwagandha may have significant antioxidant properties, and according to recent scientific research, ashwagandha may afford lipid peroxidation inhibitory effects more potent than commercial antioxidants.  Ashwagandha supports brain health as a result of its adaptogenic and antioxidant properties.

Schisandra.  Schisandra, also called magnolia berry, is a vine plant found in Northern China and Eastern Russia, and is a hardy plant which is able to grow in very cold climates.  It is also referred to as the five-flavor berry since it has all of the five tastes (salty, sweet, sour, pungent and bitter) and has been used in Chinese traditional medicine for centuries.  Scientific studies suggest that the berry is a potent performance enhancer (increases physical output) and an adaptogen (prevents the physical and chemical effects of stress).

Panax ginseng.  Panax ginseng is a perennial plant that grows in Korea, northeastern China and Siberia and is also known as Asian ginseng. Asian ginseng contain substances called ginsenosides, which researchers believe to be active ingredients and which may improve general well-being, physical stamina, and concentration.

There have been a number of studies using Asian ginseng for athletic performance in people and laboratory animals and many athletes often take Asian ginseng to boost both endurance and strength.  In traditional Chinese medicine, Asian ginseng is used as a tonic that is believed to replenish energy.

L-Theanine.  L-Theanine which is an amino acid found in green tea. Scientific research suggests that taking L-Theanine may affect the emission of alpha waves in the brain associated with states of relaxation and focused attention. Preliminary research has shown that L-Theanine crosses the blood brain barrier, and suggests that it may support healthy neurotransmitter levels in the brain.

We hope you find this information helpful in your personal pursuit of better brain health.  Stay tuned for more information and insight from the team at Supplematix!

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