Are you feeling foggy, sluggish or having trouble concentrating? Perhaps you’ve been thinking buying a brain supplement or “smart drug” that you’ve seen advertised or heard people talking about. Well DON’T until you read this article containing everything you need to know about brain supplements and how to buy them!

A History of Nootropics

Civilizations have long sought out herbs or compounds to increase intelligence, but the birth of the current Smart Drug (R)evolution can be traced back to 1964, when a Romanian scientist named Corneliu E. Giurgea who was trying to create a synthetic version of GABA, a chemical in the brain thought to calm nerves. 

Corneliu E. Giurgea
Corneliu E. Giurgea

Although he was technically unsuccessful, he did create Piracetam, considered the first nootropic. The concept behind nootropics was simple. Giurgea basically stated they should:

  1. Enhance cognitive functions like learning and memory.
  2. Disrupt bad behaviors.
  3. Protect the brain from injury.
  4. Enhance brain function.
  5. Have very few side effects and low toxicity.

While the official definition has been tweaked since then, a nootropic is still thought of as a natural compound designed to enhance brain function that won’t harm you or cause a “far out” drug-like experience.

How Nootropics Work

That’s the thing: nobody is sure if or how any nootropic works to enhance brain function. Some compounds claim to protect neurons, some claim to boost brain cells, while others say they increase blood flow. 

The reality is that very few large-scale human studies have been conducted on any nootropic that prove they do anything at all, particularly in normal, healthy adults. 

In a recent article in Men’s Health Magazine Emily Deans, a Massachusetts psychiatrist was quoted as saying: “While supplement companies often have an impressive list of references for their products, those references are usually rodent studies of the individual ingredients, not human trials of the product.”

Indeed, Cochrane Review, noted for its rigorous examination of healthcare-related studies stated that “published evidence does not support the use of Piracetam in the treatment of people with dementia or cognitive impairment” but concluded that more research is needed. They came to a similar conclusion with another popular nootropic ingredient: Gingko Biloba

These conclusions have not stopped the onslaught of brain supplement companies and the geeks of Silicon Valley, who gobble a gaggle of pills daily in hopes of achieving super cognitive powers.

What to Look for in a Brain Supplement

Perhaps you too are looking for that competitive edge or worried about losing your memory. Here’s the good news: even if these nootropics don’t work, they most likely won’t harm anything except your bank balance.

So if you feel like being a human guinea pig, by all means go for it! But here are a few things to look for when searching for a brain supplement:

#1 – A complete ingredient listing

The brain supplement in question should have a Supplement Facts label, which will list active and inactive ingredients along with their concentration, usually in milligrams (mg), micrograms (mcg), or grams (g). These labels, while not standardized, should at least give you an indication as to what’s actually inside. 

#2 – Research the main ingredients

Don’t just take their word for it, look up uses and side effects of these compounds on reputable sites like WebMD or the aforementioned Cochrane Review. Generally speaking, look for websites that aren’t trying to sell you a pill that contains the supplement you are looking up.

#3 – Look for the USP label

Ok, so perhaps you’ve narrowed in on a particular nootropic that sounds promising. How do you know what they claim is in the bottle is really in there? A recent investigation by Canadian researchers showed that 1/3 of those supplements tested had no trace of the ingredient listed on the label. We suggest looking for bottles that carry the US Pharmacopeia seal, which looks like this:

US Pharmacopeia seal

Why? Because this ensures that an outside party has tested and certified their ingredients. Sadly, only 1% of supplements have this label (you can find a list of them here) and it’s highly unlikely that the brain supplement you just saw online uses it. You may however be able to find a company on the list that makes a similar supplement containing its active ingredients. 

#4 – Conduct an experiment!

Since you’ve decided to take the plunge and buy a nootropic, why not document the results? Cambridge Brain Sciences has a whole suite of online tests you can use to test memory, reasoning, concentration, planning, and more. 

Before you begin taking the supplement, take a few tests and save your results. Then, test yourself 30 days later. You may also want to have a friend take the same tests as a “control”. 

Did your scores improve? Congratulations, you may have found a working nootropic! Remember, some brain functioning is subjective, so you may “feel” less foggy while still performing the same, or even worse. And don’t forget the power of the placebo effect!

#5 – Re-evaluate your needs.

Now that you’ve spent X amount of dollars on a brain supplement, before you plunk down any more money on another bottle or bottles, ask yourself: was it worth it? Did this brain supplement really supercharge your brain function or did it just give you the jitters and diarrhea (many of these smart pills contain caffeine, which often has these side effects)?

We’re going to bet you dollars to donuts the answer is: no.

 dollars to donuts
Mmmm… donut…

But we’re not going to leave you in a mental fog: here are 13 Tips to Stay Smart, Sharp, and Focused from WebMD that require no brain supplement at all. 

(Here’s three: read a book, listen to music, exercise.)

Let us know what you think of this article below!