In this article, we take you through the best nootropic supplements on the market today. We’ll explain what ingredients to look for, how to build your own nootropic stack, and give you our top rated brain supplements of the year.
Type the phrase “best nootropics” into any supplement forum, and you’ll see that everybody has a different opinion.
Some people swear by single brain-boosting substances like Alpha-GPC. Other people believe that the best nootropic stack is their cocktail of 20 cognitive enhancing agents.
A significant minority claim that synthetic nootropics like Piracetam or Modafinil are the only way to go.
But if you look at what serious nootropics users have to say, you’ll notice that they all have the same approach to cognitive enhancement. They all believe in using high-quality natural nootropic stacks to achieve total brain optimization.
How to choose the best nootropic for you
For experienced brain hackers, the best cognitive enhancers are those which help you achieve your specific goals. There is no such thing as the best nootropic for every single individual.
There’s no “miracle brain pill” that is ideal for every person and every situation. Yes, the movie Limitless was just a movie!
To really get the most out of nootropics – to find the best brain supplement for you – you first need to evaluate your own goals.
Do you want to heighten focus? Or are you more concerned about memory function? Is your performance anxiety distracting you at work? Or do you just need to bolster brain health as you age?
You need to decide what your goals are before you start spending money on brain supplements.
This is how we approach nootropics, and cognitive enhancement more generally.
Instead of simply looking for the best nootropic for everyone, look for the best brain supplement for you and your unique requirements.
The Best Pre-made Nootropic Stacks
For the vast majority of people who use nootropics, total brain optimization is the goal.
They don’t want to limit themselves to enhancing memory or reducing performance anxiety – they want it all.
This is where high quality, pre-made nootropic stacks come into play. These are brain supplements that combine multiple substances into a single capsule, which together enhance multiple different aspects of cognitive function.
Some substances have a synergistic relationship with others – by combining them, you get an effect that is far more powerful than the sum of the individual parts.
So if you make your nootropic stack intelligently, you can achieve significant improvements in cognitive function using very few ingredients.
This is why people use premium, pre-made nootropic stacks.
We have very strict criteria when ranking nootropics. For us, the best brain supplement will have the following features:
- Large doses of ingredients proven to work in multiple, robust clinical trials
- A formula which covers every aspect of cognitive performance, from memory and focus to mood and brain health
- Exceptional ingredient quality and purity
- Plenty of supporting ingredients (e.g anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals)
- Extremely low side effect risks
- No waste of filler ingredients
So what are the best nootropics on the market today?
Which products offer total cognitive enhancement for the best possible price?
Top Rated Nootropics for 2020 (updated from 2019)
Here are the best nootropics on the market today:
There are a lot of great nootropics around right now. They all offer something slightly different. But these two brain supplements are the best around by a long way. This is down to their exceptional ingredient quality and the value for money they offer.
#1 – Best Nootropic Overall – Mind Lab Pro
Mind Lab Pro is hands down the best nootropic for total cognitive enhancement. It covers every single aspect of brain optimization while using the fewest possible number of ingredients.
In the 20-odd years we have been experimenting with nootropics, Mind Lab Pro is the only supplement which has ticked all our boxes.
Mind Lab Pro gives you:
- Greater focus & concentration
- Enhanced learning & memory formation
- Faster memory recall
- Better mental performance under stress
- Reduced anxiety
- Protection against oxidative damage
More interestingly to us, Mind Lab Pro promotes neuron growth, proliferation and repair. It increases the expression of Nerve Growth Factor, which governs neuron growth. It also promotes neuron dendrite branching and brain cell formation. This means the benefits of this nootropic last long after you stop using it.
One thing we really like about this nootropic – the reason we think it’s the best on the market – is the quality of the ingredients. Opti Nutra have used the most potent, purest forms of the ingredients at every opportunity.
Price Per Day
#2 – Best Nootropic For Stacking – Performance Lab Mind
Performance Lab Mind is a kind of stripped down, streamlined, more focused version of Mind Lab Pro. It contains just three ingredients, but each one contributes to enhanced cognitive function in its own way.
Performance Lab Mind is one of the best nootropics in 2019 because it still manages to cover all the most important bases with just a handful of ingredients. The ingredients are of extremely high quality, and they’ve each been dosed well. There’s no waste, no filler, and no redundancy.
The main benefits of Performance Lab Mind are:
- Enhances focus
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Protects the brain from oxidative stress
- Promotes brain cell formation
The key selling point of this nootropic for us is how easily it can be stacked. Performance Lab Mind has actually been formulated specifically for use with other Performance Lab products. A great combination if Performance Lab Mind + Energy; we’ve found this stack great for late night work sessions.
Performance Lab Mind is a simple but extremely powerful nootropic supplement. The ingredients are all extremely pure, vegan-friendly, non-GMO, gluten-free, soy-free, and wrapped in a 100% vegan, prebiotic plant capsule. Opti Nutra have used branded forms of each ingredient. We can’t ask for more than that.
Price Per Day
The Best Individual Nootropic Supplements
At the end of the day, the best nootropic for you is probably going to be one that you build for yourself.
Nootropics like Mind Lab Pro cover all the most important bases. If you intend to use all of Mind Lab Pro’s ingredients individually, then it is actually a lot cheaper and easier to buy them as a pre-made stack. Getting high quality Citicoline and Phosphatidylserine can be difficult for individuals. Getting Bacopa monnieri that contains just the 9 bioactive bacosides is pretty much impossible!
The same goes for Performance Lab Mind. If you want to use Tyrosine and Citicoline anyway, then using Performance Lab Mind is the best way to ensure you get top quality product for the lowest possible price.
But for many of you, these nootropic supplements will just form the foundation of your own custom stack.
People have gotten great results by adding other nootropics on top of stacks like Mind Lab Pro or Performance Lab Mind.
Other people bypass pre-made supplements altogether and build their own nootropic stacks from scratch. If cost isn’t an issue, you have experience, and you’ve done your homework, this is always the best way to go.
So, where should you start?
What are the best nootropic substances to use in a stack?
Here is a quick overview of the best nootropics to use for specific purposes.
Best Natural Nootropics For:
- Focus: Citicoline, Alpha-GPC, Choline bitartrate, Caffeine, N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine
- Memory: Bacopa monnieri, Lion’s Mane Mushroom, Phosphatidylserine, Ginkgo biloba, Citicoline, Alpha-GPC
- Anxiety & Stress: Tyrosine, Rhodiola rosea, Ashwagandha, Theanine
- Brain Cell Formation, Protection & Repair: DHA, Phosphatidylserine, Uridine, Citicoline, Lion’s Mane Mushroom, Bacopa monnieri, Reishi Mushroom, Pterostilbene, Maritime Pine Bark Extract, Vinpocetine, PQQ
- Energy: Caffeine, B6, B12
- Mood: Tryptophan, 5-HTP, Ashwagandha, Rhodiola rosea
Below you will find a more detailed breakdown of the most effective nootropic substances, how they work, and what they should be used for. In our opinion, these herbs, amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and extracts have the most robust scientific proof. They also have the best effects-to-side effects ratio.
Citicoline, or CDP-Choline, is the best nootropic to use if you want to see a rapid increase in focus, information processing, and learning capacity.In our opinion, Citicoline should form the backbone of any full-spectrum brain supplement.
Citicoline is extremely efficient at delivering choline to the brain. Once there, it is used to make acetylcholine – the brain’s primary executive neurotransmitter -and phosphatidylcholine, which is used to make new brain structures. Supplementing with Citicoline has been shown in multiple clinical studies to improve focus, enhance memory function, and more (source). Citicoline is also usually preferable to other cholinergics because it delivers uridine; a precursor to RNA. Researchers believe that supplementing with uridine supports healthy brain cell maintenance.
For maximum effect, we recommend using 200-250mg of Citicoline per day. Ideally, use a standardized, pure Citicoline like Cognizin. If using Cognizin, then 200mg is plenty.
Stack with: Tyrosine and Phosphatidylserine.
Learn more: Citicoline guide.
Bacopa monnieri is the best memory enhancer in existence. Study after study confirms this; clinical trials show that Bacopa monnieri supplementation leads to significantly better performance in memory tests in almost everybody, but particularly in older people and those suffering with mild cognitive impairment and memory loss.
Bacopa monnieri works by increasing dendrite branching. This effectively means that your neurons gain more connecting points through which to communicate. More communication channels between neurons means better memory formation and recall.
The studies are quite clear on how Bacopa monnieri should be used. You need to take more than 150mg of Bacopa monnieri for at least 6 weeks to see any difference in cognitive performance. The effects of Bacopa monnieri really set in after about 12 weeks, but once they have set in, they tend to stick for a while (source).
You should try to use a Bacopa monnieri extract which contains a large percentage of Bacosides (the active compounds). Mind Lab Pro uses an extract that only contains the 9 bioactive bacosides, which is great.
Stack with: Citicoline and phosphatidylserine.
Learn more: Bacopa monnieri guide.
Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid found in high concentrations in the human brain. It is a primary constituent of brain cell membranes.
Phosphatidylserine is also needed for cell signalling. When a brain cell is ready to die and be replaced, phosphatidylserine moves to the outside of the cell membrane. This is the signal for immune cells to come in and destroy the cell.
Phospholipid levels decline as we get older. Supplementing with phosphatidylserine has been shown to promote good cognitive function, particularly those related to memory. Some studies have even found phosphatidylserine has short-term benefits.
Stack with: Bacopa monnieri and Citicoline.
DHA, or Docosahexaenoic Acid, is an omega-3 fatty acid. It is the principle structural component of the human brain. DHA is the fat that makes up the vast majority of your brain. It is used to construct the cerebral cortex, retina, and skin.
Obviously, supplementing with DHA is a good idea if you want to optimize the construction of new brain cells (especially in the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for “higher level” cognitive functions and language). Few people get enough of this stuff from their diets. It is found in algae, so most people get it through fish. The modern diet is pretty devoid of DHA though, so for most people, supplementation is necessary.
Stack with: Maritime Pine Bark, Citicoline and B12.
Rhodiola rosea has been used in traditional medicine for a very long time.
It is a natural anxiolytic. In simple terms, that means it helps to reduce anxiety and alleviate stress.
Rhodiola rosea makes for a great nootropic because of its effect on cognition. Studies have found that rhodiola rosea promotes better cognitive function in people subjected to acute stress. So unlike some anxiolytics, rhodiola rosea does not merely calm you down. Instead, it keeps the brain sharp in stressful situations.
About 100mg of Rhodiola rosea is all you need to see significant benefits. You can even cut that back to 50mg if you couple it with another anxiolytic.
Stack with: Tyrosine, Bacopa monnieri, and DHA.
Tyrosine is another amazing nootropic. Like rhodiola rosea, it is a potent anxiolytic. And like rhodiola rosea, it is particularly useful for people who want to optimize brain performance in stressful situations.
Studies have shown that Tyrosine consumption improves cognitive performance in people subjected to extreme environmental stressors. These clinical trials have so far observed benefits form Tyrosine supplementation in people who are sleep deprived, subjected to extreme cold, placed in noisy environments, placed in a reduced-oxygen environment, and more (source).
With Tyrosine, more is definitely better. We’ve seen people get great results from just 150mg, but we’d recommend pushing this up to 200-300mg if you can. In an ideal world, you’d use Tyrosine alongside another anxiolytic.
Stack with: Rhodiola rosea or ashwagandha and Citicoline.
Ashwagandha is a staple of ayurverdic medicine. It has long been used as a general cure-all. While it is far from a panacea, Ashwagandha does have one extremely interesting benefit – it suppresses cortisol.
Clinical trials have found that ashwagandha supplementation quickly reduces serum cortisol levels in humans. Cortisol is the human stress hormone; it is released when we perceive an immediate threat. Unfortunately, some people have chronically high cortisol levels due to the stresses of modern life.
Supplementing with Ashwagandha can significantly reduce stress, lower blood pressure, promote a positive mood, and by extension, help you concentrate on your work. Large doses are necessary – aim for 300-500mg per day if you’re seriously stressed.
Stack with: Lion’s Mane Mushroom and Tyrosine.
Ginkgo biloba is quickly making a name for itself as the best natural nootropic supplement for older people.
Ginkgo biloba contains two compounds – terpenes and glycosides. The former reduces the viscosity of your blood (making it thinner and ‘runnier’), while the latter causes vasodilation (where your blood vessels expand).
The end result is greater blood flow in the brain, which means better oxygenated, better fed brain cells. This is why older people are using Ginkgo biloba; restricted blood flow is one of the leading causes of age-related cognitive decline and memory degradation. Using Gingko biloba on a daily basis might help slow down cognitive decline.
You don’t need to use much of this stuff. We think 50-90mg of Ginkgo biolab per day is plenty to see results.
Stack with: Citicoline, Phosphatidylserine and Bacopa monnieri.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Lion’s Mane Mushroom has been a part of Chinese cuisine and traditional Chinese medicine for a very long time. Like most traditional medicines, it has long been said to do all manner of things. Modern clinical trials have found that it does have one fascinating effect when consumed by humans – it triggers the release of Nerve Growth Factor in the brain (source).
Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) is a neurotrophic factor. It governs the growth, proliferation, maturation, and repair of nerve cells in the brain. Higher levels of NGF means enhanced neuron growth, faster neurite outgrowth, and ultimately more raw brainpower. The researchers in the above cited study (Puei-Lene et. al., 2013) found that Lion’s Mane Mushroom extract was able to increase neurite outgrowth by 60%!
Lion’s Mane Mushroom is the ultimate nootropic for achieving long-term, lasting cognitive enhancement in our opinion. Its benefits are wide ranging, and they exist long after you stop taking it. With this nootropic, anywhere from 300-1000mg per day will yield big results.
Stack with: Anything – Citicoline, Tyrosine and Maritime Pine Bark Extract work especially well with LMM.
B12 is probably the first supplement that many people take. Nothing gives you the kind of general pep boost that B12 can. It increases energy, reduces brain fog, improves mood, supports healthy skin, and more.
Many people overlook B12s nootropic properties. But this is a mistake; B12 is a good nootropic substance. Studies have shown that B12 deficiencies (although rare) lead to a steady decline in cognitive performance. Other clinical trials have demonstrated that B12 supplementation improves various aspects of mental function; specifically, those relating to brain cell energy metabolism.
You don’t need to go crazy here. It takes your body years to deplete your B12 stores. So as long as you consume some through your diet, you don’t need to take lots through supplements. We recommend shooting for about 500% of your RDI. More is great, but not necessary.
Stack: DHA, Caffeine and Maritime Pine Bark Extract.
Maritime Pine Bark Extract
Maritime Pine Bark is prized for its antioxidant content. This hardy tree bark is incredibly rich in a class of compounds called proanthocyanins. Maritime Pine Bark contains a complex of proanthocyanins which together protect the brain from oxidative damage.
However, Maritime Pine Bark is not like any other antioxidant source. It is one of the best nootropics for a very good reason. The proanthocyanins in Maritime Pine Bark not only act as antioxidants; they also stimulate the release of nitric oxide, increasing blood flow. On top of that, Maritime Pine Bark contains flavonoids which stimulate brain cell repair.
If you’re looking for an antixodiant to add to your nootropic stack, then Maritime Pine Bark is the obvious choice. It is the only antioxidant with its own nootropic properties beyond preventing free radical damage.
Only the best nootropics contain this ingredient. You don’t need much; around 50-100mg per day is plenty.
Stack with: Citicoline and Tyrosine; an incredibly effective combination.
Pterostilbene is another antioxidant. It isn’t quite the nootropic that Maritime Pine Bark is, but it is still an excellent choice for a nootropic stack.
Pterostilbene is structurally similar to resveratrol; the antioxidant found in large quantities in red wine. It acts in a very similar way to resveratrol in the body. The only difference between the two is that only about 20% of the resveratrol you consume ends up active in the blood. Pterostilbene, on the other hand, is far more bioavailable – about 80% ends up in the blood.
Pterostilbene can therefore be said to be a far better nootropic than resveratrol. Ideally, a stack would utilize a high-proanthocyanin Maritime Pine Bark Extract. But failing that, a nice big dose of pterostilbene is great.
Stack with: DHA and B12 – a great brain health combination.
Of course, no list of the most effective nootropics would be complete without caffeine.
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant. Just a hundred milligrams is enough to reduce the perception of fatigue, increase motivation, and increase energy levels. Caffeine also has nootropic properties – it improves the quality of focus and concentration at doses of 75mg and up.
We prefer to use caffeine-free nootropics. Most people consume a lot of caffeine throughout their day anyway, and coffee is delicious. Adding in even more through supplements is unnecessary and just raises the chances of side effects.
Stack with: Anything – caffeine works well with practically all nootropics.
These substances all have different effects. While they all have different mechanisms of action, they all contribute to better cognitive function. Some enhance memory formation. Others promote faster memory recall. Many sharpen focus and promote concentration. Others increase mental energy. A few of them increase neuron growth and dendrite branching, while a small number promote the formation of new brain cells.
Importantly, many of these substances have a synergistic effect when used in combination with one another. By stacking two or more of the nootropics listed above, you can get effects far more powerful than you can using the substances individually.
The best nootropic supplements will combine several of the substances above; ideally they will use those ingredients which work best with one another.
Before we move on to looking at the best nootropic stacks, let’s look at the best nootropics to use for particular purposes; memory, motivation, and studying.
The ultimate nootropic stack for total cognitive enhancement?
So what is the best possible nootropic stack you can use?
That is, after all, why many of you have come to this page. You want to know what the best nootropic stack is for all-round cognitive enhancement.
We’ve been experimenting with brain supplements and bio-hacking methods for decades. In that time, we’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t. We’ve also learned that there is a right way to approach cognitive enhancement, and a wrong way.
In our opinion, you should always try to take a holistic approach to enhancing mental performance.
It is hard to know exactly what nootropics will benefit you the most. So the best thing to do – especially if you’re a beginner – is to use a stack that covers as many bases as possible, as fully as possible, while using the lowest number of ingredients possible.
Best nootropics for total cognitive enhancement and raw brainpower
For the vast majority of people, Mind Lab Pro is the best nootropic to start with.
Mind Lab Pro delivers total brain optimization with next to no side effect risks. It covers focus, learning, memory, mood, stress resistance, and physical brain development with just a dozen ingredients.
Our Editor, Brian Johnson, still uses this stack on a daily basis.
Now, some people will want to augment their stack to suit their own specific goals.
For people who want to augment their nootropic stack, we think the best way to go is to use Performance Lab Mind as a base and then add in substances as needed.
One stack we have found to be extremely effective is Performance Lab Mind coupled with their Energy stack.
Performance Lab Mind + Energy is a simple yet powerful focus, learning and energy supplement. It drastically improves concentration, information processing, and memory formation. It increases mental energy and clears brain fog.
What we like the most about this combo is that it increases energy levels without relying on stimulants. Neither Performance Lab Energy nor Mind contain any caffeine. All of the energy comes from redox cofactors and vitamins.
You can then add in additional nootropic on top of Performance Lab Mind and Energy as you need them.
A great nootropic stack to build for stress, for example, would be Performance Lab Mind, Ashwagandha, Rhodiola rosea, and Magnesium.
A fantastic nootropic stack for long-term brain development would be Performance Lab Mind, Lion’s Mane or Reishi Mushroom, DHA, and Bacopa monnieri. Or, just use Mind Lab Pro and take a DHA supplement daily.
The best nootropic for attention and focus would be either Mind Lab Pro or Performance Lab Mind taken with a high-quality caffeine supplement like Performance Lab Stim.
The reason we have highlighted these two supplements is that they cover all of the different aspects of cognitive performance mentioned at the start of this page.
Both Mind Lab Pro and Performance Lab Mind help with:
- Reaction times
- Mental energy
- Stress resistance
- Mental energy
- Memory formation & recall
- Brain cell health
- Brain development
- Flow state attainment
- ADHD symptoms
Having a single nootropic supplement which ticks all these boxes can make a huge difference to your day-to-day cognitive performance.
If you want to learn more about the best nootropics to use for specific purposes, check out some of our in-depth articles, supplement reviews, or our cognitive enhancement guides. The best nootropics for you are not necessarily the best nootropics for everyone, so it is worth reading some of our individual brain supplement reviews.
Can you take nootropics every day?
Yes you can absolutely take high-quality nootropics every day. Consuming sensible doses of proven natural nootropics on a daily basis can significantly improve your mental performance in numerous different ways. Many of the best nootropics are most effective when taken consistently over several weeks and months. This is because takes a long time to make deep, lasting changes to the physical structures of your brain.
Are nootropics safe?
“Are nootropics safe” is probably the most common question we get asked by our readers. Generally speaking, natural nootropics are extremely safe. Of course, not all nootropics are as safe as each other; some come with drastically lower side effects risks than others. All of the nootropics listed above have been repeatedly tested in clinical trials and have been deemed safe for regular use by the vast majority of people (excluding those with relevant underlying medical conditions and allergies). Always consult with a doctor before using any nootropic substance, no matter how safe it appears. Synthetic nootropics such as Modafinil and Adderall are not safe at all and should not be used by anyone without strict medical supervision.
What is the most effective nootropic?
There is no straight answer to the question “what is the most effective nootropic?” The answer depends heavily on your own particular circumstances and goals. However, generally speaking, the natural nootropic best at producing all-round brain optimization is probably citicoline, followed by phosphatidylserine. These nootropics cover focus, information processing, memory, and brain cell health.
What is the best smart drug on sale right now?
Nootropics broadly fall into two categories: natural nootropics (such as citicoline, bacopa monnieri, etc) and synthetic “smart drugs” (such as Modafinil, Noopept and Adderall). We generally advise against the use of synthetic nootropics – the so-called “smart drugs” – unless you have been prescribed them by a medical professional for the treatment of some condition such as ADHD or narcolepsy. While effective, smart drugs such as Modafinil and Adderall come with serious side effect issues as well as long-term health risks. The best “smart drug” is the one that most enhances cognition without causing side effects!
What drugs help you focus?
As stated above, we believe you should stay away from drugs designed to increase focus unless you have been prescribed them by a medical doctor. There are lots of natural nootropics capable of increasing focus. The best nootropics for focus are probably citicoline, followed by caffeine and tyrosine. Taken together, this stack can raise focus by a significant degree in about an hour.
Are nootropics legal?
The legality of nootropics depends on two things: the nootropic substance in question and the jurisdiction you’re talking about. Almost all natural nootropics are legal to purchase and use right across the globe. However, synthetic nootropics – the so-called “smart drugs” or “brain pills” – like Modafinil or Adderall are controlled substances in many countries around the world. As it is simply amphetamine salts, Adderall is illegal without a prescription in several countries, including the UK, Japan, Canada, South Korea, and Thailand (to name just a few). In the US, Adderall is a Schedule 2 drug if possessed without a prescription, meaning it can land you up to 7 years in prison!