What Are Nootropics? Definition And Types

November 16, 2019 4 min read

With the rise of nootropics' popularity, more people are trying to understand the very essence of those interesting brain compounds. In this post, we are going to answer the basics you should know about nootropics.

How Did It All Start?

In 1972, a Romanian chemist and psychologist, Corneliu E. Giurgea, made up the first original nootropic called Piracetam. [1

By doing that, he opened a new field in biohacking, which should grow to over $5 billion until 2025. [2

After Corneliu synthesized the first nootropic, he came up with detailed nootropic characteristics. The main differences between nootropics and drugs are: [1]

1. Nootropics should enhance memory and learning 

2. They should protect our brain 

3. They should be side effects free and have low toxicity

Nootropic definition

By definition, nootropics are cognitive enhancers that can improve cognitive performance (such as memory, speed of thinking, motivation, creativity) and health in individuals without leaving any severe side effects. [3]

What Are Nootropics Nowadays?

As it usually happens in all industries, people misunderstand the basic concepts or purposely change them to fit their agenda. And nootropics are no different. 

Instead of focusing on the development of effective nootropic supplements, many started confusing the terms nootropics and smart drugs. Even the "official explanation" on Wikipedia is wrong.Smart drugs such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Modafinil are prescription drugs (in most countries) used for treating different diseases, including ADHD and sleep apnea. 

Due to the powerful short-term effects on healthy individuals, many put them into the same category as nootropics. But they are entirely different from nootropics in all essential characteristics (including the fact that they can be severely dangerous for healthy individuals), so differentiating between the two groups is crucial. 

If you want to check the most popular and effective nootropics, you should see our list of nootropics that currently contains over 80 nootropic compounds.

Types Of Nootropics

There are many different types of nootropics. Not everyone agrees which exact compounds should be classified as nootropics, but here are all groups that we believe fall under nootropics.

Botanical And Adaptogen Herbs

Most high-quality nootropic supplements contain multiple botanical and adaptogen herbs (more accurately, they contain its extracts). 

Adaptogen herbs are substances that may improve our resistance to stress, enhance cognition, and provide other cognitive effects. [4

Some of the popular adaptogen herbs are Bacopa Monnieri, Rhodiola Rosea, and Ginseng. 

Choline Sources

Choline is a molecule in our body that turns into acetylcholine, which is a learning neurotransmitter. [5

Some of the most commonly used types of choline are Cognizin and Alpha GPC. 

Amino Acids

Many nootropic stacks contain a handful of amino acids. You can find 20 amino acids in our body, out of which 9 are essential, and 11 are partly or non-essential. [6

Some of the commonly used amino acids are L-Theanine, L-Tyrosine, and L-Carnitine. 


Antioxidants are different substances that can reverse or slow down cell damage, which is usually caused by free radicals. [7

They are often added to nootropic stacks to provide long-term health. Some of the popular antioxidants are vitamins (A, C, E), Lutein, Selenium, and turmeric.


Phospholipids are a significant component of cell membranes, where they play an essential role in cell energy production. [8

A popular phospholipid is called phosphatidylserine.

Other nutrients

Other nutrients include vitamins (B complex, D3) and many minerals (Magnesium) that ensure the normal functioning of our bodies. 

In addition, there are many other nootropics available (such as caffeine) that are important for optimal cognitive performance. 

How Do They Work?

If nootropics are side effects free and relatively safe, how exactly do they work then?Based on the questions we receive, many people wonder that. As you already know, there are many different types of nootropics available on the market. 

Each of them works differently on our bodies. Also, some of them provide mutual benefits. Mostly, nootropics target a few different brain pathways:

1.  Bloodflow - by increasing NO levels (nitric oxide) and supporting brain vessels, nootropics can improve the delivery of oxygen to the brain. [9

2.  Cell energy - different nootropic compounds can enhance mitochondrial activity. Mitochondria is responsible for energy production. [10

3. Enhancing neurotransmitters - neurotransmitters are chemicals that enable transmission among neurons. Certain nootropics use this exact mechanism to improve our cognition. [11

4. Protection of the brains - adaptogen herbs and antioxidants use different mechanisms to fight free radicals and increase our resistance to stress. 

5. Regeneration - Neurogenesis is a process by which neurons are produced by neural stem cells.  [12] Certain nootropics can improve regeneration. 

6. Brain waves - certain nootropics can increase or decrease certain brain frequencies to provide desired cognitive benefits.

What's Your Next Step?

If you want to feel the power of nootropics, finding a high-quality nootropic supplement that contains nootropic compounds of all types is necessary. 

The most effective and popular nootropic supplement you can currently find on the market is called Performer. 

It contains a perfect amount of different nootropic compounds to provide outstanding benefits without leaving any side effects. 

Maya Andoljsek

Head Of Nutrition At STAQ Performance

Maja Andoljsek, BSc in Sports Science and Nutrition, has been researching nutrition, supplements, and coaching people for years. As a certified coach and nutritionist, she has helped hundreds of people improve their cognitive performance, physical performance, and overall health.


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