Nootropics continue to gain traction as safe and viable ways to increase your cognitive performance. But they have even more potential than that. Many can help regulate your mood and stave off mental decline, and some can do all of the above. And all but a slight few of the available nootropics out there can be had without a prescription.
The only downside to the nootropic craze is that so many companies offer similar products and make nearly identical claims of efficacy. We decided to try the most compelling options on the market and report our findings to you.
- Best overall: Thesis
- Best budget pick: Focus Factor Extra Strength
- Best for brain health: Thesis Clarity
- Best for memory: Thesis Clarity
- Best fo focus: Thesis Motivation
- Best for stress and anxiety: TruBrain Mellow
- Best for depression: BrainMD Serotonin Mood Support
- Best non-stimulant: MindLab Pro
- Easiest to take: TruBrain Personalized Drinks
- Best for sensitive stomachs: BrainMD Brain & Body Power Max
Thesis is our top nootropic recommendation. Their formulas are scientifically backed and stimulant-free.
Thesis supplements help rebalance the brain, without negative habit forming side effects. Choose between 5 tailored brands and get 10% off your first order using code INNERBODY.
Effectiveness in a nootropic isn’t as simple as picking the brand with the highest dose. There’s a balance among ingredients to consider, as well as intention. Global nootropics — ones that claim to increase memory and focus, reverse brain aging, and regulate mood in one dose — tend to be less effective at addressing each target than specialized nootropics. In trying to do everything, each individual’s potential is watered down. That’s why Thesis got our vote for this category — their tailored approach allows you to treat the aspect of your cognitive health that’s most important to you with a particular set of effective ingredients.
TruBrain and Thesis both offer streamlined ingredient profiles, which decreases the risk of side effects. Neither brand makes a significant sacrifice in efficacy in the process. We prefer Thesis for effectiveness, and that balanced profile almost won them this category. But TruBrain’s liquid delivery option makes them a safer choice for anyone who has difficulty swallowing pills.
Several companies in this guide take pains to test their products, looking at purity and dosage in particular. But Thesis is among the few who rely on third-party testing rather than internal testing. One of the reasons the ingredient lists in Thesis nootropics are shorter than some of the competition is that Thesis only uses ingredients that are either Generally Recognized As Safe by the FDA or have undergone phase III clinical trials.
From a customer service standpoint, we want a company that’s responsive to at least one form of communication. Thesis did well enough via email, but their phone support was incredible. Our testers never had hold times over one minute, and the folks we talked to were universally friendly and well-informed. Add free shipping on all orders and a great starter kit to the picture, and you can see why they came out ahead for customer service.
Nootropic is a term that can apply to any substance with positive brain-altering effects. The definition exists irrespective of side effects or addictive properties — cocaine, by this definition, is a nootropic. The first nootropic to use the term was a drug developed throughout the 1950s and 60s called Piracetam. It was intended to treat anxiety and provide patients with a soothing experience that might even lull them off to sleep. The effect was quite different than what its creators intended, as users reported sharper focus, and later testing pointed toward improved memory.
Other prescription medications we use widely today are technically nootropics. These include Adderall and Ritalin. But in the zeitgeist, nootropics are non-prescription supplements without any known addictive properties. They utilize natural ingredients — botanicals, vitamins, amino acids, etc. — that boast some clinical evidence of their efficacy.
Modern nootropics seek to protect the brain, improve memory and cognition, and regulate mood with the help of natural ingredients that don’t require a prescription. These ingredients can:
- Affect circulation to the brain
- Positively impact signaling pathways
- Combat oxidative stress
- Regenerate and strengthen neural connections
- Improve mitochondrial function
- Increase the expression of acetylcholine
- Inhibit dopamine reuptake
To better understand the potential mechanisms of action in any nootropic, it helps to know how the most popular nootropic ingredients work. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it will go a long way toward preparing you to understand our selections and make the best decision for your brain.
One of the most fascinating and hopeful aspects of the brain that scientists have focused on in recent decades is neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to rewire itself to improve its functioning. Acetylcholine in the brain is vital to neuroplasticity, and choline — sometimes present in nootropics as citicoline — is a precursor to acetylcholine.
A Qatari study featuring 1,000 participants found a direct correlation between serum magnesium levels and cognitive function. This suggests that magnesium supplementation — even if only to prevent deficiency — can lead to better cognitive performance.
DMAE is the primary ingredient in Focus Factor, our top budget pick. Research into its benefits and potential adverse reactions is somewhat limited, but one paper suggests that it acts effectively as an analog to an acetylcholine precursor. It also may have the ability to combat free radicals and protect the brain against aging.
While much of the research into this botanical focuses on its ability to reduce fatigue, at least 36 studies show that it can also improve memory and learning.
Maritime pine bark extract (pycnogenol)
Several studies regarding maritime pine bark extract suggest it can improve cognitive function with chronic administration. In vitro and animal studies reveal multimodal action, so its exact mechanism of action in human brains requires further study.
This study tested participants using several cognitive measures, and each one showed significant cognitive performance benefits compared to placebo. It was a relatively small study, so more research is needed, but it looks very promising.
This ingredient has been the subject of several Alzheimer’s studies that showed improved cognition. Interestingly, the most remarkable improvements occurred among participant populations with the least severe symptoms. This suggests that it may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s or at least help slow its progression.
Companies will include carnitine in their nootropics for its neuroprotective properties. Several studies in rats show carnitine’s potential to encourage the brain’s natural protective mechanisms, preventing or slowing age-related cognitive decline.
This ingredient’s full name is L-Alpha glycerylphosphorylcholine. Those last two syllables point toward its purpose — Alpha-GPC serves as an effective precursor to acetylcholine, contributing to overall brain health and neuroplasticity.
While one study showed evidence to contradict claims that lion’s mane offered protection against oxidative stress, that same study illustrated how lion’s mane could increase the rate of neural growth and expansion in the brain.
Multiple studies come to inconclusive results regarding B vitamins and their potential to prevent cognitive decline or improve mental performance. Still, B vitamins help our bodies execute various tasks and often contribute to higher energy levels.
Ginkgo biloba has been a popular brain health supplement for decades despite numerous studies presenting conflicting results. In the best-case scenario, it can prevent cognitive decline. In the worst, it can contribute to the risk of stroke. The reality is likely somewhere in between, but no definitive study exists to date.
The xanthine group contains several familiar compounds, including caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine. These ingredients enhance focus and increase energy levels by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain. Stimulant-free nootropics will not contain these compounds.
Theanine is a compound that comes from tea leaves. It serves to counter the effects of compounds in the xanthine group — most often caffeine — thanks to its ability to regulate blood pressure and soothe anxiety. In the right balance or in the absence of xanthines, theanine can improve cognition by limiting the symptoms of stress.
Not all nootropic pills are created equal, so it’s hard to say they’re all safe. Our top recommendations utilize tested ingredients in safe doses for most people. But side effects and contraindications are a significant possibility for many potential users. And some of these nootropics contain a couple of cups worth of caffeine, so you’ll want to curtail your coffee or tea consumption until you know how this new energy source affects you.
We encourage you to talk to your doctor before starting a new regimen with any supplement.
- Five formulas to choose from
- Useful starter pack
- All formulas available stimulant-free
- Wellness coaching included
- Free shipping
- Use code INNERBODY for 10% off your first order
- Money-back guarantee is only 30 days
- Pricier than most competitors
- You have to start with the starter pack
Thesis is one of our favorite nootropic companies. They rely on strong science to back their empathetic messaging, emphasizing that having cognitive deficits isn’t something to be ashamed of, but that there are ways to improve your brain in a healthy way. Like psychiatry, they focus on rebalancing your brain chemistry rather than giving you superpowers.
Nootropics aren’t stimulants and aren’t habit-forming, but Thesis gives you enough mental gusto to form more healthy habits like going to the gym regularly. They offer five blends tailored to specific needs:
If you aren’t sure where to start, you can take a short quiz on their website to determine which one would be best for you. Most quiz results offer more than one formula in the form of a starter kit. This kit allows you to try each blend for a week to see how they affect you, eventually choosing one (or more) to become your daily nootropic. You can also continue to receive the starter kit on a subscription basis and use different nootropics for different situations.
Quite possibly the best part of Thesis’ offering is that you can easily toggle stimulant ingredients on or off with any formula. Other companies either don’t offer a stimulant-free option or have a different formula that may not be as effective. Thesis simply lets you order any of their formulas without stimulant ingredients included.
Thesis also provides wellness coaching to all subscribers, so you can get the most out of your nootropics and find new ways to improve your life and your brain.
The company provides a 30-day money-back guarantee, and shipping is free.
Whether you stick with the starter kit or customize your order, the prices for a 28-day supply remain the same:
- One-time purchase: $119
- Monthly subscription: $79
- Several delivery methods into the body
- Various bundles available
- Great for people who can’t swallow pills
- Shots are extremely convenient
- Specific supplement for brain aging
- Free shipping
- No money-back guarantee
- Drinks contain high-FODMAP ingredients
Designed by UCLA-trained neuroscientists, TruBrain offers a novel delivery method for their most popular nootropics. Each product is available in liquid form, stored in a small pouch. You can crack one open and drink it in short order, and it doesn’t matter if you have any trouble swallowing pills.
One of the common ingredients in many TruBrain products is Noopept. Noopept is a branded name for N-Phenylacetyl-L-prolylglycine ethyl ester, a compound that limits cognitive impairment in patients with trauma-induced cognitive difficulties. This makes it a unique acetylcholine enhancer with great potential for future psychiatric research.
There are six available drinks:
- Flow - ideal for managing anxiety
- Non-Caff - caffeine-free, designed to enhance focus
- Boost - the most popular, increases acetylcholine activity in the brain
- Extra - contains adrafinil, a potent stimulant
- Sleep - uses hemp oil and melatonin to relax you
- Mushrooms - a botanical blend intended to promote cognitive health
Other TruBrain nootropics
In addition to their signature shots, TruBrain offers a handful of other products, some of which are nootropics. (Others include ketogenic powder, coffee, and protein bars, all designed with brain health in mind.) TruBrain has a prepay and save system on select products that allows you to save up to 30% when you buy in bulk.
Here’s how prepay and save breaks down:
- 3-month supply: 10% off
- 6-month supply: 20% off
- 12-month supply: 30% off
This nootropic is available in original and extra-strength formulations. The only significant difference between the two is the addition of adrafinil in the Extra formula; other ingredients and quantities are virtually identical.
Here’s how the pricing breaks down for TruBrain Capsules:
|One-time purchase||Subscription (first bottle)||Subscription (second bottle and beyond)|
Clockwise is TruBrain’s brain aging supplement designed to counter the effects of time on cognition and memory. It contains nicotinamide, a B vitamin that can increase NAD production and mitochondrial functioning. That improved mitochondrial function should be able to address multiple systems, not just the brain.
Clockwise also contains green tea extract, vitamin C, and alpha-lipoic acid, among other ingredients in smaller quantities.
One bottle of Clockwise costs $65, or you can subscribe and get bottles for $59/month.
Unlike the shots, which are premixed, TruBrain’s powder sticks are designed for you to mix with water or a beverage of your choice. They contain Noopept, a generous dose of vitamin C, and several other nootropic ingredients. TruBrain uses xylitol, monk fruit, and stevia as sweeteners, so there’s no added sugar.
TruBrain Powder Sticks can make a good substitute for a mid-day cup of coffee. Each one contains 100mg of caffeine.
TruBrain Powder Sticks cost $59 for a one-month supply, or $55/month if you subscribe.
These bars are one of the few solid, edible delivery methods for nootropics. They contain Noopept, citicoline, and theanine, along with several sources of healthy fats like chia and flaxseeds. Their macronutrient balance isn’t the best among protein or meal replacement bars, but these really belong to a different class than those.
TruBrain Bars currently come in just one flavor: triple cacao. They’re primarily sweetened with dates, but also contain stevia.
You can get a box of 12 or 24 from TruBrain, and here’s how they price out:
- Box of 12: $55/box or $49/box with a subscription
- Box of 24: $99/box or $89/box with a subscription
- Extensive ingredients list
- Gentle but effective kids’ formula
- Gummies and drinks available
- Great companion app
- No free shipping
- Unclear nootropic dosage
- Some ingredients lack long-term safety data
Focus Factor has a handful of nootropic products based on dimethylethanolamine (DMAE). The beauty industry uses it in skincare products, but its potential as a nootropic is perhaps even more compelling. Studies show that DMAE can act as a destroyer of free radicals, the molecules that contribute to aging and illness. In the brain, DMAE appears to protect neural pathways and may even improve cognition and memory.
Focus Factor doesn’t rely on DMAE alone. Their formula includes a litany of ingredients connected with higher brain function. Some of these include:
- Bacopa monnieri extract
- More than a dozen vitamins
Focus Factor provides a dose for their proprietary blend of nootropics, but they don’t reveal the quantities of individual ingredients in their blend. They do have specific measurements for each of their vitamins and minerals.
Here’s a look at their lineup and costs, which come down with larger orders:
|Price per bottle||Lowest possible price)||Nootropic blend dose|
|Extra Strength (120-count)||$39.99||$38.40||798mg|
|Brain & Vision (120-count)||$39.99||$38.39||634mg|
|Kids Chewables (150-count)||$19.99||$19||10.5mg|
|Kids Extra Strength (120-count)||$24.99||$24||21mg|
The Focus Factor Kids formula does not contain DMAE. In fact, their children’s nootropic blend is extremely mild compared to the adult-oriented formula. We think this is a good thing, as children’s brains are still developing and are more susceptible to potential side effects.
The children’s formula includes the following in their nootropic blend.
- Bilberry (fruit)
- N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine Inositol
- Coenzyme Q10
F29 Focus & Energy Shots
Focus Factor also delivers a nootropic blend in a few convenient energy shots and one 12oz energy drink. They don’t contain DMAE, but the shots have a nootropic blend that boasts several effective ingredients, including:
- N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine
- Alpha GPC
- Bacopa monnieri (Whole Herb) Extract
- Huperzine A
- Ginkgo biloba (Leaf) Extract
The energy shots get more expensive as they get stronger:
- Regular strength: $23.99
- Extra strength: $27.99
- Maximum strength: $31.99
You can save 10% on Focus Factor energy shots by subscribing.
The 12oz energy drink contains far fewer nootropic ingredients than the energy shots, but it still offers caffeine, taurine, ginseng, and several B vitamins.
A 12-pack of energy drinks costs $34.99.
Shipping from Focus Factor costs the following:
- USA Standard: 5-7 business days, $6.95 USD
- USA Priority Mail: 1-3 business days, $14.95 USD
One of the coolest things that focus Factor offers is their Brain Hub app. You can try it for free for seven days, and it provides you with guided meditations, mind and mood trackers, and a suite of brain games designed to keep you sharp and show how you’re progressing as you take their supplements.
After your week-long free trial, you can pay for the Brain Hub app in the following ways:
- Monthly plan - $17.49/month
- Yearly plan - $59.99/year (saves you $149.89)
- Lifetime plan - $299.99 billed only once
- Well-designed nootropic ingredient combination
- Free shipping on bulk orders
- Buy three bottles, get one free
- Part of a three-supplement plan
- Large serving size (six capsules)
- No subscription options
Hunter Focus is the nootropic component of Hunter’s supplement system. That system includes Hunter Burn, a thermogenic fat burner, and Hunter Test, a natural testosterone booster.
Hunter Focus is a relatively straightforward supplement. It contains many of the most popular nootropic ingredients in relatively high doses. Here’s a brief look at some of their most effective ingredients:
- Acetyl-L-Carnitine (800mg)
- L-Tyrosine (500mg)
- Lion’s mane (500mg)
- Bacopa (300mg)
- Ashwagandha (300mg)
- Citicoline (300mg)
- Maritime pine bark extract (75mg)
All told, Hunter Focus contains 20 active ingredients that can directly or indirectly improve cognition, memory, and mood.
Here’s how Hunter Focus’ pricing works out:
- One bottle: $80
- Two bottles: $160
- Three bottles (plus one free): $240
You get free shipping as long as you buy two or more bottles at a time. Shipping for one bottle costs $7.95.
- Gluten-free and non-GMO
- Large B vitamin doses
- Contains Alpha-GPC
- Free shipping
- 100-day money-back guarantee
- Non-stimulant option available
- Particularly expensive option
- Citicoline dose could be higher
Qualia Mind is the nootropic offering from a company called Neurohacker Collective. They make other supplements to support skin, sleep, energy levels, longevity, and vision. Mind is their standard nootropic blend with common ingredients, but they also offer a few less potent versions if you want to save a little money.
Here’s a look at Neurohacker Collective’s nootropic lineup:
|One bottle||First bottle of subscription||Subscription cost after that|
|Qualia Mind Caffeine Free||$139||$64||$119|
|Qualia Mind Essentials||$69||$34.50||$59|
|Qualia Nootropic Energy||$119||$59||$99|
Shipping is free on all orders, but you should note that the cost of your first bottle of Qualia Focus is technically a shipping charge. Neurohacker Collective will send you your first bottle of Focus for free, but you have to pay for the shipping that one time.
Neurohacker collective has one of the longest money-back guarantees in its category, offering users 100 days to see if the product works. That said, the refund will only apply to your initial order or the most recent order within a subscription. You could start a subscription and ask for a refund on day 99, but you’ll only get a refund for whatever was part of that last month’s order.
- High doses in the nootropic blend
- Free bottle with a purchase of three
- Supported by independent research
- Allergen-free vegan formula
- Contains no stimulants
- Made in the USA
- Limited vitamin complex
- No mineral content
- Free shipping on largest orders only
- No subscription options
MindLab Pro has a lot going for them, including third-party testing and research. Unfortunately, they aren’t forthcoming with that research, and it’s nearly impossible to find independently. They don’t use any novel ingredients, though, and their components all boast research of their own that shows safety and efficacy. These include citicoline, lion’s mane, and Rhodiola Rosea.
They also have one of the lowest allergen profiles of any nootropic, as their formula is:
- Synthetic additive-free
MindLab Pro’s pricing structure is simple:
- One Bottle: $69
- Two Bottles: $138
- Three Bottles (plus one free): $207
Shipping on three-bottle orders is free, but smaller orders incur a charge of $9.95 for standard (3- to 6-day) or $14.95 for expedited (2- to 3-day) shipping.
- Most supplements have a targeted focus
- Quiz is useful and not overly prescriptive
- 15% off with subscriptions
- Can shop by dietary restrictions
- Good learning resources
- Too many nuanced options for some users
- Comprehensive nootropics are very expensive
- Some supplements use up to 10 capsules per serving
With BrainMD, you can either opt for their comprehensive nootropics like Brain & Body Power or look to more targeted combinations like Calm My Brain. That supplement provides only magnesium and ashwagandha, whereas Brain & Body Power boasts more than 40 ingredients. The company’s more targeted supplements tend to deliver higher doses of specific ingredients, and their more comprehensive offerings have relatively low doses of each component.
It can be difficult to know which of the company’s vast array of products you should take, so they offer a short quiz about your lifestyle and cognitive performance. After the quiz, an algorithm will identify yours as one of 16 brain types. The site then lets you shop by your brain type to see only the supplements that would provide you with the biggest potential benefit.
BrainMD’s prices vary widely depending on their ingredient lists. Subscribing is a good way to save, but the company’s supplements are a bit expensive for what they offer.
Here’s a look at a few of their most popular supplements:
|One-time purchase||Subscription cost|
|Brain & Body Power||$99.95||$84.96|
|Serotonin Mood Support||$49.95||$42.46|
|Focus & Energy||$39.95||$33.96|
|Happy Saffron Plus||$49.95||$42.46|
|Brain & Memory Power Boost||$59.95||$50.96|
|Put Me To Sleep Naturally Chewables||$39.95||$33.96|
|Neuro-C Vitamin C||$44.97||$38.22|
These seven supplements are also available as part of a free trial program. You can try any one of them for free for up to 14 days. After that, BrainMD will automatically enroll you in a subscription program for that supplement.
Shipping with any subscription order is free, and non-subscription orders cost $7.95.
- Company has a focus on fitness
- Liquid nootropic shots available
- 90-day money-back guarantee
- Military discount available
- Limited dosage information
- Free shipping only on orders over $150
Onnit is a full-scale fitness brand offering everything from nutritional supplements to workout equipment. They have four Alpha BRAIN nootropic products that are caffeine-, dairy-, nut-, and gluten-free, as well as more than two dozen other supplements designed to optimize your health and wellness.
Their nootropics ingredient lists are broken up into targeted blends of popular brain-boosting ingredients. The company provides measurements for these blends but not for their individual ingredients.
Onnit’s paleo-friendly nootropic capsule, Alpha BRAIN has blends that include L-Tyrosine, L-Theanine, L-Alpha GPC, Bacopa Extract, and L-Leucine. It also offers over 500% of your daily vitamin B value.
Alpha BRAIN Instant
Alpha BRAIN Instant is a powder mixture available in seven flavors. It’s sweetened with monk fruit and stevia, and its nootropic blends are generally more potent than those in original AlPHA BRAIN. That makes this easier to consume and slightly more effective.
Alpha BRAIN Focus Shots
These convenient shots come in two flavors and contain a small amount of caffeine from green tea. Since they also contain theanine, there’s little-to-no chance of them giving you any jitters. Extra energy comes from a big hit of vitamin C, with citicoline, ashwagandha, and tyrosine acting as primary nootropics.
Alpha BRAIN pricing
Onnit Alpha BRAIN supplements come in various quantities, with larger orders offering impressive savings. Here’s a look at how their four nootropics price out:
|Price||Price with subscription||Bulk order discount?|
|Alpha BRAIN 30-count||$34.95||$29.87||
|Alpha BRAIN 90-count||$79.95||$67.96|
|Black Label 80-count||$124.95||$106.21|
|Focus Shots 6-count||$23.99||$20.39|
|Focus Shots 24-count||$76.77||$65.25|
Shipping from Onnit is free on orders over $150. Other orders incur the following shipping costs:
- Standard, 4-9 days: $7.64
- Priority, 3-8 days: $8.15
- Home Delivery, 3-5 days: $11.45
- Two-day: $22.00
Will nootropic pills make me smarter?
Nootropics are meant to enhance your focus and memory and even help regulate your mood. But they won’t make you smarter on their own. You won’t learn trigonometry if you take a nootropic and stare blankly at the wall. But nootropics can help you make yourself smarter if you apply yourself after taking them: many contain ingredients that increase drive and motivation to get at those tasks with greater ease.
How long do nootropics take to work?
Because nootropics contain such a wide variety of ingredients, the amount of time it’ll take to work is specific to each formulation. Certain common nootropics like caffeine start working within minutes. Others, like ashwagandha or acetylcholine precursors, can take hours to days to show results. Most companies selling nootropics recommend taking them anywhere from one week to three months before deciding if they work for you.
Do nootropics have caffeine in them?
Not all nootropics contain caffeine. If you want to avoid caffeine in your nootropics, make sure to look out for other ingredients like green tea extract that can contain caffeine without explicitly stating it. Your best bet may be finding a nootropic that advertises itself as stimulant-free.
Are nootropics safe for any gender?
Most companies design their nootropics at doses that should be safe and effective for any gender, body weight, or accompanying diet. A few out there push the limits of recommended doses, especially if you don’t weigh as much. Fortunately, many nootropics also call for anywhere between two and 10 pills per serving. If you’re concerned about intensity, you can ramp up your intake from a low level to the recommended serving over time.
What are the side effects of nootropics?
Nootropic side effects will vary based on their ingredients. Most common nootropic ingredients are incredibly safe, but side effects are still a risk. Effects of popular nootropic ingredients include headaches, anxiety, and digestive upset. There are other potential side effects, so the best course of action would be to talk to your doctor before and after you begin using a nootropic.
At Innerbody Research, we extensively test each health service we review, including those dedicated to brain health. All told, our team has spent over 165 hours testing and researching the products and services of these companies to provide an accurate, unbiased analysis of how the products and services compare, free of marketing jargon and gimmicks.
Over the past two decades, Innerbody Research has helped tens of millions of readers make more informed decisions to live healthier lifestyles. We evaluate the service based on adherence to quality, the latest medical evidence and health standards, and a simple question: would we buy the product or service ourselves if it weren’t part of our job, and would we recommend it to family and friends?
Additionally, like all health-related content on this website, this guide was thoroughly vetted by one or more members of our Medical Review Board for accuracy.