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The Truth About Nootropics in Clinical Trials


Nootropics are receiving plenty of attention these days. Their superpowers are exciting to anyone who has an interest in the brain and cognition. Of course, for those who have conditions that affect memory, smart drugs are life changing and some are proving to be more effective than others.

Bacopa Monnieri

Many of the nootropics discussed in the media have only passed mouse trials, but bacopa Monnieri has proven itself effective in gold standard human trials. The participants were all over 55 years of age without any illnesses. Bacopa Monnieri caused significant improvements in memory and the ability to learn. It was also effective at improving verbal memory. If the cause of your cognitive problems is limited only to your age, bacopa may be the nootropic that changes your life.

Rhodiola Rosea

This botanical is generally used to treat cognition problems in patients who have fatigue or stress. A small human trial found that it brought improvement after three days, with further effects lasting into the fourth week. As a stimulant, Rhodiola Rosea has performed well in clinical trials, but its effects as a nootropic still need further study. If your memory problems are caused by stress and exhaustion, this could be the magic bullet you need.

Supplements that Boost Acetylcholine

Acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter that helps you to form memories, so it makes sense that boosting these levels will improve this ability. Modafinil is an FDA-approved stimulant that might emerge as an effective nootropic in time. Small studies have shown that it could be used to treat cognitive problems related to information processing. It has a powerful impact on several chemicals important to the brain, including serotonin. It’s ideal for patients with working and episodic memory problems, especially among neuropsychiatric patients.


Quercetin is a potent bioflavonoid that’s nonetheless fairly useless when taken on its own— but ts interactions with other bioflavonoids are responsible for its powers. It’s typically included in Bacopa supplements for this reason. It still needs further studies, but thus far, it’s been researched more comprehensively than any other bioflavonoid.


This is the most popular nootropic compound on the market today. It enhances neuron health and reduces both physical and psychological stress. As a common amino acid, you’ll already be eating L-Theanine as a part of your daily diet, as long as you take in enough proteins. Some nootropic fans take L-Theanine together with caffeine, but this is only effective in the short term. Caffeine will eventually dampen your cognition, not enhance it.


Phosphatidylserine is one of the oldest nootropics on the market, and although it showed some moderate efficacy in human trials, it’s one of the less effective ones available today. It was tested on a small sample of Alzheimer’s patients, whose EEG results were nudged slightly closer to normal. Long-term effects haven’t been tested.


Whether or not creatine is a nootropic depends on how strict your definition is. Given that it’s only shown itself to be effective in people who are already fatigued, it wouldn’t meet Nootropic Geek’s strictest criteria, but it does cause a spike in cognition in some instances. Creatine usually occurs naturally in the body, but its levels plummet in the sleep deprived. It improves memory and reaction times in people who’ve undergone a full day of sleep deprivation, so if you’re an insomniac, it might get you through those tough work days a little more easily. It also reduced cortisol levels in human trials, and the resultant reductions in anxiety can improve focus and thus memory in some patients.

Gingko Biloba

Many nootropics have stimulants in them. They’re effective in the short term, but for those who need long-term therapies, they can decrease performance. Therefore it’s best to choose nootropics that don’t contain substances like ephedrine, caffeine, and Ginkgo Biloba. If you’re seeking a temporary improvement in your concentration and don’t have conditions that are worsened by stimulants, Gingko Biloba has proven itself effective for treating mild cognitive problems. If you have a seizure, cardiac, or mood disorder, any stimulant, even if it’s natural, can be dangerous, so consult a doctor before trying this class of botanical.

There is a wealth of mouse trials for botanical and nutritional nootropics, but the human body often responds differently to chemicals than animals do. Only randomized human trials with placebo controls offer any realistic evidence, and many nootropics are performing well in these kinds of studies.