July 6, 2015
The word “nootropic” or “smart drug” (yeah, there's a slight difference between the two, as I discuss in this podcast) is quickly becoming a household name, especially due to all the recent media hype and interviews that have disclosed how popular smart drugs are among Silicon Valley CEOs and college students.
Although you can easily purchase synthesized smart drug and nootropic supplements from a variety of online retailers, I also think it's a bit intriguing to consider the possibility of creating your own perfect blend of smart drugs customized to you.
But unless you're a redneck living in a trailer park and you're comfortable blowing up your home (or you're willing to go to the extent that I do in my How To Make Your Own Smart Drugs video) it may not be quite safe to try to synthesize piracetam blends or any of the other commonplace smart drugs in your kitchen. However, when it comes to natural nootropic herbs, it's a different story, and you can certainly take steps to blend up some of the naturally occurring nootropics that offer similar benefits.
In addition, with what you're about to learn, you can also stack a variety of different smart drug and nootropic supplements together to achieve some pretty cool results. Happy blendin'.
Synthetic vs. Natural Nootropics
There are numerous synthetic smart drugs that are utilized nowadays by people from all walks of life, from CEO's to soccer moms. For example, Piracetam was one of the first lab created compounds specifically designed to enhance cognitive performance, and although it is a synthesized chemical (with chemical name 2-oxo-1-pyrrolidine acetamide) it is generally regarded as being safe. The vast majority of people can take this supplement without needing to worry about suffering from any major side effects. However, there are also many notable natural and herbal nootropics (listed below), and some of them offer benefits that are similar to the synthetic, lab created options, which is good news if you want to completely steer clear of chemicals.
Or you can have the best of both worlds. The reality is that you can mix and match a blend of herbal, natural or synthetic nootropics to help yourself with a long list of goals, ranging from memory improvement to a reduction in anxiety. And if you don't have the time or you're not comfortable making your own smart drug stack out of synthesized or natural supplements in bulk powder form, you can still easily find enough alternatives in this article to reap the rewards associated with nootropics and smart drugs.
Finally, like I mentioned earlier, if you're still confused about the difference between a smart drug and a nootropic, listen to this.
Notable Natural and Herbal Nootropics
Before you can begin putting together the perfect stack to fit your needs, you should be aware of which natural options are available. It is also important to learn about the scientific research that verifies their cognitive enhancing properties. So I've compiled a list of some of the most popular choices that you see popping up as ingredients or featured components of most popular smart drugs stacks these days:
Many people classify Huperzine-A as a natural nootropic because it is derived from the Chinese club moss plant. There is some laboratory manipulation that takes places during the creation of this nootropic, but it appears to be extremely beneficial because the final result is a highly purified substance. Medical studies have concluded that Huperzine-A has minimal to no side effects and no toxicity, which makes it generally regarded as safe for human consumption. Research has also determined that this supplement can provide significant memory improvements in Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia patients. There are also generous amounts in the adaptogenic herb complex TianChi.
2. Bacopa Monnieri
Bacopa Monnieri is an extract from the Brahmi plant. According to WebMD, Bacopa is used for a wide variety of purposes, including as a supplemental Alzheimer’s treatment and way to reduce anxiety. Evidence suggests that this natural nootropic is effective at improving memory and hand-eye coordination. There have also been some studies that link Bacopa with a reduction in anxiety, insomnia and concentration issues. In one study, 300 mg was given daily to participants for 12 weeks and there were reported improvements in thinking ability and memory.
3. Lion’s Mane
This edible mushroom can be found in gourmet food stores, and it is also available in a supplement version. Just like many other mushrooms, Lion’s Mane is believed to offer benefits that go beyond nutrition. In fact, there have been several studies conducted in an attempt to discover Lion’s Mane’s full potential, and the results are very promising. For example, 750 mg daily gave test subjects a significant boost in their cognitive functionality. A small clinical study showcased the possibility that this nootropic can offer reduced anxiety and depression. I also discuss the potent Lion's Mane dual extracted mushroom tea in my podcast with foursigmafoods.
4. Ginkgo Biloba
Leaves from the Ginkgo Biloba tree have been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The Mayo Clinic did an analysis of each of the medical purposes that this nootropic is used for, and they determined that there is a good amount of scientific evidence to suggest that Ginkgo Biloba is useful for improving cognitive performance and reducing anxiety.
5. Artichoke Extract
This supplement is made from the leaves of artichokes. There is a lot of evidence that strongly suggests artichoke extract supplements offer neural antioxidant properties. Additionally, several nootropic user reviews have mentioned enhanced memory in relation to taking this product. Tim Ferriss talked about this one a bit in my most recent podcast with him, particularly referencing it's presence in “CILTEP“.
You are probably most familiar with this essential amino acid because it is in turkey and people (erroneously) believe that it makes them sleepy. However, tryptophan is also available in pill format, and it is most commonly taken as a non-prescription aid for depression. Tryptophan works by increasing the amount of serotonin in your brain. When used for this purpose, it is typically taken three to four times per day for a total of eight to 12 grams. Additionally, there has been at least one study that links this natural nootropic to a reduction in memory deficits.
Theanine is found naturally in green tea, and it is an amino acid. When taken as a supplement, L-Theanine is believed to offer a reduction in anxiety symptoms. Studies also suggest that drinking green tea or taking L-Theanine in a pill format can help reduce neurodegeneration. Many nootropic enthusiasts stack caffeine and L-Theanine because of reported benefits such as enhanced attention and cognition without the issues that often accompany large quantities of caffeine. One example of a combo like this is the “pink powder packet” delta-E.
Due to their properties that help protect nerve cells, especially brain cells, cannabinoids, specifically the cannabidiols derived from CBD that I first introduced in my article “A 100% Legal Way To Get All The Benefits Of Weed Without Actually Smoking Weed”, plays a key role in slowing and preventing the damage to the human brain found in Alzheimer ’s disease, as well as other forms of dementia, depression and neurodegeneration.
Components of CBD can inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, a substance that plays a key role in inducing β amyloid plaques that form in the brain to cause Alzheimer's and dementia. And finally, if you do happen to smoke weed and you're concerned about the potential memory-damaging effects of THC, then it's important to know that CBD can counteract these effects, especially when taken in conjunction with marijuana.
This list is by no means complete, but it offers a good overview of the natural options that are generally considered “go-to” ingredients in most modern smart drug and nootropic compounds. When you consider all of the cognitive benefits that have been scientifically linked to each of the previously listed nootropics, it becomes easy to see how you can potentially build your own stack without necessarily spending money on pills and packaging (note that most synthetic nootropics are generally regarded as safe, so choosing to stick with natural options may simply be a personal preference or N=1 experiment, and is not something I'm influenced to recommend because of any serious safety concerns I've seen in research).
Two Natural Nootropic Stacks
The purpose of stacking compounds is to “stack” together a variety of ingredients to get the best possible synergistic combination of each supplement’s purported benefits.
For example, one of the most popular stacks of smart drugs is a blend of Piracetam, Aniracetam and Oxiracetam, all of which you can purchase in bulk powder form here. This is also known as the “PAO” stack, and the approximate ratios for suggested doses are a 2:1:1 ratio of 1500 mg Piracetam with 750mg Aniracetam and 750mg Oxiracetam. These synthesized compounds are well-known to help improve multiple cognitive functions, and by taking them together you can enhance the overall cognitive boost compared to taking just one. I discuss stacks like this in detail in the podcast episode “What Are The Best Brain Supplements And Smart Drugs To Shut Down Brain Inflammation And Make You Smarter?” with Steven Fowkes.
But if you want to steer clear of lab derived compounds, you can take the same approach with nootropics instead of smart drugs by simply stacking with natural and herbal supplements instead of chemicals. In fact, one of the most popular “beginner” stacks utilizes two natural nootropics: caffeine and L-Theanine. Let's take a closer look at this stack, along with another natural nootropic option that can offer a nice blend of cognitive benefits.
1. L-Theanine & Caffeine Stack
L-Theanine and caffeine have been shown during medical testing to boost concentration and energy while also reducing anxiety symptoms. Caffeine can be very potent in high quantities, but it also often leads to headaches and jitteriness. Many people find that adding L-Theanine to a caffeine mix reduces or completely removes these negative side effects.
For these purposes, a good ratio is four parts L-Theanine to one part caffeine. For example, one of the most common dosage amounts is 400 mg of L-Theanine stacked with 100 mg of caffeine. However, you may want to start off with a lower dose to test things out, such as 50 mg of caffeine and 200 mg of L-Theanine, and then work your way up from there. The company Natural Stacks makes a stack of caffeine and L-Theanine in a good ratio, and call it “Smart Caffeine”. That or the pink powder “deltaE” are two good, done-for-you options in this category, unless you opt to buy bulk from a company like Peak Nootropics and make your own.
2. Ginkgo Biloba, Bacopa Monnieri & Lion’s Mane Stack
If you are looking for a natural stack that is reported to boost focus, memory and learning, then you can turn to the combination of Lion’s Mane, Bacopa Monnieri and Ginkgo Biloba to help you achieve the desired results. The studies I listed earlier point out that these supplements offer a nice mixture of nootropic effects, including better cognitive performance and relief from some of the symptoms associated with anxiety and depression.
Reviews about this stack indicate that it can boost alertness for approximately six hours at a time. However, it is important to be aware of the fact that users have reported a delay of up to 12 weeks before this stack reaches its full potential. In other words, this is not a natural nootropic stack that is likely to provide you with “instant results”.
As with any other stack, you need to be cognizant of your stacking choices. After all, putting together the same dosage of each component that you would take individually is not typically a wise choice due to the way that each supplement blends together. For this stack, most folks use the following daily combination, and you can find most of this stuff in bulk on Amazon.
- Lion’s Mane – 500 mg, once per day
- Gingko Biloba – 240 mg, once per day
- Bacopa Monnieri – 100 mg, twice per day
After 12 weeks, if you are not experiencing positive results, you may need to adjust the dosages in your stack. Start with small increments such as increasing each dose of the Bacopa Monnieri to 150 mg. This is a game of patience, as these increases could take an additional 12 weeks to achieve optimal results.
Three Stacks That Come In Pre-Packaged Formats
It is not always necessary to purchase each component of your stack separately. Instead, you can turn to combination pills that take out all of the guesswork. One of the biggest perks associated with these natural smart drugs is the fact that you will not need to portion out the specific dosage of each supplement in your stack. It can also be more cost-effective to take advantage of this format.
When it comes to natural stacking, CILTEP is by far one of the most frequently utilized and discussed options. Originally created in 2012 by a nootropic and neurochemistry enthusiast, this blend’s popularity quickly soared after users, including Tim Ferriss, began reporting positive results. All of the ingredients in the CILTEP pill are natural, so people who wish to steer clear of synthesized products can easily do so. The main base ingredients for this particular supplement is artichoke extracts and forskolin.
Each CILTEP pill also contains vitamin B6, L-phenylalanine and acetyl-L-carnitine. The creators recommend two to three capsules at the beginning of each day. It has been suggested that skipping one to two days per week will offer better results. Although CILTEP itself has not undergone medical testing, the individual ingredients have all been proven to be beneficial for the human body and brain. Therefore, it is not surprising that CILTEP has found a big audience. In fact, one of the biggest proponents of this natural nootropic blend is Martin Jacobson, who reportedly utilized CILTEP while becoming the 2014 World Series of Poker Champion.
2. Alpha Brain
This combination product is touted as containing all earth-grown ingredients, which earns it a spot on the natural stack list. Just like CILTEP, Alpha Brain (created by the company Onnit) combines all of the components for you into a single pill for easier usage. According to a clinical trial that was conducted by the Boston Center for Memory, this product has demonstrated a notable increase in cognitive performance for healthy individuals.
Alpha Brain contains Alpha GPC, AC-11, Bacopa Monniera and Huperzine-A. Medical testing has shown that Alpha GPC has the potential to boost the memory and learning capacity of users. AC-11 is derived from a rainforest herb, and studies have found that it may be able to help people in a variety of ways such as slowing the growth of cell cancers due to its reported DNA repairing antioxidant properties.
Reviews of Alpha Brain suggest taking two to three capsules per day. It has also been pointed out that this supplement appears to work best if you keep taking it daily for at least two weeks. Most people indicated that the effects associated with Alpha Brain become more pronounced over time, so you need to let this nootropic blend build up in your system for a while before you judge its overall effectiveness.
The list of herbs and ingredients in TianChi are way to long to list here, but you can read them in full detail here. I also snapped this photo below of the box in my refrigerator:
I think “Huperzine” supplements have been flying off the shelves since Tim Ferriss mentioned them in his popular “Four Hour Body” book. Huperzine is an “acetylcholinesterase inhibitor”, which means you get more of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine rushing around in your brain. You call these type of compounds “cholinomimetics“.
Acetylcholine is a very important neurotransmitter that is found in many nootropics, and the foundation of several smart drugs is to simply halt breakdown of acetylcholine, or maximize production of acetylcholine (also known as aceytlcholine agonists).
Studies have shown that Huperzine supplementation has neuroprotective effects and enhances cognitive function in animals and humans, but what most people don’t know is that there are natural herbal sources of Huperzine. For example, in Chinese herbal medicine, an herb called “Club Moss” is used slow progression of Alzheimer’s. Guess what the active ingredient in Club Moss is? That’s right – Huperzine, and it's one of the primary active ingredients, along with over 30 other ingredients, in TianChi.
Every herb used in TianChi is far more pure and potent than typical old, ineffective and often dangerous or nasty-ingredient laced nootropic herbs on the market. Very few products contain 100% whole herb extracts. On average the herbal extracts are at least 10:1 yields, meaning it takes 10 pounds of raw herb to produce 1 pound of pure extract. Most manufacturers start with pure yield and cut them to concentrations of 4:1 or 5:1 by adding filler. This produces a cheaper, but less effective extract. Imagine buying a 5:1 extract that originally was 45:1.
In contrast, the herbal extracts used in TianChi yield 12:1 or greater, and there is even one herb in TianChi that is a 45:1 yield. In other words, you would have to take 9x as much herb from any other source to equal the potency in TianChi. And you would be getting mostly filler, harmful ingredients, and very few results. All of the herbs in TianChi are Non-GMO, Kosher Certified and non-irradiated. They are extracted in purified water and test free of heavy metals, and the creator, a Chinese herbolist based out of Oregon state, use only wild crafted herbs, which are herbs found in their natural state, free from pesticides and exposure to pollution.
I interview TianChi creator and Chinese herbologist Roger Drummer in this podcast episode. The stuff has trace amounts of fructose in it, so I recommend taking it on an empty stomach in the mid-morning. Strangely enough, I've found it's effects to be even more enhanced with consuming with a beet juice or beet powder, probably due to the vasodilation effect of the beets.
Tips For Making Your Own Stack
Natural and synthetic stacks that have been used frequently by other people are a good way to get started because you can rely on a lot of data to determine which option is best for you. However, you can also make your own perfect smart drug stack by studying the research associated with each natural supplement and experimenting with multiple blends. For example, during my podcast episode with Roy Krebs, the creator of CILTEP, he describes how took a close look at the various components he chose and made sure to select nootropics that were likely to blend well together.
You will also want to carefully consider what your exact needs are. After all, if you want to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression but do not necessarily care about enhancing your cognitive performance, you may wish to stick with a single nootropic that affects dopamine product, such as tryptophan or dopamine brain food. Or you could add Bacopa Monnieri to either of these if you also wanted to improve your memory. Then, for longer term cognitive performance that lasts the whole day, you could add Piracetam, and if you begin experiencing headaches, which is often due to choline depletion during the use of a racetam, you could add Alpha-GPC to this stack.
As you can see, the sky's the limit, and you can chose based on your specific needs exactly how you are going to stack a nootropic combo, a smart drug combo, or both.
Choosing the Best Options for Your Lifestyle
You can easily purchase bulk synthetic, natural and herbal nootropics online. The powder option will save you money in most cases, but it can be more difficult to work with because each dose will need to be weighed out.
The stacks that are blended into one pill could be built by acquiring each individual ingredient. This will give you more control over exactly how much of each component you take, but it will also be a much more labor-intensive and time-consuming process. In my opinion, the convenience and time-saving factor of taking a single pill or packet generally outweighs the potential benefits of perfecting a stack. However, if you are committed to making your own smart drugs, it probably makes the most sense to invest in each ingredient so that you can stack according to your own specific needs.
If you go this DIY route, you'll primarily need:
Be aware that even natural, herbal products can cause some side effects. Most of the issues that are experienced with natural nootropics are mild and not very common. Synthetic smart drug supplements usually have more noticeable side effects, but many of these side effects can be alleviated by putting the right stacks together. This is, for example, the primary reason that people add choline to a racetam stack.
Finally don't forget that some nootropics minimize the effect of the other pills that they are stacked with. A good example is that L-Theanine can remove the negative aspects of caffeine, but it may also give you a reduction in the overall anticipated energy boost as a result. This is yet another compelling reason to study the effects that each component has on the human body and experiment with multiple supplements to find your perfect smart drug stack.
Ultimately, the burning question I get most often is:
“What do YOU use Ben?”
To be honest, I fluctuate. I've used everything you just read about, from CILTEP to Alpha Brain to TianChi to mushroom extracts, and also made my own blends of L-theanine and caffeine and blends of piracetam, aniracetam and Alpha-GPC.
Currently, when I travel, which is quite often, I tend to take something that is easily portable, and it's usually capsules of CILTEP or Alpha-Brain. I do not rely regularly on these, but I do use prior to speaking on stage or heavy bouts of writing.
And when I'm at home, I tend to stick to a big cup of mold-free black coffee early in the morning, TianChi in the mid-morning on any very cognitively demanding or sleep deprived days, and mushroom blends like FourSigma Lion's Mane in the afternoon. In the evening, it's usually cannabidiol via NatureCBD for relaxation, and occasionally when I'm playing music, at a party, or writing THC/CBD combinations either vaporized or in edible form. To maintain my sensitivity and avoid building up any tolerances, I switch to decaf coffee 1 week out of every 3 weeks, and also completely cut out any smart drugs, nootropics or cannabis-based products 1 week out of every 3 weeks.
And finally, just prior to releasing this article, I experimented twice with the following stack: 3 capsules of Alpha-Brain and 2 capsules of NatureCBD. Both times I used this stack I was short on sleep (operation on about 5 hours of sleep) and both times I was as productive as a madman from about 5am to 1pm. I then fell asleep both times for about 1 hour, then woke up in a pile of my own drool, feeling incredibly refreshed and like a new man. So at this point, although I can' t say I'd recommend this stack unless you have the option of a nap, it is probably the most powerful blend I've experienced yet.
So that's it! I hope that was helpful. If you enjoyed this article, you may want to check out two chapters that formed important elements of the mental section my Beyond Training book:
And be sure to leave your questions, comments, feedback, preferred smart drug stacks, tips and other thoughts below!