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5 Basic Nootropics: A Primer

by Will Long

August 9, 2021
what are nootropics

What are nootropics, exactly?

Within this article, we’re going to address some of the most common nootropics on the market today while avoiding certain nootropics, like Adderall, with clear risks that have been discussed elsewhere extensively. Nootropics, or so-called “smart drugs”, have been in use for some time since the introduction of nootropic compounds (piracetam in particular) in 1964 by the Romanian chemist Corneliu Giurgea. We are going to discuss five of the most popular cognition-enhancing nootropics: melatonin, L-theanine, nicotine, piracetam, and modafinil.


Melatonin is an exceedingly common nootropic, found in hundreds of thousands of homes across the country. There’s zero downside to melatonin’s use and that, in fact, there are only benefits to using it regularly in a correct fashion. The hormone helps ensure your sleep cycle is effective, and believe it or not, provides gain in multiple ways including financial over time (assuming time is money). One common misconception is that melatonin is addictive, which is simply a myth.

Melatonin is a natural hormone secreted by the pineal gland. The hormone helps to recover the loss in hormone secretion caused by the irregular patterns of human activity that shifts in colored light traditionally induced in the human body. The next time you’re looking to get to sleep, stay asleep, and wake up refreshed in the morning, reach for a bottle of melatonin (provided it’s the right amount).


Theanine usually comes in a whitish powder or in pill form. It’s found in some types of teas naturally, and all sorts of factors affect the amount found in each type of tea. Theanine possibly increases dopamine levels and traditionally works as a mild stimulant like caffeine. Some individuals take theanine with caffeine or put it in their tea or coffee to reduce the “jitters”. It’s formally recognized by the FDA as a safe supplement to take recreationally and has a half-life of about 60 minutes in humans. It helps to smooth out the effects of caffeine (also a nootropic) so you can achieve the mental “sharpness” without the negative effects.


Modafinil is a productivity and wakefulness drug that helps increase focus, improve cognitive function, and delays sleep. It’s illegal in the US without a prescription, but it remains a highly popular black-market nootropic that affects users like a cross between caffeine and Adderall without the effects of a strong amphetamine. Most of the drug’s use comes from those with narcolepsy who are prescribed the drug to keep them awake. Since this substance is illegal without a prescription, please seek out the advice of a medical professional before even considering taking modafinil.


Mostly found in cigarettes and nicotine gum when actively used, nicotine is a naturally occurring nootropic that acts as a cognitive enhancer to some degree despite the addictiveness. Rapid tolerance can develop, meaning you must dump higher amounts into your system to achieve any of the desired effects. Pure nicotine carries about the same risks as caffeine and modafinil, but cigarette smoking over a short to longer term can compound nicotine delivery to the extent that it becomes addictive in a way that’s actively harmful.


Piracetam is a cognitive enhancing drug that’s taken for mental sharpening every day. It’s technically prohibited by the FDA, but still legally sold as a dietary supplement regardless of its status. Piracetam clears up the mind according to most users, offering more productivity and clear-headedness. It can cause headaches, for which choline becomes imperative as a parallel supplement.

The nootropics community

Boasting many individuals that rationally quantify their use of nootropics and the effects, there are hundreds in the Nootropics community that regularly conduct informal (only because they aren’t sanctioned by academic organizations or government agencies) studies of sorts. Gwern Branwen is a freelance writer and researcher with an extensive resume that includes investigations and deep dives on Silk Road, the dark web’s black markets, and drugs/drug effects. While it’s not an official outlet of peer-reviewed data, he’s built up an extensive database on Nootropics, their effects, and academic resources that discuss the science surrounding the mystery and potential of them; it comes highly recommended as an example of well-researched data when considering the risks and positives of nootropic use.

Learn more

Before considering taking any of these substances, please consult your doctor for more information on whether or not they are right for you. While there are risks with many of these nootropic substances, Landmark Recovery is there to help you with any substance abuse problems you might have moving forward. Give us a call at 888-448-0302 to learn more about our treatment services today.


  1. https://landmarkrecovery.com/am-i-addicted-to-adderall/
  2. https://landmarkrecovery.com/addiction-to-adderall/
  3. https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/E4cKD9iTWHaE7f3AJ/melatonin-much-more-than-you-wanted-to-know
  4. https://www.gwern.net/Melatonin#roi
  5. https://www.gwern.net/docs/melatonin/2011-wade.pdf
  6. https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/E4cKD9iTWHaE7f3AJ/melatonin-much-more-than-you-wanted-to-know#2__What_is_the_right_dose_of_melatonin_
  7. https://www.gwern.net/docs/nootropics/2010-giesbrecht.pdf
  8. https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-16962/modafinil-oral/details
  9. https://www.gwern.net/Nicotine
  10. https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/EQrh3JiEhqbiKxX3f/is-it-sensible-for-an-ambitious-nonsmoker-to-use-e?commentId=HceboxdkARao5trHR
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20414766/
  12. https://erowid.org/smarts/piracetam/piracetam_law.shtml
  13. https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/nootropics-survey-2020-results
  14. https://www.gwern.net/Links
  15. https://www.gwern.net/Nootropics
  16. https://landmarkrecovery.com/

About the Author

Will Long

Will Long

A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, Will has been a writer for Landmark Recovery since 2021. Will specializes in research and writing about substance abuse from a scientific and social perspective.

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