The Benefits of Natural Nootropics Over Synthetic Nootropics

You‘ve been doing your research and browsing the aisles (and the internet) for weeks on end now. You are on the lookout for the right supplement that will help boost your brainpower to effectively retain new information, increase your ability to focus, and strengthen your memory. Essentially, you are looking for something that will help give you that extra edge in your entrepreneurial ventures.

You‘ve likely figured out you are looking for nootropics – pills and supplements that boost your brain‘s natural potential [1].

When it comes to nootropics, you can divide them into two overarching categories: natural nootropics and synthetic nootropics. Do you know which one you are looking for?

In this article, we will describe what makes a nootropic synthetic or natural. Then, we will describe the differences in modes of action, effects, and potential risks of taking each.

In case you are interested in the bottom line, by the end of the article, you should be able to see how evidence shows that taking natural nootropics may be safer and more effective compared to some synthetic nootropics.

What Are the Different Types of Nootropics?

There are several ways to categorize nootropics; some categorize them by mode of action, others by their chemical structure of the active component, or, as we do here, by source.

In this sense, nootropics can generally be divided into two categories: natural and synthetic.

Synthetic Nootropics

synthetic nootropics

Synthetic nootropics are those that are made in the lab with a certain goal in mind. They are not found in nature, although, in some instances, they intend to mimic components naturally found in plants and herbs.

Synthetic nootropics include nootropic pills, capsules, liquids, and powders that are categorized by regulating authorities as “drugs” or medicines.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in Europe define drugs, medicines, or medicinal products as substances intended to treat, prevent, mitigate, or diagnose disease, or to correct physiological functions by acting on different targets in the body [2][3].

In order to become available for purchase or prescription, medicinal products need to undergo extensive trials and demonstrate effectiveness and safety.

In some cases, synthetic nootropics are categorized as supplements rather than medicines, which contain brain health-related components that complement the diet. Supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, or alleviate diseases, but they may be able to help reduce the risk of certain diseases.

Note that, depending on the regulations of different countries, the same nootropic substance could be considered medicine in one country and as a supplement in another.

Synthetic nootropics include:

  • Synthetic dopaminergics
  • Racetams
  • Ampakines
  • Cerebrolysin
  • Armodafinil
  • Synthetic stimulants
  • Serotonergics
  • Pyritinol
  • Some vitamin and minerals
Natural Nootropics

natural nootropics

Natural nootropics are herbs, botanicals, or even food products that come from nature and can help to restore deficient brain activity.

Natural nootropics include whole plants or parts of plants and other edible substances, like oils. They can be found as whole herbs and botanicals and as foods or food parts.

Natural nootropics are almost always considered supplements. This means that they undergo less scrutiny by regulating agencies, but that they are not allowed to claim that they prevent, treat, or diagnose brain conditions.

There are two main categories of natural nootropics: foods and herbs (botanicals).

  • Foods: Certain foods are the “forgotten nootropics.” Some foods contain powerful nootropic components, and generally, don’t undergo extraction or other processing.
  • Herbs and botanicals: Botanicals are plants or parts of plants, and they were often used as medicine in traditional health systems [4]. Herbs usually refer to the green parts of plants and are often identified by their aromatic properties.

Foods, herbs, and botanicals can be found in their whole, natural form, or as pills, capsules, liquids or powders. If the second is the case, herbs, botanicals, and nootropic foods generally undergo drying, evaporation, or extraction to make it easier to ingest the active ingredient.

Some examples of natural nootropics include:

  • Coffee and tea with caffeine
  • Omega-3
  • Coconut Oil
  • Ashwagandha
  • Bacopa Monnieri
  • Maca
  • Panax ginseng
  • Lion’s mane
  • Ginkgo Biloba
  • Ginger
Benefits of Natural Nootropics

Components in Natural Nootropics Often Work Synergistically

Whole foods, herbs, and botanicals that are known to have nootropic compounds contain several other vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that are beneficial for your health and nutrition.

As the author Michael Pollan wrote in his book, Food Rules, there are hundreds or even thousands of components in foods that scientists haven’t yet identified. These mystery components could be important for our overall wellbeing.

For example, we know that, in general, whole foods promote better absorption of nutrients over supplement forms of the same nutrients [5]. Extracted or synthetic nootropics may remove important nutrients from the food environment that helps the active nootropic components be absorbed more efficiently.

Herbs and Botanicals May Also Be Adaptogens

herbs botanicals adaptogensHerbs and botanicals that are categorized as nootropics are often also categorized as adaptogens. Adaptogens are components in some plants that help the body to easily deal with stress on different parts of the body [6]. In addition to helping the body cope with and restore itself after neurodegenerative cognitive impairment, herbs and botanicals can also help the body fight against the following conditions:

  • Chronic inflammation
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Cancer
  • Age-related diseases
  • Stress-induced fatigue

Allow for Longer-Term Use

Because of their active components, natural nootropics are usually natively found in highly tolerable doses, can often be taken for longer periods than synthetic nootropics. Side effects are associated with the long-term use of synthetic nootropics, like armodafinil, citicoline, piracetam, ampakines, and cerebrolysin [7].

While herbs and botanicals can be very powerful, if taken at recommended doses, it is less probable that they will cause dangerous detrimental side effects.

Easily Obtainable

Natural nootropics are much more easily obtainable than synthetic nootropics – it could be as simple as going to the produce section of the supermarket rather than waiting for your prescription to be filled.

Even for natural nootropic supplements, they are often readily available in the supplement section of most pharmacies and health food stores.


Natural and synthetic nootropic categories have several research-backed options that have been shown to have positive effects on the brain. However, when it comes down to choosing between natural and synthetic nootropic options, things can get confusing.

In this article, we highlight some of the benefits of natural nootropics over synthetic nootropics, like having synergistic components, being easier to obtain, allowing for longer-term use, and containing other beneficial properties.


You can find external sources referenced in the article below:

[1] Giurgea, C. (1982). The nootropic concept and its prospective implications. Drug Development Research. Vol. 2 Is. 5.

[2] Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.) Human Drugs.

[3] European Medicines Agency. Medicinal Product.

[4] Li, B. et al. (2018). YaTCM: Yet another Traditional Chinese Medicine Database for Drug Discovery. Coputational And Structural Biotechnology Journal. Vol 16. Pp 600-610. DOI: 10.1016/j.csbj.2018.11.002

[5] Liu, R. (2003). Health benefits of fruit and vegetables are from additive and synergistic combinations of phytochemicals. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vol. 78 Is. Pp 5017s-520s. DOI: 10.1093/ajcn/78.3.517S.

[6] Pannossian, A. et. Al. (2013). Understanding adaptogens: new evidence on their possible effectiveness in stress-induced and aging-associated disorders from a DNA microarray study of neuroglia. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. ISSN 0077-8923.

[7] Talih, F., Ajaltouni, J. (2015). Probable Nootropicinduced Psychiatric Adverse Effects: A Series of Four Cases. Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience. Vol 12 Is. 11-12. Pp 21-25. PMID: 27222762