Are Nootropics Safe?

by Scott Reid

Absolutely!  Our work is done here.  Of course, being an intelligent individual interested in nootropics that answer simply won’t do.  You need to know the reasoning and evidence supporting the safety of these cognitive enhancers.  

Nootropics are becoming more popular by the day as people from all walks of life such as students, entrepreneurs, computer programmers, artists, and athletes continually see and feel the benefits gained by supplementing with specific nootropic compounds.  

But we must be sure these substances are safe because your brain is, without a doubt, your most prized and precious asset.  Your brain is completely responsible for your experience of the world.  Better take good care of it.  

Nootropics and the Brain

A Romanian physiologist and chemist named Corneliu Giurgea coined the term nootropic and defined the term as a substance that enhances learning and memory, protects the brain, and is very safe with few side effects.  The safety of nootropics is baked right into the definition.  To be considered a nootropic, the substance has to enhance brain function.  Simply being benign is not sufficient to be considered a nootropic.  Nootropics also cannot be mood-altering or psychoactive.  That is, they cannot make you sedated nor high but they can still have the potential to improve cognitive abilities such as creativity, focus, and memory.

Compared to so-called “Smart Drugs” like Adderall and Ritalin, nootropics are beyond benign.  Because they stimulate and increase dopamine and serotonin in the brain, these pharmaceuticals can be highly addictive and carry severe side effects including loss of appetite, hair loss, irritability, insomnia, nausea, and vomiting.  It’s true that a very small percentage of people who have used a class of nootropics called Racetams have reported headaches but they seem to be extremely mild relative to the incredibly harsh side effects associated with smart drugs.  Multiple research studies have established nootropics as safe with a low risk of side effects.  

Nootropics are Therapeutic

They are designed to be neuroprotective and actually better the brain and its functions and there are actually studies underway that show increasing promise using nootropics to treat and/or prevent the development of cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.  Unlike the smart drugs mentioned before, there have been no signs that show nootropics to be addictive or that humans develop a tolerance to them.  As a result, there is essentially no chance of physical dependency nor withdrawal symptoms.  

The Side Effects

But like I mentioned earlier, although rare, it is possible to experience headaches when using nootropics and you should understand why this sometimes occurs.  Racetams work by increasing the sensitivity of Acetylcholine receptor sites.  This increased sensitivity usually leads to an overall improvement in attention and mood but sometimes the receptors can become too sensitive.  When this happens it can cause a type of receptor exhaustion that manifests itself in headaches.  This is often the result of people ignoring the recommended dose and increasing it by three to four times what has been advised.  Contrary to popular belief, more is not always better.  As has been said “the dosage makes the poison”.  You must be vigilant and careful not to take excessive doses.  Follow the recommendations regarding doses and your brain will thank you.  But just in case, some people report that using a choline supplement quickly relieves any headaches caused by Racetams.  The headache subsides because the increased choline supply sates the brain’s temporarily increased need.  

Some nootropics, because they enhance focus and attention, can lead to insomnia.  This annoying side effect happens due to excessive doses or poor timing.  If you utilize a nootropic that stimulates sensory receptors right before bed you’ve almost guaranteed yourself to experience insomnia.  Some argue a quick fix to this little timing hiccup is to simply use another nootropic that is known to induce a calm and relaxed mental state such as Melatonin or L-Theanine.  While this may well be true, I would recommend not taking this route.  Yes, nootropics are usually benign but the thought of taking a pill to counteract the side effects of another pill is a little too close to the standard refrain coming from the pharmaceutical industry.  If they want to keep playing that silly game that’s their deal.  But those of us who are looking for effective solutions shouldn’t get involved in such silliness.  The best solution is just to take a smaller dose at the proper time in order to avoid the side effect of insomnia.  

Again, nootropics have been shown to be remarkably safe with a very low incidence of side effects.  The very definition of nootropics revolves around their benefits and safety.  But we can still make errors regarding dosage and timing that can result in unwanted side effects like headache and insomnia.  You’ll want to ensure you choose a quality supplement provider as some can be less than fully scrupulous.  Also, it’s always a good idea to research the nootropics you decide to you use and to discuss it with your medical professional.  Take care of yourself by following the recommended dosages and you’ll very likely avoid any side effects while enjoying the impressive cognitive enhancements of nootropics.  


Scott Reid
Scott Reid


Scott Reid is a 2 x Britain’s Strongest Man U105kg winner (2007 & 2008) and IFSA World's Strongest Man U105kg Competitor. He is an expert in strength and conditioning and also coaches functional nutrition. Scott’s passion for understanding the human body and how to optimise every aspect of it has driven him to study under legends such as Paul Chek. Scott now coaches MMA Athletes, Strongmen and Bodybuilders to name but a few, helping them to implement a well structured diet and become more powerful, explosive versions of themselves.