The world of nootropics is a big and often confusing one. With hundreds of unique substances that promise to enhance alertness, cognition, memory and mood. But can you get them in your country? That’s what we’re here to explore in this post.
The definition of a “nootropic” varies within the nootropic community. And country regulatory agencies don’t even use the word “nootropic”. So first, let’s define exactly what we’re referring to when we say “nootropic”.
But we consider other cognitive enhancers “smart drugs” which include stimulants used to treat medical conditions like ADHD and narcolepsy. This includes Ritalin, Adderall, modafinil and their cousins. And nearly always require a prescription from a doctor. Some even consider micro-dosing LSD as a smart drug.
So for the sake of this discussion, we’re talking primarily about the nootropics listed in our List of Nootropics.
The legality of nootropics in many countries fall into a ‘grey’ area of the law. Recent legislation in the UK is a perfect example of this.
Nootropics sales are not nearly as restricted in the United States (yet). But fall into their own gray category of the Dietary Supplements laws.
Here we’ll cover nootropic legality by country. This will not be, nor can be, an exhaustive study of the law in each country regarding nootropics. But will give you a general, overall idea of how laws in your country may affect you.
Use the Table of Contents below to quickly click through to your country. This article will be updated as new information becomes available.
And please, if you find anything wrong or that needs to be corrected, leave a comment at the end of this post. And I’ll update the entry for your country.
I’d also appreciate input from those of you who live in countries not yet listed here. I’ll add them as you volunteer information about your country.
Let’s make this a ‘living’ document that can be used as a resource for fellow neurohackers.
The legal status of nootropics varies from country to country around the world. Here’s what we know so far…
The legal structure covering substances for human consumption including nootropics and drugs in Australia, are scheduled by class.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) which is the Aussie equivalent of the USA’s FDA has authority for this classing schedule. There are 9 classes going from Schedule 1 to Schedule 9.
- Schedule 2 (Pharmacy medicine): This class covers most nootropics including natural and synthetic substances. Nootropics like Alpha GPC fall under this category along with caffeine.
- Schedule 3 (Pharmacist only medicine): Most of the nootropics that are not included in Schedule 2 fall under this class with the exception of Piracetam and Modafinil.
- Schedule 4 (Prescription only medicine): Piracetam and Modafinil fall under this class and require a prescription from a doctor.
- Schedules 5 – 9 include “caution”, “poison”, “dangerous poison”, “controlled drug” and “prohibited substance”. This includes drugs like Cocaine, Ecstasy, MDMA and marijuana.
Any nootropic classed in Schedule 3 and below can be sold and purchased legally in Australia. Herbal supplements that are used as nootropics do not require a prescription. Synthetics derived from natural plants can be sold in Australia as long as they are not marketed as “medicine”.
Schedule 4 ‘medicines” like Piracetam and Modafinil require a prescription to buy within Australia. But under the “Personal Importation Scheme”, you can import up to a 3-month supply of Schedule 4 substances from suppliers outside of Australia.[i]
Contrary to what’s reported in much of the nootropics community, Piracetam is NOT classed as a “poison”. It is a Schedule 4: prescription only medicine.
CDP-Choline is not listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods and also must be imported.
Some of the newer nootropics like Aniracetam, Coluracetam, and Noopept have not been classed. But you can purchase them from Australian suppliers. The supplier can make no claims calling it a “medicine”.
The Agência Nacional de Vigilância Sanitária (ANVISA) (National Health Surveillance Agency) is responsible for governing Brazil’s food supply & drug registration.
Brazil regulatory policy requires most ‘drugs’ be sold “behind-the-counter”. And requires doctors and pharmacists to adhere to the ANVISA “stripe” system. This system assigns a color of stripe which represents the risk level of a particular drug.
In Brazil, “Red Stripe Medicines” or “Red Stripe Psychoactive Medicines” are available only by prescription. Nootropics that fall under this category include Aniracetam, CDP-Choline, Coluracetam, Ginkgo Biloba, Nefiracetam, Oxiracetam, Phenylpiracetam, Piracetam, Pramiracetam, Rhodiola Rosea, Sulbutiamine and Vinpocetine.
Any of these “Red Stripe Psychoactive Medicines” may be difficult to import into Brazil for personal use. Reports show that nootropics imported by individuals may be held in Customs. And you’ll never get your shipment.
Health Canada has regulatory authority for drugs in Canada. And assign a Drug Identification Number (DIN) for each drug or medication.
Some substances that we classify as ‘nootropics’ including the racetams do not have assigned DIN’s. But racetams like Piracetam are considered a “drug”, and cannot be offered for sale by nootropic suppliers within Canada.
You can legally possess racetams in Canada for personal consumption. But you can’t import more than a 3-month supply from a supplier outside the country. Preferably the USA. There are reports that nootropics shipped from countries like China can be held by customs.
Other nootropics including herbs, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants are governed by the Natural and Non-prescription Health Products Directorate (NNHPD). And are readily available OTC in Canada.
China is arguably the world’s largest nootropic drug dispensary. Most of the world’s Piracetam comes from China. And contrary to popular opinion, Chinese standards for quality control over nootropics and other drugs are very high.
This homegrown supply of nootropics and superior quality makes it very easy for Chinese citizens to purchase nootropics without a prescription. Including ‘smart drugs’ like Modafinil and Provigil (except in Hong Kong).
And the motivation to use nootropics in China is high. In fact, research published by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that two-thirds of the Chinese public thought that parents put too much pressure on kids to excel academically.[ii] Kids use nootropics to improve performance particularly during academic exams.[iii]
The legality of nootropics in the European Union is much more complicated because what qualifies as a “drug” in the EU varies from government to government in 28 countries.
In future edits of this article I may include more individual countries within the EU depending on feedback I get from readers in the “comments” section of this post.
So if you live in an EU country not listed here, and can provide details about what nootropics are legal and which require a prescription, please let us know in the comments section of this article.
For now, here’s a generalization of which nootropics are sold by prescription across the European Union.
The legal status of Piracetam and other racetams varies across the 28 EU member states. For example, Belgium, Czech Republic and Ukraine do not require a prescription to purchase Piracetam as far as I know.
Many of the other racetams are not on the list of prescription medications in some EU countries. And because they are unregulated, you may have trouble importing them into your EU country.
The European Union countries that do require a prescription for Piracetam are:
- Finland – sold by the brand name Lääkelait
- Poland – sold under the names Nootropil & Memotropil.
- Spain – sold under the local name Nootropyl
Vinpocetine can be viewed as both a drug and natural herb. And in the European Union, Vinpocetine is generally regarded as a ‘drug’ and regulated as one. Most countries in the EU sell Vinpocetine as Cavinton®, and require a prescription for its use.
CDP-Choline (Citicoline) was introduced to many European Countries as a prescription drug. And it retains its prescription status across Europe.
Alpha GPC has similar acetylcholine (ACh) boosting effects to CDP-Choline. But oddly enough, has slightly lower legal restrictions across the EU. Alpha GPC is found in some popular commercial nootropic stacks with substantial sales in European Union countries. Even though some EU countries treat it as a prescription drug.
Prescription drugs in France are listed as Ordonnances, while non-prescription drugs are mostly kept “behind-the-counter”. But to reduce pressure on the national health care budget, more non-prescription drugs are becoming available “over-the-counter”.
The result of this relaxing of non-prescription drug policy is more nootropics are available for sale in France. Piracetam however, is on Ordonnance-Liste II which classifies this nootropic as a “poisonous substance” that requires a prescription from a health care provider.
Other racetams can be imported into France for personal use as long as it’s a 3-month supply or less.
Vinpocetine is also on the Ordonnance Liste and requires a doctor’s prescription for purchase in France.
The German government is reportedly strict when it comes to importing “unapproved” nootropics. Which is not surprising since Germany is one of the pioneers when it comes to researching herbal and homeopathy products.
Food and drug regulation policies are administered by the Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte (Federal Institute for Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices, or BfArM).
This federal authority within the German Federal Ministry of Health tends to approve ‘drugs’ based on their medicinal value rather than ‘recreational’. Many countries view nootropics overall as “recreational” substances.
You guys are serious about your herbs. The Complimentary and Alternatives Medicines (CAM) department within this authority states:
“the German Medicines Act explicitly postulates that the characteristics of the “particular therapeutic systems” are to be respected. For this reason, the legislator has established specific commissions (Commission C for anthroposophic medicinal products, Commission D for homeopathic medicinal products and Commission E for herbal medicinal products) to support the work of the BfArM by providing medical expertise in the respective therapeutic fields.”
In Germany, Piracetam is verschreibungspflichtig (only available by prescription) and illegal to import.
Racetams other than Piracetam are not regulated by the BfArM. But since they are closely related to Piracetam which is prescription only, you may have problems importing them into Germany. Even for personal use.
Ginkgo Biloba is heavily researched by German scientists, and is one of the most popular over-the-counter supplements in Germany. (And around the world). But in Germany, Ginkgo with its massive clinical support, makes it a prescription herb used for the treatment of cardiovascular issues.
Vinpocetine requires a prescription to be purchased in Germany. And is used to treat Alzheimer’s Disease.
Phenibut is flat out illegal to purchase or possess in Germany.
Japan is home to several popular nootropic supplements including Sulbutiamine and CDP-Choline (Citicoline). But Japan is surprisingly inflexible when it comes to importing “unapproved” nootropic ‘drugs’.
To make matters even more distressing for neurohackers in Japan, the Japanese Pharmaceutical and Medical Devices Agency (PDMA) are notorious for making access to over-the-counter supplements and drugs difficult.
The PDMA requires a prescription to purchase Piracetam in Japan.
Despite developing Sulbutiamine, which is a derivative of Vitamin B1 (thiamine), and which is legal in many Western countries, Japan sells it as a prescription-only treatment for asthenia (muscle weakness).
Vinpocetine is also regarded as a prescription drug. Prescribed in Japan for Alzheimer’s Disease.
Japan has a very strict policy on importing nootropics by mail. And we even see news reports of travelers being detained, and sometimes charged when trying to import certain substances.
There seems to be a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall. Even less risky drugs like Modafinil can cause big problems for you if you try ordering it to be shipped by mail. Particularly if you’re ordering from India or China.
Russia is home to some of the most advanced nootropic research on the planet. Millions in research dollars have been invested in the “Molecular Genetics” division of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Phenylpiracetam and Noopept were developed in Russia. And the inventor of Piracetam, the grandfather of all nootropics, was Dr. Corneliu Giurgea. This Romanian psychologist and chemist conducted much of his research at the First Pavlov State Medical University in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Nootropics have been and continue to be developed in Russia for use by professionals. Including doctors to treat patients, cosmonauts for space travel, and athletes for a competitive edge.
So Russian authorities are fairly lenient when it comes to nootropic supplement access. But from a legal perspective, this leniency can be somewhat confusing because Russian and East European doctors often prescribe nootropics for their patients. The same nootropics that can be purchased OTC in Russia.
Prescription status for individual nootropics is often based on brand name rather than substance name. For example, prescription-only Piracetam is sold as Nootropil®. But you can order Piracetam online and from other vendors within Russia under the names Memotropil® and Nootropil®.
The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 began as legislation to ban “Legal Highs” in the United Kingdom. The law, which came into effect May 26, 2016, leaves nootropics in a gray area of the law. Major nootropics suppliers in the UK have stopped selling certain racetams as a result just to be safe.
The reason is based on the wording of the law. It goes like this:
“A substance must be capable of having a psychoactive effect to be covered by the new legislation. A psychoactive effect is something which affects a person’s mental functioning or emotional state by stimulating or depressing their nervous system.
This would include effects that we associate with controlled drugs, including the following:
- changes in alertness*
- perception of time and space*
- mood or empathy with others*
The last four in that list could apply to nearly any nootropic. The act bans the import, export, supply and production of most psychoactive substances in the UK. Offenders of this law could get the maximum prison sentence of 7 years.
But simple possession of “psychoactive substances”, including nootropics, will remain legal. This leaves neurohackers in the UK in an awkward position. You can “possess” nootropics. But you can’t buy nootropics that are not already listed as a natural dietary supplement. From anywhere.
You can still get Piracetam in the UK as long as you have a prescription. Any other nootropic under the racetam class are not regulated as medications. But since they are closely related to Piracetam, you’ll have difficulties purchasing or importing them. This includes Aniracetam, Piracetam, Pramiracetam, and Oxiracetam.
Vinpocetine does not appear to require a prescription to purchase in the UK. But many European countries do restrict Vinpocetine (Cavinton®) as prescription-only. Which means you’ll encounter difficulties even finding a place that can sell it to you if you are in the UK.
Sulbutiamine is freely available OTC in the UK. Phenibut is unregulated and unlicensed. But it’s an offense to sell or supply unlicensed ‘medicines’ via an unlicensed retailer. So you may find Phenibut difficult to buy. The same goes for Noopept.
Herbal supplements, vitamins, amino acids, and antioxidants that have nootropic effects can be sold OTC in the UK. And are not affected by this new law.
For the most part, all nootropics are legally available for purchase in the USA. And there are no legal restrictions on owning or consuming nootropics in the USA.
For manufacturers and suppliers however, the law falls into a grey area. While nootropics are legal, they cannot be sold as “dietary supplements”. Nootropics that are not natural herbs, vitamins, amino acids or antioxidants must be sold as “research compounds”.
This means that as an American neurohacker, you are on your own when it comes to determining useful information like suggested dosages or Daily Value % because this type of labeling would suggest that they’re for “human consumption”.
This is why sites like Nootropics Expert as so critical for you and the nootropics community.
Contrary to persistent rumors floating around the Internet, Piracetam is NOT banned in the USA. The FDA has ordered certain suppliers and marketers to stop selling Piracetam as a “dietary supplement”. It’s a synthetic compound that does not fall under The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (“DSHEA”).
DSHEA defines dietary supplements as food and not drugs. And the racetams including Piracetam cannot be classified as a “food”. Other nootropics that have been derived from plants like Sulbutiamine, Vinpocetine and Huperzine-A fall under this category as well.
To answer the question, “Are nootropics legal in my country” all depends on the country. Even in unions or free trade zones like the European Union.
And to make it even more complicated for us, many ADHD medications are illegal in countries like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), even with a prescription.
If you’re travelling, it’s extremely important to check before going through customs of other countries if you intend on carrying nootropics with you. Check with the destination country you plan on travelling to, and find out what their food and drug policy is.
And finally, not every country was represented here for a number of reasons: no government restrictions in that country, no market for nootropics (yet), or legal regulations or policies that are not clear.
Like I mentioned near the beginning of this post, let’s make this a ‘living document’. If you spot incorrect information, or have detailed information on the policies regarding nootropics in your country, please leave a comment below. I’ll update this post as new information comes in.
To learn more about individual nootropics you’re interested in adding to your stack, go to our List of Nootropics. And scroll down to the Table of Contents. Click on a nootropic and it will take you to a summary. With the option of clicking through to a detailed report on that nootropic.