Acetylcholine (ACh) is the acetic ester of choline, and is a neurotransmitter. ACh is found throughout your body. But in nootropics we typically refer to acetylcholine function in the Central Nervous System and specifically the brain.[i]

Some nootropics upon entering your brain separate into compounds that can make acetylcholine. Others may increase the uptake of acetylcholine in the brain.

Acetylcholine’s function in the brain is critical for encoding new memories, reasoning, concentration, cognition, and growth of new synapses (neuroplasticity). Lack of acetylcholine can result in diseases like ADD, ADHD and Alzheimer’s.


Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help the body adapt to stress, and exert a normalizing effect in your body. As a nootropic, adaptogens can help strengthen mental fortitude, and can help maintain active, energized thinking in response to the brain-dulling effects of prolonged stress.

Adaptogens are valued for their ability to boost endurance and physical performance. Examples of adaptogens popular in the nootropic community include Rhodiola and Ashwagandha.

Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP)

Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is the “energy currency of life”. ATP is a coenzyme that is synthesized in the energy factories called mitochondria within each of your brain cells.

Adequate levels of ATP are crucial for peak brain performance. As we age, blood flow to the brain decreases and ATP production declines. If your brain cells don’t have an adequate supply of ATP, they die.

Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs)

AGEs form in your body when proteins or fats combine with sugars (glycation). This can harm the normal function of cells, making them more susceptible to damage and premature aging.

Your body can naturally rid itself of harmful AGEs, but it doesn’t eliminate them effectively when too many are ingested through food. The accumulation of AGEs has been linked to aging, chronic illness, and cardiovascular, liver and Alzheimer’s disease.

Age-Related Cognitive Decline

Studies have shown the aging brain undergoes a loss of gray and white matter volumes in the brain.[ii] This has become one of the biggest health threats of this century. And it’s primarily because we’re living longer.

It manifests as brain fog, memory problems, verbal communication declines, cognition slows down, and eventually could develop into dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.

Many nootropics help prevent and often reverse the effects of Age-Related Cognitive Decline.


An agonist is a chemical substance in your body that is capable of activating a neuroreceptor to induce a full or partial response.


An alkaloid is typically of plant origin. It contains nitrogen which gives an alkaline (pH value greater than 7.0) reaction when mixed with a solution such as water. Many alkaloids cause pharmacological effects in humans.

Alkaloid substance names generally end in “-ine”. Examples are caffeine, morphine, quinine and nicotine.

Amino Acids

Amino acids are used in every cell of your body and are used to form proteins.

Amino acids give cells their structure, transport and store nutrients, and influence the function of arteries, glands, organs and tendons. They repair tissue and remove waste from cells.

Scientists have discovered about 50 amino acids. Only 20 are used to make proteins in your body. Of those 20, 9 are defined as essential. Meaning your body needs to get them from sources outside the body like food. The other 11 can be synthesized within your body.

Essential Amino Acids: Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine.

Nonessential Amino Acids: Alanine, Arginine, Asparagine, Aspartate, Cysteine, Glutamate, Glutamine, Glycine, Proline, Serine and Tyrosine.


Ampakines are nootropics that modulate AMPA receptors in your brain. These receptors work like control channels, overseeing and regulating synaptic transmissions.

Ampakines seem to adjust neuroreceptors in order to allow them to work as needed rather forcing them. The result of this action is a stimulant-like effect without any of the negative side effects associated with stimulants (i.e. nervousness, insomnia).

Many racetams could be considered Ampakines.

Amyloid Plaques & Neurofibrillary Tangles

Amyloid Plaques

Amyloid Plaques are accumulations of protein fragments that have clumped together in the space between brain neurons. This prevents normal brain function. And is strongly indicated in the formation of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Neurofibrillary Tangles

Neurofibrillary Tangles are found within brain cells. In microtubules necessary for interaction with brain cells. When these microtubules collapse, twisted fibers of these proteins are called Neurofibrillary Tangles. And are also strongly indicated in the formation of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

AMPA Receptors

The AMPA receptor is paired with an ion channel so that when glutamate binds to this receptor, the channel lets sodium ions enter that neuron. This sodium causes the dendrite of that neuron to become locally depolarized.

Once this depolarization reaches a critical threshold, it triggers an action so this nerve impulse is transmitted to the next neuron.


Anandamide (AEA) is a neurotransmitter produced in the central and peripheral nervous system. The so-called “bliss molecule”, anandamide is named after ananda, the Sanskrit word for joy, bliss or happiness.

Anandamide is an endocannabinoid and binds to cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. It is degraded by the fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) enzyme.

AEA is synthesized in areas of the brain associated with memory, motivation, higher thought processes and movement control. It plays a crucial role in appetite, infertility and pain. And helps stop cancer cell proliferation.

Anandamide provides anti-anxiety and antidepressant benefits through its effect on neurogenesis. And breaks down quickly which is why you’re not in a perpetual state of bliss.

Cannabidiol (CBD) found in cannabis sativa inhibits FAAH which helps increase anandamide in your brain and body.


An antagonist is a chemical substance in your body which counteracts or blocks the effects of another substance. For example, an antagonist at a neuroreceptor blocks or lowers the activity of that receptor.


Anxiolytics are anti-anxiety natural nootropic supplements, or prescription drugs used to prevent anxiety.


Apoptosis is ‘programmed cell death’ in your body and brain. If cells are no longer needed, they commit suicide. In a healthy adult human, billions of cells die in various parts of your body every hour for different reasons. But mainly to maintain homeostasis within that organ or body tissue. When apoptosis is disrupted, disease happens. Cancer is a classic example of cell proliferation gone awry.

Attention Deficit Disorder

ADD is officially called Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or AD/HD (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). This disease is divided into three subtypes; inattentiveness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.

Scientific evidence suggests that the disorder is genetically transmitted in many cases. And results from a chemical imbalance or deficiency in certain neurotransmitters.[iii]

ADD is characterized by a person’s inability to complete tasks and process information at normal rates. The abnormal function of the neurotransmitter dopamine is usually implicated in this disease.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

See Attention Deficit Disorder.


Each neuron in your brain can have thousands of dendrites, but only one axon. The neuron uses its axon to transmit an action potential (electrochemical signal) down the length of the axon. With the intent of finding neighboring neuron’s dendrites to communicate with.


Ayurveda is the traditional Hindu system of medicine practiced for thousands of years in India. It is based on the ideal balance of bodily systems and uses diet, herbal treatments and yoga.


Benzodiazepines are a class of psychoactive drugs used to treat anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, and other conditions.

Benzodiazepines work by enhancing the effect of the neurotransmitter GABA which is responsible for governing the activity of neurons related to stress and anxiety.

Well known benzodiazepines include Valium, Klonopin and Xanax.


Bioavailability is the proportion of the nootropic or other substance that once it enters your body’s circulation, is able to have an effect. And is not just eliminated as waste.

Blood-brain Barrier

The blood-brain barrier is made up of a layer of endothelial cells that when functioning properly, allows precise control over the substances that enter or leave the brain.

The blood-brain barrier’s main function is to protect the brain from things that may injure it. In the world of nootropics, we’re interested in substances and compounds that easily cross the blood-brain barrier. Or what needs to be added to help it cross.

Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)

Neurotrophic factors are a family of proteins that are responsible for the growth and survival of nerve cells. In the brain they’re called brain-derived neurotrophic factor and the brain nerve cells are called neurons.

In the brain, BDNF is released by either a nerve cell or a support cell, such as an astrocyte, and then binds to a receptor on a nearby nerve cell. This binding results in the production of a signal which can be transported to the nucleus of the receiving nerve cell. There, it prompts the increased production of proteins associated with nerve cell survival and function.[iv]

Brain Waves

The brain is an electrochemical organ. Researchers speculate that a fully functioning brain can generate as much as 10 watts of electrical power. So brain waves are an electrical impulse in the brain.[v]

Brain waves occur when neurons send signals between each other. There are several different types of brain waves. But the main ones are Beta, Alpha, Theta, and Delta.

Beta Waves

Beta waves are the most rapid pattern. And are associated with concentration, arousal, alertness and cognition.

Alpha Waves

You experience Alpha waves as you become more relaxed. The brain waves slow into an Alpha wave pattern. Associated with super-learning, flow states and joy.

Theta Waves

Still slower brain wave patterns are Theta waves. Often experienced by meditators. When you’re dreaming at night, you’re making Theta waves. Theta waves are associated with creativity, “integrative experiences” and relief from trauma. An “ah-ha moment” is a burst of Theta waves in your brain.

Delta Waves

The slowest of all brain wave patterns are Delta Waves. They are generally associated with dreamless sleep. Very advanced meditators are able to remain alert in this deep, trance-like state. Delta waves are associated with leadership, persuasion, achievement and Oneness.


Catecholamines are amines derived from the amino acid tyrosine. In nootropics we focus mostly on dopamine, epinephrine (adrenaline), and norepinephrine which act as hormones or neurotransmitters.

Central Nervous System

The central nervous system is the entire accumulation of nerves in the brain and spinal cord.

This nerve “highway” uses neurons to send and receive information throughout your body. And is protected by cerebrospinal fluid (CFS).


The word “cerebral” gets its meaning from cerebrum, which is Latin for brain.

Cerebral Circulation

Cerebral Circulation refers to the way blood flows, or circulates, in the brain. Cerebral circulation is your brain’s source for the healthy exchange of oxygen and nutrients needed to function properly.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a disorder that causes extreme ongoing fatigue. Not the kind of fatigue that goes away after you rest.

Symptoms last for 6 months or more. And is characterized by a general feeling of being unwell, muscle pain, memory problems, pain in multiple joints, headaches and sleep problems.

CFS is often treated medically with stimulants like Adderall.

Circadian Rhythm

Circadian rhythm is your 24-hour built-in body clock. It can be affected by external cues like light and temperature.

Circadian rhythms are critical in determining your sleeping and eating patterns. Patterns in brain wave activity, hormone production and other biological processes in your body are linked to this daily cycle.


Cognition is the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and the senses. Cognition includes thinking, knowing, memory, decision-making and problem solving.


Concentration is defined as the action or power of focusing your attention or mental effort. Without distractions or interference.

Certain nootropics can help to bolster your enthusiasm, skill and commitment towards your desired goal.


A coenzyme is an organic molecule (nonprotein) that binds with a protein to form an active enzyme. By themselves, coenzymes cannot catalyze a reaction, but can help enzymes to. Vitamins B1, B2 and B6 can serve as coenzymes.


In your brain, the cortex is the outer layer of gray matter covering the cerebral hemispheres. It is understood to be the area of higher mental functions such as cognition, intellect, and volition.

Cyclic Adenosine Monophosphate (cAMP)

Cyclic Adenosine Monophosphate (cAMP) is a derivative of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and is used for intracellular signaling. In the brain, cAMP affects the function of higher-order thinking in the prefrontal cortex.

It is thought to play an important role in the formation of memories. In theory, by boosting cAMP, you can increase memory function and optimize overall brain performance.


Tolerance is a problem with some nootropics. Consistent non-stop use can cause their effectiveness to diminish over time.

It is also possible for some nootropic users to develop a psychological dependence (addiction) to compounds from prolonged use. Even thought there is no physical addiction or withdrawal symptoms.

One way to circumvent or avoid tolerance or dependence is to “cycle” the use of certain nootropics. Find out what the tolerance characteristics (if any) are for each of the nootropics you are using. And develop a schedule to stop their use for a short period of time.

For example, you could use Huperzine-A for 5 days at the recommended dose and take a break for 2 days.


Demethylation is the removal of a methyl group from a molecule.


Dendrites are like branches projecting out of neurons that act like an antenna. Dendrites receive electrical signals sent by the synapses of neighboring neuron axons.

You can have as many as 15,000 dendrites projecting from a single neuron. When you experience incoming stimuli from your senses, neuron activity increases. And dendritic spines change size, shape and conduction leading to long-term potentiation (LTP).

This change in dendritic spines (neuroplasticity) and long-term potentiation plays a fundamental role in learning and memory.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)

DNA is located in each of your cell’s nucleus (cellular DNA). A small amount of DNA is also found in the mitochondria within each cell (called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA). And is stored as code made up of four chemical bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). Human DNA consists of about 3 billion bases, and more than 99 percent of those bases are the same in all people.

The order, or sequence, of these bases determines the information available for building and maintaining an organism. DNA bases pair up with each other, A with T and C with G, to form units called base pairs.

Each base is also attached to a sugar molecule and a phosphate molecule. Together, a base, sugar, and phosphate are called a nucleotide. Nucleotides are arranged in two long strands that form a spiral called a double helix. The structure of the double helix is kind of like a ladder, with the base pairs forming the ladder’s rungs and the sugar and phosphate molecules forming the vertical sidepieces of the ladder.

An important property of DNA is that it can replicate, or make copies of itself. Each strand of DNA in the double helix can serve as a pattern for duplicating the sequence of bases. This is critical when cells divide because each new cell needs to have an exact copy of the DNA present in the old cell.


Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that serves as a chemical signal or messenger between neurons (brain nerves). When it’s released from the first neuron, it travels into the space (synapse) between the two neurons. And bumps up against receptors on the second neuron.

Dopamine has five receptor types it interacts with. But is mostly associated with “feel good” or reward behavior like sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Dopamine also aids in memory formation, learning and retention, attention and focus, cognition, and sleep. Insufficient levels of dopamine are associated with anxiety, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Parkinson’s Disease.


Downregulation is a process in your brain where the amount of activity in a particular neuron receptor decreases. This typically happens in response to abnormally high activity in response to one particular drug or nootropic. In other words, too much of one nootropic all at once. Or for an extended period of time.


Before information can be stored as memories, it first needs to be encoded. Encoding is the conversion of information into a form the brain can use.

There are 3 types of encoding:

  1. Acoustic encoding is when you use sound to record information.
  2. Visual encoding is when a person uses mental images to remember something.
  3. Semantic encoding is when you remember the actual meaning or significance of information. Semantic encoding is the most important part of long term memory encoding.


Epinephrine is also called adrenaline. Epinephrine is typically released in response to acute stress (fight or flight response).

This hormone is secreted mainly by the adrenal glands. In the medulla region of the adrenals, the amino acid tyrosine is transformed into norepinephrine. Through a complex process involving an enzyme and cells in the adrenal medulla, norepinephrine is turned into epinephrine.

Epinephrine increases cardiac output and raises glucose levels in the blood. In the brain, surges of epinephrine can negatively affect memory. Epinephrine plays an important role in regulating arousal, reward and sensitivity to our environment.[vi]

Executive Function

Executive function is a set of mental skills including working memory, mental flexibility and self-control that help you get things done.

These skills are controlled in the frontal lobe of your brain. They help you pay attention, manage time, switch focus, plan and organize, remember details, and avoid saying the wrong thing.

When executive function isn’t working well, your behavior is less controlled. Executive function is often related to ADHD.

Fat Soluble

There are two varieties of supplements; water soluble and fat soluble.

Water soluble supplements like any of the B Vitamins and Vitamin C dissolve in water. And excess amounts are excreted through your kidneys if you have excess amounts in your system.

Fat soluble supplements including vitamins A, D, E, K and most of the racetams dissolve in fat. And are stored in fat in your body (your brain is 60% fat).

For fat soluble nootropics to be more effective they need to be taken with some type of fat. Examples are a tablespoon of coconut or extra virgin olive oil.

Unlike water soluble supplements which go directly into your bloodstream, fat-soluble nootropics are absorbed through your intestinal wall and into your lymph system. Once in your lymph system, the nootropics are sent to your bloodstream where they are available for use by your brain.


Focus is the act of directing your total attention towards a specific task. Successful focus is achieved with a singular presence of mind when completing a task.

Conversely, multi-tasking is not focus. Focus is simply the act of undergoing only one task.

Free Radicals

Free radicals, reactive oxygen species and reactive nitrogen species are generated by your body by various natural systems, exposure to different natural chemical conditions or pathological states. A balance between free radicals and antioxidants to counteract them is necessary for healthy cell function.

Free radicals cause problems for lipids, proteins and DNA and can trigger a number of human diseases. Antioxidants can assist in coping with this oxidative stress.

Glial Cells

Glial cells or glia are distinct from neurons (nerve cells). Types of glial cells include astrocytes, ependymal cells, microglia, Schwann cells, and oligodendrocytes. And make up the white matter in your brain which accounts for about 90% of your brain cells.

Astrocytes help provide nutrients to neurons. And oligodendrocytes help produce the myelin sheath coating protecting the axons protruding from neurons.


Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for sending signals between neurons in the brain. This plays an important role in learning and forming memories.

Gray Matter

Gray matter in the brain is packed with billions of neurons. Because there are so many of them it’s tempting to think of neurons as very tiny. In reality, some neurons have axons (nerve fibers) that are very long.

When many axons are grouped together, they appear as white matter. White matter is a collection of long, insulated axons which are the outgoing branches of neurons that connect various parts of the brain together.

The white color comes from myelin, which is the lipid, insulating material wrapped around those long axons.


The hippocampus is a small region of your brain associated with long-term memory and spatial navigation. In disease such as Alzheimer’s, the hippocampus is one of the first areas of the brain to become damaged. This leads to memory loss and disorientation.


Histamine is a type of biogenic amine neurotransmitter that is responsible for behavior like wakefulness and arousal. It also plays an important part in motivation and reward-oriented behavior.

Histamine is essential in the acquisition and storage of short and long-term memory. When histamine signaling goes wrong in the brain it can lead to addictive behavior and degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.[vii]

Ion Channel

An Ion Channel is a cell structure which lets ions enter or leave. Ion channels are sometimes associated with neuroreceptors which open or close a channel depending on the presence of a neurotransmitter.

Krebs Cycle

Krebs Cycle is also known as the “citric acid cycle”, or tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle. This cycle is at the center of cellular respiration in your brain. And throughout the cells in your body.

The Krebs cycle is a series of chemical reactions used to release stored energy through the oxidation of acetyl-CoA (which is derived from carbohydrates, fats and proteins). It releases this energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

This metabolic pathway is derived from citric acid (tricarboxylic acid) that is consumed and regenerated by this sequence of events to complete the cycle. This cycle consumes acetate (acetyl-CoA) and water, and reduces NAD+ to NADH. Which produces carbon dioxide as a waste byproduct.

The NADH generated by the Krebs cycle is fed into the oxidative phosphorylation (electron transport) pathway. The net result of these two closely linked pathways is the oxidation of nutrients needed as chemical energy to form ATP. The primary source of cellular energy created within each of your brain cell’s mitochondria.

You can maintain and boost the health of your cellular Krebs cycle by using the nootropics Alpha-Lipoic Acid, Choline Citrate, Ginseng, Magnesium, NADH and Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid).

Long-Term Memory

Long-Term Memory describes the type of memory associated with an event or information acquired by the mind long ago.

These memories are often pieced together by the brain with inaccurate or imagined information. This inaccurate memory storage can come from your perception of an event or thing, conditioning, or any other faulty input.

Healthy, psychologically sound individuals have access to an impressive information storage system to draw from. On the other hand, unhealthy and psychologically messed-up people can also access this storage system.

Both groups can boost access to this long-term memory with the use of certain Nootropics.

Long-Term Potentiation

Long-Term Potentiation is the term used to describe a strengthening of synapses needed to create long-term memory. “Neurons that fire together, wire together”.

Transcription factors such as cAMP responsive element binding protein (CREB), once a phosphate group is added, leads to gene expression. Which leads to changes in expression of proteins needed for producing and maintaining changes in synaptic strength. And long-term memory.

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Mild Cognitive Impairment is characterized by cognitive impairment outside of the expected decline caused by aging. Unchecked, MCI can eventually lead to dementia.

Those suffering mild cognitive impairment begin to notice difficulty with memory and cognition.

Amyloid Plaques & Neurofibrillary Tangles, poor blood flow, and strokes all contribute to MCI. There is no known single cause of mild cognitive impairment. MCI is likely caused by a combination of factors. And is often prevented or reversed through the use of nootropics.


Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor (MAOI) is a substance which inhibits naturally occurring enzymes in your brain. This inhibition helps increase levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

Be cautious about using nootropics that boost neurotransmitters like serotonin or dopamine combined with MAOI’s. Too much serotonin or dopamine can cause serious problems in the brain including “serotonin syndrome”.


Mitochondria are organelles within each of your cells responsible for metabolizing or breaking down carbohydrates and fatty acids used to generate cellular energy.

This cellular energy is in the form of a chemical molecule called Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is generated within the mitochondria.


Myelin sheaths are a combination of proteins and phospholipids that form an insulating-like sheath around axons in your brain. And are what give your brain’s white matter its white color.

Myelin helps insulate and protect axons much like electrical tape wrapped around a bunch of wires. Myelin also assists optimal action potential (electrical signaling) through the axon.

Insufficient or damaged myelin is linked to neurodegeneration and diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis. SAM-e, Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B9 (folate), and Vitamin B12 are critical for normal myelin formation.


A Naturopath is a health care practitioner who uses natural systems of healing including the use of supplements instead of prescription drugs.

NMDA Receptors

Similar to the AMPA receptor, the NMDA receptor is also paired with an ion channel. But this channel lets calcium ions rather than sodium ions into the neuron.

When this cell is at resting potential, the calcium channel is blocked by magnesium ions (Mg2+), so that even if glutamate binds to the receptor, calcium cannot enter that neuron.

For these magnesium ions to leave that channel, the neuron’s dendrites must be depolarized. This happens through the sustained action of the AMPA receptors.

Once the magnesium leaves the NMDA receptors, large numbers of calcium ions enter that cell. This sets off several biochemical reactions that make this synapse more efficient for an extended period of time.

This is called Long-Term Potentiation, and is associated with the neuroplasticity that allows long-term memories to form.

Nerve Growth Factor

Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) is a group of small biomolecules (neurotrophic factors) and small protein-like molecules (neuropeptides) involved in the regulation of growth, maintenance, neurogenesis and survival of neurons.


Neurons are nerve cells in your brain. They function as conduits of information from one neuron to another neuron. This signaling between neurons are actually chemically-produced electrical signals.

As the human brain ages, the production of new neurons begins to slow. Old neurons begin to die. And age-related disease begins to set in. Neurogenesis, or the birth of new neurons can be initiated with the use of certain nootropics.


Neurogenesis is defined as the birth and growth of new neurons. The science on neurogenesis is fairly new but this much we know – neurogenesis plays a major role in learning, memory formation and recall.


Neuroplasticity is the ability of your brain to change structure. This includes the internal structure of neurons, and an increase in the number synapses between neurons.

Some evidence indicates that short-term memory depends on electrical and chemical events in the neurons rather than changes in structure. Long-term memory may be dependent on changes in brain structure including neurogenesis, and increases in synapses between neurons.


A neurotransmitter receptor, or neuroreceptor are typically proteins on the surface of cells that recognize and bind to specific neurotransmitters.

Neuroreceptors allow cells to communicate with one another through chemical signaling. Once bound, the receptor can change shape, and cause a cascade of chemical events within the cell.

These events can alter which genes are turned on or off and can make the cell more or less likely to release its own neurotransmitters.

Each type of neurotransmitter can have multiple receptors each with a different role to play in the brain.


A Neurotransmitter is a broad term that refers to chemicals that act as communicators of information. Thus relaying signals in the brain to other parts of the brain. And throughout the body.

To be considered a neurotransmitter, a molecule must;

  • be produced inside a neuron, found in the neuron’s terminal button, and released into the synaptic gap upon the arrival of an action potential.
  • produce an effect on the postsynaptic neuron.
  • after it has transmitted its signal to this neuron, it must be deactivated rapidly.
  • have the same effect on the postsynaptic neuron when applied experimentally as it does when secreted by a presynaptic neuron.[viii]

Examples of neurotransmitters are acetylcholine, dopamine, GABA, glutamate, norepinephrine and serotonin.


A nootropic is a substance capable of enhancing brain or mental function. Nootropics can help you boost memory, learning and overall brain function.

The term “nootropic” is relatively new. Romanian psychologist and chemist Dr. Corneliu Giurgea synthesized Piracetam in 1963. And coined the term “nootropic” in 1972.[ix] It is derived from the Greek nous (“mind”) and trepein (to bend).

Dr. Giurgea described a nootropic as having the characteristics of enhancing learning and memory. It should protect the brain while increasing natural cognitive processes. And should not be toxic, nor stimulate or depress the brain.

Nootropic Stack

A nootropic stack refers to combining two or more nootropics to achieve a desired effect.


Noradrenaline is another name for norepinephrine.


Norepinephrine is a stress hormone. It affects parts of the brain where attention and responding actions are controlled.

Along with epinephrine, norepinephrine underlies the fight-or-flight response. It increases heart rate, triggering the release of glucose from energy stores. And increases blood flow to skeletal muscle.

Norepinephrine is synthesized from dopamine by dopamine β-hydroxylase. It is released from the adrenal medulla into the blood as a hormone.

It is also a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system and sympathetic nervous system where it is released from noradrenergic neurons. The actions of norepinephrine are carried out by binding to adrenergic receptors.[x]


OTC = Over-the-counter means substances like supplements which are available in online or brick & mortar stores without a prescription. Most nootropics are considered OTC.

Oxidative Stress

Oxidative Stress often results from an imbalance between the production of free radical reactive oxygen species, and the antioxidants required to counteract them. Because your brain is the most energy-intensive organ in your body, it also hosts high free radical activity.

If left unchecked, these free radicals can damage and even destroy neurons. This oxidative stress is linked to a host of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.

Several nootropics have been shown to combat oxidative stress including Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR), Alpha-Lipoic Acid, Coenzyme Q10, Ginkgo biloba, Gotu kola, L-Carnosine, N-Acetyl L-Cysteine (NAC), Piperine, PQQ, Pterostilbene, Resveratrol, Rhodiola Rosea, St. John’s wort, and Vinpocetine.


A peptide is a compound consisting of two or more amino acids linked in a chain. All humans have peptides in their body. You could consider peptides one of the building blocks of life.

When a peptide chain gets especially long, it turns into a protein. The amino acid chain of peptides is called a covalent bond. A covalent bond occurs when atoms share electrons.

This particular covalent bond is known as a peptide bond or amide bond. It forms when the carboxyl group of one amino acid attaches to another.

Some peptides regulate hormones, while others can have an antibiotic function.


pH is a measure of acidity or alkalinity of a substance.


Phospholipids are a combination of lipids (fats) and phosphorus. Phosphatidylcholine (PC) and phosphatidylserine (PS) are the two most important phospholipids in the cells of your body. Your body cannot function normally without them.

Phospholipids are also critical for optimal brain health. They assist brain cells in communicating. And influence how well neuroreceptors function.

Phospholipids are found in many foods. But are in higher concentrations in soy, eggs and the brain tissue of animals.

Taking supplemental phosphatidylcholine (PC) and phosphatidylserine (PS) can lead to improved memory and learning.


Potentiation is the influence of a lesser active drug or substance on the effects realized from a drug already in your system.


A precursor is a compound that participates in a chemical reaction that produces another compound. In your body and brain, the term “precursor” refers to a chemical compound preceding another in a metabolic pathway.


Psychosis is a person’s loss of ability to distinguish reality as perceived by others. It’s often seen as hallucinations, delusions and disturbances of thought and mood.


Racetams all stem from the original “nootropic” called piracetam. Both piracetam and nootropic were named by the inventor of piracetam, the Romanian psychologist and chemist Dr. Corneliu Giurgea.

The most common racetams are Aniracetam, Piracetam, Pramiracetam, and Oxiracetam. They all share a 2-pyrrolidone nucleus made up of oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen.

Racetams are known for boosting cognition, energy, focus, learning, memory and mood. Racetams can also help increase neuroplasticity, making it easier to learn, absorb and memorize new concepts.


Recall is one of the three major components of memory. The others are encoding and storage. Think of the human brain like an organic computer. Recall is the process of retrieving a memory that has been encoded and stored in the brain’s supercomputer.


A receptor is a structure on or inside a cell which receives a chemical signal. In your brain it’s called a neuroreceptor.


Reuptake is the process by which used neurotransmitters are taken back into cells to be recycled or destroyed.


Serotonin is a neurotransmitter made from the amino acid tryptophan. The human body cannot make tryptophan so you must get it from the food you eat. Tryptophan is most abundant in meat and fowl.

Once you eat food containing tryptophan, your digestion grabs the proteins in your gut. Which is transported by your blood to your brain. And then converted to serotonin.

Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter which means it governs excessive stimulating hormones like dopamine from firing in the brain. Serotonin is present throughout the entire brain, from top to bottom.

When you have adequate serotonin levels in your brain and it’s working properly, you’ll be confident, easy-going, flexible, happy, and positive.

Serotonin deficiency can result in you becoming depressed, irritable, obsessive, negative and worried.

Serotonin Syndrome

Serotonin Syndrome symptoms usually occur within several hours of taking a new drug or nootropic. Or increasing the dose of the drug or nootropic you’re already using.

Symptoms can include agitation, confusion, rapid heart rate, dilated pupils, loss of muscle coordination, muscle rigidity, heavy sweating, diarrhea, headache, and shivering.

Severe serotonin syndrome can be life-threatening. Signs include high fever, seizures, irregular heartbeat and unconsciousness.

Caution is strongly advised when using any nootropic that boosts serotonin uptake in your brain. Especially when combining them with any drug or nootropic that is already boosting serotonin.

Short-term Memory

Short-term Memory is also known as primary or active memory. It is characterized as being very brief (i.e. seconds), and is limited to what you can remember and retain for 20 to 30 seconds.

The human brain can only retain new information to a certain extant (chunk capacity) and only temporarily (temporal capacity).

Short-term memory can be boosted using certain nootropics.


A stimulant is any substance that increases activity in the central nervous system. Stimulants can cause wakefulness, alertness, and often feelings of well-being. An overdose of stimulants can cause anxiety, jitteriness, and insomnia. Examples of stimulants include the prescription drugs Adderall and Ritalin.


Sublingual refers to taking a nootropic or other supplement by placing it under your tongue. Dissolving a substance under your tongue allows for better bioavailability because it’s absorbed directly into your bloodstream through the tissues in your mouth.


Synapses are the empty spaces between neurons (brain nerve cells). When neurons fire, they send electrical signals across the synaptic cleft to the neuron next door.

Healthy brain activity is dependent on the proper function of synaptic activity. Obstructions like Amyloid Plaques can block synapses and cause serious problems with many brain functions including cognition, learning and memory.


In pharmacology, tolerance describes the decrease or loss of effectiveness or response to a drug or nootropic. Typically, due to recent or prolonged exposure to that substance.

Tolerance also includes the need for increasing doses of a drug or nootropic over time to maintain the same effect.

Cycling is often used by nootropic users to counteract tolerance. An example of cycling is using a nootropic for 5 days, taking a 2-day break from using the nootropic and resuming use for another 5 days.


Upregulation is a process in which the number or activity of receptors increases, typically in response to abnormally low activity.


Uptake is the absorption by your body, and in the case of nootropics, by your brain, of a substance like a nootropic.

White Matter

See definition of Gray Matter to get an understanding of brain White Matter.

Working Memory

Working memory is distinct from short and long-term memory. These are memories that are not only remembered, but simultaneously processed. You not only remember information that is important to you, you also remember the purpose of the information, and why you decided to remember it.


YMMV = Your Mileage May Vary is a term commonly used in the nootropic community. Meaning people experience reactions to certain nootropics very differently. Always remember that when someone describes their experience with a nootropic, you are unlikely to have the exact same experience.




[i] Yawmire J.C. “Chapter 11: Acetylcholine Neurotransmission” The University of Texas Health Sciences Center of Houston Retrieved March 3, 2016 (source)

[ii] Samson R.D, Barnes C.A. “Impact of aging brain circuits on cognition.” The European Journal of Neuroscience 2013 Jun;37(12):1903-15. (source)

[iii] Attention Deficit Disorder Retrieved on March 3, 2016. (source)

[iv] Liou S. “Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)” Stanford University 26 June, 2010 Retrieved March 3, 2016 (source)

[v] “What is the function of the various brainwaves?” Scientific American 22 December, 1997 (source)

[vi] Meffor I.N. “Epinephrine in mammalian brain.” Progress in Neuro-psychopharmacology &  Biological Psychiatry. 1988;12(4):365-88. (source)

[vii] Passani M.B., Panula P., Lin J.S. “Histamine in the brain” Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience 2014; 8: 64. (source)

[viii] “Synapse – The Brain” McGill University Retrieved on March 4, 2016 (source)

[ix] Giurgea C. “Pharmacology of integrative activity of the brain. Attempt at nootropic concept in psychopharmacology” Actualités Pharmacologiques (Paris). 1972;25:115-56.

[x] “Norepinephrine” Rice University Retrieved March 4, 2016 (source)

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