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Natural vs. Synthetic Nootropics

Our brains contain over 100 billion neurons, all working together to help us think and focus. This process has allowed us to evolve from a primitive species to an advanced civilization. From the early human civilizations of hunter gatherers, we now have sent men to the moon, invented countless pieces of impressive technology, and hold the world’s knowledge in the palm of our hands.

However, even the brightest of us can have trouble focusing at times. Enter nootropics.

Nootropics are often referred to as “smart drugs” or “cognitive enhancers”. These are compounds that we can use to potentially support cognitive function, memory, focus, and motivation. They can be natural compounds like herbs and vitamins, but they can also be pharmaceutical drugs like Ritalin or Adderall, or popular drugs to treat ADHD.

But what’s the difference? As the popularity of nootropics rises, so do the number of products in the market, so how will you pick the best choice for you? In this blog post, we’ll look at natural and synthetic nootropics, the pros and cons of each, and any potential side effects.

Understanding Nootropics

The term “nootropics” have Greek origins, as “nóos” means “mind”, and “tropein” meaning “towards”.

Nootropics are a relatively recent discovery, with the term first coined by Romanian chemist and psychologist, Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea in 1972. He also developed the first synthetic nootropic, Piracetam.

Dr. Giurgea established a set of criteria to define nootropics, like enhancing memory and learning, protecting the brain from damage, and exhibiting few side effects.

After Piracetam, many other synthetic nootropics joined the group like Aniracetam and Oxiracetam. It was soon discovered that the cognitive-supporting qualities of other classes of compounds such as ampakines and cholinergics had potential.

As the interest in health and wellness grew, so did the popularity of natural remedies and holistic medicine. Natural nootropics soon came into the spotlight, with compounds like Ginkgo biloba, Bacopa monnieri, and nootropic mushrooms.

The increasing amount of research and advances in neuroscience is causing nootropics to rise in popularity as a way to potentially support cognitive performance and brain health. Today, the nootropic supplement industry stands at about US$4.6 billion, with a projected Compound Annual Growth Rate of 15%.

Natural Nootropics

Natural nootropics are derived from plants, herbs, and other natural sources. They are known to influence neurotransmitter levels in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin. Many natural nootropics can support recovery after activity/rest and relaxation/support.

Some examples of natural nootropics include caffeine, the adaptogenic herb Bacopa monnieri, a naturally occurring alkaloid, Huperzine A, that’s found in Chinese club moss, and L-theanine which is an amino acid.

Another type of natural remedy on the rise are nootropic mushrooms such as Lion’s Mane, Reishi, Cordyceps, and Shiitake. These mushrooms are thought to have numerous potential effects.


Natural nootropics are generally safer with fewer side effects than synthetic nootropics.


As the field of nootropics is a relatively new one, there is still ongoing research on its efficacy. In addition, natural nootropics may have less effects than synthetic ones, and long-term treatment might be required to enjoy their potential benefits.

Synthetic Nootropics

Synthetic nootropics are human-made compounds designed to enhance mental performance*. These substances are often created through chemical synthesis in laboratories.

Some synthetic nootropics have been studied for their potential cognitive-supporting effects, but it’s important to note that the efficacy and safety of many of these compounds may vary, and not all of them have undergone rigorous scientific investigation.

As mentioned earlier, the first nootropic developed was Piracetam, a member of the racetam class of synthetic compounds which also includes Aniracetam and Oxiracetam. Racetams are used for their potential cognitive-supporting properties* and to modulate neurotransmitter systems like acetylcholine.

One of the newest additions to the racetam family is Coluracetam.

Another popular synthetic nootropic is Modafinil, a medication frequently used to treat sleep disorders like sleep apnea and narcolepsy. By affecting neurotransmitter systems such as dopamine and norepinephrine, this drug is known for its potential wakefulness-promoting effects and its ability to improve concentration and focus*.


Synthetic nootropics are more powerful than natural nootropics and have shown potential in supporting cognitive function.*


Because of their potency, synthetic nootropics have potential side effects and health risks. As research is ongoing, the health consequences of long-term use of synthetic nootropics is still not fully understood.

For example, common side effects of Modafinil include nausea, nervousness, insomnia, and headaches. Some rare side effects also include skin reactions and psychiatric symptoms.

It is crucial to be cautious when you include synthetic nootropics into your wellness regimen. Some nootropics can also interact with other medications, so always consult with your healthcare provider before making any changes to your diet.

Comparing Efficacy and Side Effects

Synthetic nootropics are more potent, and you’ll see the effects almost immediately. Natural nootropics are slower acting and long-term treatment might be required for favorable effects.

However, as mentioned earlier, side effects of synthetic nootropics tend to be harsher. The racetam group of compounds has been known to cause nausea, nervousness, anxiety, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and mood swings.

While rare, racetams can also cause allergic reactions such as a rash or difficulty breathing. In the event of an allergic reaction, you’ll have to discontinue use immediately and seek medical attention.

Before using any synthetic nootropic, you’ll have to consult with your healthcare professional, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition and are currently on medication.

Long-Term Effects and Safety

Although only recently in the spotlight, natural nootropics like herbs and medicinal mushrooms have been used for centuries. For example, nootropic mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine as part of a balanced diet.

In contrast, synthetic nootropics is a relatively young field and the long-term health consequences are not fully understood. Many substances lack extensive research on long-term use, and individual responses vary greatly, making it difficult to predict the effects.

If you’re thinking of incorporating nootropic supplements into your diet, always purchase from reputable suppliers that are GMP-certified for potency and purity. Inferior products made with additives and chemicals might do more harm than good.

Ethical and Legal Considerations

Synthetic nootropics like Modafinil and members of the racetam group are prescription medications and their use is strictly regulated. Use of these medications without a prescription is illegal in most countries.

In contrast, natural nootropics are more readily available in the form of dietary supplements that can be bought over the counter. ​​In most countries, supplements are significantly less regulated than prescription medications.

In addition, the use of prescription nootropics to enhance cognitive function have some ethical implications. It is thought that the use of these compounds by healthy individuals gives an unfair advantage in a professional or academic setting.

Accessibility and Cost Considerations

The affordability of nootropic substances also can create disparities, as people with higher income enjoy greater accessibility to these substances.

Synthetic nootropics have to be prescribed, which means costly medical bills. This makes it difficult for people of lower incomes to access these substances.


Natural nootropics are slower-acting and require longer term use to experience the effects, but synthetics have harsher side effects and are more difficult to procure. If you are going to incorporate nootropics into your diet, always consult with your healthcare professional, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition.

Ready to try natural nootropics? Shop our natural mushroom nootropic supplements at Blessed Wellness! Our mushroom supplements are made in GMP and ISO-certified facilities under the strictest quality standards.


Are synthetic nootropics safe for long-term use?

As the field of synthetic nootropics is a relatively new one, the long-term effects have not been extensively researched and the safety is not known.

Are synthetic nootropics legal?

Synthetic nootropics are legal but often need a prescription. The use of them without a prescription is illegal in many countries.

Can natural nootropics be as effective as synthetic ones?

Natural nootropics tend to be slower-acting and synthetic ones are usually more effective. However, synthetic nootropics come with much more potential for adverse effects and the long-term health implications are not known.

*It is important to note that the benefits of these products have not been conclusively proven. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, and the NHS has not made any guarantees about the efficacy of such products.

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