19 April 2021 | 2 min read

Enter the world of nootropics, a medical minefield of psychoactive substances designed to enhance cognitive function and boost your mood.

Feeling sluggish? Can’t concentrate? Need a pick-me-up? There’s a pill or powder for that. A supplement that claims it can give mental clarity, laser-sharp focus and long-lasting energy sounds like the stuff of science fiction movies.

The wellness industry’s latest obsession isn’t a soothing, crystal-infused facial or a calming CBD or gummy — but actually quite the opposite: Meet nootropics, a somewhat vaguely defined category of supplements.

Enter any supplement store today and you’ll likely find an array of nootropics or “smart drugs” filling the shelves and promising to fire up your brain cells. And if you haven’t seen ads for them yet, you’re sure to be bombarded soon.

But as fantastical as so-called “smart drugs” may seem, there’s a quiet revolution going on in wellness that claims to solve your 4pm energy slumps once and for all. A new wave of supplements claiming to provide energy and focus are hitting the market created to increase cognitive function, boost energy, enhance alertness and help manage stress.

A report from earlier this year says people around the world spent $1.9 billion on nootropics in 2018 and that number is expected to jump to nearly $6 billion in 2024! As consumers get smart about the importance of brain health and mental clarity, they are looking for more brain-boosting ingredients, including nootropics (aka cognitive enhancers).

A natural nootropic is the perfect overlap between our collective desire for “busy-ness” and the pull of holistic healthcare. For busy, on-the-go people in high powered jobs, they’re very appealing.

First things first: what on earth are they? A nootropic is any substance which can boost cognitive function and energy.

“They can be any compound, natural or synthetic,”. The word’s etymology is Greek, comprised of “noos” (mind) and trope (turning or bending), nootropics span functional foods and supplements that turn up brain functions like cognition, intelligence, and memory.

It covers everything from caffeine to CBD to modafinil – a “smart drug” commonly prescribed to adults with ADHD and used illicitly by university students hoping to pull an all-nighter. One example is Plant People’s Stay Sharp, a perfect 2019 buzzword storm of nootropics (including cordycep, gingko and rhodiola) fortified with CBD. By application, the global nootropics market is classified into mood and depression, memory enhancement, attention and focus, anti-aging and longevity, sleep, recovery and dream enhancement, and anxiety.

Up until recently, nootropics were predominantly associated with supplements and the occasional beverage, but it is becoming an area of experimentation for food manufacturers too. But the kinds of nootropics currently making waves are more likely to be found in a health boutique than a doctor’s office. Extracts such as Lion’s mane, Siberian ginseng, ashwagandha, goji berry and cordyceps mushroom are being uprooted from ancient wisdom and finding a home in modern supplements and boosters.

From a consumer/market/strategy point of view, nootropics is a road fraught with potential issues. Even the term itself is likely to inspire confusion, as it has almost zero consumer awareness outside the wellness community – though this is gradually changing, as mainstream media publishes more articles on the topic.

“It is believed that Vedic societies relied on nootropics for mental fortitude”.

Doubtlessly, the ancient healers of India were inspired by knowledge that was not limited to their world. After so many millennia, we are still uncovering the power and healing potential of nature’s plants in the form of herbs and foods. As consciousness itself continues to unfold, so too does the wisdom of Ayurveda, through the plant kingdom, with herbs that harmonize with human physiology and biochemistry.

A natural nootropic (standardised extracts at the right potency) is the perfect overlap between our collective desire for “busy-ness” and the pull of holistic healthcare. For busy, on-the-go people in high powered jobs, they’re very appealing.

It was even described by one executive as the “entrepreneur’s drug of choice”.

Nootropics, and nootropic ‘stacks’ (combinations of nootropics), are one tool that may help you come up with the next big idea, but they also may simply let you get through a day of emails without checking Instagram.

Fuelled by the era of self-improvement, competitive work environments, increased access to these substances and stories of entrepreneurial magic when using nootropics, it’s understandable why they’re of interest to people wanting more from themselves.

The list of modern-day stressors seems endless. Even thinking about stress can lead to overwhelm and when the “cult of busyness” seems ever-present, the appeal of these energizing, mind-sharpening products is obvious. To keep up with the pace, many have explored the use of nootropics.

If you cannot imagine going without your daily cup of coffee or tea, why not switch to a nootropic version?

Nootropics newbies? “Natural ingredients are the way to go when it comes to sustained and safe cognitive support.

Here is our “10 giants” to start with:

1.Bacopa monnieri – ancient Adderall for angsty isolators.

An ancient Ayurvedic practitioners swore by this stuff back in 2983 BCE. Bacopa is believed to support cognitive performance, modulate the body’s stress response, and contribute antioxidants that protect the brain.

2.Melatonin – get your sleep patterns back on track.

Top up the supplies already circulating in your brain. Melatonin is a hormone released by the pineal gland which regulates sleep cycles. Pop a pill and wash it down with a glass of water an hour or two before bed to quell any coronavirus-induced nightmares.

3.Gotu Kola – when you need to get stuff done.

Gotu Kola has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years — the Balinese even refer to it as “the student herb.” It has been praised for supporting cognitive function and thinking processes in healthy individuals.

4.Ashwagandha – take a chill capsule.

Ashwagandha is a beloved herb Ayurvedic medicine as it is believed to support a healthy stress response and mood. As a nootropic, Ashwagandha has been used to support the nervous system by possibly destroying free radicals.

5.Tulsi – to supplement your evening tipple.

As a member of the mint family, Tulsi (also known as Holy Basil), is said to have an aroma pleasant enough to reduce stress and clear brain fog. The name “Tulsi” roughly translates to the “incomparable one,” which points to how revered this herb is — not only for its medicinal qualities but also for its religious significance.

6.Green Tea – the well-ageing agent

Sustainably sourced in the preserved land of Sichuan in China, Green tea extract provides the best antioxidant activity and is an excellent cosmetic active for well-ageing.

7.Ginger – the regenerating ingredient

Freshly harvested and sun dried for more than 40 days before extraction, Givaudan’s ginger extract is perfect for regenerating and calming skin care products.

8.Green Coffee – the invigorating ingredient

Working with suppliers that only use manual harvest allows Givaudan to get the best quality of raw material. Rich in phenolic and chlorogenic acids, green coffee is known for its topical anti-ageing and firming applications, as well as a marked slimming action.

9.Ginkgo – the resistant leaf

Cultivated in the province of Jiangsu in China and used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for more than 4,000 years to increase vital energy, Ginkgo extract appears to be an excellent antioxidant ingredient.

10.Shankpushpi – The brain tonic

Classified as a medhya rasana (or a “brain tonic”) in Ayurvedic medicine, Shankpushpi is one of the most highly regarded Ayurvedic nootropics. Practitioners believe that it has the ability to boost memory and sharpen intellect and may offer protection from a number of diseases including those of the central nervous system.

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