"Are nootropics safe?" When Romanian neuroscientist Corneliu E. Giurgea first coined the term nootropic, there was no question of safety. Giurgea specified that true brain-boosting nootropics must have very few side effects and extremely low toxicity. In other words, by definition nootropics are safe.
However, a few supplements may not meet the safe cognitive enhancer criteria, but are still called nootropics. Harsh nootropic combinations, megadosing and low-quality manufacturing may also create additional safety concerns.
So how can you find true nootropics that are safe, healthy and effective for the brain? This guide discusses steps you can take to maximize brainpower benefits and minimize risks with the safest nootropics.
What Makes Nootropics Safe?
Determining nootropic safety is more complex than it may seem. First off, nootropics are classified as nutritional supplements. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, nootropic supplements do not have to undergo clinical trials demonstrating their safety before being sold:<1>
- Pharmaceutical drugs are considered to be unsafe until they are shown to be safe by clinical trials, at which point they can be sold with a doctor's prescription.
- Nootropic supplements are considered to be safe until proven otherwise, and are sold over-the-counter and in online retail settings.
Nootropics may be generally considered safe when they are backed by clinical trials and have a good history of use with few adverse events.
But ultimately, a nootropic is only as safe as the process that makes it.
Let's take a closer look at some of the most important aspects of safe nootropic sourcing and formulation -- and discuss how you can use these points to identify safe, effective brain supplements.
The best way to verify a nootropic's safety is with human clinical trials. When nootropics are administered in a clinical setting over an extended period of time, researchers can record any side effects and adverse events, as well as noting any safety concerns.
As a whole, nootropics' research-backed safety profile is excellent.<2>
Of course, research-backed safety is not the same as research-backed effectiveness. While the vast majority of nootropic compounds in the world have been shown to be safe in human research, there are far fewer nootropics shown to be safe and effective.
These are the best nootropics to buy in brain supplements and stacks.
Advanced nootropic forms
When nootropic ingredients are presented in higher-quality forms, their safety may improve. Examples of advanced nootropic forms with safety advantages include:
- Branded nootropics, recognized by a registered trademark (®), may feature patented processes that reduce side effects and improve safety. Many branded nootropics also have human clinical research demonstrating safety.
- Standardized nootropic herbs are safe and reliable because they are calibrated to an exact percentage of active ingredient. In some cases, a nootropic herb's standardization matches clinical research studies that have demonstrated safety.
In general, higher-end nootropic forms pay closer attention to quality in a way that may enhance their safety profile.
Safe nootropic formulation starts with minimum effective dosage (MED). This means a nootropic will hit a clinical-range dosage that is safe and well-established -- but will avoid megadosing, which may increase risk potential without bringing any additional nootropic benefits.
Safety-conscious nootropic formulas will also generally avoid excessive caffeine and addictive stimulants, due to their potential for health risks and side effects.
Finally, nootropic stack supplements that care about safety will take care to avoid negative interactions when combining their nootropics. Expert-formulated stacks will have good strategies and reasons for combining nootropics, making them superior at boosting brainpower safely, comfortably and effectively.
Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP)
Even the safest nootropics may turn into health risks in an unsatisfactory manufacturing environment. Quality manufacturing will take several steps to ensure safety. These steps can be summed up as Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).<3>
What is GMP? Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) is a set of guidelines developed by the public health and safety organization NSF International.
To get GMP certification, nootropic manufacturers must follow a strict set of GMP rules, including rules related to:
- Raw ingredient screening - for example, nootropic herbs should be tested for dangerous microbes and contaminants prior to manufacture
- Facility cleanliness - sterile equipment, air filtration and climate control to eliminate safety risks of cross-contamination, mold, etc.
- Equipment maintenance - smooth-running machinery and analytical equipment produce safe, precise nootropic supplements
GMP certification adds to a nootropic supplement's quality, ensuring that the finished product is not only pure and effective, but also safe.
What good are safe nootropics if the capsules that carry them are bad for you?
In nootropic supplements, we sometimes see manufacturers using capsules, additives and questionable ingredient choices that have been associated with potential health risks, including:
- Artificial colors - Food dyes, including those seen in some nootropic supplements, may have some neurotoxic risks<4>
- Artificial preservatives - Some preservatives may disrupt the GI tract's microflora,<5> which in turn may affect brain function
- Carrageenan - found in some nootropic delivery forms; shown to trigger inflammation in the colon<6>
- Soy - the nootropic PS is sometimes sourced from soy, even though soy may be associated with some hormonal side effects and potential risks<7>
- Gluten - associated with risks related to nutrient absorption and digestive health in sensitive individuals<8>
The safest nootropic supplements also go to great lengths to ensure their formulas are free of additional common allergens -- such as tree nuts, dairy and shellfish -- in order to promote the best overall safety for the widest cross-section of consumers.
Tips for Taking Nootropics Safely
Your mileage may vary, but here are a few general steps to follow in order to make taking a nootropic as safe as possible.
- Talk to your doctor. The most important tip: Print out a nootropic's supplement facts and review it with your doctor. It is always safer to take any nutritional supplement under a doctor's supervision.
- Follow manufacturer's directions. There's a reason why supplements have directions: Taking too much of some nootropics may be dangerous.
- Avoid random DIY stacking. Unless you're an expert biohacker on Reddit, combining several products from several manufacturers multiplies safety variables and uncertainty.
- Consider cycling. With cycling, you take a nootropic every day for a specific duration, and then stop taking it -- giving your brain a healthy break before resuming again.
- Pregnant, nursing, or considering getting pregnant
- Under the age of 18
- Dealing with a serious medical condition or about to have surgery
- Taking brain-related medications or other drugs with potential interactions
In any other cases where your doctor objects to nootropic supplementation, just skip the cognitive enhancers. It's smart to be safe.
The Verdict: Are Nootropics Safe?
By definition, yes -- nootropics are safe. But a lot can happen between the definition of a nootropic and what ends up in a finished nootropic supplement. To ensure you boost your brainpower safely, consider these two rules:
- Choose the right nootropic - high quality ingredients, safety certifications, well-designed formulas and clean labels;
- Take the nootropic the right way - using established stacking strategies, cycling if necessary, and following the manufacturer's directions
With these two rules, you can find a nootropic that will work for brainpower, remain true to the very few side effects and extremely low toxicity nootropic definition, and make nootropic supplementation safe, beneficial and healthy for the brain.
Mind Lab Pro® Safety Standards
Safe nootropics only
All 11 nootropics in the Mind Lab Pro® formula are research-backed for both safety and effectiveness, and enhanced with premium advanced forms:
Some Mind Lab Pro® formula highlights for nootropic safety, specifically, include:
- BioGenesis™ vitamins B6, B9 and B12 are clean, safe essential nootropics: Nature identical nutrients grown in a sterile lab without pesticides or herbicides
- Cognizin®, superior-quality Citicoline made with a patented process that achieves 99%+ purity; shown to be safe and effective in several human clinical trials
- Sharp-PS® Green, premium phosphatidylserine made from sunflower lecithin; 100% soy-free to eliminate hormonal health concerns associated with soy-sourced PS supplements
- Suntheanine®, patented 100% pure L-Theanine, shown safe and effective in clinical trials; 1 serving supplies as much L-Theanine as 10 cups of green tea, without the caffeine
Mind Lab Pro® is made in the USA at manufacturing facilities designed with safety as the top priority. Mind Lab Pro® safety and quality-related manufacturing certifications include:
- Current Good Manufacturing Practices Certified (NSF cGMP compliant)
- Registered with the FDA
- Natural Products Association Certified (NPA)
- Underwriter Laboratories Certified (UL)
- 21 CFR Part 111 compliant
- Prop 65 compliant
- USP standards for heavy metals compliant
- USDA Organic Certified
- Health Canada Certified Registered – Natural Health Products Directorate
- European Supplement Commission compliant
- US Pharmacopeia Certified
Clean capsules and label
Mind Lab Pro® is the only nootropic supplement of its kind with a clean label, clean capsules and even a clean bottle -- for ultimate nootropic safety, right down to the details. Mind Lab Pro® uses:
- No artificial colors, no preservatives, no GMO, no gluten, no caffeine or stimulants, no soy and no synthetic additives
- Premium vegan NutriCaps®: Clean, clear pullulan naturally fermented from tapioca; no unsafe or synthetic capsule ingredients
- 100% BPA-free bottles, taking another quality step to reduce another potential source of sensitivities or risks
When people ask the question, "Are nootropics safe?" it is difficult to give a straight yes or no answer -- because there are far too many variables that can affect nootropic safety, from ingredient to ingredient and brand to brand.
The good news is, you can eliminate a lot of those safety variables by choosing a high-quality pre-made nootropic stack, and using it in an intelligent way.
Mind Lab Pro®: A safe nootropic that works.
Mind Lab Pro® is 100% brain-boosting nutrition, with nootropics in upgraded forms shown to be both safe and effective. It is also made with all of the quality steps, outlined above, and more -- forming a true Universal Nootropic™ that works for everyone, is safe for everyone, and fits any lifestyle.
- Noor Azuin Suliman, et al. Establishing Natural Nootropics: Recent Molecular Enhancement Influenced by Natural Nootropic. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016; 2016: 4391375.
- Chassaing B, et al. Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome. Nature volume 519, pages 92–96 (05 March 2015)
- Borthakur A, et al. Carrageenan induces interleukin-8 production through distinct Bcl10 pathway in normal human colonic epithelial cells. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2007 Mar;292(3):G829-38. Epub 2006 Nov 9.
- Jargin SV. Soy and phytoestrogens: possible side effects. Ger Med Sci. 2014; 12: Doc18.
- Saturni L, et al. The Gluten-Free Diet: Safety and Nutritional Quality. Nutrients. 2010 Jan; 2(1): 16–34.