An honest review of the best brain boosting nootropics on the market by someone who's suffered from brain fog and fatigue for years.
I have a challenge for you: Log onto Amazon or even Google and type in the keywords “nootropics and brain boosting supplements.” From there, simply scroll through the myriad of different brands and products all offering, or in some cases, promising, to give you some kind of cognitive boost or mental performance edge.
According to data from Polaris Market Research, the global nootropic market in 2021 was worth an estimated $10.69 billion dollars. Yes. That’s billion with a big ol’ “B.”
It’s a market that has experienced fairly impressive growth within the last 10 years and primarily coinciding with a growing desire amongst Gen X’ers, Millennials and even Gen Z’ers to migrate as far away as possible from prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin which were handed out to many of us in our childhood and teenage years like candy on Halloween.
Heck, for some nootropics have become a “cleaner” and “healthier” alternative to caffeine-fueled beverages like coffee and energy drinks. Sure, walking into work with a venti iced coffee may look cool, but there is nothing cool, fun, or desirable about the inevitable crash it delivers just an hour or two later.
One can make the argument that nootropics, and most particularly, adaptogen-derived nootropic supplements were the first little indicator of what was to come with psychedelics push into mainstream society some ten or so years ago when they first started to be discovered by super slick entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley coders.
I like to think of nootropics as the “straight-edged” buttoned-up siblings to certain psychedelics like magic mushrooms and LSD. They’re the brother or sister that comes home from school and goes straight to their room to finish their homework before even considering a bit of relaxation.
My Journey with Nootropics
My first introduction to nootropics came around 2013 when I read an article about Lion’s Mane supplements in a Men’s Health Magazine. I don’t remember all of the details about the article, but I do recall it sharing the story of this entrepreneur who weaned himself off of Adderall which he had been taking religiously since he was first prescribed it in his late teens. At the time, I was early in my professional career and looking for any way to gain a competitive mental edge so that I could ascend the corporate ladder. So I figured “what the hell” and ordered my first bottle of Lion’s Mane supplements from Amazon.
For entertainment and engagement purposes, I should probably go on about how that first bottle of Lion’s Mane changed my life and helped me unlock a new level of mental and physical performance that I had never been able to achieve before. But that’s not what happened. That first bottle of Lion’s Mane sucked. It did nothing for me and I think it ended up in the garbage with about half of the pills still left in it. Whomp. Whomp.
My journey back to revisiting nootropics wouldn’t come until 2020 when I found myself gaining control of my mental and physical health through the occasional microdosing of magic mushrooms, or as I like to refer to it as, “shrooming.”
I had initially started shrooming on a weekly basis with the intention of unpacking certain traumas in my life that I finally felt prepared to deal with and address head-on. In that process, however, I started to unlock a level of mental clarity that I feel like I had never experienced before.
For context, for as far back as I can remember, brain fog has been one of my ultimate arch nemesis in life. The kryptonite, if you will, to my Superman. Or at least my ability to become Superman.
That brain fog was always especially present for me in the mornings. In fact, I have vivid memories of sitting in class back in 1st grade struggling to pay attention to what the teacher was talking about. This would be something that would persist throughout almost every grade thereafter and even through my high school years.
Around the time I was in junior high, so probably 13 years old, I was diagnosed with a spatial/learning disability. The term “ADHD” was never used, at least not in my presence, but I was told that because of this disability I needed to be placed into a Resource Specialist Program (“RSP”) where I, along with other kids with a similar diagnoses, would be afforded the opportunity to learn and study subjects like mathematics at a slower pace.
Mathematics was hell on earth for me. If my brain was an engine built specifically for a Honda Civic, trying to get it to work for things like algebra and geometry would be like trying to make that engine work beneath the hood of a fighter jet. Not happening and certainly nowhere close to being cleared for take off.
With a lot of time, frustration, and the occasional throwing my math book against the wall, I managed to successfully pass every math class required of me to graduate from high school.
As for the brain fog, I learned to deal with it and simply accept my fate in having to live with it up until my mid-twenties when I first discovered a beverage that promised to “give me wings.” Red Bull was a game changer in my life. Never before had I found myself in a situation where I could eliminate that brain fog simply by drinking a beverage.
At first, one can was all it took to give me the “wings” necessary to power through those late nights of knocking out coursework while I attended the Art Institute in pursuit of my Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality Management.
For the first time in my life, math started to actually make sense. But, it only made sense in blocks of 20-30 minutes, or while the mental buzz from a can of Red Bull lasted. So, one can eventually became two, which became three and, well, you get the picture.
I eventually reached a point where my body essentially developed an immunity to Red Bull. I could drink three or four cans in the span of an hour (not recommended) and still sit there enveloped within the weight of that dreaded brain fog.
In the interest of moving things along here so we can get into what we came here to discuss, nootropics, in the years that followed my brief Red Bull addiction, I would go through periods in which things like iced green tea with matcha, cold brew coffee, caffeine pills, and even a brief stint with Adderall, would all have their day as the beverage, supplement, or drug that kept me going.
Finally, in 2020, and with my 40’s quickly approaching, I knew something had to change. Shrooming was helping me unlock a new and fascinating level of mental clarity in my life. But, as amazing as it was in helping me unpack and address trauma and become better in-tune with who I am as a person, it wasn’t what I would consider to be conducive in helping me achieve the level of mental clarity and focus needed on a daily basis with my career.
Finding myself more dialed-in now with the exciting world of fungi, I started to revisit nootropics. And thanks to the wonders of big brother (insert sarcastic tone here), simply speaking the words “nootropics” or “ashwagandha” out loud would prompt a flood of sponsored content on my Instagram feed for some of the many different nootropic and adaptogen-based supplements that have exploded onto the market in recent years.
And so I embarked on a journey to try and discover some of the best nootropic and adaptogen-based supplements out there that were designed to banish brain fog into the shadow realm and help me find that “flow state” that all the cool people on social media like to talk about.
As I share some of the products and supplements that have exceeded my expectations and that I feel confident enough in personally endorsing, it is important to note a few things:
First, none of the brands of the products and supplements I am mentioning here are, in any way, paid sponsors of either myself personally or Psychedelic Spotlight. My reviews are 100% authentic based on my personal experience and use of them.
Next, it goes without saying that everyone’s body is different. Therefore, how these products and supplements affect me and my own mental and physical state of wellbeing, may not translate over into everyone else who tries them. It is also super important to mention that consulting with your doctor or physician before integrating any of these products or supplements into your everyday life is highly recommended and most especially if you intend for them to become a replacement for any prescription medication.
And finally, not all of these products are derived specifically from mushrooms. The key here is identifying the products and supplements that I found to be most effective with eliminating my brain fog and helping me achieve something close to a “flow state.” More importantly, I have found it to be beneficial incorporating some of these products into my everyday life as supplements in between my own shrooming schedule.
I’m sure there are plenty that I have not yet tried, so feel free to offer your suggestions in the comments.
The Best of the Best Brain Boosting Nootropics (a/k/a “The Steve Jobs flow state”)
NZT-48 Premium Brain Booster
Key Observed Benefits:
- Enhanced cognitive abilities, including improved mood.
- Increased ability to focus and maintain concentration on tasks.
- Quicker access to thoughts and ideas.
- Subtle and manageable effects, unlike intense discomfort from some other supplements.
- Reduction of brain fog by approximately 85%.
- Ideal for daily professional responsibilities.
- Key ingredients include Theobromine, Ginkgo Biloba, Alpha GPC, and Huperzine A.
- Each bottle provides a 30-day supply with one recommended pill per day.
In 2011, the science-fiction thriller “Limitless” starring Bradley Cooper introduced audiences to a nootropic drug called NZT-48 which, in the film, provides Cooper’s character with the ability to use his brain fully and to improve his lifestyle in a manner that exceeds all expectations.
Spoiler alert: The NZT-48 featured in “Limitless” is a very far cry from the NZT-48 that I have been taking over-the-counter and on a regular basis over the past six months.
No, I haven’t been able to become fluent in Chinese overnight, nor will you catch me at the blackjack tables here in Vegas racking up millions by counting cards. Sorry to burst your bubble.
However, it has proven to be a game changer for me and my everyday cognitive abilities such as my mood, ability to focus and stay focused while working on specific tasks, and my ability to access thoughts and ideas a lot faster than I am able to otherwise.
The effects are certainly palpable but without being overly intense or uncomfortable. For example, a typical dose of Adderall usually induces about 15 to 20 minutes of intense physical and mental comfortability for me. I get hot, especially in my face, my heartbeat increases, and I feel jittery. So much so, that it becomes impossible for me to sit still. Once this intense wave passes, I find myself in a more comfortable state of mind that is conducive to focusing on whatever it is I need to focus on. But, those 15 to 20 minutes are a wave so intense that I feel like it's not even worth trying to ride out.
For me, NZT-48 feels a lot like accessing the tail end of an Adderall “high” in the sense of it putting me in a comfortable state of mind where I feel positive and somewhat optimistic and dialed-in enough from a mental standpoint to function efficiently.
It eliminates about 85% of my brain fog and goes a long way with helping my brain function at a pace that is ideal for taking care of what I need to take care of in my professional life on a daily basis.
According to its label, the key ingredients in a single dose of NZT-48 are Theobromine, Ginkgo Biloba, Alpha GPC, and Huperzine A.
A bottle good enough for a 30-day supply (sticking with the recommended one pill per day) will set you back by about $60 USD, so it's not cheap.
And while it may not morph me into the next Steve Jobs while it burns a hole in my pocket each month, NZT-48 has been one of the most effective brain boosting supplements I have discovered recently and would certainly say that it is worth trying for anyone struggling with brain fog.
Alpha Brain Instant – Memory and Focus (“The Kool-Aid Man flow state”)
Key Observed Benefits:
- Effective for quickly improving mental clarity and focus.
- The powdered formula works faster than the pill form, with noticeable effects within minutes.
- Provides a significant mental and physical boost, akin to the impact of a single dose of Adderall.
- Enhances the ability to access thoughts, words, and ideas quickly and efficiently.
- The post-effect crash is milder compared to caffeine or sugary energy drinks.
- Available in individual packets, offering flexibility for those who prefer to try it without purchasing an entire box.
- 30 servings per box: Provides a month's supply of cognitive enhancement.
Picture this: You snooze through your alarm clock and wake up several minutes later than you needed to. In ten minutes you are scheduled to jump on a Zoom call and deliver a presentation to your boss and fellow colleagues.
a.) Sprint to your Keurig and brew a cup of coffee
b.) Do 50 jumping jacks to get the blood flowing
c.) Pound a Red Bull, or…
d.) Tear open an Alpha Brain Instant, mix it in water, and chug it
If you answered “b” and it actually worked, just know that the rest of us who suffer from brain fog are looking at you and judging you heavily. In pure admiration, of course.
For the past year or so the only effective option for me from the above listed selections has been “d”, an Alpha Brain Instant for Memory and Focus.
As wonderful as NZT-48 has been with helping to significantly reduce my brain fog and get my brain humming like a well oiled machine on a daily basis, it’s effects have not nearly been as instantaneous nor impactful in a scenario for me where I have to rev my brain up and get it going from 0 to 60 at the snap of my fingers.
In these scenarios, I shatter the “break only in emergency” glass and grab a packet of Alpha Brain’s Instant Memory and Focus supplement produced by ONNIT.
It’s worth noting that this supplement also comes in pill form, however, in my experience with using these supplements, the “instant” powdered formula which you simply mix in a glass of water and drink, not only goes to work faster, but its effects on my cognitive performance seem to be far more intense and impactful.
In fact, I found this supplement to be the closest thing in terms of how it makes me feel mentally and physically shortly after consuming it, to that of a single dose of Adderall. Within about 3 minutes of consuming a full glass of water mixed with the Alpha Brain Instant Memory and Focus, my face becomes warm and I find myself feeling like I could charge through a wall if such a task was ever required of me and in the spirit of the Kool-Aid Man.
Now aside from the very obvious chaos bursting through walls would create, the main challenge that this nootropic supplement presents me with is being able to slow down a flow state that becomes more of a roaring river so that its effects do not become counterproductive.
Yes. I am able to effectively access thoughts, words, and ideas quickly and efficiently which is generally something I struggle with. However, grabbing a branch floating down a steady river versus a roaring river bursting at the seams are two very different tasks.
In the case of NZT-48, I feel as if the flow comes to me, slowly and calmly. Whereas with the Alpha Brain, I have to catch the flow before it disappears. But, once I am able to catch it, I find myself riding a fast current that affords me the ability to think, move, and function at hyper speed without being held back by anything related to my brain fog challenges.
This, of course, is great in situations where I know I have to function at my absolute best for at least an hour or so because as you probably know, most fast moving rivers typically have to drop off and plunge somewhere eventually down the line. But, gaining an understanding of how long the effects of the Alpha Brain Memory and Focus supplement last within my body has allowed me to make the most effective use of this very powerful supplement.
The crash, which tends to occur a couple of hours after consuming the supplement, isn’t as bad as a caffeine or sugary energy drink crash for me. It’s a much softer landing that doesn’t leave me full of regret or questioning my life choices.
A box of 30 packets which equates to 30 servings goes for about $50 USD on Amazon which is still a bit on the pricey side, but not quite as bad as the NZT-48 when you break it down by serving.
I have also found that grocers like Whole Foods and Sprouts sell the Alpha Brain Memory and Focus in individual packets, so if you’re not ready to commit to an entire 30 serving box, this might be a better option for you if you happen to live in an area where either of these grocery stores are available.
Mojo Extra Strength Microdose – Brain Boost (“the perfect afternoon pick me up”)
Key Observed Benefits:
- The gummies allow for flexible dosing, making it easy to nibble for a lighter effect or take an extra for an additional boost.
- It's not psychoactive: These gummies do not contain psilocybin or true psychoactive substances.
- Mushroom Cognition Blend: Infused with Lion's Mane, Cordyceps Sinensis, Cordyceps Militaris, and Ginger Root to support cognitive function.
- Energy Blend: Contains Panax Ginseng and L-Theanine for a “slow-release caffeine” effect (62.5mg per dose).
- Fast-acting: Typically takes effect within 5-10 minutes of consumption.
- Customizable dosage: Allows users to control their level of focus based on the number of gummies consumed.
- Energy pick-me-up: A suitable alternative to coffee or energy drinks.
- Variety of options: Gwella offers a monthly subscription option for potential cost savings with regular use.
So far, the previous two nootropic products I have reviewed and provided recommendations for are those that come in pill and powdered format. Mojo’s Extra Strength Microdose – Brain Boost (“Mojo”) is my entry in the gummy category and for good reason.
I find gummy-based supplements to be really cool because if you’re not in need of a full dose, then just take a little nibble off the edge. Or, if you need an extra boost, just pop an extra one in your mouth (so long as you’re exceeding the recommended dosage, of course). Point is, gummies can be super convenient in ways that pills and things you have to stir into water aren’t.
And for anyone who might be fixated on the word “microdose” being part of the name of the product here, I hate to be the bearer of bad news and tell you that these Mojo gummies do not include psilocybin or any true psychoactive substance for that matter.
So what do they include? Mojo’s gummies are infused with Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps Sinensis, Cordyceps Militaris, and Ginger Root, all of which they refer to as their “Mushroom Cognition Blend.” Panax Ginseng and L-Theanine are part of what they call their “Energy Blend” and are responsible for the 62.5mg of “slow-release caffeine” that comes with each dose. And for clarity sake a single dose of the Extra Strength Mojo Brain Boost gummies is one gummy.
Directions found on the back of a bag of these Mojo gummies also recommend that you consume your dosage 30-60 minutes ahead of any planned activity and to take it on an empty stomach.
From my own experience, these typically begin to kick in within 5-10 minutes from consuming them which I love. I also love the advantage these gummies afford with being able to control the dosage to a point where I can decide for myself just how “dialed-in” I need them to help make me based on how many I take versus pill-based supplements which I find you don’t have as much control over.
According to the dosage directions on the packaging, 2-3 gummies gives you a “next level buzz” where you are “hyper-focused” and “nothing else matters.”
I have found that two gummies is my “sweet spot” for feeling focused enough to tackle whatever task is at hand, even if it’s just powering through the rest of my afternoon. In fact, these Mojo gummies have become my go-to supplement whenever I’m in need of an energy pick-me-up instead of coffee or an energy drink.
The one downside here is that they are not cheap. Although, that seems to be a common theme here with most of these brain boosting supplements.
At standard price, a pack of 20 gummies will run you $31.99 USD which shakes out to about $1.60 USD per gummy. A can of Monster energy drink will usually go for almost three bucks so if you’re looking to use these gummies as a replacement for energy drinks, then you’re at least in the same ballpark from a cost perspective. Plus, these gummies will probably make you feel a lot better than a Monster and should spare you from the dreaded energy drink crash.
Gwella also offers a few different options such as a monthly subscription option that does provide you with slightly more cost effective options especially if these end up becoming part of your daily or weekly routine.
In summary, it’s important to remember that everyone’s body is different and will therefore respond differently to nootropics and other brain boosting supplements.
What has been super effective for me might be useless to you. However, I do stand by each of these products I have reviewed here and would not hesitate to recommend them to my closest friends and family.
But listen, if you’re like me and were born in a year that does not start with a “20,” then you’re probably at a stage in your life where its time to leave those sugary energy drinks to the Gen Zers who have very important TikTok recordings to power through. You also owe it to yourself to maintain or even sharpen your cognitive abilities as much as possible despite that crummy feeling you get everytime you hear a high school jam of yours playing in a grocery store.