A smart drug, also known as a ‘nootropic’, is a substance that can help you to improve some aspect of your brain power. This might mean that you get a boost to your memory, to your ability to focus, or to your creativity. Either way, the promise is that popping a pill can give you a slight cognitive edge over the competition and potentially help you to excel in your chosen career or your studies.

And more and more people around the world are admitting to using these as a way to get ahead – from athletes, to CEOs, to college students. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular and whether they’re a useful aid for you…


When you think of smart drugs, you probably think of the film Limitless, in which Bradley Cooper’s character uses a pill in order to become much smarter and conquer the stock market while also writing a novel, learning several languages and fixing his relationships.

The closest thing we have to this in real life is ‘modafinil’ (although it’s still a long way off!). Modafinil was designed as a treatment for narcolepsy and to that end, it works by impacting on orexin in order to regulate the wake/sleep cycle. This alone can be useful for a CEO, as it allows them to be productive for much longer and to overcome fatigue.

Further research though was also able to show that modafinil could also boost attention, memory and reflexes – which even earned it interest from DARPA.

Modafinil isn’t known to have any side effects, although it also hasn’t been tested in the long term and its mechanisms of action aren’t fully known. What’s more, is that this one is only available on prescription – so it might be a bit risky for most people.


Piracetam is a nootropic that works by affecting acetylcholine in the brain. This can make you more awake and alert, improve your memory and even enhance your senses. Piracetam takes a while to take effect though and some people claim it gives them brain fog. It also causes nasty headaches unless stacked with choline. So probably best to avoid this one too!

L-Theanine + Caffeine

Something that is completely safe to use though, is a combination of l-theanine and caffeine. L-theanine is a xanthene (just like caffeine) and certain green teas contain this combination naturally (such as Darwin’s favorite stimulant, yerba mate). L-theanine has perfect synergy with caffeine because it is able to remove the jitters, the nerves and the ‘wired’ feeling that it can sometimes be associated with. The result is that you’ll feel more awake and alert from the caffeine but without feeling groggy and tired.


MCT oil is ‘medium chain triglyceride’ and it is often sold under brand names like ‘Brain Octane’. The main benefit of this oil, is that it stimulates the liver to produce ketones – a useable form of energy that the brain actually prefers for certain tasks.

This is a great way to give yourself some more mental vigilance, though you may find that the original coconut oil that it comes from does the same thing better while providing more micronutrients!