There’s a whole lot of information the human brain has to process, from background sounds from radios, TVs, and whatnot to visual and auditory information around us. This is not to mention how mentally demanding job roles are becoming. Consequently, people are turning to cognitive enhancers to help keep them afloat in the sea of competition.

However, there’s limited information about some aspects of these drugs, such as if “smart drugs” and nootropics are one and the same or different substances with different results. If like many others, you have questions, this guide is for you. Read on.

Smart Drugs vs. Nootropics: Is There Any Real Difference?

Well, yes and no. The fact is that it all depends on how one chooses to look at it.

Some individuals consider both terms to represent different categories of cognitive enhancers. This category of people takes it that both “smart drugs” and nootropics provide cognitive benefits but have different safety levels and side effects. Here’s how they see both terms.

“Smart drugs” are prescription medications such as Adderall, modafinil, and Ritalin approved to treat mental or sleep disorders. They’re thought to work by increasing levels of dopamine, serotonin, and some other brain chemicals that influence alertness, mood, and the wake/sleep cycle. And because they are stimulants, they sometimes cause side effects that may be mild or severe depending on who’s taking them, drug history, and other factors.

On the other hand, nootropics are considered the safer alternative to “smart drugs.” They’re said to offer complete cognitive enhancement, from increased concentration and focus to better memory retention, without side effects [1]. The reason they’re considered safer is that they’re mostly herbs and vitamins.

In a more general sense, “smart drugs” and nootropics are one and the same thing; they’re just different terms for cognitive enhancers. You’ll find the terms used interchangeably on most websites and in online stores. And in publications where they’re taken to mean different things, it’ll be indicated.

In the end, what’s most important is getting familiar with the different types of cognitive enhancers and understanding their benefits, side effects, and interactions. And one of the best ways to do this is by following up on guides from authority websites. For instance, you can see how the ins and outs of Modalert, one of the most popular modafinil-based nootropics, has been dissected here: There’s always a lot to learn from guides, and with such info, you can decide what’s best for you.

Finally, if you like supplements, opt for them, and if you prefer drugs, then go for them by all means. There’s really no one completely free of side effects. Sometimes herbal and dietary supplements can cause adverse reactions such as bleeding if they’re taken in place of prescribed medicines or at high doses [2].

Benefits and Side Effects of Smart Drugs

There are several types of “smart drugs.” While some like Mind Lab Pro, Brain Pill, and Gorilla Mind Rush only improve cognition and enhance productivity, others like modafinil, armodafinil, and the like boost cognitive function and treat certain sleep disorders at the same time. In all, here are the major benefits that most nootropics offer:

  • increased focus;
  • improved memory retention ability;
  • increased alertness;
  • enhanced creativity;
  • improved mental processing speed.

Upon administration, the effects of “smart drugs” can last anywhere from 4 to 12 hours, depending on the product used and the dose taken [3].

At this point, it is worth noting that while these drugs actually provide the aforementioned benefits, they can also cause adverse reactions. Some of these are considered common and typically disappear within a short time without any medical attention.

The common side effects that can result from using prescription nootropics include:

  • headache;
  • nausea;
  • dizziness;
  • stomach upset.

Although these adverse effects are common in first-time users of “smart drugs,” not everyone experiences them. Some more serious negative reactions that may result from using these kinds of meds include high blood pressure, fast heart rate, addiction, blurry vision, and insomnia [4].

Do Nootropics Really Work?

Yes, they do, but maybe not for everyone. Different people have different biological makeup, and this can influence how the nootropics work in the body. Modafinil, one of the most studied nootropics, has proved effective in research carried out by neuroscientists at the University of Oxford. The research indicated that the drug was even more effective when participants took on longer and more complex tasks [5]. Other nootropics such as Ritalin and Adderall also showed to enhance cognitive performance in healthy individuals.

Although the cognitive-enhancing effects of “smart drugs” together with their safety in both the long- and short-term use are yet to be proven scientifically, the fact that the likes of Joe Rogan, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, etc., use them makes one bold statement – some of them actually work!

How Do Nootropics Work?

There are certain practical things that scientists don’t have an explanation for, and nootropics happen to be one of them. However, based on an understanding of pharmacokinetics and by putting 2 and 2 together, scientists have been able to come up with a theory about how nootropics work.

They believe “smart drugs” work by regulating the levels of serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), dopamine, and a couple of other neurotransmitters in the brain. These chemicals are known to influence memory, alertness, focus, creativity, and wakefulness [6]. Hopefully, scientists will have more detailed info about the workings of nootropics in the times to come.


  1. Nootropic. Retrieved: May 8, 2021.
  2. Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know. Retrieved: May 8, 2021.
  3. The 14 Best Nootropics and Smart Drugs Reviewed. By Erica Julson, MS, RDN, CLT. Retrieved: May 8, 2021.
  4. What are nootropics (smart drugs)? By Jennifer Berry. Medically reviewed by Alan Carter, Pharm.D. Retrieved: May 8, 2021.
  5. Modafinil for cognitive neuroenhancement in healthy non-sleep-deprived subjects: A systematic review. By R. M. Battleday and A.-K. Brem. Retrieved: May 8, 2021.
  6. How Do Nootropics Work? Everything You Need To Know About Smart Drugs. By Elliot Reimers, CNC, M.S. Candidate. Retrieved: May 8, 2021.