6 Nootropics Soldiers Use That You Should Know About

Sometimes it feels like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, but our daily stressors in the western world are rarely comparative to what soldiers and combatants go through in war situations.

Responsibilities, such as going to work, attending classes, and taking care of children can feel overwhelming and stressful, but we can learn much from the supplementation of armed forces.

Historically, soldiers fighting in battles have always taken some form of nootropic to improve performance. Today it is as popular as ever and military forces across the globe get every advantage they can through supplementation.

By taking a closer look at what soldiers are taking and what interests military departments (such as the United States Department of Defense), it’s easier for non-combatants to find effective solutions to our own problems.

History of the Military & Nootropics

Before the United States of America was even discovered by the western world, Europeans were using and recording nootropics. The vikings from Scandinavia were using herbs like rhodiola rosea to improve their energy and prevent fatigue. Before going into battle, taking this root was supposed to help them last longer and fight more efficiently.


In Asia there was use of nootropics by the military as well. In India, the herb ashwagandha (also called Indian ginseng) is considered “the herb that can support an army” due to the potent effects. Chinese emperors utilized the power of many roots and herbs to support campaigns across the continent.

In the midst of a pitch battle with an opponent, there is even more riding on the line than working as a merchant. In ancient times, the rulers knew that taking herbs and natural remedies to improve performance was important.

Nootropics Today – How Elite Military Units Take Smart Drugs

In the modern era, science has far outpaced what any of our ancestors could have ever dreamed of. There are entire departments of chemists, biologists, and pharmacologists working for the United States Department of Defense. Other countries have their own research going into supplementation for soldiers as well.


The Adderall that millions of people take daily was a similar compound to a drug used by German soldiers during World War 2. The drug was called “pervitin” (methamphetamine hydrochloride) and was distributed to elite German units fighting across the continent.

Between a single 3 month period in 1940, the German military created 35 million 3 mg doses of this drug for troops. The German tank crews called them “Tank chocolates”, the airforce pilots lovingly called them “Stuka tablets,” but they were not the only military personnel who took amphetamines.

Allied (American) bomber pilots used amphetamines throughout the war on both the Pacific and European theaters. Even until the Persian Gulf War pilots were using amphetamines in F-16 jets in order to more adequately hold their workload (although this was done voluntarily, not sponsored by the military).

We do not recommend consuming any amphetamine unless you are prescribed by a trained and licensed medical professional. The long term side effects of amphetamines are well documented and even worse in those who are not prescribed / do not need the medication.

german soldier


SulbutiamineThis derivative of thiamine (vitamin B1) was developed by Japanese scientists in order to solve a problem with sailors during World War 1: Beriberi. Because the Japanese diet (and especially the seafaring diet) was so lacking in vitamin B1, sailors were getting beriberi in record numbers, which was causing a disruption in military operations.

Given that Japan is an island nation, the navy is one of the most important features of their military. Scientists as early as 1926 were isolating thiamine and developing alternatives that could help soldiers (and civilians) to include more vitamin B1 for the brain. One of the final iterations of this research came in 1965 in the form of sulbutiamine.

Sulbutiamine is now used commonly among nootropics enthusiasts in order to improve memory retention, reduce mental fatigue, and help enhance general wellbeing and mood. While it was not the original intention of the Japanese military scientists, it is effective for providing adequate thiamine through the blood-brain barrier.


The popularity of Modafinil for modern entrepreneurs, students, and professionals is not surprising given the strong effects and endorsements from people like Dave Asprey from Bulletproof Exec. On Reddit (a popular place for online communities to gather) the influx of Modafinil related questions and discussion has prompted a completely new subreddit due to popularity.

For the military, and especially the air force, Modafinil is a must. In fact, U.S. Military personnel often used Modafinil to remain alert and awake on missions that last 40 to 85 hours. It isn’t just the United States Armed Forces that are into Modafinil; Canada, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, France, and India have all used, recommended, or found some similar alternative for combatants.

In 2004 British military personnel involved in the invasion of Iraq were given 24,000 tablets by the British Ministry of Defense. For professionals in the day to day, it might be an effective tool as well.

However, there are risks associated with Modafinil. It is currently a prescription drug in the United States so we recommend only taking it with the help of a licensed medical professional.

Fish Oil

The military doesn’t particularly provide fish oil for soldiers, but it is a common supplement by frontline personnel for multiple reasons.

As a former Navy Seal, Brad McLeod explains how the rigors of high level training has a negative impact on joint health. Frequently, Navy Seals and Special Operations Forces are forced to undergo rigorous training to prepare them for difficult missions.

In such conditions, the joints become inflamed and the longevity of their body and brain starts to degrade. Fish oil (and krill oil specifically) is beneficial for the joints as well as improving brain health and general cognition. Most importantly, it’s a simple, natural, and effective way to stay healthy without feeling too risky about the supplements you are taking.

Ginkgo Biloba

As far as enhancing memory is concerned, one of the oldest herbal remedies is ginkgo biloba. A 2007 inquiry called “Use of Dietary Supplements by Military Personnel” studied different supplements and smart drugs that could be used for the United States Armed Forces. Funded by the Department of Defense (DoD), ginkgo biloba was the #1 choice for testing to improve memory retention and formation.

The military inquiry tested ginkgo biloba extracts and evaluated the herb as being safe and effective for improving mental performance (and particularly memory retention). The military focused on studies regarding improved cognition as it was most important for military personnel. The conclusions for ginkgo biloba were all positive for the DoD Pharmacy Operations Center.

It is no wonder ginkgo biloba got the seal of approval from the United States military. It has been used for thousands of years in China and remains one of the most effective nootropics especially for beginners.


In the same 2007 U.S. Military research, scientists looked at melatonin as an aid for jet lag and insomnia in military personnel. Their conclusion was that “…ingestion of melatonin 1 hour before the desired sleep time can be effective for insomnia associated with jet lag.” While these military scientists thought it was not comprehensively proven, they did conclude it was a positive force useful in military settings.

Troops, especially those in the United States military, are constantly traveling overseas and between United States timezones. Because of our far reaching military presence, many soldiers are forced to change sleeping schedules entirely, which can wreak havoc on their war readiness. This is one of the main reasons melatonin is researched by the department of defense.

Luckily, it is a molecule our body provides with the light / dark cycle. Usually exogenous (supplemental) melatonin is only needed when something disrupts the cycle. While supplements like 5-HTP are sometimes used, it seems soldiers and military personnel are more inclined to use melatonin.

Military Takeaway – Worth It?

Just because the armed forces of any country uses a certain nootropic or smart drug doesn’t mean it is right for you. However, it is telling when the military shows an interest in a substance because it means there is efficacy when stress is at the highest levels.

Our daily lives do not have the same stressors, but taking some of the same supplements can make a big difference in our efficacy so we may achieve more success.

One Response to “6 Nootropics Soldiers Use That You Should Know About”

  1. Niki December 12, 2015 at 5:20 am #

    I feel I have an increased cognition throughout 12 hour nursing shifts that I did not have prior to starting piracetam. !!!

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