When you discover a nootropic that you like, you’re going to want more of its particular effects. The problem is that you can’t just up the dosage – in fact, upping the dosage can lead to the nootropic being less effective than it was before. It’s sort of like if you were taking a prescription stimulant like 10mg of adderall might get you focused, but 30mg of adderall (at that same tolerance) will have you bouncing off the walls, sweating, and unable to do anything. With many nootropics there is said to be an inverted bell curve with regard to efficacy and dosage meaning that taking too much of something may result in diminished productivity, cognitive ability, etc.
Be smart with your nootropic usage and combine them on top of one another for maximized benefit. Combining different compounds is known as “stacking”, and a particular combination is simply referred to as a “stack”. Experienced nootropic users often have a stack that’s as long as a laundry list (like Ray Kurzweil who takes 150 different supplements daily in an effort to achieve immortality), but as a beginner, you can combine just two or three and experience some very potent effects.
We always recommend that you try a single nootropic before you begin stacking them with others. This is for two reasons:
- Stacking nootropics together is more expensive than trying one alone, and there’s no point including nootropics in your stack that don’t do anything for you.
- If you don’t test each individual nootropic, you’ll have no idea which ones are giving you positive and negative effects. If your stack doesn’t work, you’ll have no idea which element isn’t working specifically (no split testing possibilities).
That being said, there are simple nootropic stacks that are usually a main nootropic plus one or two supplemental ones to enhance the effects of the main nootropic. We’ll break down the best nootropic stacks into two categories: beginner, and advanced. If you’ve never tried a nootropic, you should stick with some of the popular nootropics for beginners. If you’ve been around the cognitive enhancement block, you can test the waters on the advanced suggestions.
Beginner nootropic stacks
L-theanine and caffeine
Caffeine with L-theanine at a 1:2 ratio (1 part caffeine to 2 parts l-theanine) is by far the simplest nootropic stack out there and is the basis of 1-2-Go. It is easy to find the two ingredients to make this simple stack yourself and the ingredients are readily accessible so you could try this stack today. Caffeine is one of the most popular drugs in the world, and L-theanine is sold anywhere that sells vitamins (health stores, general stores like CVS and Walgreens, anywhere online, etc.)
Here’s how it works: the caffeine gives you the energy and focus boost that you’re aiming for. But caffeine is far from perfect in that people react negatively to it. As in, those people get the energy and focus boosts, but the overall experience might not be pleasurable. For example, some users report anxiety, sweaty hands, insomnia, a lack of appetite, sleep issues etc.
The L-theanine balances out the caffeine to relax you and take away, or at least minimize, these negative effects. L-theanine has been shown to reduce anxiety (a very common side effect reported by those who are sensitive to caffeine), help with caffeine-induced insomnia, and overall, just help you utilize the caffeine to its fullest without getting sidetracked by the negative side effects.You get the boost from caffeine, but you don’t get the annoyances that come with it.
Dosing L-theanine and caffeine is simple. If you already drink coffee or tea daily, just add 200mg of L-theanine with your first cup every morning. This can be done with an L-theanine sublingual solution, or by taking an l-theanine supplement.
If you don’t drink caffeine consistently, we wouldn’t recommend starting off with an uncontrolled amount of caffeine. Although it’s possible to estimate how much caffeine is in a cup of coffee or tea, that exact amount varies wildly depending on the type of coffee, how it’s made, etc. Even chains like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts often have discrepancies branch-to-branch because of how the particular employee makes the pot.
So instead, take a caffeine pill. These are sold at almost all gas stations behind the counter, and a pack should cost you just a couple of bucks. The pills are usually 200mg, break this in half into 100mg (or go even further) and start there. 200mg for someone with no tolerance, even with the addition of L-theanine, is too much.
If you want to join the general population and start drinking coffee or tea, you still can. Just get decaf and sprinkle in the caffeine. Once you build up a tolerance and learn how you react to 100mg of caffeine, you can start ordering drinks with varying amounts of caffeine in them (note that coffee averages around 90mg per cup but can have as much as 200mg in a single cup).
Racetams or Noopept and choline
Here’s another excellent beginner stack. Pick a racetam (piracetam, aniracetam, oxiracetam, etc.) and add a choline source (like our optimal choline complex) on top of it. This popular pairing and customer feedback has caused us to provide the Racetam + Choline bundle which is offered at a discount over ordering the items individually.
Each racetam varies in the effects it gives you, but by and large, each one boosts your cognitive functions in some way, shape, or form. The different racetams are often thought to increase acetylcholine usage in the brain. Acetylcholine is an important neurotransmitter that is involved in learning, memory, and general cognitive function. Choline is converted to acetylcholine once you ingest it and thus also has cognitive boosting properties. Supplementing with choline provides your brain enough acetylcholine to reduce the side effects from racetam usage (like headaches, or brain fog).
Here’s how it works: acetylcholine and glutamate levels always need to be balanced; If they’re not, you will experience headaches. Racetam usage has been observed to increase glutamate absorption by the brain, so you need to supplement with an acetylcholine precursor (in the form of some choline supplement) to balance these levels out.
Some users can get by with just a racetam, but considering how choline makes the racetam more effective, there’s really no reason to not add it to your routine. Also, having choline on hand will allow you to dabble into higher doses of racetams, where the potential for a headache is much higher.
Dosage of choline varies depending on what you’re trying to accomplish and the type of choline you are taking. A good starting point is to check out our beginner’s guide to choline. If you’re happy with the effects that your racetam is giving you, you can dose between 250mg and 500mg per day (or less depending on the choline source).
Keep in mind that too much acetylcholine works in the same way that too much glutamate does. If you’re taking a racetam but supplementing with too much choline, you’ll still get a headache. Make sure that you start small (just enough to mitigate any headaches), and gradually increase the dose as you see fit. If you get a headache, you’re not dosing in the correct proportions.
Note: noopept has also been observed to increase glutamate absorption. Consider adding in choline to noopept usage, even though it’s not technically a racetam.
St. John’s Wart + Ashwagandha
Social anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. You don’t want to talk to people because of your social anxiety and the loneliness makes you depressed. Or, the opposite, you’re depressed, so you don’t want to talk to anyone.
When combined, St. John’s Wart and Ashwagandha are two nootropics that can help to reduce the feelings of both your depression and your social anxiety. Because the two are often interlinked, you have to address them both at once. That’s exactly what taking both St. John’s Wart and Ashwagandha does. St. John’s Wart has been shown to act as an selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI). Basically, the nootropic inhibits the uptake of the serotonin that your brain produces. Because the brain isn’t getting as much serotonin as it’s used to, your body creates more of it, and this increase in serotonin makes you feel better day in and day out. (Lack of serotonin leads to the sensations of depression.)
Ashwagandha works as a depressant on your central nervous system. It’s important to note that “depressant” is simply a medical term, it has nothing to do with being in a state of depression. Drugs like Xanax and Lorazepam work in similar ways. Because your nervous system is relaxed, you’re able to think more clearly instead of getting caught up in frenetic anxiety.
Another thing to note is that while St. John’s Wart and Ashwagandha can work wonders for your depression and social anxiety, they do not boost energy or cognitive functions by a noticeable amount. If you start taking both but still feel lazy, it’s worth considering adding in another nootropic like a racetam, or an entire other stack like caffeine and L-theanine.
Advanced nootropic stacks
Convenience Stacks – Alpha Brain & TruBrain
Two of the most popular nootropic stacks on the market today are Alpha Brain and TruBrain. Alpha Brain is covered extensively in our post here, and we plan to do one covering TruBrain in the future. Overall both are great combinations of general nootropics that most people may find convenient. Both stacks contain a form of choline; Alpha Brain uses Alpha GPC, and TruBrain uses Citicholine. We think each source of choline has its benefits, but we like both sources enough that we’ve created our choline complex that contains each. Both contain l-tyrosine and l-theanine. Notably TruBrain contains racetams, specifically piracetam and oxiracetam. Alpha Brain also contains common nootropics like Bacopa, Huperzine A, and Vinpocetine (these compounds where discussed in our history of cognitive enhancement supplements and our guide to cognitive enhancement with nootropic supplements). When comparing the cost of these items to purchasing bulk powders, you’ll save more by doing it yourself, but the savings comes at the cost of time.
Phenylpiracetam and Alpha GPC
Phenylpiracetam is a more potent form of piracetam – many consider it to be “the stimulating racetam” because of the intense focus and importantly energy boosts that you get from it. As you might expect, a more potent racetam calls for a more potent choline source.
Alpha GPC is that more potent choline source, at least in terms of being the acetylcholine precursor with the highest bio-availability. By taking it, you make more acetylcholine available to the brain than if you were to take a regular choline supplement. This works with phenylpiracetam because more glutamate is produced and absorbed with it, but the excessive acetylcholine is often too much for any other racetam.
So when you need a surge of motivation and focus, consider trying this stack. Like we said, the effects are intense. Only use the stack when you need that intense level of focus and energy and because taking it regularly will result in diminishing returns. If you lead a more relaxed life, some other racetam might work for you, but for those who need it, phenylpiracetam is the answer.
The PAO stack – piracetam, aniracetam, and oxiracetam
This stack utilizes the “big three” in the racetam family to give you the effects of all of the racetams, not just one. For example, aniracetam is said to be better for creativity, piracetam is said to be better for thought recollection, and oxiracetam is said to be better for motivation and energy, When you combine all three, you naturally get all of the effects. Check out our Racetam + Choline bundle that contains all the racetams in the PAO stack plus a great choline source.
The PAO stack isn’t for beginners. We mentioned this earlier: if you blend a bunch of nootropics together without first analyzing how they affect you individually, you might be adding in nootropics that do nothing for you, or in the case of the PAO stack, you might get overwhelmed.
Effects from the PAO stack aren’t necessarily bad, but assuming that racetams affect you, the effects can be very pronounced. The combination is not as much “in the background” like the effects of a single racetam would be.
- Greatly enhanced sensory perception – colors are more vibrant, sounds are deeper, and you notice things that you wouldn’t usually notice (the sound of the leaves rustling, the intricacies of the cracks on the sidewalk, etc.)
- Very noticeable stimulation – each one of the nootropics listed won’t give you too much stimulation alone, but when you combine the stimulating properties of all three, you get energized to the point where you certainly will notice; this may largely be due to the addition of the oxiracetam
- Unmatched memorization – one of the nootropics is enough to get a mild memory boost, but when you combine all three, that effect is much more pronounced.
- Mundane tasks are now fun – because your senses are so stimulated and your mood is generally improved, you can do mundane work with less sense of misery (whereas you’d likely be nodding off otherwise).
As far as dosing, you should try to dose on the lower end of all three nootropics. For example, your standard dose of piracetam might be up to 4.8g per day. Whereas, if you add all three nootropics, you may want to consider halving that. Everyone is different. Do tests on different amounts to find the right fit for you. We suggest tracking the efficacy of your nootropics and cover how to do this with our tutorial on tracking mental improvements.
All in all? Highly recommended, but somewhat expensive. Taking three of the racetams every day will leave your nootropic bill pretty high (unless you buy in bulk powder), so as we said, it’s important to distinguish whether or not each one works for you individually before stacking any of them together.
Other Suggestions – Combine with DHA & EPA
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are important fatty acids found in the brain that the body cannot naturally produce. We covered the benefits of both in our post about the difference between fish oil and krill oil. Simply put, taking a supplement that allows you to get your omega 3’s has many benefits related to cognitive function. We prefer Krill Oil and offer it as a product because of the addition of the powerful antioxidant astaxanthin (which was recently shown to increase spatial memory in mice).
Think we missed a stack that needs to be covered? Comment below and let us know which are your favorite stacks.