Nootropics: The Self-Isolator’s New Best Friend?

Nootropics: The Self-Isolator’s New Best Friend?

With months of social distancing and working from home on the horizon, how can we sustain motivation and productivity? We’re exploring the world of nootropics, the psychoactive substances designed to improve cognitive function and boost your mood.

was, working from home felt like a luxury. Now, it’s a
necessity. With two to three months of social distancing on the
horizon (at least), you might be questioning just how you’re going
to sustain motivation and keep your head in the digital

Enter the world of nootropics, a medical minefield of
psychoactive substances designed to enhance cognitive function and
boost your mood. First things first: what on earth are they? You’ve
probably popped a few in your time; if a morning coffee is
essential, you’re likely a nootropics addict. The word’s etymology
is Greek, comprised of “noos” (mind) and trope (turning or
bending). It covers everything from caffeine to CBD to modafinil –
a “smart drug” commonly prescribed to adults with ADHD and used
illicitly by university students hoping to pull an all-nighter.

Most interesting of all, nootropics are increasingly becoming
part of the arsenal used by high-functioning wellness doyennes.
Gwyneth’s at it already. On you’ll find “nerd alert”
soft chews pumped with caffeine and L-theanine – a naturally
occurring component commonly found in green tea – while
Net-a-Porter’s beauty department is stocked with a handful of
noo-trified edibles packed with chemically complex plant extracts
to “help [users] stay energised” and to “enhance mental

As we enter an unprecedentedly long period of working from home,
it’s important to consider exactly how these circumstances might
impact our mental health. Half-baked home workouts, tinned
nutrition and a lack of social stimulation are a toxic recipe for
sluggishness. ‘Scuse my directness, but it’s only been ten days and
I’m officially slumping.

Could nootropics keep self-isolation scaries at bay and enable a
higher level of productivity than usual? For some, ingesting these
psychoactives is not only a way of life, but has provided a
shortcut to success.

“I can honestly hands-down say I wouldn’t be where I am now
professionally without it,” explains Ellen (not willing to disclose
her real name), a 26-year-old professional working in education
from Hampshire. “I wake up at 4, take a [modafinil] pill and then
go back to sleep. I usually have a second alarm set for half 5, by
which time the drug’s in my system and I’m ready. It’s crazy; my
productivity for the next four hours is just insane.” How does she
take her morning coffee? “Milk, no sugar, 200mg L-theanine.”

Like anything that sounds too good to be true, modafinil has its
downsides. Yet there are a handful of market-ready, natural
extracts which can cool quarantine cabin fever. Bulletproof coffee
– a company which adds superhuman oomph (in the form of MCT coconut
oil) to your standard morning cup o’ joe – is having a moment,
while nootropic supplement company Cogniora delivers bespoke bundles of psychoactives to
your door – we’re calling it the Ocado of Britain’s biohacking

Andrius Rakovas is the co-founder of Cogniora and a biohacker
extraordinaire who has dedicated the past four years of his life to
self-optimisation. “Day to day, nootropics are an amazing tool to
help stay productive,” he says, “and people might benefit from them
now more than ever, given how chaotic the environment is at the

His advice for nootropics newbies? “Natural ingredients
(standardised extracts at the right potency) are the way to go when
it comes to sustained and safe cognitive support.” For workers who
struggle to maintain motivation and sustain focus, he suggests
“rhodiola rosea, guarana [and] panax ginseng”. Anxious types should
try a cocktail of “L-theanine, gotu kola [and] bacopa monnieri” he

We all have our coping mechanisms. Some might pour a glass of
rouge, others might stretch out that one state-sanctioned walk to a
marathon and run their quarantine woes away. Here are five
quarantine-friendly options which might help ease the panic, combat
the sluggishness and quash the sleeplessness of self-isolation.
Each of these supplements is available to buy from health food
shops, but do your research before investing.

Bacopa monnieri – ancient Adderall for angsty isolators

Ancient Ayurvedic practitioners swore by this stuff back in 2983
BCE. It’s a floral tropical plant, which thrives in humid
environments from
to Africa and is often crushed into tablets or
distilled to its essence. A pipette squeezed into a glass of water
taken three to five times a day is said to alleviate anxiety and

L-theanine – take a chill capsule

It’s an amino acid which is usually extracted from tea leaves
and available to purchase in tablets or powder form from health
food shops. Users commonly take it with coffee a couple of times a
day – it reduces caffeine jitters, apparently.

Melatonin – get your sleep patterns back on track

Top up the supplies already circulating in your brain. Melatonin
is a hormone released by the pineal gland which regulates sleep
cycles. Pop a pill and wash it down with a glass of water an hour
or two before bed to quell any coronavirus-induced nightmares.

Lemon balm – to supplement your evening tipple

This herbaceous plant, part of the mint family, is a natural
sedative which is often dried and taken in tea to help alleviate

Huperzine A – when you need to get stuff done

The parent plant of this tablet is huperzia serrata (“toothed
clubmoss” in English), a herb native to
and Southeast Asia. Huperzine A is an extract used in
Chinese medicine for centuries to combat the onset of Alzheimer’s,
but is otherwise used by healthy people to boost memory.

Discover More
Follow the Rose-Quartz Road: A Sceptic’s Journey to Track Down London’s Wellness Wizards