“Everyone wants a piece of me” is the fantasy thought coming from CBD when the nootropic subject is raised. It is an understatement to say that CBD is trending right now. But with the efficacy of plant-based cannabidiol on the human endocannabidoid system, there remains a lot of confusion around making an effective product even better. Amidst all the misinformation is the notion that CBD oil is also a nootropic. Wait a minute then, what is CBD and what is a nootropic? We break it down, below.

What Is CBD Again?

Is CBD a Nootropic? This is How CBD Affects the Brain

Cannabis sativa is the source for hemp oil, hemp seed oil and cannabis oil.

Hemp oil is extracted from the leaves, stalks, and flowers of the cannabis plant and contains high amounts of cannabidiol (CBD) but very little THC or tetrahydrocannabinol—the phytocannabidoid responsible for getting you high. The 2018 Farm Bill made hemp oil with 0.3 percent or less THC content (by dry weight) legal in all 50 states. CBD and THC are two of the 113 naturally occurring cannabinoids found in hemp plants.

Conversely, hemp seed oil is extracted from the seeds of cannabis sativa and contains no CBD or THC. Hemp seed oil is great for your skin and cooking.

Cannabis oil, made by separating the resins from cannabis flowers, has more THC than CBD and in amounts that may be illegal in your state.

Most of the time, when we are talking about CBD oil, we are talking about hemp oil mixed with cannabis oil, the extracted cannabidoids of the cannabis plant. Full-spectrum CBD contains trace amounts (0.3 percent) of THC while CBD isolate is a pure isolated cannabidiol with plant material removed. Full-spectrum CBD is preferred by those who want the inclusion of all cannabis’s synergistic cannabinoids and terpenes but should know that it might show up in a drug test. CBD isolate is a lower cost per milligram.

Why Is CBD A Good Thing?

As it turns out, humans and most breathing beings have endocannabinoid systems (ECS). Yup, it’s true. Researchers Dr. William Devane and scientist Dr. Lumir Hanus discovered this vital system in 1992 while they were researching plant-based cannabinoids. Within your ECS, you have  two cannabinoid receptors or neurotransmitters, CB1 and CB2 that are activated by cannabinoids that either you generate or ingest.

CB1 receptors are primarily in the brain and the central nervous system. CBD’s controversial cousin, THC, only targets CB1 receptors, giving your brain the legendary psychoactive ride.

CB2 is in the immune system and the gastrointestinal tract. Here is where the natural euphoria occurs.

Your body also produces two of its own “endo” cannabinoids—anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).


Although anandamide does not stay around long and breaks down easily, your central nervous system is continuously creating these compounds to help maintain on-demand homeostasis. Known as the “bliss” molecule, anandamide binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors, exactly like phytocannabinoids do when ingested. This relationship affects your appetite, your sense of pain, your moods, your memory, your ability to learn, and even your fertility. Your body is doing this already, without the influence of cannabis or CBD.

 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG)

This endocannabinoid binds primarily to the CB2 receptor, governing the immune system and sending out immune cells to areas that need healing.

The endocannabinoid system is an important discovery as it regulates almost every important bodily function, including:

  • Your cardiovascular and circulatory systems
  • Inflammation and immune system responses
  • Pain perception and pain management
  • Neuroprotection and muscle function
  • The reproductive processes
  • Digestive processes
  • Learning and memory
  • Metabolism and thermal regulation
  • Management of moods and emotional responses

If your body does all of this naturally, then what is the need for CBD? Simply put, life can get really hard sometimes. You may eat foods that cause inflammation. Your boss or kid’s teacher may be nagging you a little extra. You’re pulling an all-nighter at school. You may be training for a marathon and your muscles are screaming at you. Your nervous system depends heavily on the endocannabinoid system to balance everything out but it’s incredibly difficult for your ECS to keep up.

Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, we have a plant-based oil that contains cannabinoids just like anandamide and 2-AG. And what does that oil do? It helps to elevate your own endocannabinoids, restocking the shelves in your very spent nervous system and getting rid of the stuff (fatty acids) that are literally eating away at you.

Other significant physiological events are occurring in your brain as CBD enters the picture and are good to know as your knowledge deepens. But for now, the important thing for you to understand is that adding CBD oil to your lifestyle is like packing a little more in your travel bag, just in case.

As CBD sales continue to grow at an astounding rate, so do the product choices, and you may feel like Goldilocks as you are trying to pick what is best for you. CBD can come in a variety of strengths, with THC and without THC. Cannabis oil with THC can be beneficial for people who have epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, chronic pain, and even PTSD. But for the average joe just looking to gently change their lane, it is possible to enjoy the healing, supportive properties of CBD with little or no THC and stay on the more pleasant side of the legal system.  In terms of investment, your body typically can only process about 35 percent of the CBD you ingest. Some recommend that tinctures with higher concentrations are better delivery methods and therefore, give you more bang for your buck. Delivery methods besides smoking peak in about 90 minutes.

The exogenous cannabinoids found in full-spectrum CBD and CBD isolates extracted from the hemp plant provide all the benefits of the cannabis plant without the risk of any intoxicating effects. That’s because marijuana contains high amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, the cannabinoid responsible for marijuana’s well-known effects. CBD from hemp does not. With hemp-based CBD, you have the ability to get all the potential benefits of supplementing your endocannabinoid system with cannabis extracts with no risk of intoxication or any form of impairment.

Is CBD A Nootropic?

Is CBD a Nootropic? This is How CBD Affects the Brain

Nootropics are “smart drugs,” supplements, and other substances that improve cognitive functions including mood, focus, memory, motivation, creativity and attention span. The word “nootropic” comes from the Greek root “noos” for mind and “tropein” for toward.

Does CBD affect the brain in this way? It is more accurate to think that CBD is mitigating negative effects like anxiety and depression, allowing your brain to function more effectively. CBD is not going to “boost” your brainpower beyond the potential you were born with as other nootropics may do. CBD, however, is a good platform to carry or “stack” nootropics because it is reliable, non-toxic, and non-addictive. A nootropic “stack” refers to combining dietary supplements that work together to increase the benefits desired.

Which nootropics should you look for? That depends upon what you want to accomplish. Are you hoping to increase productivity or are you looking for something to ease your mind and help you sleep? We will look at two kinds of nootropics, those made in the lab and those made from nature.

Lab-Based Nootropics

Is CBD a Nootropic? This is How CBD Affects the Brain

Racetams are the most well known lab-based nootropics. Piracetam, within this group, is one of most popular and commonly used nootropic drugs on the market. Used in Europe to improve memory and brain function, Piracetam helps the cells in your brain function better by improving both oxygen and blood flow and reducing rigidity around brain cell membranes. All of these results can help with concentration, memory, and mood. One noted and ironic side effect of Piracetam is that you can get pretty bad headaches if you do not take it with choline.

Nature-Based Nootropics

Herbal and plant-based nootropics have been shown to improve cognition, reduce stress, combat fatigue, improve memory and provide overall brain protection. The most well-known natural nootropics are listed below, along with their benefits.

Energy and Cognitive Improvement

Lion’s mane mushroom: A medicinal mushroom traditionally used to improve cognitive function, prevent cognitive decline, and lower anxiety.

Ashwagandha: An adaptogen herb from the nightshade family used to lower stress and               anxiety and boost memory.

Ginseng: Panax ginseng is a root popularly used to lower fatigue, enhance cognition, improve mood, and enhance immune function.

Rhodiola rosea: Also known as golden root, it’s a flowering plant used to reduce mental fatigue, enhance performance, and fight stress, anxiety, anger, and depression

Ginkgo biloba: The leaves of a ginkgo biloba tree, native to China, are used to improve memory and attention.

Cordyceps: A medicinal fungus used to improve physical performance, lower fatigue, and prevent disease.

Eleuthero: Also known as Siberian ginseng, it’s an Asian adaptogen herb used to fight stress, boost energy, and prevent depression and anxiety. This herb lowers stress by relaxing the blood vessels and increasing blood flow.

Guduchi: Tinosporo cordifolia, also called guduchi or heart-leaved moonseed, is a vine native to southeast Asia and it’s used as an adaptogen to improve cognition and prevent disease.

Butterfly pea: Clitoria ternatea, a flowering plant from Thailand and Malaysia, is used as a memory enhancer to lower stress, anxiety, and depression.

Schisandra berries: The berries from the herb Schisandra chinensis, native to China, are used to enhance memory and learning as well as to reduce anxiety.

Luobuma: Apocynum venetum, commonly known as luobuma, is an Asian shrub. Its leaves are used to make tea to lower anxiety, stress, depression, and blood pressure

Bacopa Monnieri: Used in Ayurvedic medicine, improves memory retention, spatial learning, the ability to take in new information about one’s environment, and reduces stress. It may lengthen your nerve cells which is also linked to learning, memory and preserving cognitive functions.

Is CBD a Nootropic? This is How CBD Affects the Brain

Lower Anxiety and Depression

Ashwagandha: Improves your resistance to stress and lowers anxiety.

L-Theanine: Has powerful anti-anxiety, anti-depressant and anti-stress effects that can also boost brain cell health. Found in green tea.

Eleuthero: Can lower stress by relaxing the blood vessels and increasing blood flow.

Luobuma: It acts as a sedative that can fight high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression.

Improve Sleep

Ashwagandha: Helps you to fall asleep and stay asleep.

GABA: Known as the brain’s own calming agent and is naturally produced in the body. By inhibiting over-stimulation of the brain, GABA may help promote relaxation and ease nervous tension.

Magnesium glycinate: Can improve sleep time and efficiency.

Valerian root: Can improve sleep time and efficiency

Nature-Lab Nootropics

Some compounds get their start in nature but then only become available through labs. Researchers seeking to understand cognitive decline find new pieces of information about the brain that help people move further up on the good-health spectrum. Some of the most common ones include:

Caffeine: The compound that gives coffee its magical powers. Rather than improve brain performance, it will raise physical alertness. Best for passive learning and short-term focus.

Huperzine-A: Huperzine-A is a chemical extracted from Chinese club moss or fir club moss plants. It can also be made in a laboratory. It is believed by the Chinese to accelerate learning because it increases the learning neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

Alpha GPC: A compound rich in choline, extracted from either eggs or soy lecithin. Alpha-GPC seems to increase a chemical in the brain called acetylcholine. This brain chemical is important for memory and learning functions. It is used in Europe for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

L-Tyrosine: A non-essential amino acid that can prolong the effects of your body’s anti-stress mechanisms. Some improvements in memory under stress have been found.

L-Theanine: An amino acid found in the leaves of green and black tea. It’s used to reduce anxiety and stress and improve focus, especially when paired with caffeine.

GABA: A sedative neurotransmitter created from the fermenting foods in the lab. It’s also produced naturally by your body as a non-protein amino acid anty and stress management.

Phosphatidylserine A fatty substance you produce that covers and protects every cell and is central to how nerve cells function in the brain and memory survives. Phosphatidylserine is found naturally in certain foods and is also sold as a dietary supplement. Believed to preserve memory, promote healthy sleep, improve mood, and enhance exercise performance.

How To Choose Nootropics

Figure Out Your Goals and Try to Achieve One at a Time

Whatever it is you want to achieve—whether that’s pain and inflammation management, better sleep, or improved focus and cognitive function—they can’t all be achieved at the same time. Start small and work your way up.

Figure Out How Much You Want to Spend

CBD and nootropic stacks can be developed by adding your own dietary supplements together or by purchasing them as one formula. Note: Preformulated stacks tend to be more expensive and do not enable you to try different dosages.

Do Your Research

This is probably the most essential point. What may work for another could be a disaster for you. A product may increase your discomfort or do nothing at all. It is also best to work with a holistic health practitioner to ensure that you are starting with the right dosing and to ensure that you are taking things at the right time of day. For example, adrenals tend to fall off in the afternoon so taking Ashwagandha at 1 p.m. gives you the support you need. You do not want to be taking adrenal support just before you go to bed. Ensure that the product comes with a money-backed guarantee. If the manufacturer is not going to put money behind their product, why would you?

There are five defining qualities that classify a substance as a nootropic. It must:

  • Enhance memory and ability to learn
  • Help the brain function under disruptive conditions
  • Protect the brain from chemical and physical assaults
  • Increase the efficacy of neuronal firing control mechanisms
  • Possess few or no side effects and be virtually non-toxic

Manage Your Expectations

We are so anxious for a pill to save the day that we are certain there is something out there for us. We want it and we want it now and if a little is good, more must be better, right? No, more is definitely not better. More, more, more is how you got drained in the first place. Start slowly, understand where and why you are deficient, and be patient.

Going Forward

CBD is clearly an excellent addition to your wellness products. Its ready relationship with your endocannabinoid system means that it may only strengthen what you already have. Nootropics delivered in combination with CBD oil may also give you the mental advantage and clarity you are looking for. However, it is most important to remember there is “no one size fits all” and that the research on all of these products is still ongoing. In time, the answers will be out there.

Products We Recommend Trying

One brand that is utilizing the synergistic power of CBD and nootropics is FOCL. Specifically, the brand’s proprietary Day and Night Capsules are full of specific nootropics and adaptogenic herbsto give your a mental boost in the morning and a restful night’s sleep.

Erin Spong

Erin Spong

After several major injuries - including 2 hip surgeries and 2 severe concussions - Erin Spong was in search of a holistic pain and anxiety management remedy. Discovering CBD after graduating from the University of Missouri, Erin found this form of medicine to be the healthiest and most reliable treatment. As the Editor of The CBD Encyclopedia, Erin is stoked to meld her passions for writing and health, and to guide others to the perfect CBD products for their needs and lifestyles.