Smart Pill UK 2021 Review - Which Ones to Try and Which to Avoid

Benjamin Martin - 5 Jan 2021

The ultimate guide to brain supplements

Ever since the Bradley Cooper movie Limitless hit the big screens in 2011, the world has been gripped by the idea of cognitive enhancement.

The thought of being able to take a pill with breakfast and be a genius by lunch is intriguing for many obvious reasons. Unfortunately, we aren't at the stage of being able to produce NZT-48 yet. That's not to say there aren't some comparable substances, though!

They're known by many names: smart pills, smart drugs, nootropics, cognitive enhancers. Whatever term you use, our team of nootropic experts have tried them all.

We asked them to survey the entire smart pill market in 2021 to cut through the high volume of conflicting evidence out there, to provide you with an in-detail examination of the most popular smart drugs available today.

All done honestly, carefully and without judgement.

This should, hopefully, provide you with a great starting place for your research into smart pills whether you're a complete beginner or biohacking veteran.


  • What are the different smart pill types?
  • Type 1: Synthetic smart pills
  • Type 2: Natural smart pills
  • Natural smart pills vs synthetic smart pills: Which is best?

What are the different smart pill types?

There are two types of smart pills available in the UK as of 2021.

Type 1: Synthetic smart pills
  • Made from synthetic substances.
  • Usually designed as medicines but used off-brand as smart pills. This makes most of them illegal under the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act.
  • Examples include modafinil, Adderall, Ritalin and Noopept.
  • Most users report that their productivity decreases after using these substances long-term due to the onset of serious side effects.
Type 2: Natural smart pills
  • Made from naturally sourced ingredients such as superfoods, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
  • Mostly legal.
  • Depending on which formula you use, these can be as effective as synthetic smart pills.
  • Usually better long-term due to fewer negative effects.

Please carry on reading for more information about these two types.

Type 1: Synthetic smart pills

These are synthetic/pharmaceutical products, such as modafinil, Adderall or Noopept.

They may be used off-label as smart drugs or study drugs to help focus and concentration. This isn’t their intended purpose, and could potentially be dangerous for numerous reasons.

They can cause severe negative effects, and their long-term effects aren’t well-researched. They’re also illegal to sell, so they must be made outside of the UK and imported. That means their manufacture isn’t regulated, and they could contain anything.

Pharmaceuticals such as modafinil are perfectly legal if prescribed, and we recommend their use if prescribed for you by a doctor. They are illegal to possess without a prescription, though.

Some examples of smart pills include:


Modafinil is a eugeroic, or ‘wakefulness-promoting agent’, intended to help people with narcolepsy.

It was invented in the 1970s but was first approved by the American FDA in 1998 for medical use. Recent years have seen its off-label use as a ‘smart drug’ grow.It’s not known exactly how modafinil works, but scientists believe it may increase levels of histamines in the brain, which can keep you awake.

It might also inhibit the dissipation of dopamine, again helping wakefulness, and it may help alertness by boosting norepinephrine levels, contributing to its reputation as a drug to help focus and concentration.

Ultimately, more research needs to be undertaken to determine its exact method of action.

Modafinil is legal to supply to people when prescribed by a doctor, but its unsanctioned sale in the UK is punishable by up to two years in prison.


Methylphenidate, commonly known as Ritalin, is a stimulant first synthesised in the 1940s.

More accurately, it’s a psychostimulant - often prescribed for ADHD - that is intended as a drug to help focus and concentration. It also reduces fatigue and (potentially) enhances cognition.

Similar to Modafinil, Ritalin is believed to reduce the dissipation of dopamine to help focus. Ritalin is a Class B drug in the UK, and possession without a prescription can result in a 5-year prison sentence.


Adderall is an amphetamine, used as a drug to help focus and concentration in people with ADHD and promote wakefulness for sufferers of narcolepsy.

Adderall increases levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, along with a few other chemicals and neurotransmitters.

It’s used off-label as a study drug, because, as mentioned, it is believed to increase focus and concentration, improve cognition and help users stay awake.


Historically used to help people with epilepsy, piracetam is used in some cases of myoclonus, or muscle twitching.

Its actual mechanism of action is unclear: It doesn’t act exactly as a sedative or stimulant, but still influences cognitive function, and is believed to act on receptors for acetylcholine in the brain.

Piracetam is used off-label as a 'smart drug' to help focus and concentration or sometimes as a way to allegedly boost your mood. Again, piracetam is a prescription-only drug - any supply to people without a prescription is illegal, and supplying it may result in a fine or prison sentence.


Noopept was developed in Russia in the 90s and is alleged to improve learning.

This drug modifies acetylcholine and AMPA receptors, increasing the levels of these neurotransmitters in the brain. This is believed to account for reports of its efficacy as a 'study drug'.

Noopept in the UK is illegal, as the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act made it an offence to sell this drug in the UK - selling it could even lead to 7 years in prison. To enhance its nootropic effects, some users have been known to snort Noopept.


Vinpocetine walks a line between herbal and pharmaceutical products.

It’s a synthetic derivative of a chemical from the periwinkle plant, and due to its synthetic nature we feel it’s more appropriate as a ‘smart drug’.

Plus, it’s illegal in the UK.

Vinpocetine is purported to improve cognitive function by improving blood flow to the brain, which is why it's used in some study drugs or smart pills.

Please note that this isn’t an extensive list by any means, there are plenty more ‘smart drugs’ out there purported to help focus and concentration. Most (if not all) are restricted under the Psychoactive Substances Act, meaning they’re largely illegal to sell.

We strongly recommend against using these products off-label, as they can be dangerous both due to side effects and their lack of regulation on the grey/black market.

Type 2: Natural smart pills

Naturally sourced ingredients can also help enhance your brain. Superfoods, herbals or amino acids are natural and are usually directly derived from food or plants.

Panax ginseng, matcha tea and choline are included under this umbrella. There are dozens of different natural ingredients and herbs purported to help cognition, many of which have been used medicinally for hundreds of years.

There are also pre-made stacks (or formulas) of cognitive-enhancing superfoods, herbals or proteins, which pre-package several beneficial extracts for a greater impact.

These types of smart pills are more subtle than the pharmaceutical alternative with regards to effects, but they work all the same.

In fact, for many people, they work better than smart pills as they are gentler on the brain and produce fewer side effects.

Natural smart pills frequently contain some of the following ingredients.

Matcha green tea

Matcha Green Tea Powder, made from specially selected whole green tea leaves ground down to a super fine powder, contains a number of nootropic components which can help the brain such as L-Theanine.


Guarana Fruit Seeds from a plant native to the Amazon rainforest can positively affect the brain and central nervous system, making you feel less tired and more alert.


Choline (which can be found in broccoli) is required to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in regulating cognitive processes, mood and intelligence.


L-Tyrosine (which can be found in avocado) is an amino acid that’s required for the development of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that influences mood, motivation and performance.

Panax ginseng

Panax ginseng is a herbal remedy from China. It has a reputation for stimulating brain function and increasing energy.

Acetyl L-Carnitine

Acetyl L-Carnitine (which can be found in asparagus) is a mitochondrial energy optimizer, supporting energy production at the cellular level.


Curcumin has been the subject of a recent BBC documentary and a groundbreaking clinical study linking it to beneficial effects on brain function.

Natural smart pills vs synthetic smart drugs: Which are better?

The three most popular smart pills on the market in the UK today are Modafinil, Adderall and Brainzyme®. These are the three that are being used most by students across the UK.

But the main reason you're here is to find out which is the best. We will do a direct comparison below.


Safety should be a big concern for anyone who takes nootropics or smart pills. By safety, we mean the risk of side effects and the number of side effects reported by users.

The best brain supplements

Reports of negative effects caused by Brainzyme are very limited. It is quite common to feel more thirsty after taking Brainzyme capsules, and a very small number of customers report experiencing a slight headache when taking large doses. Both are usually fixed by drinking more water.

Adderall and Modafinil are different stories. Due to the pharmaceutical nature of these pills, it is fair to assume that side effects will be more prevalent.

The manufacturer of Adderall lists 26 potential side effects, and the manufacturers of modafinil list 43. A big difference compared to Brainzyme and other natural smart pills!

It is often reported that the chance of experiencing negative effects with Adderall and modafinil increases over time - meaning that the longer you take them for, the more issues you are going to experience.

This does not happen with Brainzyme which relies on naturally-sourced ingredients.


We have decided to measure effectiveness by looking at the level of productivity after taking each pill (productivity being measured by effectiveness + motivation + energy + attention or focus).

The best brain supplements

Again, you will see that all three are fairly effective at increasing productivity.

However, what you will notice is that your productivity when taking pharmaceuticals such as Adderall or modafinil spikes quickly and then crashes.

Users usually experience this crash in the form of fatigue or severe irritability. These crashes get worse the longer you take these substances for.

However, Brainzyme, with its safer ingredients allows for a more consistent experience with a significantly less chance of crashing.

Taking Brainzyme long term will continue to increase your productivity, whereas taking modafinil or Adderall long term would ultimately cause you to be less productive due to the severe side effects.

Value for money

Another important factor to consider is the price.

Many people who buy smart pills are students, and so budgeting is extremely important. Even if you are not a student, we assume you will still be concerned about value for money.

The best brain supplements

As you can see, modafinil, on average, costs around £2 a pill.

Adderall costs around 86p and Brainzyme Focus Pro about 53p, making it the best value.

Brainzyme Focus Pro was used for this comparison as customers report the sensation of Pro to be closest with the sensation that users get from modafinil or Adderall.

Based on the criteria of effectiveness, possible side effects and value for money, we have concluded that Brainzyme is the best smart pill for the brain available in 2021.

Popular smart pills reviewed and compared

Smart pillDoes it work?Value for moneyLegal in the UK?Safe?Try or avoid?
Over 91% of customers rated 4 stars or higher.
Excellent value and effective.
Minimal side effects.
£18-£47 for 60 capsules.
Modafinil (with prescription)Only try if prescribed by a doctor. Designed for treating narcolepsy, it has become the 'headline' smart drug in the UK through off-label use as a study drug.
Some severe side effects possible.
Modafinil (no prescription)??Avoid!
Anyone in the UK selling prescription-only medicines on the black market faces up to two years in jail.
£59.95 for 30 capsules.
Nootrobox Kado-3?Try!
It's an Omega-3 supplement derived from fish and krill oils, designed for daily protection for brain and body.
$17.48 for 30 capsules.
Nootrobox Sprint?Avoid!
Recently having changed their formula to comply with UK law, the new formula is lacking the strength that other supplements on this list have.
$12.48 for 30 capsules.
Ritalin (no prescription)??Avoid!
Ritalin is a Class B drug sometimes used as a 'study drug'. Possession without a prescription can lead to a five-year prison sentence or an unlimited fine according to laws in the UK.
Side effects possible.
£30-£60 for 30 capsules.
Adderall (no prescription)??Avoid!
Anyone in the UK selling prescription-only medicines on the black market faces up to two years in jail.
Side effects likely.
£20-£40 for 30 capsules.
The new Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 makes it an offence to possess or sell this drug, with sentences up to 7 years.
£7.28 for 30 capsules.
Alpha BrainTry!
A popular supplement in the U.S., popularised by Joe Rogan. Used to be illegal in hte UK as it contained vinpocetine, which has now been removed from the formula. It's also quite expensive at $34.95 for 30 capsules.
A newcomer to the UK market, and uses some good ingredients. However, it is possible that this stack would not be strong enough for seasoned smart drug users.
£6.50 for 30 capsules.

Conclusion: the best smart pills

If you want to improve your mental performance, we would strongly recommend choosing naturally-sourced brain supplements over pharmaceutical smart pills. They are much safer and provide better long-term results.

Natural smart pills are made with ingredients, such as the ones listed in this article, that have been scientifically proven to improve and support your brain function.

It is much more convenient to opt for a brain supplement that includes several effective ingredients rather than buying the ingredients separately.

Adderall, modafinil and Ritalin's mechanism of action is by a large degree to act on the brain neurotransmitter dopamine, of which one pathway has a major motivational component. It can for some also increase wakefulness and decrease appetite.

Many safe, natural and fully legal UK alternatives such as Brainzyme® Focus Pro work on the same pathway and thus has similar results with fewer side effects.

Read more about our favourite UK-made smart pill Brainzyme here.

Brainzyme Focus Pro is a great cognitive enhancer

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About the author

Benjamin Martin is a nootropic and brain supplement enthusiast

Benjamin Martin is a nootropic and brain supplement enthusiast who has tried every type of performance-boosting supplement under the sun. At Brainzyme, he uses his expertise to produce educational content for the Nootropics UK and Brain Supplements UK blogs.

Based in Edinburgh, Benjamin loves spending his free time in nature whenever he gets the chance.

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