15 Over-the-Counter Drugs That Will Make You Smarter

The easiest ways to energize your mind.

Anyone who's ever watched Bradley Cooper in the movie Limitless probably Googled "Is NZT-48 real?" immediately after seeing all the amazing things his character could do with access to 100% of his brain. (Then you most likely faced a whole lot of disappointment after finding out it isn't.) There is good news, though: Even though that exact pill to make you smarter doesn't exist (yet!), there are still plenty of other pills that make you smarter and can help you unlock your mind. And the best part? You don't even need a prescription—or, you know, have to run around your dead friend's apartment searching for their stash Cooper-style—to get one. Try these 15 options to help increase your memory, smarten up, and amp up your learning skills. And while you're at it, check out our guide on 40 Ways to Stay Sharp After 40.


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The drug modafinil—AKA the so-called real-life Limitless pill—is typically prescribed for narcoleptics, but it's been found to do more than prevent people from falling asleep at their desks during the day. Researchers looked at the effects in a 2015 review and found it also enhances brain function and helps with decision making and planning tasks. Unfortunately, it's not over-the-counter—but the supplement adrafinil is, and when it's metabolized by the body, it actually becomes modafinil. Yep, it's one of the quick-and-easy pills that make you smarter. You might want to pair it with a meal and you can't go wrong with the 10 Essential Power Foods for Men.


melatonin, OTC pills that make you smarter

If you have trouble getting a full night's sleep, you've probably tried taking melatonin. But the sleep-including supplement is also said to help give your brain a boost. Not only does it give your body an extra push to get into a deep sleep so you're more alert the next day, but a 2012 study also found it can help treat mild cognitive impairment.

Ginkgo Biloba

gingko, OTC pills that make you smarter

Ginkgo biloba—which is one of the oldest living tree species—has a secret weapon. Known as a brain herb, it's commonly taken in supplement form to help keep the brain sharp, improving thinking, learning, and memory, says the University of Maryland Medical Center. In Europe, it's even used for dementia due to its ability to help protect nerve cells. Make sure to pick up a quality version of these pills that make you smarter. Check out the 13 Healthiest Food Combos For People Over 40 if you want to multiply this newfound vitality.


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While green tea is healthy in itself, the leaves also contain the amino acid L-theanine. Taking it in supplement form has been said to be a way to improve cognitive function, and a 2008 study found some positive results, revealing it has a significant effect on mental alertness.

Bacopa Monnieri

Bacopa Monnieri, OTC pills that make you smarter

Bacopa monnieri might look like a normal, flowering plant, but it boasts some powerful qualities. The herb—which typically grows in parts of India and other marshy areas—has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine as a way to help improve memory and cognitive function. Some reviews have said there's evidence to suggest it does just that, but more research still needs to be completed. For more healthy-living tips, stay young and lean with these 20 anti-aging superfoods.

Panax Ginseng

panax ginseng, OTC pills that make you smarter

Panax ginseng has been used for centuries for many reasons, one of them being its ability to improve cognitive performance. And the best part? Multiple studies have shown it can help kick brain power up a notch, helping people feel more alert, improve thinking, and help with learning, says the University of Maryland Medical Center.


caffeine pills, OTC pills that make you smarter

Sure, you can drink coffee—but you can also take caffeine in supplement form to wake up your brain. Not only does it make you more alert (as anyone who's ever had a cup of coffee has probably noticed), but a 2016 review also found moderate doses can also improve learning and increase your brain power.

Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola Rosea, OTC pills that make you smarter

Rhodiola rosea—AKA the "golden root"—is another plant that's been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. And, one of them helps the brain: A 2002 review found that it can be used as a brain tonic to help with memory, attention, and learning.


creatine, OTC pills that make you smarter

While creatine supplements are typically marketed as a way to increase athletic performance, they can help increase brain performance too. A 2003 study found participants who took the substance—which is naturally made in the body—saw both improvements to working memory and intelligence.

Spanish Sage

spanish sage, OTC pills that make you smarter

Spanish sage—a plant native to Spain and France—looks like a pretty lavender flower, but it's also been known to play a major role in enhancing memory. In a 2003 study, participants who took the supplement reported improved cognitive function.


Vinpocetine, perwinkle, OTC pills that make you smarter

Vinpocetine—an extract from the lesser periwinkle plant—is known for its ability to increase blood flow to the brain. And, the part you really came here for: According to one study, it also helps improve memory and concentration—especially in those with dementia and epilepsy.

Lion's Mane Mushroom

lions mane mushroom, OTC pills that make you smarter

Lion's mane isn't your typical mushroom. They don't just look cool—basically like a white cheerleader pom-pom!—but studies have shown they can also help enhance memory and improve brain function. Luckily, you don't have to hunt them down: grab the supplement to reap the benefits.

Maca Root

maca root, OTC pills that make you smarter

Grabbing a maca root supplement isn't just a great way to increase your libido and get a little more energy—it's also an easy way to increase your brain power. A 2016 study on mice found it can improve cognitive function.


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Piperine—which gives blank pepper its pungency—has been used for years to help digestion, but you can take the supplement as a brain aid, too. A 2008 study found it can also help improve brain function.


Ginger root, OTC pills that make you smarter

Sure, ginger is a popular spice—but it's also been used as a form of medicine for thousands of years. Not only have people taken it to treat memory loss, but studies show the supplement can also help improve cognitive function, helping with attention and reaction time. Now that you've got all this great brain food, want to know the secret behind the seemingly ageless Tom Brady's diet?

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Tehrene Firman
Tehrene Firman is a freelance health and wellness writer. Read more
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