Nootropics can dramatically improve your overall cognitive performance. When used correctly, high quality nootropics can enhance focus, learning, working memory, and learning capacity. That’s why the nootropics market is projected to grow aggressively over the next few years.
While a growing numebr of people are clamoring for increasingly powerful nootropics to help them be more productive workers or effective learners, there is a worring lack of focus on teaching people how to use the most powerful nootropics in safe, sustainable manner.
Specifically, we have seen very little reliable informaiton online regarding the cycling of nootropics.
There are a range of substances – including 100% natural nootropic compounds and stacks – which should be cycled on a regular basis in order to avoid side effects, long-term adverse effects, or the building of tolerance.
In this article, we’re going to go through the key nootropics which need to be cycled. We will also explain why certain nootropics need to be cycled, which nootropics should never be cycled, and we will explain optimal cycles for different purposes.
Why do nootropics need to be cycled?
There are several reasons why certain nootropics need to be cycled.
Forst and foremost is safety. There are nootropics which are safe when used in the short-term but become exponentially more likely to cause side effects when used daily for prolonged periods without a break. This happens most often with nootropics like Huperzine A, which works by causing a steady but relentless accumulation of acetylcholine in the brain. More on this below!
Other nootropics which do not work by causing a buildup of neurochemicals can also cause side effects when used daily without cycling.
Such nootropics may again be safe when used infrequently, but when used daily they may cause neuron fatigue from prolonged elevation of cognitive function. They may also cause slight digestive issues when used frequently, or they may have a fatigue-like ‘burnout effect’ when used chronically.
Then there is the issue of tolerance building. A lot of nootropics – including plant-based nootropics – produce diminishing benefits with repeated use because you develop a tolerance to them. Almost all of us have experienced this with at least one nootropic – caffeine.
When using nootropics to which it is common to develop a tolerance, it is vital that you routinely cycle the substance in order to keep enjoying the same benefits. This is essential for a few reasons, including the inherent risks of gradually increasing doses, the costs involved in consuming ever more nootropics, and so on.
Clearly there are some very important reasons why you may want to consider cycling nootropics. The reasons listed above become much more relevant considerations when using nootropics that have predominantly short-term, immediate effects. For nootropics that have long-term effects, cycling can be counter-productive.
So which nootropics should never be cycled?
Which nootropics should not be cycled?
There are several nootropics which should not be cycled because they are largely or exclusively beneficial when used consistently for several days, weeks, or even months. Here are some key examples.
Bacopa monnieri works by stimulating dendrite branching (dendritic arborization). In simple terms, this means it stimulates the branches at the ends of your neurons to grow, increasing the number of attachments between neurons.
This process can take several weeks to really have any effect, which is why Bacopa has only been observed to boost memory function after 6-12 weeks of daily use. Cycling Bacopa would halt this process, meaning you would have to start again!
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Similar to Bacopa monnieri, Lion’s Mane Mushroom works by stimulating brain tissue growth. In this case, Lion’s Mane Mushroom works by boosting Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in the brain. This increases neuron growth, development and maintenance.
Like in the case of Bacopa monnieri, Lion’s Mane Mushroom only produces observable benefits after about 8 weeks of consistent use. Peak Lion’s Mane benefits only really come into play after several months of use. Cycling Lion’s Mane would essentially prevent these peak effects from ever occurring.
Theanine is an amino acid and a key ingredient in many specialist nootropic stacks for anxiety. It works in several ways at once, but its main benefit is that it helps modulate CNS activity. This promotes mental clarity, defeats brain fog, and promotes sleep. It also helps counter the negative side effects of caffeine, which is exactly why Theanine is not supposed to be cycled. A good theanine cycle is one which lasts for months on end!
Which nootropics should be cycled?
Now we come to the meat of the article; the nootropics which should ideally be cycled for maximum benefits and minimal side effects.
Huperzine A is really the one nootropic which should be cycled in all circumstances and regardless of the dose being used. Huperzine A causes a steady buildup of acetylcholine in the brain. In the short-term, this is great. But after several weeks, excess acetylcholine can begin to clog up your neurons, inhibiting cognitive function, impairing memory, and disturbing focus.
This is why it is so crucial that you regularly cycle Huperzine A. Taking regular breaks from Huperzine A allows your neurons to clear excess acetylcholine and to regain normal function.
Caffeine is one nootropic that we tend not to cycle; perhaps the only one in a lot of cases! But this is a huge mistake. There are enormous benefits to be had from cycling caffeine. Most people develop a tolerance to caffeine after just 2-3 weeks. This means the benefits diminish rapidly, causing you to seek higher and higher doses. This comes with far greater side effect risks.
Taking a 2 week break from caffeine every few months can bring your tolerance back to baseline, allowing you to get more out of lower doses. A standard caffeine cycling schedule may be something like 8 weeks on, 2 weeks off.
Modafinil is generally regarded as an extremely powerful yet largely safe nootropic compound. Because it rarely causes side effects when used in moderation, it is easy for people to increase their Modafinil use to the point where they are using it on a daily basis. But this can cause serious long-term side effects, including chronic brain fog, low dopamine, loss of motivation, and chronic fatigue.
We recommend cycling Modafinil on a very regular basis, using it for no more than 5 days consecutively before taking a significant break of at least a few days. After 3 cycles, we think a prolonged break is necessary.
Piracetam is the original nootropic, and it is also a nootropic that works much better when it is cycled. How piracetam works isn’t exactly understood.
It is likely that it has several mechanisms of action that all work at the same time to enhance cognition. But what is quite clear is that Piracetam has a very steep tolerance curve when used on a daily basis. Users will find that, without routinely cycling Piracetam, they get rapidly diminishing returns from every successive use of the drug.
Noopept is another synthetic nootropic which is deemed extremely safe when used infrequently but which can cause complications if used daily for long periods of time.
The main issue with Noopept is the fact that it seems to work by elevating BDNF levels. This is great when used for short periods, but long-term elevation of BDNF could have unforseen consequences for cognitive function much further down the line. The simple fact is that Noopept has not been tested for long-term effects, and as such should be cycled regularly until more is known.
Many of you will be surprised to see Citicoline listed here, but for best results, you should always cycle Citicoline on a semi-regular basis. The reason for this is that it is common for the short-term effects of Citicoline – the benefits we feel shortly after taking our first dose – to become less palpable over time.
Taking a break from Citicoline every couple of months can act as a reset, giving you back the initial feeling of intense focus and mental energy that comes from taking Citicoline.
How to cycle nootropics for maximum effect
So how should you cycle nootropics for the greatest benefits and the fewest side effects?
We believe the best way to constuct a nootropics cycle is to use a professional, high-quality nootropic stack designed for a specific purpose. By that, we mean to use a purpose-built daily nootropic for long-term, consistent use, and a short-term, fast-acting nootropic stack which can be cycled without jeopardizing the long-term benefits from ingredients like Bacopa and Lion’s Mane.
For example, for enhancing memory, reducing anxiety and protecting brain health, a stack like NooCube or Mind Lab Pro is ideal since these stacks do not require constant cycling (the small dose of Huperzine A in NooCube shouldn’t cause issues for several months).
For rapidly boosting focus, mental energy and motivation, a stack like Vyvamind is ideal. This stack is designed to have mostly immediate benefits, and due to the caffeine content, would require cycling every few weeks or you will risks developing a tolerance.
In other words, the best nootropic cycle takes into account different needs and how different substances work together. We recommend thinking about what you want to achieve with nootropics and taking regular breaks when using substances like Huperzine A or caffeine.
Brian Johnson is current Editor of Vagarights.com and a long-time writer for VAGA. A former psychologist, Brian is passionate about improving mental health and finding ways to stave off cognitive decline. He is an expert on nootropics, cognitive enhancement and biohacking more broadly. You can see his work on Google scholar.
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