8 Best Nootropics For Depression In 2022

Written on October 9, 2022 by | Reviewed by William Gallagher, MNeuroSci

In this article, I'll look closely at the 8 best nootropics for depression. I'll also cover the potential risks and side effects you may run into and the benefits you can expect.

According to the World Health Organization, depression is a widespread disease affecting 3% of the worldwide population, 5.0% of adults, and 5.7% of those aged 60 years or older [1]“Depression.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression..

Depression is a serious mental illness that affects millions of people worldwide. It differs from normal mood swings and temporary emotional reactions to everyday problems. A frequent, mild, to severe form of depression can negatively impact a person's health, resulting in great anguish and difficulties in performing daily tasks. Depression can lead to suicide at its worst.

Every year, over 700 000 individuals die from suicide, the fourth major cause of death among teenagers aged 15-19. Luckily there are many effective treatments for depression, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and antidepressant medication.

But what if there were a way to prevent or cure depression with natural substances?

This is where nootropics come in.

Nootropics are smart drugs or supplements that improve cognitive function, including memory, creativity, focus, motivation, and attention. Let's take a closer look at how these substances can be used in people with depression.

The best nootropics for depression, according to scientific evidence, are:

  • Mind Lab Pro
  • Phenibut
  • Aniracetam
  • Bacopa Monnieri
  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
  • 5-HTP
  • Ginkgo Biloba 
  • Lion’s Mane Mushroom 

1. Mind Lab Pro

Mind Lab Pro is a nootropic blend containing 11 cognitive-enhancing ingredients.

One of these is Citicoline. Citicoline is a substance that boosts levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh). Low levels of acetylcholine are linked to depression and poor cognitive function.

In treating depression, Citicoline has been demonstrated to work well when combined with traditional SSRIs. A randomized, double-blind trial was conducted on 50 people with severe major depressive disorder (MDD) who were taking citalopram (an SSRI) [2]Roohi-Azizi M, Arabzadeh S, Amidfar M, Salimi S, Zarindast MR, Talaei A, Akhondzadeh S. Citicoline Combination Therapy for Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled … Learn more.

The study consisted of 2 groups who were given either citicoline or a placebo twice daily for 6 weeks. The severity of depressive symptoms was measured at the beginning of the study and then again at weeks 2, 4, and 6 using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS).

Compared to the placebo group, those taking Citicoline saw much HDRS score improvements from baseline at weeks 2, 4, and 6, thus proving Citicoline's effectiveness as an add-on therapy for major depressive disorder patients also taking SSRIs.

When Citicoline is stacked (combined) with other nootropic ingredients, as in Mind Lab Pro, this nootropic supplement can further enhance the effects of citicoline on depression by:

  • Improving brain energy metabolism and blood flow with Alpha GPC (choline)
  • Supporting new nerve growth and regeneration with Bacopa Monnieri
  • Protecting the brain against age-related damage with Lion’s Mane Mushroom
  • Reducing stress and promoting relaxation with L-theanine and Rhodiola Rosea

Mind Lab Pros

  • Contains 11 natural nootropics for supporting mood, motivation, and stress relief
  • Helps ease depression symptoms by raising levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine
  • Stacks well with other nootropics and supplements
  • Safe for long-term use

Mind Lab Pro Cons

  • Can be expensive for people on a budget

Mind Lab Pro in Summary

Mind Lab Pro is a nootropic supplement containing 11 cognitive-enhancing ingredients, including Citicoline, which has been shown to be an effective add-on therapy for major depressive disorder patients also taking SSRIs.

2. Phenibut

Phenibut is a tranquilizer that is typically used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and depression. Phenibut works by binding to GABA receptors in the brain, which helps to reduce anxiety and improve mood.

In addition, Phenibut has also been shown to stimulate dopamine levels in the brain [3]Lapin, I. “Phenibut (beta-phenyl-GABA): a tranquilizer and nootropic drug.” CNS drug reviews vol. 7,4 (2001): 471-81. doi:10.1111/j.1527-3458.2001.tb00211.x. Dopamine is a critical neurotransmitter for motivation, pleasure, and reward-seeking behavior, and low levels are also thought to play a role in the development of depression.

Dopamine has a direct link to motivation. When dopamine levels are low, it can lead to anhedonia, which is the inability to experience pleasure from activities that used to be enjoyable [4]Gold, Mark S et al. “Molecular role of dopamine in anhedonia linked to reward deficiency syndrome (RDS) and anti- reward systems.” Frontiers in bioscience (Scholar edition) vol. 10,2 309-325. 1 … Learn more.

Phenibut Pros

  • Shown to be effective in treating anxiety, insomnia, and depression
  • Can improve motivation and pleasure-seeking behavior
  • Stacks well with other nootropics and supplements

Phenibut Cons

  • High potential for abuse and addiction

3. Aniracetam

Aniracetam is a cognitive enhancer that has shown promise in treating depression.

Depression is characterized by negative thoughts and emotions, and Aniracetam appears to help by reducing these. One mechanism by which it does this is by increasing serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in mood regulation.

Aniracetam has been shown by a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Brain Research to interact with N-anisoyl-GABA, which affects not only somatodendritic nACh and NMDA receptors, but also presynaptic nACh receptors, increasing levels of DA and 5-HT [5]Shirane, M, and K Nakamura. “Aniracetam enhances cortical dopamine and serotonin release via cholinergic and glutamatergic mechanisms in SHRSP.” Brain research vol. 916,1-2 (2001): 211-21. … Learn more.

NACh receptors are important for learning, motivation, and memory, while NMDA receptors are critical for long-term potentiation (LTP), which is the process by which memories are formed.

These are impaired in depression; thus, increasing their levels could help reduce negative thoughts and improve mood.

Aniracetam Pros

  • Shown to be effective in treating depression
  • Helps improve mood by reducing negative thoughts and emotions
  • Enhances memory and learning

Aniracetam Cons

  • Hard to find high-quality Aniracetam online
  • Not sold in most stores

Aniracetam in Summary

Aniracetam is a racetam nootropic that has shown promise in treating depression. It does this by increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine, two important neurotransmitters for mood regulation. Additionally, Aniracetam also helps to improve memory and learning.

4. Bacopa Monnieri

Bacopa Monnieri is a small herb that has been used for centuries in traditional Indian medicine. Also known as Brahmi, this herb is thought to be beneficial for various conditions, including depression.

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial showed that Bacopa Monnieri extract has great potential for safely enhancing cognitive performance and reduce stress in healthy adults [6]Calabrese, Carlo et al. “Effects of a standardized Bacopa monnieri extract on cognitive performance, anxiety, and depression in the elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” … Learn more.

In depression, the brain is often inflamed, and oxidative stress plays a role. Bacopa Monnieri has antioxidant properties and helps reduce oxidative stress.

Additionally, Bacopa Monnieri also increases levels of serotonin and dopamine, two important neurotransmitters for mood regulation [7]Rauf, Khalid et al. “A Bacoside containing Bacopa monnieri extract reduces both morphine hyperactivity plus the elevated striatal dopamine and serotonin turnover.” Phytotherapy research : PTR … Learn more.

Bacopa Monnieri Pros

  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Improves cognitive performance
  • Helps reduce inflammation and oxidative stress
  • Increases levels of serotonin and dopamine

Bacopa Monnieri Cons

  • Not as effective as SSRIs

Bacopa Monnieri in Summary

Bacopa Monnieri, also known as Brahmi, is an adaptogenic herb that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. It helps to relieve stress and anxiety while also enhancing cognitive performance. Bacopa Monnieri can also aid in the reduction of inflammation and oxidative stress.

5. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Coenzyme Q10 is a vitamin-like substance that occurs naturally in your body and helps to generate cellular energy. The mitochondria create your cell's natural energy source, which converts fat into usable energy.

CoQ10 preserves brain function and aids in treating mental disorders like depression. MDD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia have all been linked to mitochondrial dysfunction.

This is due to higher levels of oxidative stress. Lower plasma CoQ10 is linked with MDD, and supplementation can improve symptoms of depression [8]Maes, Michael et al. “Lower plasma Coenzyme Q10 in depression: a marker for treatment resistance and chronic fatigue in depression and a risk factor to cardiovascular disorder in that … Learn more.

CoQ10 supplementation can improve mitochondrial function and reduce oxidative stress. This, in turn, helps to improve symptoms of depression.

CoQ10 Pros

  • Aids in the treatment of depression
  • Improves mitochondrial function
  • Reduces oxidative stress

CoQ10 Cons

  • Not as effective as other antidepressants

CoQ10 in Summary

CoQ10 is a vitamin-like substance that helps to generate cellular energy. It is also an antioxidant that helps to preserve brain function. CoQ10 supplementation can improve mitochondrial function and reduce oxidative stress, which can help to improve symptoms of depression.

6. 5-HTP

5-HTP is a naturally occurring amino acid and a precursor to serotonin, one of the main neurotransmitters involved in regulating mood.

When levels of serotonin are low, it can lead to feelings of depression. 5-HTP supplements have been shown to increase serotonin levels, which may help to alleviate symptoms of depression [9]Birdsall, T C. “5-Hydroxytryptophan: a clinically-effective serotonin precursor.” Alternative medicine review : a journal of clinical therapeutic vol. 3,4 (1998): 271-80..

In addition, 5-HTP helps improve sleep quality and reduce anxiety levels, which are often impaired in people with depression. It's not recommended to take 5-HTP with SSRIs, as this can lead to serotonin toxicity (also known as Serotonin Syndrome).

5-HTP Pros

  • Increases serotonin levels
  • Improves sleep quality
  • Reduces anxiety levels
  • A natural alternative to SSRIs

5-HTP Cons

  • Combining with SSRIs can lead to serotonin toxicity

5-HTP in Summary

5-HTP is a naturally occurring amino acid and a precursor to serotonin. It has been shown to increase serotonin levels, which may help to alleviate symptoms of depression. 5-HTP also helps improve sleep quality and reduce anxiety levels.

7. Ginkgo Biloba 

Ginkgo Biloba is a popular herbal remedy that has been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments. In recent years, it has also been studied for its potential to help with depression.

One of the active ingredients in Ginkgo Biloba is ginkgolide B, which increases serotonin levels in the brain. A study in England analyzed the effects of Ginkgo Biloba extract on 1,570 men and women. 120 mg of extract was consumed daily for 4, 6, or 10 months [10]Trick, Leanne et al. “The effects of Ginkgo biloba extract (LI 1370) supplementation and discontinuation on activities of daily living and mood in free living older volunteers.” Phytotherapy … Learn more.

The subjects who took the Gingko Biloba extract for the longest time noticed greater improvements in areas like happiness, anxiety, depression, and energy levels.

Ginkgo Biloba Pros

  • Increases serotonin levels
  • Improves mood
  • Enhances cognitive function

Ginkgo Biloba Cons

  • Interacts with SSRIs

Ginkgo Biloba in Summary

Ginkgo Biloba extract is a popular nootropic. It's been researched recently for its potential to help with depression. Ginkgolide B, one of the components in Ginkgo Biloba, increases serotonin levels in the brain.

8. Lion’s Mane Mushroom 

Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) is a type of fungus that has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine. Recently, it has been gaining popularity as a natural treatment for depression.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom contains compounds that can stimulate the growth of nerve cells and increase serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood.

Additionally, Lion’s Mane Mushroom has anti-inflammatory properties that may help to reduce the symptoms of depression. A recent study found that Lion’s Mane Mushroom was effective in reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The clinical trial gave Lion's Mane-laced cookies to women in Japan for 4 weeks. The researchers found that Lion's Mane reduced anxiety and depression among these participants during the study [11]Nagano, Mayumi et al. “Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake.” Biomedical research (Tokyo, Japan) vol. 31,4 (2010): 231-7. doi:10.2220/biomedres.31.231.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom Pros

  • Natural treatment for depression
  • Stimulates growth of nerve cells
  • Increases serotonin levels
  • Anti-inflammatory properties

Lion’s Mane Mushroom Cons

  • Not as strong as other synthetic nootropics like Phenibut

Lion’s Mane Mushroom in Summary

Lion’s Mane Mushroom is a type of fungus that has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. In recent years, it has become popular as a natural treatment for depression. Lion’s Mane Mushroom contains compounds that stimulate the growth of nerve cells and increase serotonin levels.

What Are the Best Nootropics for Depression?

The best nootropics for depression are:

  1. Mind Lab Pro
  2. Phenibut
  3. Aniracetam
  4. Bacopa Monnieri
  5. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
  6. 5-HTP
  7. Ginkgo Biloba 
  8. Lion’s Mane Mushroom 

Each nootropic on this list has been shown to be effective in reducing the symptoms of depression. I chose a combination of natural and synthetic nootropics to provide a well-rounded list.

Mind Lab Pro is my top pick because it's the most complete nootropic supplement on the market. It contains 11 ingredients that are all clinically proven to improve cognitive function, reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.

How to Choose the Right Nootropic Supplement for Depression?

There are a few things to consider when choosing a nootropic supplement for depression:

  • Ingredients: The first thing you should look at is the ingredients list. Make sure that the supplement contains ingredients that have been clinically proven to be effective in reducing depression.
  • Dosage: Next, make sure that each ingredient's dosage is in the clinically effective range. This ensures that you're getting an adequate amount of the nootropic to experience the desired benefits for depression.
  • Price: Consider the price of the supplement. Nootropic supplements can range in price from $15 to $100+. Choose a supplement that fits your budget and contains the ingredients that you're looking for.
  • Interactions: If you're already taking medication (SSRIs) for depression, make sure to check for potential interactions between the nootropic and your medication. Most of the nootropics that I've listed above interact with SSRIs, which can lead to serotonin toxicity.

What Are the Benefits of Nootropics for Depression?

Nootropics offer a variety of benefits for depression, including:

  • Stress relief: Nootropics can help to reduce stress and anxiety, which are often two of the main symptoms of depression.
  • Cognitive enhancement: Nootropics can improve cognitive function by increasing focus, concentration, and memory. This can be beneficial for people who are struggling with depression-related cognitive problems.
  • Mood enhancement: Many nootropics contain compounds that can improve mood and reduce the symptoms of depression.
  • Better sleep:  Depression can often cause sleep problems, but some nootropics like Phenibut can help to improve sleep quality. This can be beneficial for people who are struggling with depression-related insomnia.

Nootropics can also increase your sense of well-being and provide other benefits that can help to improve your quality of life.

What Are the Side Effects of Nootropics for Depression?

best nootropics for depression

The most common side effects of nootropics are:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia

These side effects are usually mild and go away within a few days of starting the supplement.

Nootropics' more severe side effects occur when they are taken in large doses or combined with Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).

These side effects can include:

  • Serotonin syndrome (toxicity)
  • High blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Do Nootropics Really Work for Depression?

So far, the research on nootropics for depression is promising.

Several clinical studies have shown that nootropics can effectively reduce the symptoms of depression with few side effects. This is great news for people who are looking for a safe and natural way to treat their depression.

It's also great for people who don't want to rely on SRRIs to treat their depression since they have a host of potential side effects.

Final Thoughts

Do I recommend using nootropics for depression?

Yes, I think they can be an effective treatment for depression, especially when combined with other treatments like therapy.

However, it's important to point out that you don't want to mess around with the wrong nootropics if you're currently taking SSRIs.

This can lead to serotonin syndrome, which is a potentially deadly condition.

If you're currently taking SSRIs, please make sure to check for potential interactions between the nootropics and your medication before taking them.

Other than that, I think nootropics are a safe and effective way to treat depression.

References

References
1“Depression.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression.
2Roohi-Azizi M, Arabzadeh S, Amidfar M, Salimi S, Zarindast MR, Talaei A, Akhondzadeh S. Citicoline Combination Therapy for Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Clin Neuropharmacol. 2017 Jan/Feb;40(1):1-5. doi: 10.1097/WNF.0000000000000185. PMID: 28085707.
3Lapin, I. “Phenibut (beta-phenyl-GABA): a tranquilizer and nootropic drug.” CNS drug reviews vol. 7,4 (2001): 471-81. doi:10.1111/j.1527-3458.2001.tb00211.x
4Gold, Mark S et al. “Molecular role of dopamine in anhedonia linked to reward deficiency syndrome (RDS) and anti- reward systems.” Frontiers in bioscience (Scholar edition) vol. 10,2 309-325. 1 Mar. 2018, doi:10.2741/s518
5Shirane, M, and K Nakamura. “Aniracetam enhances cortical dopamine and serotonin release via cholinergic and glutamatergic mechanisms in SHRSP.” Brain research vol. 916,1-2 (2001): 211-21. doi:10.1016/s0006-8993(01)02939-0
6Calabrese, Carlo et al. “Effects of a standardized Bacopa monnieri extract on cognitive performance, anxiety, and depression in the elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) vol. 14,6 (2008): 707-13. doi:10.1089/acm.2008.0018
7Rauf, Khalid et al. “A Bacoside containing Bacopa monnieri extract reduces both morphine hyperactivity plus the elevated striatal dopamine and serotonin turnover.” Phytotherapy research : PTR vol. 26,5 (2012): 758-63. doi:10.1002/ptr.3631
8Maes, Michael et al. “Lower plasma Coenzyme Q10 in depression: a marker for treatment resistance and chronic fatigue in depression and a risk factor to cardiovascular disorder in that illness.” Neuro endocrinology letters vol. 30,4 (2009): 462-9.
9Birdsall, T C. “5-Hydroxytryptophan: a clinically-effective serotonin precursor.” Alternative medicine review : a journal of clinical therapeutic vol. 3,4 (1998): 271-80.
10Trick, Leanne et al. “The effects of Ginkgo biloba extract (LI 1370) supplementation and discontinuation on activities of daily living and mood in free living older volunteers.” Phytotherapy research : PTR vol. 18,7 (2004): 531-7. doi:10.1002/ptr.1479
11Nagano, Mayumi et al. “Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake.” Biomedical research (Tokyo, Japan) vol. 31,4 (2010): 231-7. doi:10.2220/biomedres.31.231