When corporate strategist Ben Sand was wanting to improve his performance at work, he looked to nootropics, compounds designed to enhance cognition.
"For me, it's sort of like coffee, but a bit smoother," he said.
He actually cut the coffee and started taking a regimen of four pills daily.
"It's just a simple way to kind of get the alertness that I'm for," Sand said.
Sand uses supplements from a company called Nootrobox. They're available online and no prescription is needed. Ingredients include things you've heard of like B vitamins and caffeine. As well as some you might not have heard of like bacopa monnieri and rodiala rosea.
"They affect your mental state, they affect your cognitive abilities, they can help with things like memory or focus or attention or clarity of mind," said Michael Brandt, co-founder of Nootrobox.
Brandt said demand for nootropics is huge with more people looking to make the most of the time they have each day.
"nootropics are designed to affect brain functions in those ways that are able to improve, or at least modify in positive ways, a variety of processes of cognition," said Dr. James Giordano, a professor of neurology who researched optimizing brain functions.
Experts point out, though, the world of nootropics isn't limited to supplements available over the counter, some people are are using prescription medications off-label or purchasing substances on the gray market.
"There's a lot of people eating different forms of nootropics and that ranges anywhere from pharmaceuticals to supplements to illegal substances," Dr. Giordano said.
Dr. Giordano said that although there are small amount of literature that say they may be effective, more research is needed when it comes to nootropics in general.
"To be able to demonstrate not only the effectiveness of these compounds in real world setting, but also the effects, side effects, and potential burdens and risks," Dr. Giordano said.
For consumers interested in trying them out, Dr. Giordano warns it's a buyer beware marketplace.
"Every consumer probably has to be their own researcher, do their due diligence, look into the available research," he said.
For Sand, he feels like nootropics combined with a healthy lifestyle and meditation have made a big difference.
"I do feel like I have an edge in the workplace that, that comes from a kind of holistic approach in using these products in combination with, with everything else I'm doing," he said.
When it comes to both pharmaceuticals and supplements used as nootropics, the potential for misuse or abuse should be of concern. Dr. Giordano said it's important to stick to the recommended instructions, and more is not always better.