The Science Behind Nootropic Mushrooms

In this article, we will take a close look at nootropic mushrooms, also known as "smart mushrooms," and their cognitive enhancing effects. We will explore the science behind these fungi, their active compounds like psilocybin and lion's mane, and their potential health benefits. We will also discuss the difference between nootropic and medicinal mushrooms.
Klara Hatinova

Klara Hatinova

Klara is postgraduate researcher in experimental psychology at the
University of Oxford.

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What are Nootropic Mushrooms? 

Nootropic mushrooms, or "smart mushrooms," are fungi known for their cognitive enhancing effects, similarly to neurotrophic peptides. They improve memory, creativity, and motivation in healthy individuals. These mushrooms contain active compounds like psilocybin and lion's mane, which are believed to have neuroprotective and neurodegenerative properties. 

Nootropics are a broad class of compounds that can enhance cognitive performance. They work by increasing the supply of glucose and oxygen to the brain, possibly through increasing blood flow and improving neurovascular factors and synaptic plasticity.

Types of Nootropic Mushrooms

  • Lion’s Mane mushrooms
  • Maitake mushrooms
  • Chaga mushrooms
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Reishi mushrooms
  • Psilocybin mushrooms


Some nootropic mushrooms are Schedule 1 substances, meaning they are illegal drugs, while others are on the considered doping substances

Potential Health Benefits of Nootropic Mushrooms

Nootropics may have preliminary efficacy for improving cognition in patients with Alzheimer’s disease [2], most notably through increasing norepinephrine and dopamine release, similarly to Wellbutrin antidepressant or phentermine, a peptide for weight loss

Nonetheless, the objective improvements in cognitive performance in healthy individuals have been debated in the field [3]. The difficulty with nootropic mushrooms is verifying the source and active ingredients in your mushrooms. Therefore if you plan on taking nootropic mushrooms, it is important to verify the source of the mushrooms and make sure they do not contain any harmful ingredients. This is the critical downside of nootropic mushrooms, with researchers arguing that certain marketed nootropic mushrooms can do more harm than good if formulated in such a way.

Nootropic Mushrooms and Medicinal Mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms are a group of edible mushrooms with significant overlap with nootropic mushrooms.

Medicinal mushrooms have a spectrum of nutraceutical properties, including bioactive compounds and secondary metabolites that support health by regulating blood sugar, enhancing the immune response, lowering blood cholesterol, promoting cardiovascular health and even cancer-protective and anti-ageing properties [4]. They can also induce the synthesis of neuronal proteins, nucleic acids, and phospholipids for constructing and repairing neurohormonal membranes [5].

Nootropic mushrooms are a sub-type of medicinal mushrooms that specifically impact the brain. The difference between nootropic and medicinal mushrooms is that nootropic mushrooms can reach the brain, either directly or through secondary metabolites. For example, mushrooms from the genus Hericium produce secondary metabolites with critical roles in learning, memory, and brain protection [6]. Specifically, Hericium mushrooms were found to increase nerve growth factor and brain-derived neurotrophic factor, two compounds critical for neural growth and branching.

Ashwgandha is a related nootropic, although it is not a fungus, but rather a medicinal herb [7].


Summary: What Are Nootropic Mushrooms

To summarize, nootropic mushrooms are a type of mushroom with specific health benefits of improving cognitive performance, for example, in Alzheimer’s Disease. However, the scientific evidence for their benefits is scarce; with improper formulation, nootropic mushrooms cause more harm than good.

As nootropic mushrooms are a health supplement, they are not regulated by the FDA. Your healthcare provider may not have sufficient information to advise whether a certain mushroom is safe.

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Klara Hatinova

Klara Hatinova

Klara is a postgraduate researcher in experimental psychology at the University of Oxford. She has worked across a spectrum of hot topics in neuroscience, including her current project measuring reinforcement learning strategies in Parkinson’s disease. Previously, she studied the efficacy of psilocybin as a therapy for critical mental health conditions and examined molecular circadian rhythms of migraine disorders. She completed her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at the University of Glasgow and participated in a year abroad at the University of California, where she worked on a clinical trial for spinal cord injury.