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Huperzine A is a popular ingredient in a lot of nootropic stacks these days. However, how do you know you are taking the right dosage for the memory benefits that it can provide? There are lots of folks out there giving their own advice and anecdotal experience with it, but should we really trust a testimonial? Especially since some are just trying to sell you ads or even their own questionable product. And once you know the dose, where can you find it from a trusted source?
In this article, we’ll nerd-out a bit on the background of huperzine A, the clinical evidence behind this popular nootropic, the best dosage, and the best supplements with huperzine A.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Where does huperzine A come from?
Unlike some of the nootropics out there, it wasn’t discovered as a synthetic drug. As a bit of an understatement, huperzine has been around a bit. It is a chemical compound from a plant called “toothed clubmoss,” Latin name Huperzia serrata. This plant has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine, as a treatment called Qian Ceng Ta which has been used for strains, swelling, schizophrenia, removing “heat” and detoxification (Xu et al, 2019). In the 1980s some Chinese scientists isolated the active ingredient, a chemical compound called a “sesquiterpene alkaloid” that had some potent effects on the brain (Wang et al, 1986). Because it came from Huperzia they creatively called it “huperzine.” Those darn scientists…
What makes huperzine A a nootropic?
Because of the long-known positive benefits of Qian Ceng Ta, research quickly ensued on the isolated compound, and one thing stood out: It was remarkably potent in microgram quantities (Tun et al, 2012). Generally speaking, plant-derived alkaloids can have a variety of effects on humans. Some are literally poison. Some can make you hallucinate. Others can have very positive effects, but like any bioactive component, it’s all about the dose.
One of the main findings on the effect of huperzine A has been that it’s able to inhibit an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase (Wang et al, 1986). This enzyme is responsible for breaking down the key neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain (Trang and Khandhar, 2019). Basically blocking this enzyme temporarily increases the levels of acetylcholine in the brain, essentially revving up cognitive function. Check out the video below to learn more about how acetylcholine works:
Clinical evidence on huperzine A
Huperzine A has been studied quite extensively in humans, especially in China. A recent meta-analysis summarized a number of randomized controlled trials and concluded that this compound can have a beneficial effect in improving memory and cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients (Yang et al, 2013). It’s also been found to be useful in other medical applications including vascular dementia (Xu et al, 2012), cocaine-use rehabilitation (De la Garza et al, 2015) and even recovery from exposure to a nerve-agent called soman (Haigh et al, 2008). Although the benefits of huperzine A are not quite as well-established as Bacopa monnieri, it’s still quite compelling. Bottom line: This is no foo-foo dust!
In one study in 15-year-old Chinese students, the group supplemented with huperzine A showed improved learning and memory compared to the placebo group (Sun et al, 1999). Basically the kids were able to do better on their exams if they were taking huperzine A (50 mcg/day in this case).
The best dosage of huperzine A for memory
Based on the clinical evidence discussed above, we recommend starting with 100 micrograms or less and going up from there, based on your own comfort level, not to exceed 200 micrograms. We also suggest that you take it in the morning or before long periods of needing to be awake or on-task. Some people have reported having lucid dreams or having trouble sleeping (or even “sleeping awake”) after taking too high a dose before bed.
Huperzine has a fairly long half-life, about 12 hours (Li et al, 2007), so if you take too much you may be feeling it for a while. But this also means that you don’t need to take it more than once a day. As with any nootropic, its also best to cycle it, meaning take long breaks between uses, especially if you use it a few days in a row. Also it’s best to only use it situationally, and not daily.
What’s the best huperzine A product
As with any supplement, we recommend you look for a company with a track record for quality and one that’s part of key industry trade associations. This suggests that the company has a commitment to quality and to following responsible sourcing and manufacturing practices. We are also looking for companies that have been around awhile and have established quality and sourcing procedures. We would suggest you skip the small-time “nootropics” companies, and go for a trusted source. This can be tough because of all the options out there. Some of those companies are just drop shipping other people’s products, sketchy stuff. And you know that you can’t always trust the Amazon reviews. All of the products we recommend are from quality companies.
Here are the products we suggest:
Source Naturals makes a 100 mcg and a 200 mcg product:
Also, Life Extension has a huperzine and they have a long track record of quality products in the supplement industry:
If you are looking for a little mental edge in your daily work, huperzine A is a great choice. Start small with 50 mcg doses, once a day, and go up from there, but don’t go above 200 mcg. Also, take breaks to make sure you don’t build a tolerance. Choose products from trusted brands so you can be sure you are getting the best quality. You can also check out our articles on nootropics for some other ideas.
De La Garza, R., Verrico, C.D., Newton, T.F., Mahoney, J.J., and Thompson-Lake, D.G.Y. (2015). Safety and Preliminary Efficacy of the Acetylcholinesterase Inhibitor Huperzine A as a Treatment for Cocaine Use Disorder. Int. J. Neuropsychopharmacol. 19, pyv098.
Gul, A., Bakht, J., and Mehmood, F. (2019). Huperzine-A response to cognitive impairment and task switching deficits in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. J Chin Med Assoc 82, 40–43.
Haigh, J.R., Johnston, S.R., Peppernay, A., Mattern, P.J., Garcia, G.E., Doctor, B.P., Gordon, R.K., and Aisen, P.S. (2008). Protection of red blood cell acetylcholinesterase by oral huperzine A against ex vivo soman exposure: next-generation prophylaxis and sequestering of acetylcholinesterase over butyrylcholinesterase. Chem. Biol. Interact. 175, 380–386.
Li, Y.X., Zhang, R.Q., Li, C.R., and Jiang, X.H. (2007). Pharmacokinetics of huperzine A following oral administration to human volunteers. Eur J Drug Metab Pharmacokinet 32, 183–187.
Sun, Q.Q., Xu, S.S., Pan, J.L., Guo, H.M., and Cao, W.Q. (1999). Huperzine-A capsules enhance memory and learning performance in 34 pairs of matched adolescent students. Zhongguo Yao Li Xue Bao 20, 601–603.
Trang, A., and Khandhar, P.B. (2019). Physiology, Acetylcholinesterase. In StatPearls, (Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing), p.
Tun, M.K.M., and Herzon, S.B. (2012). The pharmacology and therapeutic potential of (-)-huperzine A. J Exp Pharmacol 4, 113–123.
Wang, Y.E., Yue, D.X., and Tang, X.C. (1986). [Anti-cholinesterase activity of huperzine A]. Zhongguo Yao Li Xue Bao 7, 110–113.
Xu, M., Heidmarsson, S., de Boer, H.J., Kool, A., and Olafsdottir, E.S. (2019). Ethnopharmacology of the club moss subfamily Huperzioideae (Lycopodiaceae, Lycopodiophyta): A phylogenetic and chemosystematic perspective. J Ethnopharmacol 245, 112130.
Xu, Z.-Q., Liang, X.-M., Juan-Wu, null, Zhang, Y.-F., Zhu, C.-X., and Jiang, X.-J. (2012). Treatment with Huperzine A improves cognition in vascular dementia patients. Cell Biochem. Biophys. 62, 55–58.
Yang, G., Wang, Y., Tian, J., and Liu, J.-P. (2013). Huperzine A for Alzheimer’s disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. PLoS ONE 8, e74916.