NZT 48 Pill: Is it real? What is the closest alternative?

  • August 16, 2017
The NZT-48 or Limitless Pill is a fictional drug from the film “Limitless”. This pill does not exist in real life.

In the movie, the protagonist is a deadbeat writer who is tired of being unsuccessful. He was given the NZT-48 pill. It improved his brain’s functions so much that he catapulted his status to the elite 1%.

The NZT-48 supposedly makes you Batman without the traumatic past or Ironman without the shorter lifespan. It is also a tablet that is, unfortunately, non-existent.

Here is the NZT 48 pill scene from the movie Limitless:

Why NZT is downright unrealistic

The NZT-48 is unrealistic because the movie is mistaken about how our minds work. In the film, the pill unlocks the latent capabilities of the brain by making it go into overdrive.

The brain goes beyond its standard power since, according to the film, the brain only uses 10% of its potential, and increasing the percentage used will make you a genius.

Sorry to break it to you, but that is just false. The Scientific American debunked this myth a long time ago.

It turns out that our brains use almost all of the neurons present in it most (if not all) of the time. Just because an MRI report shows only a small part of our brains lighting up, does not mean that a big part of our brain is sleeping.

The inactive grey or dark areas are not “sleeping” but are actually doing important unconscious work. Can you imagine forgetting how to breathe or how to order your stomach to digest? Those “sleeping” neurons are not actually sleeping and are doing very critical work.

Perhaps the clue that is most telling about how NZT does not exist are the so-called benefits of the pill itself.

What were the supposed effects?

The movie stars Bradley Cooper, who plays the character, Eddie Morra. Morra, a novel writer, takes the pill that grants him the ability to fully utilize his brain, which results in him exhibiting extraordinary skills.

Some of the feats that the protagonist of the film had accomplished were the following:

  • Finishing a book in a day
  • Charming any woman he wants
  • Dominating the stock market
  • Recalling distant memories
  • Processing huge amounts of information very quickly by merely glancing at it

The effects are deliberately exaggerated to draw a clear line between fiction and reality. This also creates a ‘wow’ impact on the viewers.

Why did NZT become popular?

Due to the success of “Limitless” and its exaggeration of the effects of smart drugs, the pill (or more specifically – the brand) has gained widespread popularity and marketability.

Can you imagine being the smartest person in the world? No need to train your brain by reading books or spending a lot of time learning skills. Just pop up a tablet and… voila you are a genius.

You can procrastinate but still achieve more than what any hardworking and talented person.

Read a book? Why read when you can just write one yourself and do a better job than the author?

Distractions, ‘Brain Fog’, and ‘Writer’s Block’ will no longer be terms in your vocabulary.

All of these with just a small capsule.

Since people prefer products that can let them do more with less effort, the NZT brand has become extremely profitable.

Abusing the brand

The bad news is that the NZT pill just does not exist. Any marketing campaign saying that they are the NZT-48 pill supplier is just morally wrong. Run away from these scammers.

‘Hope’ can be such a cruel thing. Blinded by the desire to be better – unfortunate people are conned into buying fake pills.

The biggest problem with this is not the fraudulent nature of the claims, but the danger of ingesting the marketed tablets posing as NZT pills. Sellers do not disclose the ingredients of the products. Not only will you not get the grossly exaggerated benefits, but also you may be harming your health!

Real-life “fakes”

fake nzt pill

Fake NZT pill

This popularity has led to quite a lot of businesses taking the opportunity to market their products with smart, but morally grey strategies.

For instance, there is a product marketed as the NZT 48 drink mix, using the NZT brand. Another brain-boosting tablet is marketed as MZT-48, which can confuse the buyers. They merely changed one letter (to avoid copyright claims), and they are not upfront about it.

However, just because scams are present does not mean that there are no products or substances that can boost your brainpower.

You can still improve your mental capabilities: take a nootropic.

What are Nootropics?

Nootropics are substances that are used to improve mental capabilities temporarily. They are more commonly known as smart drugs. These substances usually come in the form of a pill or a drink mix, and they are supposed to improve focus, innovation, and all-around mental abilities.

Coffee (caffeine) can be considered a natural Nootropic!

Here is how they work:

  • These pills improve and accelerate the rate of how brain neurons interact with each other, which gives a faster memory recall and analysis of information.
  • They also give the brain a boost of energy and a better energy-efficiency ratio, which provides you with better focus.

nzt 48 pill effects on the brain


Rather than fixing problems, nootropics improve our capabilities. That is the reason why nootropics are different from prescription drugs:

  • Nootropics are taken for their benefits
  • Prescription drugs are taken to fix a problem

Nootropics are taken to help with:

  • Learning: Improve the rate of learning or skills development. An example would be taking a nootropic when you are studying for an exam or trying to master a second language.
  • Thinking: Develop out of the box thinking and analysis. Businessmen take brain enhancers to give them better decision-making abilities, get rid of brain fog, and have more lucid thoughts.
  • Memory: Make remembering easier and faster. You will also be able to access both short-term and long-term memory much better. This is a useful benefit that students would love to have.
  • Focus: Chemicals give the brain endurance to strain out distractions and concentrate on the task at hand.
  • Wakefulness: Energy benefits are more evident if you are under-slept or tired.

Currently, the most popular nootropic drug is Modafinil, but there are plenty of other alternatives. Modafinil is the pill rumored to be where the Limitless Movie got its inspiration.

Modafinil (Provigil)

Initially, this was a prescription drug for those who are suffering from sleep disorders and idiopathic hypersomnia. However, Modafinil is now more popular as a nootropic since it promotes wakefulness. It is also a pill that is effective in making people more focused.

It is not a surprise that United Kingdom’s military is using Modafinil as the pill to manage fatigue during operations, as reported by ABC.

Modafinil’s effects last from 6 to 8 hours, and include the following:

  • Improve focus and concentration.
  • Lessen sleepiness.
  • Improved reaction time.
  • Higher levels of vigilance.

However, there are side effects as well:

  • Difficulty in sleeping.
  • Lower levels of euphoria and higher chances of tiredness when not using Modafinil.
  • Stomach ulcers.

In short, Modafinil is the closest you can get to the NZT-48 pill in real life. It can improve your mental abilities, but not to the extent found in the film.

Modafinil comes in both generic and non-generic forms and can be labeled as: Provigil, Modvigil, Modalert, Vilafinil, and several other names.

Medicinal Alternatives

These are other prescription drugs, so you need a doctor’s note to get them legally.

  • Adderall: This is a stimulant that is used to help people who are suffering from ADHD and narcolepsy. It makes you more awake and focused (source).
  • Armodafinil (Nuvigil): This has very similar effects and chemical composition as Modafinil (source).
  • Ritalin: Similar to Adderall, this is a drug that helps improve focus and is used by children and adults who have ADD. This stimulant improves listening skills and can help minimize emotional outbursts (source).

It is commonly asked: what is the difference between Modafinil and Adderall? They are both very similar, so we wrote a detailed comparison between the two.

An interesting research about German students and another study show that almost 5% of university students have used marketed and branded cognitive enhancers to improve their academic capabilities for their studies.

Natural Alternatives

When people say that drinking coffee in the morning makes them ready for the day, they are not joking. Coffee has been used as a nootropic, especially by writers in the past like the French novelist Honore de Balzac.

Tea not only makes you healthier; it can also make you more alert. It does have caffeine, but not to the extent that coffee does.

Energy drinks contain a big dose of caffeine as well as other additions to improve mental capacity – especially if you are tired.

However, the pressures and stress found today may need more than a shot of Starbucks or a can of Redbull for them to be conquered.

Over-The-Counter pills

These are drugs that you can legally get online or at pharmacies (legality status differs between countries). There is no need to get a prescription since they are in a sense safer than prescription drugs. Here are some popular brands:

  • Lucid Smart Pill is a nootropic that does not need a prescription. It can improve your concentration and focus. However, it is not as strong as Modafinil or other prescription drugs.
  • CILTEP is another natural nootropic. This pill is marketed as a vegetarian capsule. It is said to improve mood and social ease and at the same time improve mental endurance.
  • Adrafinil: This was discovered when researchers were looking for a drug that could treat narcolepsy. It enhances vigilance and motivation. When Adrafinil is ingested, the liver synthesizes it to Modafinil, which results in gaining the same effects of the latter. This is a stimulant, so better not take it at night before you need to sleep (source).
  • Piracetam: This is a family of drugs that work as cognitive enhancers. Some of the drugs in this category are Phenylpiracetam, Pramiracetam, Oxiracetam, and Aniracetam. It is non-addicting and non-toxic, but it may deliver mild side effects such as stomachache and headache. It is not approved by the FDA (source).
    • Phenylpiracetam is a legal over-the-counter pill in the US, but not in some other countries like Russia. It improves memory and at the same time gives energy. However, be prepared to get a few dull headaches when using this.
  • Noopept: It was created when researchers in Russia were prototyping Pramiracetam. It is more potent than the other drugs in the Piracetam family. Some of its effects are enhancing directed thinking, the ability to focus, learning capabilities, and memory functions (source).
  • Nicotine: Do not confuse this with tobacco. Nicotine, taken in smaller doses, helps improve memory.
  • Choline: It is a nutrient that is processed by the body to become Acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps with muscle control and memory. A few select food and supplements contain trace amounts of Choline (source).

Real-Life Side Effects

Natural nootropics like coffee and tea do not have immensely adverse side effects unless there are allergies present or are consumed in abnormally high amounts.

Other nootropics sold on the market are usually classified into two: prescription drugs and over-the-counter nootropics.

Prescription drugs

The main thing to watch out for in prescription drugs is the possibility of substance abuse.

Depending on the prescription drug, it can negatively affect your body with its medicinal effects. For instance, stimulant nootropics can give you excess energy which can lead to ulcers, headaches, and higher blood pressure.

The following are other the common negative side effects:

  • Weight gain and increased appetite
  • Drowsiness, fatigue, and dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Insomnia and anxiety

Prescription drugs, due to their chemical composition, can also target your liver and kidneys. Please take them in moderation and as per your doctor’s prescription.

OTC Nootropics

OTC = over-the-counter

They have lesser side effects, but they also have lower effectiveness. This means that the side effects are not as dangerous as the prescription drugs.

However, that does not mean that you should not take them without caution. Here are a few known side-effects:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Vertigo and vomiting
  • Reduced appetite
  • Headaches
  • Blood pressure fluctuations

Daily habits that can help

For a better efficiency with your brain, you can do the following:

  • Get adequate sleep. The brain synthesizes information better when it is well-rested.
  • Go for a daily walk. This helps your brain get more oxygen and makes you healthier as well.
  • Have at least 2 hours of exercise per week. Exercising improves memory and focus and also makes you healthier.
  • You do not need to be a Buddhist monk in order to meditate. A 30-minute meditation session each day will improve the neural connections of your brain.
  • Learn something new each day. This is like weight-lifting for your brain. It improves mental capabilities plus it makes you more knowledgeable.


The NZT-48 pill does not exist, but the nearest nootropic to it would be Modafinil. Remember that Modafinil is a prescription drug, so it is best that you listen to your doctor. Most of the prescription drugs and over-the-counter nootropics have unwanted side-effects, like insomnia and substance abuse.

While nootropics are useful, not a lot of research has been done yet, which makes the said results probable but inconclusive. Always do your research.

Nootropics are great, but maybe in a few years or decades, a real NZT-48 will be present on the market.

Additional information

The Limitless Movie

The movie was released in 2011 and is inspired by the novel ‘The Dark Fields’. This became a big blockbuster, earning more than $160 million while having a budget of $27 million.

The Movie’s Marketing Campaign

While the film was still under production and near its release, a campaign was launched to improve the movie’s reception to moviegoers. The campaign published multiple professional-looking websites that marketed and sold the fictional medicine.

Several pseudo sites have built a wholly fictional concept behind NZT and pretended that the pill was real. They listed (fake) ingredients, side effects, commercials, and advertisements.

Here is a fake commercial:

However, you could not buy the pills anywhere. Some of the websites still exist until today.

The Problem with NZT

NZT, according to the fake campaign websites, is defined as thallanylzirconio-methyl-tetrahydro-triazatriphenylene. It is alleged as a nootropic drug or smart drug that acts as a psychotropic medication. It is supposed to have the combined capabilities of the following antidepressants:

  • SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) — a type of drug that is used as an antidepressant for anxiety disorders and major depressive disorder (more info).
  • NaSSA (Noradrenergic and Specific Serotonergic Antidepressant) — a psychiatric medicine used as an antidepressant (source).
  • NDRI (Norepinephrine-Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitor) — a drug used to manage narcolepsy, clinical depression, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Read more here.

Even before the movie was created, marketers playing in the smart drug niche have been already working to profit from their respective products. When the film came out, it gave them a huge opportunity to boost their own campaigns and coverage.

Fake social media accounts were created to make it appear that the existing nootropic supplements inspired the movie. Photoshopped messages from real celebrity accounts, including the ones who played roles in the film, were created for clickbait purposes.

Concurrently, many marketers outside the nootropics niche immediately jumped on the bandwagon to cash in a few dollars. They “created” and marketed their own version of the NZT-48 pill all over the web. If you have been attentive to ads and banners of the websites you visited, you may have read about these “limitless” pills.

Pseudo side effects

To improve the marketability of NZT-48 pills, most sellers will claim that the drug does not have any side effects. However, they do claim that you will experience a multitude of withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the drug. Here are a few:

  • Extreme Back Pain
  • Fatigue and Insomnia
  • Frequent UTI (Urinary Tract Infection)
  • Vomiting and Nausea
  • Mouth Dryness and Nasal Congestion
  • Sensitivity to Light and Sound
  • Excessive Thirst and Hunger
  • Increased or Decreased Libido
  • Impotence
  • Depression and Anxiety Disorder

Manufacturers also do not list proper disclaimers. There are not enough clinical studies or research to back the chemical composition of the pills. There is also the risk of people getting allergic reactions since some of these pills do not list what their ingredients are. Please do your homework before taking these kinds of nootropics. It is always better to get a prescription or to get an OTC nootropic from a reputable brand.

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