This article addresses the heady subject, pardon the pun, of qualia mental state (Qualia Mind) and increased alpha brain waves (Alpha Brain). We promise not to go into an excessive amount of intricate scientific detail. Rather, we’ll familiarize you with the topics and then switch gears to an in-depth product comparison, providing our conclusion as to which nootropic might be better suited for your situation. Our criteria to judge these products include an analysis of formulations and ingredients, dosages, pricing, and corporate practices in testing, certifications, and clinical trials. We’ll answer four essential questions relative to price value, safety, convenience, and how effective they might be in delivering their promised benefits.
Qualia Mental State
The founders of Neurohacker Collective picked a unique and distinctive name for their brand, Qualia. In philosophy, the term describes the essential mental state corresponding to experiences; what we sense when we taste, touch, smell, see, or hear are our quali. In layman’s terms, qualia are the “what it’s like” character of mental states or how it feels to experience things such as pleasure, pain, anger, or smelling a flower.
Alpha Brain Waves
Ever wonder why they’re called brain waves? Your brain’s cells (neurons) use electricity to communicate, and a computer-generated electroencephalogram test, an EEG, creates a picture with a wavelike pattern when measuring that electrical activity. There are five types of brain waves, some very fast and others much slower – Alpha waves fall somewhere in the middle.
Your brain produces Alpha waves when you’re awake but not concentrating on anything, when you are relaxed or in response to activities like meditation, inducing feelings of calm. Being in an Alpha state increases creativity and enhances your ability to absorb new information.
Qualia Mind vs. Alpha Brain – Nootropics
Nootropics are the broad category of cognitive enhancers or smart drugs prescribed by physicians or those sold over the counter; no prescription required. A major distinction is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must approve prescription drugs that address medical conditions such as ADHD. The products in our review, Qualia Mind and Alpha Brain, are dietary supplements in the natural products space. Although these products are not “approved” by the FDA, companies operating in the natural products industry are heavily regulated by the FDA and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission).
Most nootropics in the dietary supplement space are multi-ingredient products formulated to support healthy brain function, memory, clarity, focus, and mental processing. The category has experienced significant growth as boomers and college students, gamers, and career-minded individuals seek to gain a competitive edge.
Qualia Mind, from Neurohacker Collective
Qualia Mind is a nootropic dietary supplement in vegetable capsule form formulated with twenty-eight ingredients to enhance memory, promote focus and clarity, and aid in mental processing. Like Alpha Brain, Qualia Mind increases essential neurotransmitters to optimize brain function.
The robust Qualia Mind formula comprises twenty-eight ingredients, seven vitamins, plus twenty-one other herbs and nootropic compounds. Five compounds, including L-theanine, L-tyrosine, Bacopa, Alpha GPC, and Huperzine, are repeated from the Alpha Brain formula. Other popular, clinically validated nootropic ingredients include Ginko Biloba, DHA, Rhodiola Rosea, Phosphatidylserine, and Mucuna Pruriens. There are two patented ingredients in the formula: Cognizin and Organic Coffeeberry. The coffeeberry delivers ninety mg of caffeine and, when coupled with Taurine and Theobromine, has stimulant effects.
Neurohacker products are manufactured in cGMP-compliant facilities in California and New Jersey. Qualia Mind is gluten-free, Vegan, and non-GMO, with no added colors or sweeteners, and like Alpha Brain, it is certified drug and banned substance free by the BSCG (Banned Substance Control Group).
Each serving of Qualia Mind is seven moderately-sized capsules. The company recommends you “cycle” the product, taking it for five days and skipping two days weekly. The product is supported by a 100-Day Money Back Guarantee, limited to the first purchase only.
Dosage & How to Take Qualia Mind
Although the Supplement Facts panel indicates one serving is seven vegetable capsules, we recommend you start with no more than a half dose, or four capsules, to avoid overstimulation – determine your tolerance to the product and then increase as needed. You will also want to monitor your coffee intake to avoid consuming too much caffeine.
Our suggested dosage is first thing in the a.m. on an empty stomach. There is also a Caffeine-free version for those sensitive to stimulants.
Alpha Brain from Onnit Labs, Inc
Alpha Brain is a clinically tested dietary supplement in capsule form shown to activate alpha wave production to help support cognitive functions. The patented amino acid and plant compound formulation also stimulates the production of neurotransmitter chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin that relay information in and from the brain to improve memory, enhance focus, and speed cognitive processing.
The formulation includes:
- Vitamin B6, 10 mg
- Cat’s Claw Extract, 350 mg
- Three proprietary and trademarked blends:
- Flow Blend, 650 mg
- Focus Blend, 240 mg
- Fuel Blend 60 mg
Each key ingredient in Alpha Brain has been shown effective in brain health in published clinical studies:
- L-tyrosine, L-theanine, and Phosphatidylserine in the Flow Blend.
- Cat’s Claw
- Alpha GPC, Bacopa, and Huperzine in the Focus Blend.
- Pterostilbene and L-leucine in the Fuel Blend.
Additionally, Onnit Labs has conducted clinicals on the finished Alpha Brain product, and the results are published in scientific journals.
Onnit products are manufactured in Austin, Texas, in a cGMP-certified facility. Alpha Brain is certified drug and banned substance free by the BSCG (Banned Substance Control Group), the gold standard for banned substance testing. The caffeine, dairy, and gluten-free product is supported by the Onnit Keep-It Money-back Guarantee.
Dosage & How to Take Alpha Brain
The Alpha Brain recommended serving is two capsules, taken daily, preferably with a light meal.
Qualia Mind vs. Alpha Brain: Which is Better?
We promised to address four key questions relating to cost/value, safety, convenience, and efficacy.
Cost Value Relationship
There are instances when the more expensive product may be the better option simply because it outperforms the alternative. If we delve deeply into the cost per serving and per milligram in each serving of our two products, we arrive at a similar price point.
|Cost per Serving
|Serving Size of Blends (less Vitamins/Minerals)
|Cost per mg per serving
However, how many ingredients are required? How large of a dose is enough? How much might be too much? Every brain, like every individual, is different. Given the clinically proven ingredients in Qualia Mind and the clinically proven formula in Alpha Brain, each product will positively impact cognitive performance. Which is better is a challenging question and may differ for different individuals. Both products are expensive, yet when forced to decide, we go with Alpha Brain primarily because the price point of $159.00 for Qualia Mind, is double that of Alpha Brain at $79.00.
Nootropics are generally safe for healthy adults when used as directed. Both brands have excellent safety profiles, and neither has reported severe adverse reactions. Potential side effects, such as headaches, nausea, anxiety, jitters, diarrhea, vivid dreams, and insomnia, are uncommon and rarely serious. One downside to the extensive Qualia Mind formula is that the more ingredients in a product, the greater the potential for causing a problem for people.
There are no published safety studies for Neurohacker’s finished product. Like Alpha Brain, the product is certified drug and banned substance-free by the BSCG (Banned Substance Control Group). However, the extensive list of ingredients, such as theobromine, ginkgo biloba, forskolin, and velvet bean, increases the potential for interactions.
Neurohacker advises that people with psychiatric or neurologic disorders, high blood pressure, heart conditions, endocrine disorders, cancer, or people on immunosuppressive therapy should not take its product.
Neither brand should be taken by pregnant or lactating women or those on prescription medications. Although no prescription is required, we strongly recommend consulting your healthcare professional before adding either product to your supplement regimen.
In this all-important consideration, we consider Alpha Brain the safety winner due to its third-party testing and fewer exotic components.
Although Onnit has Alpha Brain third-party tested for safety, some of the ingredients may have side effects or drug interactions:
- L-theanine should be used with caution for those taking blood-pressure-lowering medications.
- Huperzine A can decrease heart rate – unsuitable for those with heart problems.
- People taking prescription blood-thinning medications, including aspirin, should not use Phosphatidylserine.
- Cat’s claw may cause allergic reactions or digestive issues.
We look at convenience from two aspects:
- How easy is it to access the product? Which product is available more broadly?
- Consuming the product – both products are vegetable capsules.
Alpha Brain is available on its website, other e-commerce retailers, and major physical retailers nationwide. Qualia Mind’s availability is much more limited; its website, a few other e-commerce sites, including Amazon, and they are beginning to gain distribution in brick-and-mortar – advantage Alpha Brain.
The recommended serving size for Qualia Mind is seven capsules versus two for Alpha Brain. Seven capsules, even a half-serving as we suggested, is just too much for us – advantage Alpha Brain.
When comparing formulations versus dosages used in clinical trials, it’s evident both brands rely on a synergistic effect of the combination of compounds. Although both products feature clinically proven ingredients, neither contains the amounts used in clinical studies. For example, Alpha GPC, a compound found in both products, was proven clinically effective in improving cognition; however, at a dosage of 1200 mg daily. This compares to 200 mg in Qualia Mind and less than 240 mg in Alpha Brain. There were similar issues with DHA (Omega 3), Ginko Biloba, and Citicoline, among others.
A more detailed review of several key ingredients for each brand is in our Formulation segment.
One area where Qualia Mind has an advantage is in its vitamin profile. Studies show that combining B vitamins may slow cognitive decline in older adults; however, taking B6 alone does not deliver the same benefit. Qualia has five B vitamins versus B6 in Alpha Brain, making Qualia a better option for older people.
Customer reviews for both brands are mixed, with some customers satisfied and others who noticed no change. This validates the statement that every brain is different and will respond to different ingredients and combinations.
Both products benefit brain health, with no definitive winner in the effectiveness category.
- The companies behind the brands: Onnit is owned by the $130 billion consumer product conglomerate Unilever versus Neurohacker Collective, with annual revenue of $12.9 million. Size is important – marketing, advertising, research and development, clinical trials, and Alpha Brain’s third-party certifications are expensive.
- Third-party testing and certifications: Onnit’s facilities are certified cGMP, whereas Neurohacker is GMP compliant. Both products are certified banned substance free; Onnit products are also certified Safe for Sport.
- Clinical Trials: Although the Neurohacker website states Qualia Mind uses clinically researched ingredients and mentions clinical trials, we could not find published clinical results for the finished product. Alpha Brain’s studies are peer-reviewed and quoted by the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Summary: Qualia Mind vs. Alpha Brain
Alpha Brain has the advantage in value, safety, convenience, and each of our “additional considerations.” Both brands received good marks for effectiveness, with benefits appealing to slightly different audiences. Alpha Brain may get marginally better effects among younger consumers.
For a more detailed review of the benefits of each product, a brief overview of the companies, clinical trial data, and a more detailed pricing analysis, please read on.
The Health Claims of Qualia Mind and Alpha Brain
A nootropic’s typical promised benefits are healthy brain function, improved focus and memory, increased energy, and mood enhancement. Stimulating neurotransmitters, raised alpha waves, and enhanced signaling play a vital role in memory, focus, and mood. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in the formulas help protect brain cells and health.
Specific claims by brand are as follows:
Qualia Mind Benefits
Qualia Mind’s extensive formula addresses brain health across several major neurological systems to support neuron synaptic formation, acetylcholine signaling, and mitochondrial function – especially important for those wanting to optimize brain health as they age.
Additional benefits claimed by Neurohacker Collective are:
- Provide needed nutrients for the brain
- Vegan, Non-GMO, and Gluten-Free
- Brain Health
- Productivity & Creativity
Alpha Brain Benefits
Formulated to promote more alpha waves and the production of neurotransmitters to promote mental clarity. Additional benefits include:
- Clinically proven formula
- Caffeine, gluten, and dairy-free
- Aids mental processing
- Supports memory
- Promotes focus and clarity
- More clarity under stress
- Helps with the flow state
- React more quickly
Qualia Mind vs. Alpha Brain: The Companies
Neurohacker Collective was founded by James Schmachtenberger, Jordan Greenhall, and Venessa Miemis in 2015 and is headquartered in Carlsbad, California. Schmachtenberger is the current CEO, and Greenhall’s title is Executive Chair. Production facilities are in California and New Jersey and are cGMP compliant.
In an open letter to friends and investors, the company announced sales of $12.9 million in 2021, an 18% year-over-year improvement. The About Us page of the Neurohacker website lists seventeen different VPs and Directors, additional team and staff members, and an impressive Scientific and Medical Advisors list. The company is positioned for further growth and is transparent about its expansion plans.
Speaking of transparency, there are no proprietary blends in Qualia Mind, so each ingredient and its dosage is indicated on the Supplement Facts Panel. The website does a masterful job explaining each component and its source and providing clinical evidence of its effectiveness in brain health.
The company markets products under the Qualia brand in healthy aging, digestion, sleep, energy, eye and vision, stress relief, and skin, hair, and nails. Qualia Mind was the company’s first entry into the supplement market and remains its top-selling item.
The go-to-market strategy focuses on direct-to-consumer sales and subscriptions on its website, through other e-commerce sites, including Amazon.com, and a growing presence in physical retail stores.
Onnit Fitness & Nutrition
Founded in 2010 by CEO Aubrey Marcus, the company introduced Alpha Brain in 2011 and was purchased in 2021 by Unilever. Onnit has become one of the more than 400 Unilever brands, including household names like Dove Soap, Lifebuoy, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, and Vaseline. A key strategy and stroke of genius by Mr. Marcus was engaging Joe Rogan of podcast fame as his sole influencer in the company’s early days.
Onnit has one of the most sophisticated websites in the industry today (more than one million monthly visitors), marketing over 250 products:
- An expanded supplement range
- Nutrient-dense foods
- Informative and motivational article
- Fitness Programs
Onnit products are available on the company website, additional online retailers, and brick-and-mortar retail stores nationwide. The company’s products are third-party tested and certified by the BSCG (Banned Substance Control Group) and Informed Sport, another third-party testing program.
Qualia Mind vs. Alpha Brain: The Formulations
Both brands do a stellar job explaining their ingredients’ source and their role in brain health on their websites. For those inquisitive minds who desire an in-depth understanding of each compound in the products, you can visit Qualia Mind or Alpha Brain. This segment provides an overview of some of the most effective nootropic compounds in each product’s stacks.
The Neurohacker Collective Supplement Facts Panel is transparent, with each ingredient and dosage listed. After the vitamin complex (C, D3, and five B vitamins), the other nootropics and herbs are listed in descending order by volume.
The two largest compounds are Acetyl-L-Carnitine and Artichoke Leaf at 500 mg each. Acetyl-L-Carnitine studies show improved mental function in older people with memory loss but at far larger dosages (1.5 – 4 grams). Artichoke Leaf may help reduce inflammation in the brain at 900 mg.
At 300 mg each, the following three ingredients are Bacopa, Rhodiola rosea, and DL Phenylalanine. Rhodiola is shown to improve cognitive function, enhance memory, and protect the brain – recommended dosage is 100–200 mg per dose, usually taken two to three times per day. Phenylalanine’s recommended dosage for brain health is 1 – 2 grams per day.
Of the remaining ingredients, DHA 80 mg, Huperzia, vitamin D, and the B vitamin complex offer the best evidence of contributing to brain health. In clinical trials, the DHA dosage was 1 – 2 grams. Ginkgo Biloba 50 mg is shown to improve aspects of memory and cognition; however, at dosages significantly higher than in Qualia Mind, 120 to 240 mg daily. Coffeeberry 90 mg and Theobromine 100 mg are stimulants that improve alertness. Alpha GPC and L-theanine, both at 200 mg, are described above – The GPC is severely underdosed, although the L-theanine appears to be at a moderately effective dosage.
Finally, Cognizon Citicoline 150 mg has shown some ability to improve memory and cognition, but at doses higher than what is found in Qualia Mind (250 to 1,000 mg).
Although we point out the difference between dosages in Qualia Mind and those used in clinical trials, we acknowledge this is a complex formulation with numerous ingredients proven effective. Attempting to meet these higher dosages would be nearly impossible, given the serving size is already seven capsules.
Eleven ingredients, B6, Cat’s Claw, and three proprietary blends. Total dosage per serving: 1300 mg in two capsules. The hero ingredients include:
- L-theanine – stimulates the release of dopamine and serotonin – studies show that L-theanine can increase alpha brain waves.
- Phosphatidylserine – can improve memory function by protecting brain cells and promoting the release of neurotransmitters.
- Cat’s Claw 350 mg – has anti-inflammatory properties that improve blood flow to the brain.
- Alpha GPC – a form of choline that aids in producing acetylcholine. It has been shown to help improve cognition in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease – at 1200 mg; however, it’s unclear if there is a benefit in healthy people.
- Bacopa 100 mg – has shown some benefit for cognition in healthy adults at dosages of 300 – 600 mg daily.
- Huperzine – an extract of the Huperzia serrata plant, shown in studies to improve memory and learning. It improves memory and slows cognitive decline by increasing acetylcholine levels and preventing oxidation damage.
Qualia Mind – Self-Run Scientific Study
Neurohacker has conducted clinical trials on Qualia Mind; however, the results were not peer-reviewed or quoted in scientific journals. The self-run scientific study, short on pertinent details, found some benefits versus a placebo in executive function, attention and focus, inspiration, and mindfulness.
Alpha Brain – Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study
The company has conducted several randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind (neither the researchers nor the participants know what they are getting) clinical trials. Participants in each study were young adults. The NCBI, the National Center for Biotechnology Information, quoted the following results: “Compared with placebo, Alpha Brain significantly improved on tasks of delayed verbal recall and executive functioning. Results also indicated significant time-by-group interaction in delayed verbal recall for the Alpha Brain group.”
Qualia Mind vs. Alpha Brain: Price/Value Comparison
On the company website, a “one time only” purchase is $159 for a twenty-two-serving bottle, an eye-watering $7.23 per serving. One serving is seven capsules, which still equals $1.03 per capsule. The subscription price is $39.00 for your first purchase and $139.00 every four weeks thereafter, still $6.32 per serving after your first bottle. The company states that the product is available on Amazon and other e-commerce retailers. We verified availability and pricing on several sites:
- Amazon – proceed with caution. The first offer we found was two bottles for $69.00. These are five serving (35 capsules) bottles. To achieve the twenty-two serving size advertised on the Neurohacker Collective site, you would need more than four bottles, costing $138.00 – plus. The exact size bottle, as on the company site, sells for $119.25, or $107.33 for a monthly subscription. The Caffeine-Free variety is $159.00 for 154 capsules. Amazon also offers a third size, a 105-count bottle, two for $179.00.
- Walmart – The pricing on the Walmart site is even more perplexing. A 105-count retails for $89.99, yet the 154-count costs only $87.90. This appears to be a sale item as it states save $10.05 when purchased online.
The product is supported by a 100-Day Money Back Guarantee – limited to first-time purchases and only one per household.
Alpha Brain Memory & Focus
Onnit sells Alpha Brain Memory & Focus for $79.95 for 90 servings on its website. This equates to a forty-five-day supply at $1.78 per serving. The subscription program (auto-ship every forty-five days) offers a 15% savings bringing the price to $67.96, or $1.51 per serving, plus there are other special offers that include a gift with purchase – Joe Rogan’s The Facts of Life with Joe Rogan.
The best value we found on Alpha Brain is on Amazon.com, $67.28 for ninety capsules, or $1.49 per serving.
Below are examples of Alpha Brain pricing at big-box retail stores:
- Walmart – $76.49 for ninety capsules
- Walgreens – $30.99 for thirty capsules
- CVS – $34.99 for thirty capsules
- GNC – $34.99 for thirty capsules
- Vitamin Shoppe – $79.99 for ninety capsules
In Summary: Qualia Mind vs. Alpha Brain
Alpha Brain and Qualia Mind are two of the most popular nootropics on the market. Both contain an impressive list of ingredients designed to increase nutrients to the brain, stimulate neurotransmitters, and mitigate oxidation and inflammation in the brain. Both are expensive. At Qualia Brain’s $6 – 7 per serving, you might wonder if other options exist.
Physical and mental exercise – training your body and mind are safe and effective first steps. Drinking moderate amounts of coffee (caffeine), a good multivitamin, fish oil, and testing several of the individual ingredients highlighted in our Formulation section (L-theanine, ginkgo, bacopa, Rhodiola) at the recommended doses may be as effective, yet a less expensive approach.