Vinh Ngo, a San Francisco family practice doctor who specializes in hormone therapy, has become familiar with piracetam and other nootropics through a changing patient base. His office is located in the heart of the city’s tech boom and he is increasingly sought out by young, male tech workers who tell him they are interested in cognitive enhancement.
Maca root has been used by indigenous people groups in South America for thousands of years. It’s part of the mustard family found primarily in Andean regions and some of its primary uses include improving sexual function, memory and learning as well as reducing the effects of osteoporosis. The standard effective dose ranges from 1,500 to 3,000 mg.
The evidence? In small studies, healthy people taking modafinil showed improved planning and working memory, and better reaction time, spatial planning, and visual pattern recognition. A 2015 meta-analysis claimed that “when more complex assessments are used, modafinil appears to consistently engender enhancement of attention, executive functions, and learning” without affecting a user’s mood. In a study from earlier this year involving 39 male chess players, subjects taking modafinil were found to perform better in chess games played against a computer.
Perhaps the most well-known natural nootropic stimulant and neuroenhancer is caffeine. Caffeine has been shown to prevent memory deficits in experimental models of Alzheimer’s disease and may even restore memory following impairment. In studies performed with college students, caffeine was shown to have particularly potent effects on memory improvement during students’ non-optimal time of day, in this case, early in the morning. Caffeine’s benefits go even further because it’s never found in an isolated vacuum in nature, meaning that it’s always located in some kind of plant such as green tea or bean such as coffee that carry additional beneficial compounds which often enhance the effects of caffeine, including, most notably, certain cholesterols, polyphenols and antioxidants. In fact, one study determined that caffeine alone does not account for the benefits caused by coffee consumption. Rather, the phytochemical content of coffee (coffee contains over 1,000 different natural chemicals!) gives it potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that complement the neuroprotective effects of caffeine on the central nervous system.

But like any other supplement, there are some safety concerns negative studies like Fish oil fails to hold off heart arrhythmia or other reports cast doubt on a protective effect against dementia or Fish Oil Use in Pregnancy Didn’t Make Babies Smart (WSJ) (an early promise but one that faded a bit later) or …Supplementation with DHA compared with placebo did not slow the rate of cognitive and functional decline in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer disease..
I decided to try out day-time usage on 2 consecutive days, taking the 100mg at noon or 1 PM. On both days, I thought I did feel more energetic but nothing extraordinary (maybe not even as strong as the nicotine), and I had trouble falling asleep on Halloween, thinking about the meta-ethics essay I had been writing diligently on both days. Not a good use compared to staying up a night.
As I am not any of the latter, I didn’t really expect a mental benefit. As it happens, I observed nothing. What surprised me was something I had forgotten about: its physical benefits. My performance in Taekwondo classes suddenly improved - specifically, my endurance increased substantially. Before, classes had left me nearly prostrate at the end, but after, I was weary yet fairly alert and happy. (I have done Taekwondo since I was 7, and I have a pretty good sense of what is and is not normal performance for my body. This was not anything as simple as failing to notice increasing fitness or something.) This was driven home to me one day when in a flurry before class, I prepared my customary tea with piracetam, choline & creatine; by the middle of the class, I was feeling faint & tired, had to take a break, and suddenly, thunderstruck, realized that I had absentmindedly forgot to actually drink it! This made me a believer.

One of the most common strategies to beat this is cycling. Users who cycle their nootropics take them for a predetermined period, (usually around five days) before taking a two-day break from using them. Once the two days are up, they resume the cycle. By taking a break, nootropic users reduce the tolerance for nootropics and lessen the risk of regression and tolerance symptoms.

Remembering what Wedrifid told me, I decided to start with a quarter of a piece (~1mg). The gum was pretty tasteless, which ought to make blinding easier. The effects were noticeable around 10 minutes - greater energy verging on jitteriness, much faster typing, and apparent general quickening of thought. Like a more pleasant caffeine. While testing my typing speed in Amphetype, my speed seemed to go up >=5 WPM, even after the time penalties for correcting the increased mistakes; I also did twice the usual number without feeling especially tired. A second dose was similar, and the third dose was at 10 PM before playing Ninja Gaiden II seemed to stop the usual exhaustion I feel after playing through a level or so. (It’s a tough game, which I have yet to master like Ninja Gaiden Black.) Returning to the previous concern about sleep problems, though I went to bed at 11:45 PM, it still took 28 minutes to fall sleep (compared to my more usual 10-20 minute range); the next day I use 2mg from 7-8PM while driving, going to bed at midnight, where my sleep latency is a more reasonable 14 minutes. I then skipped for 3 days to see whether any cravings would pop up (they didn’t). I subsequently used 1mg every few days for driving or Ninja Gaiden II, and while there were no cravings or other side-effects, the stimulation definitely seemed to get weaker - benefits seemed to still exist, but I could no longer describe any considerable energy or jitteriness.
Nootropics still exist largely in an unregulated gray area, which makes users somewhat hesitant to discuss their regimens. But I did speak to several people who told tales of increased productivity and sharpened focus. Bob Carter, a financial analyst for a start-up called LendingHome, says that nootropics have replaced his other morning stimulant. “I basically think of it as a substitute for coffee,” he says. “I think the problem with a cappuccino from Starbucks is that it gives you the feeling of being jittery. Whereas with this particular supplement, I feel more calm.”
However, anthropology suggests that paleolithic diets were dependent of where people lived. Close to shores, they ate more fish; within the forest they ate plants; in areas with herbivores they ate more meat. Also, humans ate grains millions of years before the agricultural revolution. And, we can digest those just fine because of an enzyme earmarked to digest grains (amylase). So, paleolithic diets were as varied as they are today.
Takao Hensch, a Harvard professor of cellular biology and part of a Boston Children’s Hospital team, found that the drug encouraged the brain to learn new skills as quickly as the sponge-like brain of an infant in her patient Shannon, an otherwise normal 14-year-old girl who suffers from extremely poor eyesight brought on by amblyopia, commonly known as lazy eye. In a matter of months, the drug helped Shannon’s brain relearn how to use her eye which resulted in markedly improved vision.
It’s basic economics: the price of a good must be greater than cost of producing said good, but only under perfect competition will price = cost. Otherwise, the price is simply whatever maximizes profit for the seller. (Bottled water doesn’t really cost $2 to produce.) This can lead to apparently counter-intuitive consequences involving price discrimination & market segmentation - such as damaged goods which are the premium product which has been deliberately degraded and sold for less (some Intel CPUs, some headphones etc.). The most famous examples were railroads; one notable passage by French engineer-economist Jules Dupuit describes the motivation for the conditions in 1849:
Tyrosine (Examine.com) is an amino acid; people on the Imminst.org forums (as well as Wikipedia) suggest that it helps with energy and coping with stress. I ordered 4oz (bought from Smart Powders) to try it out, and I began taking 1g with my usual caffeine+piracetam+choline mix. It does not dissolve easily in hot water, and is very chalky and not especially tasty. I have not noticed any particular effects from it.
Of course the idea behind mind hacking isn't exactly new. Sir Francis Bacon consumed everything from tobacco to saffron in the hope of goosing his brain. Balzac reputedly fuelled 16-hour bouts of writing with copious servings of coffee, which, he wrote, "chases away sleep and gives us the capacity to engage a little longer in the exercise of our intellects". Sartre dosed himself with speed in order to finish Critique of Dialectical Reason. Seltzer and his interlocutors on the ImmInst forum are just the latest members of a seasoned cohort, even if they have more complex pharmaceuticals at their disposal.
Intrigued by old scientific results & many positive anecdotes since, I experimented with microdosing LSD - taking doses ~10μg, far below the level at which it causes its famous effects. At this level, the anecdotes claim the usual broad spectrum of positive effects on mood, depression, ability to do work, etc. After researching the matter a bit, I discovered that as far as I could tell, since the original experiment in the 1960s, no one had ever done a blind or even a randomized self-experiment on it.
Today, extraordinary research is showing that bacopa has the remarkable ability to increase levels of BDNF, a protein responsible for the growth, maintenance and survival of neurons, and the creation of new neural connections in the brain. It also has been shown to help promote the growth of new neurons and neural pathways, which helps to explain why it’s such a powerful memory and concentration booster.
The available literature on cognitive enhancing practices at times appears to lump together nootropics and “smart drugs.” Smart drugs are not officially defined, but references to this group generally include Provigil (modafinil), Adderall and Ritalin. Any confusion about the addiction potential of different brain-enhancing drugs can spread misinformation about the individual drugs. There are many nootropics on the market, so the best practice is to focus on the addiction potential of each nootropic of interest or concern.
It is important that this type of approach is discussed with a qualified health professional, such as a registered nutritional therapist, to ensure it is an appropriate strategy for you, as well as to help you avoid missing out on vital nutrients, whilst eliminating certain foods. They can also provide advice on improving your longer term health, which over time may allow for foods to be reintroduced without negative symptoms occurring.

This is the same fallacious argument made for superfoods. The same levels of dietary nutrients can be supplied by eating more of other foods. Caviar contains more omega-3s than salmon, but the typical serving of caviar is much smaller than the typical serving of salmon. And it’s possible to get plenty of omega-3s in a varied diet without eating either one.

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Takao Hensch, a Harvard professor of cellular biology and part of a Boston Children’s Hospital team, found that the drug encouraged the brain to learn new skills as quickly as the sponge-like brain of an infant in her patient Shannon, an otherwise normal 14-year-old girl who suffers from extremely poor eyesight brought on by amblyopia, commonly known as lazy eye. In a matter of months, the drug helped Shannon’s brain relearn how to use her eye which resulted in markedly improved vision.

But he has also seen patients whose propensity for self-experimentation to improve cognition got out of hand. One chief executive he treated, Ngo said, developed an unhealthy predilection for albuterol, because he felt the asthma inhaler medicine kept him alert and productive long after others had quit working. Unfortunately, the drug ended up severely imbalancing his electrolytes, which can lead to dehydration, headaches, vision and cardiac problems, muscle contractions and, in extreme cases, seizures.


Microdosing with LSD: LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is derived from a chemical in rye fungus. It was originally synthesized in 1938 to aid in childbirth and is widely known for its powerful hallucinogenic effects, but less well known for what I personally use it for: inducing intense sparks of creativity when a merging of the left and right brain hemispheres is the desired goal, such as a day on which I need to do a great deal of creative writing or copywriting. It also works quite well for keeping you “chugging along” on a sleep deprived or jet-lagged day. Similar to psilocybin, LSD affects serotonin levels in the body. By deactivating serotonin mechanisms, brain levels of serotonin are dramatically increased after a dose of LSD, which also causes a “feel good” dopamine release. It is thought that LSD may reduce the blood flow to the control centers of the brain, which weaken their activity, allowing for a heightened brain connection. This enhancement in brain connectivity is most likely why users experience increased creativity and unique thought patterns. Therapeutic effects of LSD include treating addiction, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, cluster headaches, end-of-life anxiety, resistant behavior change, and increase reaction time, concentration, balance, mood, and pain perception (See additional studies here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). A typical microdose of LSD is between 5 and 20 micrograms. My own approach for using LSD is quite simple and is called the “volumetric dosing” method. I purchase a blotter paper of LSD or P-LSD, then cut out 100 micrograms with scissors and drop one square tab into a 10-milliliter dropper bottle of vodka. I then know that a single drop of the liquid contains a neat 10 micrograms of LSD, and don’t risk the inaccurate dosing so notoriously associated with simply cutting out and placing the blotter paper into the mouth. Interestingly, I’ve found that if you take slightly too much LSD, a small dose of CBD (e.g. 10-20 milligrams) seems to knock the edge off.

If Brainfood was important to you, help honor our work in your own life. Try cooking a new recipe and sharing it with a neighbor. Extend grace to those learning new skills. Volunteer somewhere that makes you smile and also respects your time. Create spaces where young people from diverse backgrounds are valued and seen. And always, always make sure to share your snacks.


Fish oil (Examine.com, buyer’s guide) provides benefits relating to general mood (eg. inflammation & anxiety; see later on anxiety) and anti-schizophrenia; it is one of the better supplements one can take. (The known risks are a higher rate of prostate cancer and internal bleeding, but are outweighed by the cardiac benefits - assuming those benefits exist, anyway, which may not be true.) The benefits of omega acids are well-researched.
Nootropics. You might have heard of them. The “limitless pill” that keeps Billionaires rich. The ‘smart drugs’ that students are taking to help boost their hyperfocus. The cognitive enhancers that give corporate executives an advantage. All very exciting. But as always, the media are way behind the curve. Yes, for the past few decades, cognitive enhancers were largely sketchy substances that people used to grasp at a short term edge at the expense of their health and wellbeing. But the days of taking prescription pills to pull an all-nighter are so 2010. The better, safer path isn’t with these stimulants but with nootropics. Nootropics consist of supplements and substances which enhance your cognition, in particular when it comes to motivation, creativity, memory, and other executive functions.
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