There's no magic bullet to boost IQ or make you smarter -- but certain substances, like caffeine, can energize you and help you concentrate. Found in coffee, chocolate, energy drinks, and some medications, caffeine gives you that unmistakable wake-up buzz, though the effects are short-term. And more is often less: Overdo it on caffeine and it can make you jittery and uncomfortable.
Ginkgo Biloba, Bacopa Monnieri, and Lion’s Mane: This particular unique blend boosts mental focus, memory, learning, and cognitive performance while reducing anxiety and depression, and I’ve found that it can significantly boost mental alertness for around six hours at a time without any jitteriness or irritability – or any significant amounts of caffeine. It’s important to allow for a grace period of about 12 weeks before you feel the stack’s full potential, so don’t expect immediate results with this combination.
The acid is also known to restore the vitamin C and E levels in the body. Alpha Lipoic Acid’s efficient antioxidant property protects brain cells from damage during any injury. This helps in making sure that your brain functions normally even if there is any external or internal brain injury. OptiMind, one of the best nootropic supplements that you can find today contains Alpha Lipoic Acid that can help in enhancing your brain’s capabilities.
The truth is that, almost 20 years ago when my brain was failing and I was fat and tired, I did not know to follow this advice. I bought $1000 worth of smart drugs from Europe, took them all at once out of desperation, and got enough cognitive function to save my career and tackle my metabolic problems. With the information we have now, you don’t need to do that. Please learn from my mistakes!
Still, putting unregulated brain drugs into my system feels significantly scarier than downing a latte or a Red Bull—not least because the scientific research on nootropics’ long-term effects is still so thin. One 2014 study found that Ritalin, modafinil, ampakines, and other similar stimulants could eventually reduce the “plasticity” of some of the brain’s neural networks by providing them with too much dopamine, glutamate and norepinephrine, and potentially cause long-term harm in young people whose brains were still developing. (In fact, in young people, the researchers wrote, these stimulants could actually have the opposite effect the makers intended: “Healthy individuals run the risk of pushing themselves beyond optimal levels into hyperdopaminergic and hypernoradrenergic states, thus vitiating the very behaviors they are striving to improve.”) But the researchers found no evidence that normal doses of these drugs were harmful when taken by adults.
Speaking of addictive substances, some people might have considered cocaine a nootropic (think: the finance industry in Wall Street in the 1980s). The incredible damage this drug can do is clear, but the plant from which it comes has been used to make people feel more energetic and less hungry, and to counteract altitude sickness in Andean South American cultures for 5,000 years, according to an opinion piece that Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales Ayma, wrote for the New York Times.
As you may or may not know, curcumin has become a darling of the nutrition world in the last several years, thanks to a flurry of research that indicates the turmeric derivative can do everything from support the brain to reduce painful body-wide inflammation to even support positive mood. You can learn more about the research behind curcumin here:
The fact is, many of these compounds in small amounts and less frequent use can be relatively safe, but as you’re probably not surprised to hear, I’m not 100% convinced of the overall long-term safety or efficacy of most smart drugs used frequently or in moderate to high dosages for the reasons stated above. It is true that some are slightly less risky than others and are increasing in popularity among biohackers and medical professionals. They’re also becoming used with high frequency by students, athletes and e-gamers, three populations for which smart drug “doping control” is becoming more frequently banned and considered to be illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs. Yes, “brain doping” and “brain PED’s” (brain Performance Enhancing Drugs) are now a thing. But I’d consider carefully the use of smart drugs as daily go-to brain enhancing supplements, especially in light of the safer alternative you’re about to discover: the entire category of natural and synthetic nootropic compounds.
Nootrobox co-founder Geoffrey Woo declines a caffeinated drink in favour of a capsule of his newest product when I meet him in a San Francisco coffee shop. The entire industry has a “wild west” aura about it, he tells me, and Nootrobox wants to fix it by pushing for “smarter regulation” so safe and effective drugs that are currently unclassified can be brought into the fold. Predictably, both companies stress the higher goal of pushing forward human cognition. “I am trying to make a smarter, better populace to solve all the problems we have created,” says Nootroo founder Eric Matzner.
Real extra virgin olive oil is truly a brain food. Thanks to the powerful antioxidants known as polyphenols that are found in the oil, including EVOO in your diet may not only improve learning and memory, but also reverse the age- and disease-related changes. (7) The oil also helps fight against ADDLs, proteins that are toxic to the brain and induce Alzheimer’s. (8)
Not that everyone likes to talk about using the drugs. People don’t necessarily want to reveal how they get their edge and there is stigma around people trying to become smarter than their biology dictates, says Lawler. Another factor is undoubtedly the risks associated with ingesting substances bought on the internet and the confusing legal statuses of some. Phenylpiracetam, for example, is a prescription drug in Russia. It isn’t illegal to buy in the US, but the man-made chemical exists in a no man’s land where it is neither approved nor outlawed for human consumption, notes Lawler.
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.
The best of the old world combined with the science of the new. Huntington Labs offers a Focus, Memory and Clarity supplement that delivers a targeted and specifically stacked combination of nootropics, or “brain enhancers.” Specially chosen extracts, herbs and substances work together to boost attention, creativity, flexibility, focus, speed, memory and clarity. Green Tea Extract: Traditional supplement for mental performance. Promotes better brain function naturally. Huperzine A: Boosts alertness and enhances memory; extracted from Fir moss. Bacopa Monniera: Contains Bacosides which improve cognitive function and memory. L-Glutamine: An essential amino acid that builds protein and aids memory. Huntington Labs pays special attention to the “stacking” benefits of all of these natural nootropic brain boosters, and hopes that you will experience the max benefits from your daily recommended dose. We guarantee it or your money back!
Sure, you could certainly swallow too much St. John’s Wort and create the same type of serotonin or neurotransmitter issues you could create with a synthetic smart drug, but it’s far more difficult to harm yourself with a nootropic compared to a synthetic smart drug. Although synthetic, laboratory-designed nootropics do indeed exist, even those are not as harsh on the biology as a smart drug and have a mechanism of action that is a bit more natural. Let’s begin with the more natural nootropics.
Take the synthetic nootropic piracetam, for example. Since piracetam has been shown to improve cell membrane function and cause a host of neuroprotective effects, when combined with other cell membrane stabilizing supplements such as choline and DHA, the brain cells on piracetam can better signal and relay messages to each other for a longer period of time, which improves cognition and brain activity and decreases risk of a crash. So one example of an intelligent “stack” is piracetam taken with choline and DHA.
Whether you want to optimise your nutrition during exam season or simply want to stay sharp in your next work meeting, paying attention to your diet can really pay off. Although there is no single 'brain food' that can protect against age-related disorders such as Alzheimers' or dementia, and there are many other medical conditions that can affect the brain, paying attention to what you eat gives you the best chance of getting all the nutrients you need for cognitive health.
But when aficionados talk about nootropics, they usually refer to substances that have supposedly few side effects and low toxicity. Most often they mean piracetam, which Giurgea first synthesized in 1964 and which is approved for therapeutic use in dozens of countries for use in adults and the elderly. Not so in the United States, however, where officially it can be sold only for research purposes.
The soft gels are very small; one needs to be a bit careful - Vitamin D is fat-soluble and overdose starts in the range of 70,000 IU36, so it would take at least 14 pills, and it’s unclear where problems start with chronic use. Vitamin D, like many supplements, follows a U-shaped response curve (see also Melamed et al 2008 and Durup et al 2012) - too much can be quite as bad as too little. Too little, though, is likely very bad. The previously cited studies with high acute doses worked out to <1,000 IU a day, so they may reassure us about the risks of a large acute dose but not tell us much about smaller chronic doses; the mortality increases due to too-high blood levels begin at ~140nmol/l and reading anecdotes online suggest that 5k IU daily doses tend to put people well below that (around 70-100nmol/l). I probably should get a blood test to be sure, but I have something of a needle phobia.
I asked Marcus which nootropic he would want if he were stranded on a desert island. "I guess it would depend on the challenges I was facing on the island. If staying healthy was the biggest challenge, then I'd choose AC-11," he said. "If I needed to stay motivated to rebuild the village, I would choose Mucuna [pruriens]. If I was hunting, I'd choose Huperzia serrata, for mental acuity and speed."
Ngo has experimented with piracetam himself (“The first time I tried it, I thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty strong for a supplement.’ I had a little bit of reflux, heartburn, but in general it was a cognitive enhancer. . . . I found it helpful”) and the neurotransmitter DMEA (“You have an idea, it helps you finish the thought. It’s for when people have difficulty finishing that last connection in the brain”).
Notice that poor diet is not on the list. They recommend active treatment of hypertension, more childhood education, exercise, maintaining social engagement, reducing smoking, and management of hearing loss, depression, diabetes, and obesity. They do not recommend specific dietary interventions or supplements. They estimate that lifestyle interventions “might have the potential to delay or prevent a third of dementia cases.”
I asked him if piracetam made him feel smarter, or just more alert and confident - a little better equipped to marshal the resources he naturally had. "Maybe," he said. "I'm not sure what being smarter means, entirely. It's a difficult quality to measure. It's the Gestalt factor, all these qualities coming together - not only your ability to crunch some numbers, or remember some figures or a sequence of numbers, but also your ability to maintain a certain emotional state that is conducive to productive intellectual work. I do feel I'm more intelligent with the drugs, but I can't give you a number of IQ points."
But, thanks to the efforts of a number of remarkable scientists, researchers and plain-old neurohackers, we are beginning to put together a “whole systems” model of how all the different parts of the human brain work together and how they mesh with the complex regulatory structures of the body. It’s going to take a lot more data and collaboration to dial this model in, but already we are empowered to design stacks that can meaningfully deliver on the promise of nootropics “to enhance the quality of subjective experience and promote cognitive health, while having extremely low toxicity and possessing very few side effects.” It’s a type of brain hacking that is intended to produce noticeable cognitive benefits.