Nootropics may seem attractive to anyone who wants to try to improve their cognitive function and is willing to purchase powders, pills and other forms of these natural and synthetic supplements. Nootropic users have their own terminology, referring to measured combinations of nootropics and vitamins and minerals as “stacks.” For instance, Danger and Play, a site for active people, features a stack for beginners. The recipe includes 1600 mg of the piracetam along with recommended dosages of supplements such as ALCAR, rhodiola and magnesium. There are recipes for morning, afternoon and night, thus providing daylong guidance on how to most effectively stack for more energy, greater concentration, and improved information retention. The stack tip specifically states that the ingredients are not addictive, especially if taken in strict accordance with the recipe.
Herbs and plants have been used for cognitive enhancement for at least 5,000 years in Indian and Chinese medicine, long before the first synthetic nootropic was created. The practice of Indian Ayurvedic medicine includes the use of a group of nootropic plants known as Medhya Rasayana, the four primary plants of which are Mandukaparni, Yastimadhu, Duduchi and Shankhapushpi, though other lesser known plants are also used. One of the most common supplements in Ayurvedic medicine is Brahmi, known scientifically as “Bacopa monnieri” or “B. monnieri “ and more commonly as water hyssop, Thyme-leaved Gratiola, herb of grace or Indian pennywort. It is named after Lord Brahma, the creator God and originator of Ayurveda, and has been used for centuries to treat disorders ranging from pain and epilepsy to inflammation and memory dysfunction. The exact mechanism behind its action is not fully understood, but it is believed to promote antioxidant activity as well as protect neurons in the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and corpus striatum against cytotoxicity and DNA damage associated with Alzheimer’s. The prefrontal cortex is critical in rational, social and personality behavior, the hippocampus is believed to be the seat of memory and the autonomic nervous system and the striatum play a role in the reward system of action, so the protection Brahmi provides is extremely helpful in preventing the degeneration of many important cognitive faculties. An effective dose ranges from 300 to 450 mg per day. Winter cherry (ashwagandha) is another well-known Ayurvedic supplement that can promote improved cognitive development, memory and intelligence and reduce the effects of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s. The optimal dose is 6,000 mg per day divided into three 2,000 mg doses. Aloeweed (shankhpushpi) is also used in Ayurvedic medicine to improve memory and intellect as well as treat hypertension, epilepsy and diabetes. Effective doses for most neuroenhancing benefits range as high as 40 g per day.
Forums including reddit.com/r/Nootropics/ have more than 140,000 subscribers discussing products with names like Orange Brainwash and GodMode. Nootropics are blends of ingredients touted as a low-risk way to enhance learning, memory, motivation, and even serenity. These ingredients range from herbs such as water hyssop (Bacopa monnieri) and arctic root to chemicals such as vinpocetine.
Even party drugs are going to work: Biohackers are taking recreational drugs like LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and mescaline in microdoses—about a tenth of what constitutes a typical dose—with the goal of becoming more focused and creative. Many who’ve tried it report positive results, but real research on the practice—and its safety—is a long way off. “Whether microdosing with LSD improves creativity and cognition remains to be determined in an objective experiment using double-blind, placebo-controlled methodology,” Sahakian says.
The use of prescription stimulants is especially prevalent among students. Surveys suggest that 0.7–4.5% of German students have used cognitive enhancers in their lifetime. Stimulants such as dimethylamylamine and methylphenidate are used on college campuses and by younger groups. Based upon studies of self-reported illicit stimulant use, 5–35% of college students use diverted ADHD stimulants, which are primarily intended for performance enhancement rather than as recreational drugs. Several factors positively and negatively influence an individual's willingness to use a drug for the purpose of enhancing cognitive performance. Among them are personal characteristics, drug characteristics, and characteristics of the social context.