We started hearing the buzz when Daytime TV Doctors, started touting these new pills that improve concentration, memory recall, focus, mental clarity and energy. And though we love the good Doctor and his purple gloves, we don’t love the droves of hucksters who prey on his loyal viewers trying to make a quick buck, often selling low-grade versions of his medical discoveries.
I had tried 8 randomized days like the Adderall experiment to see whether I was one of the people whom modafinil energizes during the day. (The other way to use it is to skip sleep, which is my preferred use.) I rarely use it during the day since my initial uses did not impress me subjectively. The experiment was not my best - while it was double-blind randomized, the measurements were subjective, and not a good measure of mental functioning like dual n-back (DNB) scores which I could statistically compare from day to day or against my many previous days of dual n-back scores. Between my high expectation of finding the null result, the poor experiment quality, and the minimal effect it had (eliminating an already rare use), the value of this information was very small.
Alpha Brain's most noticeable impact on hunting was making it easier to wake up early. Since I'm typically not a morning person, this was striking, and helpful. I also felt slightly more organized, and a curious sense of emotional stability. These changes could also be attributed to parenthood, and my determination to do the deed and get home as soon as possible.
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.
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."
Burke says he definitely got the glow. “The first time I took it, I was working on a business plan. I had to juggle multiple contingencies in my head, and for some reason a tree with branches jumped into my head. I was able to place each contingency on a branch, retract and go back to the trunk, and in this visual way I was able to juggle more information.”
The desire to improve cognitive functioning has probably existed since the dawn of human consciousness. Throughout our evolution, increased mental agility has been associated with fitness and improved odds of survival and success. Although concoctions to stimulate brainpower have existed in Chinese and Indian medicine for hundreds of years, Western nootropics were not developed until 1964.
Artichoke + Forskolin: There is plenty of evidence that suggests artichoke extract supplements (made from the leaves of artichokes) offer strong neural antioxidant properties. Additionally, Forskolin (Coleus forskohlii) is one of the few studied compounds known to naturally boost cAMP (Cyclic Adenosine Monophosphate) in your brain and is also important for neural signaling within brain cells (291m 292). I’ve experienced noticeably enhanced memory and word recall when consuming this combo. Tim Ferriss talked about this one a bit in my podcast with him, particularly referencing its presence in the somewhat popular cognition supplement “CILTEP”. Made primarily from artichoke extracts and forskolin, CILTEP is a stack that also contains vitamin B6, L-phenylalanine and acetyl-L-carnitine. It is recommended to take two to three capsules at the beginning of each day and to skip dosage one or two days per week to achieve optimal results.
Following up on the promising but unrandomized pilot, I began randomizing my LLLT usage since I worried that more productive days were causing use rather than vice-versa. I began on 2 August 2014, and the last day was 3 March 2015 (n=167); this was twice the sample size I thought I needed, and I stopped, as before, as part of cleaning up (I wanted to know whether to get rid of it or not). The procedure was simple: by noon, I flipped a bit and either did or did not use my LED device; if I was distracted or didn’t get around to randomization by noon, I skipped the day. This was an unblinded experiment because finding a randomized on/off switch is tricky/expensive and it was easier to just start the experiment already. The question is simple too: controlling for the simultaneous blind magnesium experiment & my rare nicotine use (I did not use modafinil during this period or anything else I expect to have major influence), is the pilot correlation of d=0.455 on my daily self-ratings borne out by the experiment?
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The fish oil can be considered a free sunk cost: I would take it in the absence of an experiment. The empty pill capsules could be used for something else, so we’ll put the 500 at $5. Filling 500 capsules with fish and olive oil will be messy and take an hour. Taking them regularly can be added to my habitual morning routine for vitamin D and the lithium experiment, so that is close to free but we’ll call it an hour over the 250 days. Recording mood/productivity is also free a sunk cost as it’s necessary for the other experiments; but recording dual n-back scores is more expensive: each round is ~2 minutes and one wants >=5, so each block will cost >10 minutes, so 18 tests will be >180 minutes or >3 hours. So >5 hours. Total: 5 + (>5 \times 7.25) = >41.
Gibson and Green (2002), talking about a possible link between glucose and cognition, wrote that research in the area …is based on the assumption that, since glucose is the major source of fuel for the brain, alterations in plasma levels of glucose will result in alterations in brain levels of glucose, and thus neuronal function. However, the strength of this notion lies in its common-sense plausibility, not in scientific evidence… (p. 185).
The ingredients in her recipes are representative of her thinking. Local raw honey. Organic everything. Free-range eggs. Organic, grass-fed whole milk (I assume she means feeding grass to the cows, not feeding it to the milk). Filtered water. Goji berries. Açai berry powder. Ginseng extract with royal jelly and bee pollen. Organic spirulina powder. Even Himalayan pink sea salt, for heaven’s sake! Good grief!!
Zack and Casey Lynch are a young couple who, in 2005, launched NeuroInsights, a company that advises investors on developments in brain-science technology. (Since then, they've also founded a lobbying group, the Neurotechnology Industry Organization.) Casey and Zack met as undergraduates at UCLA; she went on to get a master's in neuroscience and he became an executive at a software company. Last summer I had coffee with them in San Francisco and they both spoke with casual certainty about the coming market for neuroenhancers. Zack, whose book, The Neuro Revolution, was published in July, said: "We live in an information society. What's the next form of human society? The neuro-society." In coming years, he said, scientists will understand the brain better, and we'll have improved neuroenhancers that some people will use therapeutically, others because they are "on the borderline of needing them therapeutically" and others purely "for competitive advantage".
…Phenethylamine is intrinsically a stimulant, although it doesn’t last long enough to express this property. In other words, it is rapidly and completely destroyed in the human body. It is only when a number of substituent groups are placed here or there on the molecule that this metabolic fate is avoided and pharmacological activity becomes apparent.
I posted a link to the survey on my Google+ account, and inserted the link at the top of all gwern.net pages; 51 people completed all 11 binary choices (most of them coming from North America & Europe), which seems adequate since the 11 questions are all asking the same question, and 561 responses to one question is quite a few. A few different statistical tests seem applicable: a chi-squared test whether there’s a difference between all the answers, a two-sample test on the averages, and most meaningfully, summing up the responses as a single pair of numbers and doing a binomial test:
So with these 8 results in hand, what do I think? Roughly, I was right 5 of the days and wrong 3 of them. If not for the sleep effect on #4, which is - in a way - cheating (one hopes to detect modafinil due to good effects), the ratio would be 5:4 which is awfully close to a coin-flip. Indeed, a scoring rule ranks my performance at almost identical to a coin flip: -5.49 vs -5.5420. (The bright side is that I didn’t do worse than a coin flip: I was at least calibrated.)
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NGF may sound intriguing, but the price is a dealbreaker: at suggested doses of 1-100μg (NGF dosing in humans for benefits is, shall we say, not an exact science), and a cost from sketchy suppliers of $1210/100μg/$470/500μg/$750/1000μg/$1000/1000μg/$1030/1000μg/$235/20μg. (Levi-Montalcini was presumably able to divert some of her lab’s production.) A year’s supply then would be comically expensive: at the lowest doses of 1-10μg using the cheapest sellers (for something one is dumping into one’s eyes?), it could cost anywhere up to $10,000.
Amongst the brain focus supplements that are currently available in the nootropic drug market, Modafinil is probably the most common focus drug used by people, and it’s actually touted to be the best nootropic available today. It is a powerful cognitive enhancer that is great for boosting your overall alertness with least side effects. However, to get your hands on this drug, you require a prescription.
Huperzine A: This compound is found in a firmoss plant called Huperzia serrata. Studies conducted on Huperzine A so far have not used the best methodology, so scientists are still not sure how beneficial this compound is for preventing or treating Alzheimer’s disease. But one review of studies on Huperzine A concluded that the compound “appears to have beneficial effects on improvement of cognitive function, daily living activity, and global clinical assessment in participants with Alzheimer’s disease.”
But notice that most of the cost imbalance is coming from the estimate of the benefit of IQ - if it quadrupled to a defensible $8000, that would be close to the experiment cost! So in a way, what this VoI calculation tells us is that what is most valuable right now is not that iodine might possibly increase IQ, but getting a better grip on how much any IQ intervention is worth.
These pills don’t work. The reality is that MOST of these products don’t work effectively. Maybe we’re cynical, but if you simply review the published studies on memory pills, you can quickly eliminate many of the products that don’t have “the right stuff.” The active ingredients in brain and memory health pills are expensive and most companies sell a watered down version that is not effective for memory and focus. The more brands we reviewed, the more we realized that many of these marketers are slapping slick labels on low-grade ingredients.
At the Brain Bio Centre, our nutritional therapy clinic, our therapists specialise in mental health and biochemical testing that can provide in-depth information about your own specific needs, so we can create a personalised plan to support your health. For more information, please visit our website: www.brainbiocentre.com. Alternatively, BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy), have a large network of therapists you can use to find a therapist suitable for you.
Mosconi gets the anthropology right. Her foundation is based on two empirical findings. The first one is her studying of the “Blue Zones” or the five areas in the World associated with the greatest proportion of centenarians. And, her second one is her experience as a neuroscientist. She has seen thousands of brain MRIs while knowing what diet her patients ate. She uncovered a link between brain health and diet. The ones who ate a Mediterranean diet had far healthier brains (per MRIs) than the ones on an American diet. She also observed that 2 out of the 5 Blue Zones eat a Mediterranean diets. And, the three other ones have major overlapping components with a Mediterranean diet including complex carbohydrates (fresh produce) that have a lot of fiber, starches (sweet potatoes), nuts, fish, and not much meat and animal protein.
And without those precious nutrients, your brain will start to wither. In a recent Bulletproof Radio podcast episode [iTunes], I talked with neuroscientist Dale Bredesen about why neurodegeneration happens. One of the three most common causes of brain aging is a lack of specific brain nutrients (check out the episode to hear about the other two main causes of brain aging, and what you can do about them).
2 commenters point out that my possible lack of result is due to my mistaken assumption that if nicotine is absorbable through skin, mouth, and lungs it ought to be perfectly fine to absorb it through my stomach by drinking it (rather than vaporizing it and breathing it with an e-cigarette machine) - it’s apparently known that absorption differs in the stomach.
If I assume that the coefficient of +1.22 for as.logical(Magnesium.citrate)TRUE’s effect on MP in the previous analysis represents the true causal effect of 0.156g elemental magnesium without any overdose involved and that magnesium would have a linear increase (up until overdose), then one might argue that optimistically 0.078 would cause an increase of ~0.61. Or one could eyeball the graph and note that the LOESS lines look like at the magnesium peak improved by <+0.5 over the long-run baseline of ~3 Then one could do a power estimate with those 2 estimates.
(If I am not deficient, then supplementation ought to have no effect.) The previous material on modern trends suggests a prior >25%, and higher than that if I were female. However, I was raised on a low-salt diet because my father has high blood pressure, and while I like seafood, I doubt I eat it more often than weekly. I suspect I am somewhat iodine-deficient, although I don’t believe as confidently as I did that I had a vitamin D deficiency. Let’s call this one 75%.
Traditional Chinese medicine also has a long, well-established relationship with nootropic herbs and plants. One of the most popular and well-known is ginkgo biloba, derived from the Chinese maidenhair tree, a relic of the ancient world. The maidenhair tree is the last living species of the division Ginkgophyta>. Some believe that the name ginkgo is a misspelling of the original Japanese gin kyo, meaning “silver apricot”. It’s seen as a symbol of longevity and vitality and is known to be effective at stimulating the growth of new neurons. Researchers have demonstrated that ginkgo flavonoids, the main constituents in ginkgo extract, provide potent anti-Alzheimer’s effects via antioxidant activity in the brains of mice and also stabilize and improve the cognitive performance of Alzheimer patients for 6 months to 1 year. Effective doses range from 120 to 240 mg one to four hours before performance, and for older adults, doses range from 40 to 120 mg three times a day.
Also known as Arcalion or Bisbuthiamine and Enerion, Sulbutiamine is a compound of the Sulphur group and is an analogue to vitamin B1, which is known to pass the blood-brain barrier very easily. Sulbutiamine is found to circulate faster than Thiamine from blood to brain. It is recommended for patients suffering from mental fatigue caused due to emotional and psychological stress. The best part about this compound is that it does not have most of the common side effects linked with a few nootropics.
Starting from the studies in my meta-analysis, we can try to estimate an upper bound on how big any effect would be, if it actually existed. One of the most promising null results, Southon et al 1994, turns out to be not very informative: if we punch in the number of kids, we find that they needed a large effect size (d=0.81) before they could see anything:
Armodafinil is sort of a purified modafinil which Cephalon sells under the brand-name Nuvigil (and Sun under Waklert21). Armodafinil acts much the same way (see the ADS Drug Profile) but the modafinil variant filtered out are the faster-acting molecules22. Hence, it is supposed to last longer. as studies like Pharmacodynamic effects on alertness of single doses of armodafinil in healthy subjects during a nocturnal period of acute sleep loss seem to bear out; anecdotally, it’s also more powerful, with Cephalon offering pills with doses as low as 50mg. (To be technical, modafinil is racemic: it comes in two forms which are rotations, mirror-images of each other. The rotation usually doesn’t matter, but sometimes it matters tremendously - for example, one form of thalidomide stops morning sickness, and the other rotation causes hideous birth defects.)
One thing to notice is that the default case matters a lot. This asymmetry is because you switch decisions in different possible worlds - when you would take Adderall but stop you’re in the world where Adderall doesn’t work, and when you wouldn’t take Adderall but do you’re in the world where Adderall does work (in the perfect information case, at least). One of the ways you can visualize this is that you don’t penalize tests for giving you true negative information, and you reward them for giving you true positive information. (This might be worth a post by itself, and is very Litany of Gendlin.)
Omega-3 fatty acids: DHA and EPA – two Cochrane Collaboration reviews on the use of supplemental omega-3 fatty acids for ADHD and learning disorders conclude that there is limited evidence of treatment benefits for either disorder. Two other systematic reviews noted no cognition-enhancing effects in the general population or middle-aged and older adults.