Apart from the risks that accompany drugs with dopaminergic effects, amphetamines, even when used to treat neurological disorders like ADHD, have been known to frequently and predictably cause anorexia, weight loss and insomnia. High doses can cause psychotic behavior, and even normal doses have been known to produce psychosis that ranged from the loss of short-term memory to horrific visual and auditory hallucinations. Are you getting the impression that using synthetic stimulants to flood your brain short-term with excessive or unnaturally high levels of hormones and neurotransmitters may not be a good idea, especially when done frequently or in excess?
Amphetamine – systematic reviews and meta-analyses report that low-dose amphetamine improved cognitive functions (e.g., inhibitory control, episodic memory, working memory, and aspects of attention) in healthy people, and in individuals with ADHD. A 2014 systematic review noted that low doses of amphetamine also improved memory consolidation, in turn leading to improved recall of information in non-ADHD youth. It also improved task saliency (motivation to perform a task) and performance on tedious tasks that required a high degree of effort.
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.
One SCFA in particular, called propionic acid, has been identified as a driver for abnormal behaviour that is related to both ADHD and the autism spectrum. This SCFA can alter metabolic and immune pathways, as well as gene expression, which can affect the functionality of the brain cells and their receptivity to neurotransmitters, as well as their ability to regenerate and regulate inflammatory responses. Certain strains of pathogenic bacteria, such as clostridia, have been implicated in producing large amounts of propionic acid. This strain of bacteria is naturally present in the gut, however, an overgrowth can occur when good bacteria levels are compromised and/or there is an acute infection. In addition, processed wheat and dairy products often contain propionic acid as a food preservative in the form of calcium propionate.
By the way, before we move on, allow me to clarify what I mean by “slow caffeine metabolizer”. Ever wondered why your co-worker can slam four giant mugs of coffee during a brief morning of work, while one shot of espresso leaves you jittery and irritated? Turns out that not everyone metabolizes caffeine the same. Generally speaking, in healthy adults, caffeine has a half-life that ranges from about 3 to 7 hours. For example, if the half-life of caffeine in your blood is 5 hours, that means that it takes 5 hours for caffeine levels to be reduced by 50%. Then it takes another 5 hours for that amount to be reduced by 50%. While caffeine metabolism time also depends upon age and environmental factors, a big influence on varying caffeine half-life times is your genetic makeup.
"Herbs will have several different compounds in them, as opposed to, let's say, a drug like amphetamine, which is basically one compound, one molecule," Sahelian says. "Herbs will have a set of several or several dozen compounds in them. It's difficult to pinpoint which one of them is the most active or whether it's the combination of many of them that are producing the result."
Took random pill at 2:02 PM. Went to lunch half an hour afterwards, talked until 4 - more outgoing than my usual self. I continued to be pretty energetic despite not taking my caffeine+piracetam pills, and though it’s now 12:30 AM and I listened to TAM YouTube videos all day while reading, I feel pretty energetic and am reviewing Mnemosyne cards. I am pretty confident the pill today was Adderall. Hard to believe placebo effect could do this much for this long or that normal variation would account for this. I’d say 90% confidence it was Adderall. I do some more Mnemosyne, typing practice, and reading in a Montaigne book, and finally get tired and go to bed around 1:30 AM or so. I check the baggie when I wake up the next morning, and sure enough, it had been an Adderall pill. That makes me 1 for 2.
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.”
The nootropics I’m taking are called RISE, and they're made by a company called Nootrobox, which was started by Geoffrey Woo, a young Stanford computer science graduate. There's no one common ingredient in nootropics; what unites them is the intent to improve brain performance. The RISE stack, which costs $29 plus shipping for 30 pills, contains 350 mg of bacopa monnieri powder (an herb that is commonly used medicinally in South Asia), 100 mg of L-theanine (an amino acid found in green tea), and 50 mg of caffeine (about the amount in a can of Diet Coke). Like most nootropics, the RISE stack itself isn't FDA-approved for use as a cognitive enhancer, but Nootrobox says that the compounds within it are approved as dietary supplements. "We use the precise ingredients at the right dosages and the right ratios as supported by double-blind, peer-reviewed clinicals," Nootrobox's site claims.
Recent findings also suggest that taking extra vitamins could help preserve memory, especially as we age. Researchers at Australia's University of Sydney tested 117 people in a retirement home by putting them through a battery of mental tests that included remembering a string of words, listing as many words as possible that begin with a certain letter of the alphabet, and doing mental addition and subtraction. Those who regularly took vitamin C, they found, scored higher on the tests.
Qualia: Like TianChi, the nootropic blend Qualia is a “shotgun” approach, providing over forty-two different ingredients, including a host of herbal adaptogens, brain vitamins, amino acids, choline donors, anti-inflammatories and antioxidants too long to list here (you can view the full ingredient profile here). Unlike TianChi, it also contains synthetic nootropic “noopept”, which has about 1,000 times the potency of piracetam, along with a few other helpful ingredients, including curcumin and bioperine, and slightly higher amounts of caffeine. It also requires two daily dosing protocols: with the first dose taken on an empty stomach and the second with a meal (for those compounds better absorbed with food). For those who prefer to skip on the synthetic nootropic, get most of the compounds at slightly lower price point (Qualia is admittedly quite expensive at $150 for the two dosing bottles), and also get the addition of the Indian plant you learned about earlier called “Celastrus paniculatus”, there is a very similar supplement made by the same manufacturer called “Qualia Mind”.
The powder itself is quite bulky; the recommended dose to hit 200mg of absorbed magnesium leads to ~7g of powder (so capping will be difficult) and the container provides only 30 doses’ worth (or each dose costs $1!). It’s described as lemon-flavored, and it is, but it’s sickly-sweet unpleasant and since it’s so much powder, takes half a glass of water to dissolve it entirely and wash it down. Subjectively, I notice nothing after taking it for a week. I may try a simple A-B-A analysis of sleep or Mnemosyne, but I’m not optimistic. And given the large expense of LEF’s Magtein, it’s probably a non-starter even if there seems to be an effect. For sleep effects, I will have to look at more reasonably priced magnesium sources.
This tendency is exacerbated by general inefficiencies in the nootropics market - they are manufactured for vastly less than they sell for, although the margins aren’t as high as they are in other supplement markets, and not nearly as comical as illegal recreational drugs. (Global Price Fixing: Our Customers are the Enemy (Connor 2001) briefly covers the vitamin cartel that operated for most of the 20th century, forcing food-grade vitamins prices up to well over 100x the manufacturing cost.) For example, the notorious Timothy Ferriss (of The Four-hour Work Week) advises imitators to find a niche market with very high margins which they can insert themselves into as middlemen and reap the profits; one of his first businesses specialized in… nootropics & bodybuilding. Or, when Smart Powders - usually one of the cheapest suppliers - was dumping its piracetam in a fire sale of half-off after the FDA warning, its owner mentioned on forums that the piracetam was still profitable (and that he didn’t really care because selling to bodybuilders was so lucrative); this was because while SP was selling 2kg of piracetam for ~$90, Chinese suppliers were offering piracetam on AliBaba for $30 a kilogram or a third of that in bulk. (Of course, you need to order in quantities like 30kg - this is more or less the only problem the middlemen retailers solve.) It goes without saying that premixed pills or products are even more expensive than the powders.
“Brain-berries” is what Steven Pratt, MD, author of SuperFoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life, calls these antioxidant-packed fruits on WebMD.com. This tiny but powerful berry helps protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. In a recent study, researchers gave a group of adults with mild cognitive impairment, a risk condition for Alzheimer’s, freeze-dried blueberry powder daily, while another group took a placebo. After 16 weeks, those who ate the blueberry powder (the equivalent of one cup of berries) had improved memory, better cognitive performance, and increased brain activity. Your everyday habits may also reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s.
It would be like saying: 'No, you can't use a cell phone. It might increase productivity!'" If we eventually decide that neuroenhancers work, and are basically safe, will we one day enforce their use? Lawmakers might compel certain workers - A&E doctors, air-traffic controllers - to take them. (Indeed, the US Air Force already makes modafinil available to pilots embarking on long missions.) For the rest of us, the pressure will be subtler - that queasy feeling I get when I remember that my younger colleague is taking Provigil to meet deadlines. All this may be leading to a kind of society I'm not sure I want to live in: a society where we're even more overworked and driven by technology than we already are, and where we have to take drugs to keep up; a society where we give children academic steroids along with their daily vitamins.
But it's not the mind-expanding 1960s any more. Every era, it seems, has its own defining drug. Neuroenhancers are perfectly suited to the anxiety of white-collar competition in a floundering economy. And they have a synergistic relationship with our multiplying digital technologies: the more gadgets we own, the more distracted we become and the more we need help in order to focus. The experience that neuroenhancement offers is not, for the most part, about opening the doors of perception, or about breaking the bonds of the self, or about experiencing a surge of genius. It's about squeezing out an extra few hours to finish those sales figures when you'd really rather collapse into bed; getting a B instead of a B-minus on the final exam in a lecture class where you spent half your time texting; cramming for the GREs (postgraduate entrance exams) at night, because the information-industry job you got after college turned out to be deadening. Neuroenhancers don't offer freedom. Rather, they facilitate a pinched, unromantic, grindingly efficient form of productivity.
To our volunteers: We could not have asked for a more committed, creative, tireless group of voluneers. We hope you count yourself as fierce advocates who helped build a youth-positive city, because we always have. Thank you for giving Brainfood programs a place in your life and for bringing your energy and skills to our community. You took our spark and turned it into a fire, and we’re so grateful.
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".
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“Over the years, I have learned so much from the work of Dr. Mosconi, whose accomplished credentials spanning both neuroscience and nutrition are wholly unique. This book represents the first time her studies on the interaction between food and long-term cognitive function reach a general audience. Dr. Mosconi always makes the point that we would eat differently and treat our brains better if only we could see what we are doing to them. From the lab to the kitchen, this is extremely valuable and urgent advice, complete with recommendations that any one of us can take.”
Subjects with a history or presence of clinically important cardiac, renal, hepatic, endocrine (including diabetes mellitus), pulmonary, biliary, gastrointestinal, pancreatic, or neurologic disorders that, in the judgment of the Investigator, would interfere with the subject's ability to provide informed consent, comply with the study protocol (which might confound the interpretation of the study results), or put the subject at undue risk.
Do you start your day with a cup (or two, or three) of coffee? It tastes delicious, but it’s also jump-starting your brain because of its caffeine content. Caffeine is definitely a nootropic substance—it’s a mild stimulant that can alleviate fatigue and improve concentration, according to the Mayo Clinic. Current research shows that coffee drinkers don’t suffer any ill effects from drinking up to about four cups of coffee per day. Caffeine is also found in tea, soda, and energy drinks. Not too surprisingly, it’s also in many of the nootropic supplements that are being marketed to people looking for a mental boost. Take a look at these 7 genius brain boosters to try in the morning.
When we first created the BrainSmart Ultra™ range of natural smart drugs and brain supplements in 2007, our main aim was to deliver the most effective balanced natural smart nutrition supplements for the brain available. We wanted to formulate a range of brain health supporting supplements that not only delivered on its promise to help encourage an individual’s mental energy, concentration and memory but also one that contained, at its core, the perfect balance of neurological health supporting ingredients.
The BoredAt websites - which allow college students to chat idly while they're ostensibly studying - are filled with messages about Adderall. Posts like these, from the BoredAtPenn site, are typical: "I have some Adderall - I'm sitting by room 101.10 in a grey shirt and headphones"; "I have Adderall for sale 20mg for $15"; "I took Adderall at 8pm, it's 6:30am and I've barely blinked." On the Columbia site one poster complains that her friends take Adderall "like candy", adding: "I don't want to be at a disadvantage to everyone else. Is it really that dangerous? My grades weren't that great this year and I could do with a bump." A Columbia student responds: "It's probably not a good idea if you're not prescribed", but offers practical advice anyway: "Keep the dose normal and don't grind them up or snort them." Occasional dissenters ("I think there should be random drug testing at every exam") are drowned out by testimonials like this one, from the BoredAtHarvard site: "I don't want to be a pusher or start people on something bad, but Adderall is amazing."
I find this very troubling. The magnesium supplementation was harmful enough to do a lot of cumulative damage over the months involved (I could have done a lot of writing September 2013 - June 2014), but not so blatantly harmful enough as to be noticeable without a randomized blind self-experiment or at least systematic data collection - neither of which are common among people who would be supplementing magnesium I would much prefer it if my magnesium overdose had come with visible harm (such as waking up in the middle of the night after a nightmare soaked in sweat), since then I’d know quickly and surely, as would anyone else taking magnesium. But the harm I observed in my data? For all I know, that could be affecting every user of magnesium supplements! How would we know otherwise?
Choline works best when stacked with nootropics. Stacking choline with a nootropic can also help prevent or reduce side effects. Often, people find that they get headaches when they take nootropics by themselves and that stacking them with choline helps reduce this problem. It is usually suggested to stack nootropics with a choline source, especially if you do not get enough from your diet.
…The first time I took supplemental potassium (50% US RDA in a lot of water), it was like a brain fog lifted that I never knew I had, and I felt profoundly energized in a way that made me feel exercise was reasonable and prudent, which resulted in me and the roommate that had just supplemented potassium going for an hour long walk at 2AM. Experiences since then have not been quite so profound (which probably was so stark for me as I was likely fixing an acute deficiency), but I can still count on a moderately large amount of potassium to give me a solid, nearly side effect free performance boost for a few hours…I had been doing Bikram yoga on and off, and I think I wasn’t keeping up the practice because I wasn’t able to properly rehydrate myself.
Eugeroics (armodafinil and modafinil) – are classified as "wakefulness promoting" agents; modafinil increased alertness, particularly in sleep deprived individuals, and was noted to facilitate reasoning and problem solving in non-ADHD youth. In a systematic review of small, preliminary studies where the effects of modafinil were examined, when simple psychometric assessments were considered, modafinil intake appeared to enhance executive function. Modafinil does not produce improvements in mood or motivation in sleep deprived or non-sleep deprived individuals.