Some people consider stimulants to be a form of nootropic, while others distinguish them from the likes of caffeine, and Adderall -- of which there's currently a nationwide shortage. Most legal users of this attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug are children; it's prescribed sparingly in adults for fear of abuse. The FDA caused the shortage by halting delivery to drug manufacturers of the drug's active ingredient, an amphetamine, for months, arguing that enough Adderall had already been produced to satisfy all legal demand. The agency argued that abusers of Adderall are responsible for the shortage. That's a group that includes students and professionals using Adderall to help boost productivity during stressful times.
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.
But before you go lock yourself in a dark, quiet room in order to prevent this overburden on your brain, you should know that there are scientifically researched compounds designed to amplify cognitive function and help your brain deal with this excess load, or simply get you through a period of sleep deprivation, increased creativity or work demands, the need to pull an all-nighter or an intense bout of work or study.
When you start taking legit nootropics, you get to leave all of that behind you. You may never achieve perfect concentration (most of us never will), but you should find you are able to concentrate on the task at hand for much longer than you do now. You will end up taking fewer breaks, and you might start finishing up your work on time each day again—or even early!
In her new book, Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power (Avery/ Penguin Random House), Dr. Lisa Mosconi, PhD, INHC, Associate Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College, highlights the connection between diet and brain function and shares approachable, actionable tips to put that research into practice.
I’m wary of others, though. The trouble with using a blanket term like “nootropics” is that you lump all kinds of substances in together. Technically, you could argue that caffeine and cocaine are both nootropics, but they’re hardly equal. With so many ways to enhance your brain function, many of which have significant risks, it’s most valuable to look at nootropics on a case-by-case basis. Here’s a list of 13 nootropics, along with my thoughts on each.
Stayed up with the purpose of finishing my work for a contest. This time, instead of taking the pill as a single large dose (I feel that after 3 times, I understand what it’s like), I will take 4 doses over the new day. I took the first quarter at 1 AM, when I was starting to feel a little foggy but not majorly impaired. Second dose, 5:30 AM; feeling a little impaired. 8:20 AM, third dose; as usual, I feel physically a bit off and mentally tired - but still mentally sharp when I actually do something. Early on, my heart rate seemed a bit high and my limbs trembling, but it’s pretty clear now that that was the caffeine or piracetam. It may be that the other day, it was the caffeine’s fault as I suspected. The final dose was around noon. The afternoon crash wasn’t so pronounced this time, although motivation remains a problem. I put everything into finishing up the spaced repetition literature review, and didn’t do any n-backing until 11:30 PM: 32/34/31/54/40%.
My first impression of ~1g around 12:30PM was that while I do not feel like running around, within an hour I did feel like the brain fog was lighter than before. The effect wasn’t dramatic, so I can’t be very confident. Operationalizing brain fog for an experiment might be hard: it doesn’t necessarily feel like I would do better on dual n-back. I took 2 smaller doses 3 and 6 hours later, to no further effect. Over the following weeks and months, I continued to randomly alternate between potassium & non-potassium days. I noticed no effects other than sleep problems.
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Eventually one morning you wake up and realize it has been years since you felt like yourself. It takes so much more effort than it did before to string thoughts together. Your clarity is gone, you can never focus for more than two seconds at a time, and penetrating insights have been replaced by a swamp of distraction, confusion, and forgetfulness. Your thoughts feel frayed, worn—like ragged fabric flapping in the breeze.
After a month of testing nootropics, I’m not ready to commit to them permanently. They’re simply too untested, and while “move fast and break things” might be a good approach to building software, it’s not what I want for my brain. Still, I think we’ll likely hear more about nootropics, especially as recreational users of more powerful prescription drugs like Adderall and modafinil look for less harsh alternatives. Sometimes, when you’re working, you don’t want to put your brain on jet fuel—a little unleaded gas will do. And for those moments, nootropics could be a fertile testing ground for the intrepid body-hacker.
Encouraged by TruBrain’s magnesium & my magnesium l-threonate use, I design and run a blind random self-experiment to see whether magnesium citrate supplementation would improve my mood or productivity. I collected ~200 days of data at two dose levels. The analysis finds that the net effect was negative, but a more detailed look shows time-varying effects with a large initial benefit negated by an increasingly-negative effect. Combined with my expectations, the long half-life, and the higher-than-intended dosage, I infer that I overdosed on the magnesium. To verify this, I will be running a followup experiment with a much smaller dose.
Beans. Beans are "under-recognized" and "economical," says Kulze. They also stabilize glucose (blood sugar) levels. The brain is dependent on glucose for fuel, Kulze explains, and since it can't store the glucose, it relies on a steady stream of energy -- which beans can provide. Any beans will do, says Kulze, but she is especially partial to lentils and black beans and recommends 1/2 cup every day.
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?
Jump up ^ Sattler, Sebastian; Mehlkop, Guido; Graeff, Peter; Sauer, Carsten (February 1, 2014). "Evaluating the drivers of and obstacles to the willingness to use cognitive enhancement drugs: the influence of drug characteristics, social environment, and personal characteristics". Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy. BioMed Central Ltd. p. 8. doi:10.1186/1747-597X-9-8. ISSN 1747-597X. Retrieved April 5, 2014.