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.

The original magnesium l-threonate caused me no apparent problems by the time I finished off the powder and usage correlated with better days, further supporting the hypothesis that magnesium helps it. But l-threonate would be difficult to cap (and hence blind self-experiment) and is ruinously expensive on a per-dose basis. So I looked around for alternatives for the followup; one of the most common compounds suggested was the citrate form because it is reasonably well-absorbed and causes fewer digestive problems, so I could just take that. Magnesium oxide is widely available it looks cheap, but the absorption/bioavailability problem makes it unattractive: at a 3:5 ratio, an estimate of 4% absorption, a ZMA formulation of an impressive-sounding 500mg would be 500 \times \frac{3}{5} \times 0.04 = 12mg or a small fraction of RDAs for male adults like 400mg elemental. (Calcium shouldn’t be a problem since I get 220mg of calcium from my multivitamin and I enjoy dairy products daily.)

Working memory has been likened to a mental scratch pad: you use it to keep relevant data in mind while you're completing a task. (Imagine a cross-examination, in which a lawyer has to keep track of the answers a witness has given and formulate new questions based on them.) In one common test subjects are shown a series of items - usually letters or numbers - and then presented with challenges: was this number or letter in the series? Was this one? In the working-memory tests, subjects performed better on neuroenhancers, though several of the studies suggested that the effect depended on how good a subject's working memory was to begin with: the better it was, the less benefit the drugs provided.
All of the coefficients are positive, as one would hope, and one specific factor (MR7) squeaks in at d=0.34 (p=0.05). The graph is much less impressive than the graph for just MP, suggesting that the correlation may be spread out over a lot of factors, the current dataset isn’t doing a good job of capturing the effect compared to the MP self-rating, or it really was a placebo effect:

Running low on gum (even using it weekly or less, it still runs out), I decided to try patches. Reading through various discussions, I couldn’t find any clear verdict on what patch brands might be safer (in terms of nicotine evaporation through a cut or edge) than others, so I went with the cheapest Habitrol I could find as a first try of patches (Nicotine Transdermal System Patch, Stop Smoking Aid, 21 mg, Step 1, 14 patches) in May 2013. I am curious to what extent nicotine might improve a long time period like several hours or a whole day, compared to the shorter-acting nicotine gum which feels like it helps for an hour at most and then tapers off (which is very useful in its own right for kicking me into starting something I have been procrastinating on). I have not decided whether to try another self-experiment.
…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.
In fact, many nerve gas agents act similarly to Huperzia serrata by blocking the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. But research has shown that in smaller doses, Huperzine A, the extract of Huperzia serrata used in nootropics, would likely offer some protection against damage from nerve agents. That the same substance can act as a nerve agent, protect against nerve agents, and give you crazy dreams, underscores how important it is to stay within the recommended doses.
Vitamin C has long been thought to have the power to increase mental agility, and some research suggests that a deficiency may be a risk factor for age-related brain degeneration including dementia and Alzheimer's.  Furthermore, interesting studies demonstrate that vitamin C may be useful in managing anxiety and stress. One of the best sources of this vital vitamin are blackcurrants. Others include red peppers, citrus fruits such as oranges and broccoli.
Board-certified neuropsychologist Brian Lebowitz, PhD and associate clinical professor of neurology at Stony Brook University, explains to that the term "encompasses so many things," including prescription medications. Brain enhancers fall into two different categories: naturally occurring substances like Ginkgo biloba, creatine and phenibut; and manmade prescription drugs, like Adderall, and over-the-counter supplements such as Noopept.
We reached out to several raw material manufacturers and learned that Phosphatidylserine and Huperzine A are in short supply. We also learned that these ingredients can be pricey, incentivizing many companies to cut corners.  A company has to have the correct ingredients in the correct proportions in order for a brain health formula to be effective. We learned that not just having the two critical ingredients was important – but, also that having the correct supporting ingredients was essential in order to be effective.
Whole pill at 3 AM. I spend the entire morning and afternoon typing up a transcript of Earth in My Window. I tried taking a nap around 10 AM, but during the hour I was down, I had <5m of light sleep, the Zeo said. After I finished the transcript (~16,600 words with formatting), I was completely pooped and watched a bunch of Mobile Suit Gundam episodes, then I did Mnemosyne. The rest of the night was nothing to write home about either - some reading, movie watching, etc. Next time I will go back to split-doses and avoid typing up 110kB of text. On the positive side, this is the first trial I had available the average daily grade Mnemosyne 2.0 plugin. The daily averages all are 3-point-something (peaking at 3.89 and flooring at 3.59), so just graphing the past 2 weeks, the modafinil day, and recovery days: ▅█▅▆▄▆▄▃▅▄▁▄▄ ▁ ▂▄▄█. Not an impressive performance but there was a previous non-modafinil day just as bad, and I’m not too sure how important a metric this is; I must see whether future trials show similar underperformance. Nights: 11:29; 9:22; 8:25; 8:41.
Modafinil, also known as Provigil, Modalert, and Alertec, was originally made and marketed for sleep disorders, and has been prescribed in the US for this reason since 1998. It was found only by chance to help with focus and concentration, and it is only approved for the treatment of narcolepsy, shift work sleep disorder, and obstructive sleep apnea.
I’ve been actively benefitting from nootropics since 1997, when I was struggling with cognitive performance and ordered almost $1000 worth of smart drugs from Europe (the only place where you could get them at the time). I remember opening the unmarked brown package and wondering whether the pharmaceuticals and natural substances would really enhance my brain.
Many people quickly become overwhelmed by the volume of information and number of products on the market. Because each website claims its product is the best and most effective, it is easy to feel confused and unable to decide. Smart Pill Guide is a resource for reliable information and independent reviews of various supplements for brain enhancement.

On the nutritional naughty list for years, egg yolks are finally experiencing their well-deserved day in the sun. If you’ve been eating only egg whites, the yolk’s on you. Yolks contain large amounts of choline, which helps in fetal brain development for pregnant women. It also breaks down bethane, a chemical that produces hormones related to happiness. That’s right, eggs can make you happy! (6)

REPUTATION: We were blown away by the top-notch reputation that Thrive Naturals has in the industry. From the consumers we interviewed, we found that this company has a legion of loyal brand advocates. Their customers frequently told us that they found Thrive Naturals easy to communicate with, and quick to process and deliver their orders. The company has an amazing track record of customer service and prides itself on its Risk Free No Questions Asked 1-Year Money Back Guarantee. As an online advocate for consumer rights, we were happy to see that they have no hidden fees nor ongoing monthly billing programs that many others try to trap consumers into.

Last April the scientific journal Nature published the results of an informal online poll asking whether readers attempted to sharpen "their focus, concentration, or memory" by taking drugs such as Ritalin and Provigil, a newer kind of stimulant, known generically as modafinil, which was developed to treat narcolepsy. One in five respondents said they did. A majority of the 1,400 readers who responded said that healthy adults should be permitted to take brain boosters for non-medical reasons, and 69% said that mild side-effects were an acceptable risk. Though a majority said that such drugs should not be made available to children who had no diagnosed medical condition, a third admitted that they would feel pressure to give "smart drugs" to their kids if they learned that other parents were doing so.
As a general class, nootropics are not usually addiction-forming.[6] Two of the strongest hallmarks of addiction-forming drugs is that they cause users to develop dependency and experience withdrawal when the drug use is eliminated or reduced. While there are some reports of nootropic users experiencing brain fog after use is discontinued, these side effects are not considered to be akin to withdrawal effects of addiction-forming drugs.[7]
Eliminating foggy-headedness seems to be the goal of many users of neuroenhancers. But can today's drugs actually accomplish this? I recently posed this question to Chatterjee's colleague Martha Farah, who is a psychologist at Penn and the director of its Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. She is deeply fascinated by, and mildly critical of, neuroenhancers, but basically in favour - with the important caveat that we need to know much more about how these drugs work. While Farah does not take neuroenhancers, she had just finished a paper in which she reviewed the evidence on prescription stimulants as neuroenhancers from 40 laboratory studies involving healthy subjects. Most of the studies looked at one of three types of cognition: learning, working memory, and cognitive control. A typical learning test asks subjects to memorise a list of paired words; an hour, a few days, or a week later, they are presented with the first words in the pairs and asked to come up with the second. Neuroenhancers did improve retention, especially where subjects had been asked to remember information for several days or longer.

I take my piracetam in the form of capped pills consisting (in descending order) of piracetam, choline bitartrate, anhydrous caffeine, and l-tyrosine. On 8 December 2012, I happened to run out of them and couldn’t fetch more from my stock until 27 December. This forms a sort of (non-randomized, non-blind) short natural experiment: did my daily 1-5 mood/productivity ratings fall during 8-27 December compared to November 2012 & January 2013? The graphed data29 suggests to me a decline:
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”.

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!
Caveats aside, if you do want to try a nootropic, consider starting with something simple and pretty much risk-free, like aromatherapy with lemon essential oil or frankincense, which can help activate your brain, Barbour says. You could also sip on "golden milk," a sweet and anti-inflammatory beverage made with turmeric, or rosemary-infused water, she adds.
The magnesium was neither randomized nor blinded and included mostly as a covariate to avoid confounding (the Noopept coefficient & t-value increase somewhat without the Magtein variable), so an OR of 1.9 is likely too high; in any case, this experiment was too small to reliably detect any effect (~26% power, see bootstrap power simulation in the magnesium section) so we can’t say too much.
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.
Low-dose lithium orotate is extremely cheap, ~$10 a year. There is some research literature on it improving mood and impulse control in regular people, but some of it is epidemiological (which implies considerable unreliability); my current belief is that there is probably some effect size, but at just 5mg, it may be too tiny to matter. I have ~40% belief that there will be a large effect size, but I’m doing a long experiment and I should be able to detect a large effect size with >75% chance. So, the formula is NPV of the difference between taking and not taking, times quality of information, times expectation: \frac{10 - 0}{\ln 1.05} \times 0.75 \times 0.40 = 61.4, which justifies a time investment of less than 9 hours. As it happens, it took less than an hour to make the pills & placebos, and taking them is a matter of seconds per week, so the analysis will be the time-consuming part. This one may actually turn a profit.
I'm not mad, I'm disappointed. This product did not work at all. It didn't even feel like it was just a caffeine pill (usually what supplements that don't work are actually made of). It literally does nothing. In hindsight, I feel like I did when I was a kid and ordered $4.50 X-ray sunglasses from the back of a comic book. Deep down knew it was too good to be true, but secretly I hoped it would work. Shame on me for getting sucked into a bunch of hype.
I decided to try out day-time usage on 2 consecutive days, taking the 100mg at noon or 1 PM. On both days, I thought I did feel more energetic but nothing extraordinary (maybe not even as strong as the nicotine), and I had trouble falling asleep on Halloween, thinking about the meta-ethics essay I had been writing diligently on both days. Not a good use compared to staying up a night.
Modafinil, also known as Provigil, Modalert, and Alertec, was originally made and marketed for sleep disorders, and has been prescribed in the US for this reason since 1998. It was found only by chance to help with focus and concentration, and it is only approved for the treatment of narcolepsy, shift work sleep disorder, and obstructive sleep apnea.
Back home, I contacted Aubrey Marcus, whose company Onnit Labs produces Alpha Brain. He attributed my lucid dreaming to increased levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which enhances REM dreaming. Alpha Brain has two ingredients that boost acetylcholine levels: GPC choline, which the body converts to acetylcholine, and Huperzine A, an alkaloid derived from Chinese club moss, also known as Huperzia serrata. "Huperzine A disarms the enzyme that naturally breaks down acetylcholine," Marcus said. "So while the GPC choline is being converted to acetylcholine, the Huperzine A is keeping it from disappearing. It's like plugging the drain and turning on the faucet."
The chemical Huperzine-A ( is extracted from a moss. It is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor (instead of forcing out more acetylcholine like the -racetams, it prevents acetylcholine from breaking down). My experience report: One for the null hypothesis files - Huperzine-A did nothing for me. Unlike piracetam or fish oil, after a full bottle (Source Naturals, 120 pills at 200μg each), I noticed no side-effects, no mental improvements of any kind, and no changes in DNB scores from straight Huperzine-A.

These days, nootropics are beginning to take their rightful place as a particularly powerful tool in the Neurohacker’s toolbox. After all, biochemistry is deeply foundational to neural function. Whether you are trying to fix the damage that is done to your nervous system by a stressful and toxic environment or support and enhance your neural functioning, getting the chemistry right is table-stakes. And we are starting to get good at getting it right. What’s changed?