The reality is that cognitive impairment and dementia are also on the rise, and sometimes symptoms of forgetfulness and confusion are not so innocuous. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, someone in the United States is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease every 66 seconds. By the middle of this century, that is expected to grow to every 33 seconds.
Aside from the obvious pleasure some derive from this traditional combo, are there any actual benefits to simultaneously smoking and drinking coffee? One study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health definitely concludes that the answer is yes. In the study, researchers analyzed 497 men and women with confirmed cases of papilloma, carcinoma and polyps of the bladder. All study participants, along with 1,113 control cases, were interviewed to determine the use of tobacco, exposure to secondhand smoke and coffee drinking.
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.
One of the other suggested benefits is for boosting serotonin levels; low levels of serotonin are implicated in a number of issues like depression. I’m not yet sure whether tryptophan has helped with motivation or happiness. Trial and error has taught me that it’s a bad idea to take tryptophan in the morning or afternoon, however, even smaller quantities like 0.25g. Like melatonin, the dose-response curve is a U: ~1g is great and induces multiple vivid dreams for me, but ~1.5g leads to an awful night and a headache the next day that was worse, if anything, than melatonin. (One morning I woke up with traces of at least 7 dreams, although I managed to write down only 2. No lucid dreams, though.)
The power calculation indicates a 20% chance of getting useful information. My quasi-experiment has <70% chance of being right, and I preserve a general skepticism about any experiment, even one as well done as the medical student one seems to be, and give that one a <80% chance of being right; so let’s call it 70% the effect exists, or 30% it doesn’t exist (which is the case in which I save money by dropping fish oil for 10 years).
For example, prenatal exposure to pthalates, which are chemical compounds that are commonly added to plastics to increase their durability and flexibility, have been linked tobehavioural abnormalities characterised by shortened attention span and impaired social interaction. Pthalates are an extensive group of chemicals, and whilst not all of them have been studied, several have shown to have negative health impacts. This class of chemicals is found abundantly and can find they can find their way into food packaging, cosmetics and household cleaners - making them virtually impossible to avoid. However, a growing awareness about the potential negative impact on health has led to the production of pthalate-free cosmetic and personal care products, as well as cleaning products. It may, therefore, be a significant step to try to avoid these chemicals by choosing products wisely, as well as trying to buy vegetables, fruit etc that haven’t been wrapped in plastic.
At this point I began to get bored with it and the lack of apparent effects, so I began a pilot trial: I’d use the LED set for 10 minutes every few days before 2PM, record, and in a few months look for a correlation with my daily self-ratings of mood/productivity (for 2.5 years I’ve asked myself at the end of each day whether I did more, the usual, or less work done that day than average, so 2=below-average, 3=average, 4=above-average; it’s ad hoc, but in some factor analyses I’ve been playing with, it seems to load on a lot of other variables I’ve measured, so I think it’s meaningful).
Bacopa is a supplement herb often used for memory or stress adaptation. Its chronic effects reportedly take many weeks to manifest, with no important acute effects. Out of curiosity, I bought 2 bottles of Bacognize Bacopa pills and ran a non-randomized non-blinded ABABA quasi-self-experiment from June 2014 to September 2015, measuring effects on my memory performance, sleep, and daily self-ratings of mood/productivity. Because of the very slow onset, small effective sample size, definite temporal trends probably unrelated to Bacopa, and noise in the variables, the results were as expected, ambiguous, and do not strongly support any correlation between Bacopa and memory/sleep/self-rating (+/-/- respectively).
For the moment, people looking for that particular quick fix have a limited choice of meds. But given the amount of money and research hours being spent on developing drugs to treat cognitive decline, Provigil and Adderall are likely to be joined by a bigger pharmacopoeia. Among the drugs in the pipeline are ampakines, which target a type of glutamate receptor in the brain; it is hoped that they may stem the memory loss associated with diseases like Alzheimer's. But ampakines may also give healthy people a palpable cognitive boost. A 2007 study of 16 healthy elderly volunteers found that 500mg of one particular ampakine "unequivocally" improved short-term memory, though it appeared to detract from episodic memory - the recall of past events. Another class of drugs, cholinesterase inhibitors, which are already being used with some success to treat Alzheimer's patients, have also shown promise as neuroenhancers. In one study the drug donepezil strengthened the performance of pilots on flight simulators; in another, of 30 healthy young male volunteers, it improved verbal and visual episodic memory. Several pharmaceutical companies are working on drugs that target nicotine receptors in the brain in the hope that they can replicate the cognitive uptick that smokers get from cigarettes.