It’s that time of the year again. It’s Blue Monday. We’re halfway into January, trudging through the deepest and darkest of the winter months, as we try to keep our heads high after the Christmas festivities with the motivation of our New Year’s resolutions. Some of you may have never heard of Blue Monday and let’s just say you’re not exactly missing out.
Finally, it’s not clear that caffeine results in performance gains after long-term use; homeostasis/tolerance is a concern for all stimulants, but especially for caffeine. It is plausible that all caffeine consumption does for the long-term chronic user is restore performance to baseline. (Imagine someone waking up and drinking coffee, and their performance improves - well, so would the performance of a non-addict who is also slowly waking up!) See for example, James & Rogers 2005, Sigmon et al 2009, and Rogers et al 2010. A cross-section of thousands of participants in the Cambridge brain-training study found caffeine intake showed negligible effect sizes for mean and component scores (participants were not told to use caffeine, but the training was recreational & difficult, so one expects some difference).
Last summer, I visited Phillips in the high desert resort town of Bend, Oregon, where he lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their two daughters, Ivy and Ruby. Phillips, who is now 36, took me for coffee at a cheery café called Thump. Wearing shorts, flip-flops and a black T-shirt, he said: "Poker is about sitting in one place, watching your opponents for a long time, and making better observations about them than they make about you." With Provigil, he "could process all the information about what was going on at the table and do something about it". Though there is no question that Phillips became much more successful at poker after taking neuroenhancers, I asked him if his improvement could be explained by a placebo effect, or by coincidence. He doubted it, but allowed that it could. Still, he said, "there's a sort of clarity I get with Provigil. With Adderall, I'd characterise the effect as correction - correction of an underlying condition. Provigil feels like enhancement." And, whereas Adderall made him "jittery", Provigil's effects were "completely limited to my brain". He had "zero difficulty sleeping".
The soft gels are very small; one needs to be a bit careful - Vitamin D is fat-soluble and overdose starts in the range of 70,000 IU36, so it would take at least 14 pills, and it’s unclear where problems start with chronic use. Vitamin D, like many supplements, follows a U-shaped response curve (see also Melamed et al 2008 and Durup et al 2012) - too much can be quite as bad as too little. Too little, though, is likely very bad. The previously cited studies with high acute doses worked out to <1,000 IU a day, so they may reassure us about the risks of a large acute dose but not tell us much about smaller chronic doses; the mortality increases due to too-high blood levels begin at ~140nmol/l and reading anecdotes online suggest that 5k IU daily doses tend to put people well below that (around 70-100nmol/l). I probably should get a blood test to be sure, but I have something of a needle phobia.
There are over a thousand websites and hundreds of reference guides chock full of complicated methods for combining many of the compounds you’ve just discovered. There’s a reason for this: the practice of “stacking” nootropics and smart drugs into specific combinations can be far more powerful and efficacious than consuming a single, lonely compound in isolation. For example, dosing choline sources with your morning coffee can make your brain feel fresh for hours or mixing curcumin with black pepper can dramatically amp up the neural anti-inflammatory effects of both compounds. Ultimately, a teaspoon of lion’s mane extract just isn’t as titillating as lion’s mane blended with caffeine, theanine, nicotine and a touch of vinpocetine.
Qualia claims that its product stems from a new approach to science based on “principled meta-analysis and synthesis of existing research” to optimize “memory, focus, the speed of information processing, and pattern analysis.” The bottom line, however, is in its online medical disclaimer, which says: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. . . . No claims are made about the safety of this product, nor are any medical or psychological benefits claimed.”
Adaptogens are also known to participate in regulating homeostasis through helping to beneficially regulate the mechanisms of action associated with the HPA-axis (think back to the importance of proper HPA-axis function which you learned about in my last article on breathwork), including cortisol regulation and nitric oxide regulation. Through these mechanisms, they can protect against chronic inflammation, atherosclerosis, neurodegenerative cognitive impairment, metabolic disorders, cancer and other aging-related diseases. There are plenty of adaptogens with potent benefits, but the ones you learn about in this article are an excellent start to begin building or expanding your stress-adaptation toolbox.
Although research linking diet and dementia is still in its infancy, there are a few important relationships between nutrients and brain health that are worth exploring. Having a nourishing, well rounded diet gives our brain the best chance of avoiding disease. If your diet is unbalanced for whatever reason, you may want to consider a multivitamin and mineral complex and an omega-3 fatty acid supplement to help make up a few of the essentials. If you are considering taking a supplement it is best to discuss this with your GP or qualified healthcare professional.
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.
He recommends a 10mg dose, but sublingually. He mentions COLURACETAM’s taste is more akin to that of PRAMIRACETAM than OXIRACETAM, in that it tastes absolutely vile (not a surprise), so it is impossible to double-blind a sublingual administration - even if I knew of an inactive equally-vile-tasting substitute, I’m not sure I would subject myself to it. To compensate for ingesting the coluracetam, it would make sense to double the dose to 20mg (turning the 2g into <100 doses). Whether the effects persist over multiple days is not clear; I’ll assume it does not until someone says it does, since this makes things much easier.
The third category was cognitive control - how effectively you can check yourself in circumstances where the most natural response is the wrong one. A classic test is the Stroop Task, in which people are shown the name of a colour (let's say orange) written in a different colour (let's say purple). They're asked to read the word (which is easy, because our habitual response to a word is to read it) or to name the ink colour (which is harder, because our first impulse is to say "orange"). These studies presented a more mixed picture, but overall they showed some benefit "for most normal healthy subjects" - especially for people who had inherently poorer cognitive control.
That’s why adults aren’t as crazy as teenagers, because adult brains aren’t as sensitive or reactive to external factors and experience teaches us to know better. That’s the potential danger with a drug like this. You return your brain to a state when you can learn a lot easier because you are ultra-sensitive to all stimuli in your environment, but it also makes it easier for that stimuli to affect you, for better or worse. The worst case scenario? You take this drug to be smarter but your personality can be destroyed by external stresses- it’s like being an emotional mess and losing yourself in high school again.
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."
Systematic reviews and meta-analyses of clinical human research using low doses of certain central nervous system stimulants found enhanced cognition in healthy people. In particular, the classes of stimulants that demonstrate cognition-enhancing effects in humans act as direct agonists or indirect agonists of dopamine receptor D1, adrenoceptor A2, or both types of receptor in the prefrontal cortex. Relatively high doses of stimulants cause cognitive deficits.