Maybe you are you new to nootropics? The word, “Nootropic” is a very broad term describing a supplement or drug that increases mental performance. There are several different groups of nootropics including herbal supplements and a class of research chemicals known as racetams. Below are some of the many common benefits that may potentially be experienced with nootropic supplements.

If you are a slow caffeine metabolizer and consume too much caffeine, you run the risk of mild to severe complications, such as cardiovascular disease. There’s also the sleep disruption problem of having too much caffeine left in your bloodstream late in the day as a result of a longer caffeine half-life, a problem not faced by fast caffeine metabolizers (it’s so unfair if you love your cup of joe, right?). In addition, fast caffeine metabolizers actually run a reduced risk of cardiovascular complications if they consume at least one cup of coffee per day. While anyone can be a slow caffeine metabolizer, there are certain ethnic backgrounds that are indeed associated with slower and faster caffeine metabolisms. For example, it’s known that people with Asian and African ethnic backgrounds generally have slower rates of caffeine metabolism. To find out if you’re a fast or slow caffeine metabolizer, you can have a relatively inexpensive salivary genetic test performed by a company like 23andme and then use the online dashboard to jump straight to your CYP1A2 gene. When you’re there, you type into the search bar “rs762551”. If your rs762551 SNP variant is AA, then you’re a fast caffeine metabolizer, but if your variant is AC or CC, you’re a slow caffeine metabolizer. Fortunately, many genetic testing companies will now simply report directly on your results whether you’re a slow or fast metabolizer, without you needing to go through the SNP searching trouble.


Amphetamines are synthetic stimulants and were first created in 1887. These are among the most powerful stimulant-based smart drugs in use and work primarily by targeting dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline/norepinephrine. Given what you’ve already learned about the dopaminergic effects of modafinil and methylphenidate, you should already be wary of amphetamines’ targeting of dopamine. Hormones and neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and histamine are known as monoamines, and amphetamines block their uptake by being taken up instead themselves by monoamine transporters. This leads to higher levels of monoamines in synapses, and consequently to the psychostimulant effects characteristic of drugs like Adderall.
Take at 11 AM; distractions ensue and the Christmas tree-cutting also takes up much of the day. By 7 PM, I am exhausted and in a bad mood. While I don’t expect day-time modafinil to buoy me up, I do expect it to at least buffer me against being tired, and so I conclude placebo this time, and with more confidence than yesterday (65%). I check before bed, and it was placebo.
As discussed in my iodine essay (FDA adverse events), iodine is a powerful health intervention as it eliminates cretinism and improves average IQ by a shocking magnitude. If this effect were possible for non-fetuses in general, it would be the best nootropic ever discovered, and so I looked at it very closely. Unfortunately, after going through ~20 experiments looking for ones which intervened with iodine post-birth and took measures of cognitive function, my meta-analysis concludes that: the effect is small and driven mostly by one outlier study. Once you are born, it’s too late. But the results could be wrong, and iodine might be cheap enough to take anyway, or take for non-IQ reasons. (This possibility was further weakened for me by an August 2013 blood test of TSH which put me at 3.71 uIU/ml, comfortably within the reference range of 0.27-4.20.)
It’s 3 p.m., and I am crushing my e-mail inbox. At this time of day, I’m typically struggling to stave off the post-lunch slowdown by downing another cup of coffee or two. But today, message after message is flying off my fingertips effortlessly—work e-mail, personal e-mail, digital errands I’d been meaning to run for months. I’m in the zone, as they say, and for this burst of late afternoon productivity, I might have nootropics to thank.

Fortunately for me, the FDA decided Smart Powder’s advertising was too explicit and ordered its piracetam sales stopped; I was equivocal at the previous price point, but then I saw that between the bulk discount and the fire-sale coupon, 3kg was only $99.99 (shipping was amortized over that, the choline, caffeine, and tryptophan). So I ordered in September 2010. As well, I had decided to cap my own pills, eliminating the inconvenience and bad taste. 3kg goes a very long way so I am nowhere close to running out of my pills; there is nothing to report since, as the pills are simply part of my daily routine.
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.
Woo understands that when selling brain drugs, skepticism comes with the territory. "The typical first reaction is, this is bullshit, you guys are snake-oil salesmen," he says. "We're not medical doctors nor biochemistry experts, but we are experts in building teams and building products. Like how Elon Musk attacks rockets and electric cars from 'first principles,' we see ourselves as applying Silicon Valley aesthetics and operational know-how to the murky world of nootropics."
By the way, since I’ll throw around the term a few more times in this article, I should probably clarify what an adaptogen actually is. The actual name adaptogen gives some hint as to what these fascinating compounds do: they help you to adapt, specifically by stimulating a physiological adaptive response to some mild, hormesis-like stressor. A process known as general adaptation syndrome (GAS) was first described by the 20th-century physician and organic chemist Hans Selye, who defined GAS as the body’s response to the demands placed upon it. When these demands are excessive and consistent, it can result in the common deleterious symptoms now associated with long-term exposure to chronic stress. GAS is comprised of an alarm stage (characterized by a burst of energy), a resistance stage (characterized by resistance or adaptation to the stressor), and – in the case of excessive and chronic stress – an exhaustion stage (characterized by energy depletion). Adaptogens are plant-derived compounds capable of modulating these phases of GAS by either downregulating stress reactions in the alarm phase or inhibiting the onset of the exhaustion phase, thus providing some degree of protection against damage from stress.
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.
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."
-Raw cacao is rich in theobromine, a powerful antioxidant known to support cellular aging and reduce the risk of heart disease. Its effects are similar to those of caffeine, as they both are vasodilators and improve blood flow to the brain [except cacao won’t give you jitters]...You can use raw cacao to make cacao tea, or in your smoothies. Dark chocolate with cocoa content of 80% or higher is also rich in theobromine and natural antioxidants. Besides, chocolate makes you happy. I have a small piece of high-quality dark chocolate, like 85% or 90% dark, every day.

Alex was eager to dispel the notion that students who took Adderall were "academic automatons who are using it in order to be first in their class". In fact, he said, "it's often people" - mainly guys - "who are looking in some way to compensate for activities that are detrimental to their performance". He explained, "At Harvard, at the most basic level, they aim to do better than they would have otherwise. Everyone is aware that if you were up at 3am writing this paper it isn't going to be as good as it could have been. The fact that you were partying all weekend, or spent the last week being high, watching Lost - that's going to take a toll."
The nootropics community is surprisingly large and involved. When I wade into forums and the nootropics subreddit, I find members trading stack recipes and notifying each other of newly synthesized compounds. Some of these “psychonauts” seem like they’ve studied neuroscience; others appear to be novices dipping their toes into the world of cognitive enhancement. But all of them have the same goal: amplifying the brain’s existing capabilities without screwing anything up too badly. It’s the same impulse that grips bodybuilders—the feeling that with small chemical tweaks and some training, we can squeeze more utility out of the body parts we have. As Taylor Hatmaker of the Daily Dot recently wrote, “Together, these faceless armchair scientists seek a common truth—a clean, unharmful way to make their brains better—enforcing their own self-imposed safety parameters and painstakingly precise methods, all while publishing their knowledge for free, in plain text, to relatively crude, shared databases."
(We already saw that too much iodine could poison both adults and children, and of course too little does not help much - iodine would seem to follow a U-curve like most supplements.) The listed doses at iherb.com often are ridiculously large: 10-50mg! These are doses that seems to actually be dangerous for long-term consumption, and I believe these are doses that are designed to completely suffocate the thyroid gland and prevent it from absorbing any more iodine - which is useful as a short-term radioactive fallout prophylactic, but quite useless from a supplementation standpoint. Fortunately, there are available doses at Fitzgerald 2012’s exact dose, which is roughly the daily RDA: 0.15mg. Even the contrarian materials seem to focus on a modest doubling or tripling of the existing RDA, so the range seems relatively narrow. I’m fairly confident I won’t overshoot if I go with 0.15-1mg, so let’s call this 90%.
The use of cognition-enhancing drugs by healthy individuals in the absence of a medical indication spans numerous controversial issues, including the ethics and fairness of their use, concerns over adverse effects, and the diversion of prescription drugs for nonmedical uses, among others.[1][2] Nonetheless, the international sales of cognition-enhancing supplements exceeded US$1 billion in 2015 when global demand for these compounds grew.[3]
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