She speaks from professional and personal experience. When she first moved to the United States from Italy at age 24 she was struck by how shifting from the Mediterranean-style diet she grew up on to a standard American diet negatively impacted her physical health and work performance. The experience led her to more closely study nutrition and the link between diet and brain health. In this excerpt from a longer interview, she discusses the brain foods you should be eating.
A record of nootropics I have tried, with thoughts about which ones worked and did not work for me. These anecdotes should be considered only as anecdotes, and one’s efforts with nootropics a hobby to put only limited amounts of time into due to the inherent limits of drugs as a force-multiplier compared to other things like programming1; for an ironic counterpoint, I suggest the reader listen to a video of Jonathan Coulton’s I Feel Fantastic while reading.
If you have spent any time shopping for memory enhancer pills, you have noticed dozens of products on the market. Each product is advertised to improve memory, concentration, and focus. However, choosing the first product promising results may not produce the desired improvements. Taking the time to research your options and compare products will improve your chances of finding a supplement that works.

The chemical Huperzine-A (Examine.com) 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.
My first time was relatively short: 10 minutes around the F3/F4 points, with another 5 minutes to the forehead. Awkward holding it up against one’s head, and I see why people talk of LED helmets, it’s boring waiting. No initial impressions except maybe feeling a bit mentally cloudy, but that goes away within 20 minutes of finishing when I took a nap outside in the sunlight. Lostfalco says Expectations: You will be tired after the first time for 2 to 24 hours. It’s perfectly normal., but I’m not sure - my dog woke me up very early and disturbed my sleep, so maybe that’s why I felt suddenly tired. On the second day, I escalated to 30 minutes on the forehead, and tried an hour on my finger joints. No particular observations except less tiredness than before and perhaps less joint ache. Third day: skipped forehead stimulation, exclusively knee & ankle. Fourth day: forehead at various spots for 30 minutes; tiredness 5/6/7/8th day (11/12/13/4): skipped. Ninth: forehead, 20 minutes. No noticeable effects.
I tried taking whole pills at 1 and 3 AM. I felt kind of bushed at 9 AM after all the reading, and the 50 minute nap didn’t help much - I was sleep only around 10 minutes and spent most of it thinking or meditation. Just as well the 3D driver is still broken; I doubt the scores would be reasonable. Began to perk up again past 10 AM, then felt more bushed at 1 PM, and so on throughout the day; kind of gave up and began watching & finishing anime (Amagami and Voices of a Distant Star) for the rest of the day with occasional reading breaks (eg. to start James C. Scotts Seeing Like A State, which is as described so far). As expected from the low quality of the day, the recovery sleep was bigger than before: a full 10 hours rather than 9:40; the next day, I slept a normal 8:50, and the following day ~8:20 (woken up early); 10:20 (slept in); 8:44; 8:18 (▁▇▁▁). It will be interesting to see whether my excess sleep remains in the hour range for ’good modafinil nights and two hours for bad modafinil nights.
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.
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.
One item always of interest to me is sleep; a stimulant is no good if it damages my sleep (unless that’s what it is supposed to do, like modafinil) - anecdotes and research suggest that it does. Over the past few days, my Zeo sleep scores continued to look normal. But that was while not taking nicotine much later than 5 PM. In lieu of a different ml measurer to test my theory that my syringe is misleading me, I decide to more directly test nicotine’s effect on sleep by taking 2ml at 10:30 PM, and go to bed at 12:20; I get a decent ZQ of 94 and I fall asleep in 16 minutes, a bit below my weekly average of 19 minutes. The next day, I take 1ml directly before going to sleep at 12:20; the ZQ is 95 and time to sleep is 14 minutes.
Growing up, Joe was plagued with a myriad of health issues such as gut problems, autoimmune issues, chronic fatigue, brain fog, insomnia, and general inflammation. Both conventional and alternative doctors weren’t able to help him, so he decided to fix himself. With lots of health questions and few satisfying answers, Joe decided to read every research paper he could get his hands on and conduct thousands of experiments on his own body in order to fix his health issues. Joe started SelfHacked in late 2013 when he successfully fixed all of his issues, and now it gets millions of readers a month looking to educate themselves about how they can improve their health. Joe is now a thriving author, speaker, and serial entrepreneur, founding SelfDecode & LabTestAnalyzer.
On 15 March 2014, I disabled light sensor: the complete absence of subjective effects since the first sessions made me wonder if the LED device was even turning on - a little bit of ambient light seems to disable it thanks to the light sensor. So I stuffed the sensor full of putty, verified it was now always-on with the cellphone camera, and began again; this time it seemed to warm up much faster, making me wonder if all the previous sessions’ sense of warmth was simply heat from my hand holding the LEDs
Jump up ^ Sattler, Sebastian; Forlini, Cynthia; Racine, Éric; Sauer, Carsten (August 5, 2013). "Impact of Contextual Factors and Substance Characteristics on Perspectives toward Cognitive Enhancement". PLOS ONE. PLOS. 8 (8): e71452. Bibcode:2013PLoSO...871452S. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071452. ISSN 1932-6203. LCCN 2006214532. OCLC 228234657. PMC 3733969. PMID 23940757. Retrieved April 5, 2014.
Caffeine + L-Theanine: Since caffeine can produce unwanted side effects in high amounts (such as jitteriness and headaches), most people, and especially “slow caffeine oxidizers” find that by adding L-Theanine to a caffeine source such as coffee, any negative side effects of caffeine can be controlled. Caffeine and L-Theanine in combination have been researched and proven to boost concentration, attention, and energy while reducing anxiety. For this stack, use a ratio of four parts L-Theanine to one part caffeine, such as 400 milligrams of L-Theanine along with 100 milligrams of caffeine. You may want to start out with a smaller dose such as 200 milligrams of L-Theanine and 50 milligrams of caffeine and work your way up to find the best dose for you (the average cup of coffee has about 100mg of caffeine).
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.
Perhaps the most well-known natural nootropic stimulant and neuroenhancer is caffeine. Caffeine has been shown to prevent memory deficits in experimental models of Alzheimer’s disease and may even restore memory following impairment. In studies performed with college students, caffeine was shown to have particularly potent effects on memory improvement during students’ non-optimal time of day, in this case, early in the morning. Caffeine’s benefits go even further because it’s never found in an isolated vacuum in nature, meaning that it’s always located in some kind of plant such as green tea or bean such as coffee that carry additional beneficial compounds which often enhance the effects of caffeine, including, most notably, certain cholesterols, polyphenols and antioxidants. In fact, one study determined that caffeine alone does not account for the benefits caused by coffee consumption. Rather, the phytochemical content of coffee (coffee contains over 1,000 different natural chemicals!) gives it potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that complement the neuroprotective effects of caffeine on the central nervous system.
If this is the case, this suggests some thoughtfulness about my use of nicotine: there are times when use of nicotine will not be helpful, but times where it will be helpful. I don’t know what makes the difference, but I can guess it relates to over-stimulation: on some nights during the experiment, I had difficult concentrating on n-backing because it was boring and I was thinking about the other things I was interested in or working on - in retrospect, I wonder if those instances were nicotine nights.
There are plenty of brain supplements on the market, but none with the same combinations of potent and promising ingredients. If you want to maximize your ability to excel  – at everything you do – your brain must be firing on all cylinders – all day, every day. You must protect and preserve your brain function, as it will diminish – it’s the reality of being human.
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:

Spaced repetition at midnight: 3.68. (Graphing preceding and following days: ▅▄▆▆▁▅▆▃▆▄█ ▄ ▂▄▄▅) DNB starting 12:55 AM: 30/34/41. Transcribed Sawaragi 2005, then took a walk. DNB starting 6:45 AM: 45/44/33. Decided to take a nap and then take half the armodafinil on awakening, before breakfast. I wound up oversleeping until noon (4:28); since it was so late, I took only half the armodafinil sublingually. I spent the afternoon learning how to do value of information calculations, and then carefully working through 8 or 9 examples for my various pages, which I published on Lesswrong. That was a useful little project. DNB starting 12:09 AM: 30/38/48. (To graph the preceding day and this night: ▇▂█▆▅▃▃▇▇▇▁▂▄ ▅▅▁▁▃▆) Nights: 9:13; 7:24; 9:13; 8:20; 8:31.
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."
Another factor to consider is whether the nootropic is natural or synthetic. Natural nootropics generally have effects which are a bit more subtle, while synthetic nootropics can have more pronounced effects. It’s also important to note that there are natural and synthetic nootropics. Some natural nootropics include Ginkgo biloba and ginseng. One benefit to using natural nootropics is they boost brain function and support brain health. They do this by increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery to the arteries and veins in the brain.
Upon examining the photographs, I noticed no difference in eye color, but it seems that my move had changed the ambient lighting in the morning and so there was a clear difference between the two sets of photographs! The before photographs had brighter lighting than the after photographs. Regardless, I decided to run a small survey on QuickSurveys/Toluna to confirm my diagnosis of no-change; the survey was 11 forced-choice pairs of photographs (before-after), with the instructions as follows:
If you have spent any time shopping for memory enhancer pills, you have noticed dozens of products on the market. Each product is advertised to improve memory, concentration, and focus. However, choosing the first product promising results may not produce the desired improvements. Taking the time to research your options and compare products will improve your chances of finding a supplement that works.
I posted a link to the survey on my Google+ account, and inserted the link at the top of all gwern.net pages; 51 people completed all 11 binary choices (most of them coming from North America & Europe), which seems adequate since the 11 questions are all asking the same question, and 561 responses to one question is quite a few. A few different statistical tests seem applicable: a chi-squared test whether there’s a difference between all the answers, a two-sample test on the averages, and most meaningfully, summing up the responses as a single pair of numbers and doing a binomial test:
Nootropic (new-tro-pik) is the term for supplements, also known as smart drugs, that improve brain function. They can be food substances like phenethylamine and L-Theanine, found in chocolate and green tea, respectively. Nootropics also include extracted and purified components of medicinal plants, as well as substances synthesized from chemical precursors, such as piracetam, the world's first official nootropic (piracetam was created in 1964 in Belgium by a team of scientists whose leader, Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, coined the term). Since then piracetam has been widely used as a cognitive enhancer and to treat neurological diseases like Alzheimer's.
Mosconi holds a dual PhD in neuroscience and nuclear medicine. She is the associate director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College/New York-Presbyterian Hospital, and the founder of the Nutrition and Brain Fitness Lab at New York University School of Medicine. With her training and experience, she ought to understand and practice rigorous science. She makes all the right noises about scientific literacy and recognizing pseudoscience, but she seems unable to look in the mirror and see her own errors.
Sun: This is a day I devote to spiritual disciplines and deep personal exploration, along with a hefty dose of neurogenesis, and for a day such as this, I’ll use a more potent neuron sprouting and ego-dissolving mix – most notably a blend of psilocybin microdose with Lion’s Mane extract and niacin (if the skin flush and increased blood flow from niacin tends to be too much for you, you can also use “nicotinamide riboside”, a form of vitamin B3 that has similar effects without the flushing).
The fish oil can be considered a free sunk cost: I would take it in the absence of an experiment. The empty pill capsules could be used for something else, so we’ll put the 500 at $5. Filling 500 capsules with fish and olive oil will be messy and take an hour. Taking them regularly can be added to my habitual morning routine for vitamin D and the lithium experiment, so that is close to free but we’ll call it an hour over the 250 days. Recording mood/productivity is also free a sunk cost as it’s necessary for the other experiments; but recording dual n-back scores is more expensive: each round is ~2 minutes and one wants >=5, so each block will cost >10 minutes, so 18 tests will be >180 minutes or >3 hours. So >5 hours. Total: 5 + (>5 \times 7.25) = >41.
Finding a usable product on Amazon caused me some difficulties. I wanted a 500mg magnesium-citrate-only product at <$20 for 120 doses, but I discovered most of the selection for magnesium citrate had sub-500mg doses, involved calcium citrate or other substances like zinc (not necessarily a bad thing, but would confound an experiment), were mostly magnesium oxide rather than citrate, or some still other problem. Ultimately I settled on Solgar’s $13 120x400mg magnesium citrate as acceptable. (To compare with the bulkiness of the LEF vitamin D+l-threonate powder, the Office of Dietary Supplements says magnesium citrate is 16% magnesium, so to get 400mg of magnesium as claimed, would take 2.5g of material, rather than 7g for 200mg; even if l-threonate is absorbed 100% and citrate 50%, the citrate is ahead. The pills turn out to be wider and longer than my 00 pills; if I want to get them into my gel capsules, I have to crush them into fine powder. The powder from one pill turns out to take up 2 00 pills.)
Fitzgerald 2012 and the general absence of successful experiments suggests not, as does the general historic failure of scores of IQ-related interventions in healthy young adults. Of the 10 studies listed in the original section dealing with iodine in children or adults, only 2 show any benefit; in lieu of a meta-analysis, a rule of thumb would be 20%, but both those studies used a package of dozens of nutrients - and not just iodine - so if the responsible substance were randomly picked, that suggests we ought to give it a chance of 20% \times \frac{1}{\text{dozens}} of being iodine! I may be unduly optimistic if I give this as much as 10%.
Kratom (Erowid, Reddit) is a tree leaf from Southeast Asia; it’s addictive to some degree (like caffeine and nicotine), and so it is regulated/banned in Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Bhutan among others - but not the USA. (One might think that kratom’s common use there indicates how very addictive it must be, except it literally grows on trees so it can’t be too hard to get.) Kratom is not particularly well-studied (and what has been studied is not necessarily relevant - I’m not addicted to any opiates!), and it suffers the usual herbal problem of being an endlessly variable food product and not a specific chemical with the fun risks of perhaps being poisonous, but in my reading it doesn’t seem to be particularly dangerous or have serious side-effects.
The powder totals 227g of magnesium citrate, hence there is ~0.945g per magnesium citrate pill. The nutritional information states that it contains 119 servings of 0.315g magnesium elemental = 37.485g elemental, as expected, and so likewise there is 0.156g elemental magnesium per pill. This is the same dosage as the second half of the first magnesium citrate experiment (249 gel capsules there, 240 here), where the overdose effect seemed to also happen; so to avoid the overdosage, I will take one pill every other day to halve the dose to an average of ~0.078g/78mg elemental per day (piggybacking on the morning-caffeine experiment to make compliance easier).
You don’t need a therapist and certainly not a shaman. Just find someone you trust. It doesn’t matter the plant or what is derived from it, whether it’s LSD, shrooms, or mescaline via legal San Pedro cactus; it’s all the same experience, essentially indistinguishable. Just be sure & take enough. If it’s blotter acid, you need about 5 hits (Leary said that if you don’t have an ego-death ( read: religious) experience, you didn’t take enough, which he suggested to be at least 400 micrograms). Mushrooms vary. Typically, in excess of a few grams, to achieve this same state. San Pedro, though variable, too, requires 12-18 inches or a few (bitter-tasting) dried “stars” (x-section, thin-sliced, in the oven @ 150 degrees, until dry like snack chips).
These little chemicals prompt the immune system to kick in and fight back against the stress through inflammation, as though stress is an infection. While inflammation helps protect us against illnesses and repairs the body when you do something like cut yourself, chronic inflammation is a different animal. It’s been linked to autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, anxiety, high blood pressure and more. (2)
It all comes down to my personal investigation and exploration into how one can use a variety of compounds to enhance the mind, all while combining ancestral wisdom and herbs such as bacopa and gingko with modern science and tactics such as LSD and racetams. The fact is, I’ve taken a deep dive in the wonderful world of smart drugs, nootropics and psychedelics, and have had the opportunity to interview some of the brightest minds in this unique field of brain enhancement on my podcast. So in this article, I’ll spill the beans on it all, including how to navigate the oft-confusing world of smart drugs and nootropics, the best brain supplement stacks I’ve discovered and experimented with, how to procure and microdose psychedelics and much more.
As you are no doubt well aware, coffee and cigarettes have long been a popular combination. Ah, nostalgia. Just think back to the 1950’s and the man in the suit perfectly pairing his black brew with a cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth as he enjoyed the Sunday paper or rocked on a lazy afternoon out on the family patio. Heck, there’s even a movie called “Coffee and Cigarettes” and a song called “Cigarettes & Coffee” (in the former, you can see Bill Murray, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi and Cate Blanchett partaking in their fair share of smoking and sipping).
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.
The methodology would be essentially the same as the vitamin D in the morning experiment: put a multiple of 7 placebos in one container, the same number of actives in another identical container, hide & randomly pick one of them, use container for 7 days then the other for 7 days, look inside them for the label to determine which period was active and which was placebo, refill them, and start again.
It’s not easy to make it in the modern world, which asks you to be focused and sharp all the time. You have to be creative and learn the new skills all the time. That’s a heavy burden for your brain cells. One day, sooner or later, you have to accept the fact that your brain power and effectiveness are no longer as impressive and reliable as once they were. Brain Pill can help. You don’t have to force yourself to accept your new reality of limited focus and weak ability to learn new things. Brain Pill can refresh your mental clarity and improve your problem-solving and decision-making skills.
Because modafinil works in a manner similar to methylphenidate, it also bears similar risks. The improper dosage or abuse of modafinil may lead to the disrupted development of executive controls like decision-making and working memory. Modafinil’s effects may also depend upon the IQ of the taker. Two university studies determined that in a test of sustained attention, modafinil only improved cognition in the group with “lower” IQs. Although safer than other stimulants due to its milder effect on neurotransmitter levels, there are still risks associated with any kind of drug that affects dopaminergic neurotransmission, mostly because this can lead to addiction and, similar to a pornography user who needs increasingly fringe porn to achieve the same effect, can produce a resistance or lowered sensitivity to dopamine.
But Baldino may have been overly modest. In 2002, researchers at Cambridge University gave 60 healthy young male volunteers a battery of standard cognitive tests. One group received modafinil, the other a placebo. The modafinil group performed better on several tasks, such as the "digit span" test, in which subjects are asked to repeat increasingly longer strings of numbers forwards, then backwards. They also did better in recognising repeated visual patterns and at a spatial-planning challenge known as the Tower of London task. (It's not nearly as fun as it sounds.) Writing in the journal Psychopharmacology, the study's authors said the results suggested that "modafinil offers significant potential as a cognitive enhancer".
Talk to your doctor, too, before diving in "to ensure that they do not conflict with current meds or cause a detrimental effect," Hohler says. You also want to consider what you already know about your health and body – if you have anxiety or are already sensitive to caffeine, for example, you may find that some of the supplements work a little too well and just enhance anxiety or make it difficult to sleep, Barbour says. Finances matter, too, of course: The retail price for Qualia Mind is $139 for 22 seven-capsule "servings"; the suggestion is to take one serving a day, five days a week. The retail price for Alpha Brain is $79.95 for 90 capsules; adults are advised to take two a day.
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