In my SkepDoc column in Skeptic magazine (text available online) I reviewed the video series “Awakening from Alzheimer’s,” in which a journalist interviews numerous “experts” and claims that Alzheimer’s is for the most part preventable and can be reversed in 9 out of 10 patients! The recommendations of those “experts” are all over the map. There is nothing even remotely approaching a scientific consensus. They claim the main cause of Alzheimer’s is everything from gluten to obesity to lack of sleep to chronic Lyme disease to toxins spewed by “leaky gut” syndrome. They claim to have reversed Alzheimer’s with a wide variety of treatments: everything from coconut oil to a ketogenic diet to probiotics to strenuous exercise to various long lists of dietary supplements to psychological interventions that are considered successful if they make patients cry. There is no satisfactory evidence to support any of their claims.
You have the highest density of mitochondria in your brain’s prefrontal cortex, which helps to explain why I feel Unfair Advantage in my head first. You have the second highest density in your heart, which is probably why I feel it in the center of my chest next. Mitochondrial energizers can have profound nootropic effects! At higher doses mitochondrial energizers also make for an excellent pre-workout supplements.
Please take care when you’re out there on the web or in the world shopping for something to help that in progress novel or craft project of yours along. Take all care when planning on taking anything, be it a nootropic, smart drug, or brain enhancer, and do your research before buying. Make sure your so-called ‘best brain pill’ really is the best brain pill for you.
Your mileage will vary. There are so many parameters and interactions in the brain that any of them could be the bottleneck or responsible pathway, and one could fall prey to the common U-shaped dose-response curve (eg. Yerkes-Dodson law; see also Chemistry of the adaptive mind & de Jongh et al 2007) which may imply that the smartest are those who benefit least23 but ultimately they all cash out in a very few subjective assessments like energetic or motivated, with even apparently precise descriptions like working memory or verbal fluency not telling you much about what the nootropic actually did. It’s tempting to list the nootropics that worked for you and tell everyone to go use them, but that is merely generalizing from one example (and the more nootropics - or meditation styles, or self-help books, or getting things done systems - you try, the stronger the temptation is to evangelize). The best you can do is read all the testimonials and studies and use that to prioritize your list of nootropics to try. You don’t know in advance which ones will pay off and which will be wasted. You can’t know in advance. And wasted some must be; to coin a Umeshism: if all your experiments work, you’re just fooling yourself. (And the corollary - if someone else’s experiments always work, they’re not telling you everything.)
My first impression of ~1g around 12:30PM was that while I do not feel like running around, within an hour I did feel like the brain fog was lighter than before. The effect wasn’t dramatic, so I can’t be very confident. Operationalizing brain fog for an experiment might be hard: it doesn’t necessarily feel like I would do better on dual n-back. I took 2 smaller doses 3 and 6 hours later, to no further effect. Over the following weeks and months, I continued to randomly alternate between potassium & non-potassium days. I noticed no effects other than sleep problems.
Caffeine metabolism is primarily determined by the cytochrome enzyme P-450 1A2 (CYP1A2), and studies have shown that different ethnic populations exhibit widely varying expressions of the gene responsible for CYP1A2. Evidence suggests that a particular CYP1A2 impacts caffeine consumption by modifying the risks of certain diseases that are associated with caffeine consumption. It has also been shown that variations in the expression of genes that code for adenosine and dopamine receptors play a role in mediating your response to caffeine. For example, in Caucasians, the presence of certain genetic expressions for both adenosine and dopamine receptors is associated with caffeine-induced anxiety. Variations in CYP1A2 are also responsible for the speed at which different people metabolize caffeine.
There are a number of smart drugs on the market, the most well-known of which are probably Adderall and Ritalin. Both are technically known as psychostimulants, which means that they stimulate increased activity of the central nervous system: the brain and spinal cord. There are also two other common smart drugs, specifically Modafinil and a class of something called “ampakines”. You’re about to learn how each of them works and the benefits and potential risks therein.
That left me with 329 days of data. The results are that (correcting for the magnesium citrate self-experiment I was running during the time period which did not turn out too great) days on which I happened to use my LED device for LLLT were much better than regular days. Below is a graph showing the entire MP dataseries with LOESS-smoothed lines showing LLLT vs non-LLLT days:
Second, users are concerned with the possibility of withdrawal if they stop taking the nootropics. They worry that if they stop taking nootropics they won’t be as smart as when they were taking nootropics, and will need to continue taking them to function. Some users report feeling a slight brain fog when discontinuing nootropics, but that isn’t a sign of regression.
For starters, it’s one of the highest antioxidant-rich foods known to man, including vitamin C and vitamin K and fiber. Because of their high levels of gallic acid, blueberries are especially good at protecting our brains from degeneration and stress. Get your daily dose of brain berries in an Omega Blueberry Smoothie, Pumpkin Blueberry Pancakes or in a Healthy Blueberry Cobbler.
1 PM; overall this was a pretty productive day, but I can’t say it was very productive. I would almost say even odds, but for some reason I feel a little more inclined towards modafinil. Say 55%. That night’s sleep was vile: the Zeo says it took me 40 minutes to fall asleep, I only slept 7:37 total, and I woke up 7 times. I’m comfortable taking this as evidence of modafinil (half-life 10 hours, 1 PM to midnight is only 1 full halving), bumping my prediction to 75%. I check, and sure enough - modafinil.
In 2011, as part of the Silk Road research, I ordered 10x100mg Modalert (5btc) from a seller. I also asked him about his sourcing, since if it was bad, it’d be valuable to me to know whether it was sourced from one of the vendors listed in my table. He replied, more or less, I get them from a large Far Eastern pharmaceuticals wholesaler. I think they’re probably the supplier for a number of the online pharmacies. 100mg seems likely to be too low, so I treated this shipment as 5 doses:
Chatterjee told me that many people who come to his clinic are cognitively preoccupied versions of what doctors call the "worried well". He had just seen a middle-aged woman, a successful Philadelphia lawyer, who mentioned having to struggle a bit to come up with certain names. "Here's an example of someone who by most measures is doing perfectly fine," Chatterjee said. "She's not having any trouble at work. But she notices she's having some problems, and it's very hard to know how much of that is just getting older." Of course, people in her position could strive to get regular exercise and plenty of intellectual stimulation, both of which have been shown to help maintain cognitive function. But maybe they're already doing so and want a bigger mental rev-up, or maybe they want something easier than sweaty workouts and Russian novels: they want a pill.
Dosage is apparently 5-10mg a day. (Prices can be better elsewhere; selegiline is popular for treating dogs with senile dementia, where those 60x5mg will cost $2 rather than $3532. One needs a veterinarian’s prescription to purchase from pet-oriented online pharmacies, though.) I ordered it & modafinil from Nubrain.com at $35 for 60x5mg; Nubrain delayed and eventually canceled my order - and my enthusiasm. Between that and realizing how much of a premium I was paying for Nubrain’s deprenyl, I’m tabling deprenyl along with nicotine & modafinil for now. Which is too bad, because I had even ordered 20g of PEA from Smart Powders to try out with the deprenyl. (My later attempt to order some off the Silk Road also failed when the seller canceled the order.)
Using neuroenhancers, Seltzer said, "is like customising yourself - customising your brain". For some people, he added, it was important to enhance their mood, so they took antidepressants; but for people like him it was more important "to increase mental horsepower". He said: "It's fundamentally a choice you're making about how you want to experience consciousness." Whereas the 1990s had been about "the personalisation of technology", this decade was about the personalisation of the brain - what some enthusiasts have begun to call "mind hacking".
Began double-blind trial. Today I took one pill blindly at 1:53 PM. at the end of the day when I have written down my impressions and guess whether it was one of the Adderall pills, then I can look in the baggy and count and see whether it was. there are many other procedures one can take to blind oneself (have an accomplice mix up a sequence of pills and record what the sequence was; don’t count & see but blindly take a photograph of the pill each day, etc.) Around 3, I begin to wonder whether it was Adderall because I am arguing more than usual on IRC and my heart rate seems a bit high just sitting down. 6 PM: I’ve started to think it was a placebo. My heart rate is back to normal, I am having difficulty concentrating on long text, and my appetite has shown up for dinner (although I didn’t have lunch, I don’t think I had lunch yesterday and yesterday the hunger didn’t show up until past 7). Productivity wise, it has been a normal day. All in all, I’m not too sure, but I think I’d guess it was Adderall with 40% confidence (another way of saying placebo with 60% confidence). When I go to examine the baggie at 8:20 PM, I find out… it was an Adderall pill after all. Oh dear. One little strike against Adderall that I guessed wrong. It may be that the problem is that I am intrinsically a little worse today (normal variation? come down from Adderall?).
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.
As you may or may not know, curcumin has become a darling of the nutrition world in the last several years, thanks to a flurry of research that indicates the turmeric derivative can do everything from support the brain to reduce painful body-wide inflammation to even support positive mood. You can learn more about the research behind curcumin here:
Blueberries. "Brainberries" is what Steven Pratt, MD, author of Superfoods Rx: Fourteen Foods Proven to Change Your Life, calls these tasty fruits. Pratt, who is also on staff at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., says that in animal studies researchers have found that blueberries help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Studies have also shown that diets rich in blueberries significantly improved both the learning capacity and motor skills of aging rats, making them mentally equivalent to much younger rats. Ann Kulze, MD, author of Dr. Ann's 10-Step Diet: A Simple Plan for Permanent Weight Loss & Lifelong Vitality, recommends adding at least 1 cup of blueberries a day in any form -- fresh, frozen, or freeze-dried.
Still, putting unregulated brain drugs into my system feels significantly scarier than downing a latte or a Red Bull—not least because the scientific research on nootropics’ long-term effects is still so thin. One 2014 study found that Ritalin, modafinil, ampakines, and other similar stimulants could eventually reduce the “plasticity” of some of the brain’s neural networks by providing them with too much dopamine, glutamate and norepinephrine, and potentially cause long-term harm in young people whose brains were still developing. (In fact, in young people, the researchers wrote, these stimulants could actually have the opposite effect the makers intended: “Healthy individuals run the risk of pushing themselves beyond optimal levels into hyperdopaminergic and hypernoradrenergic states, thus vitiating the very behaviors they are striving to improve.”) But the researchers found no evidence that normal doses of these drugs were harmful when taken by adults.
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.
However, anthropology suggests that paleolithic diets were dependent of where people lived. Close to shores, they ate more fish; within the forest they ate plants; in areas with herbivores they ate more meat. Also, humans ate grains millions of years before the agricultural revolution. And, we can digest those just fine because of an enzyme earmarked to digest grains (amylase). So, paleolithic diets were as varied as they are today.
The word “nootropic” was coined in 1972 by a Romanian scientist, Corneliu Giurgea, who combined the Greek words for “mind” and “bending.” Caffeine and nicotine can be considered mild nootropics, while prescription Ritalin, Adderall and Provigil (modafinil, a drug for treating narcolepsy) lie at the far end of the spectrum when prescribed off-label as cognitive enhancers. Even microdosing of LSD is increasingly viewed as a means to greater productivity.
Farah told me: "These drugs will definitely help some technically normal people - that is, people who don't meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD or any kind of cognitive impairment." But, she emphasised, "They will help people in the lower end of the ability range more than in the higher end." One explanation for this phenomenon might be that the more adept you are at a given task, the less room you have to improve. Farah has a hunch that there may be another reason that existing drugs - so far, at least - don't offer as much help to people with greater intellectual abilities. Drugs like Ritalin and Adderall work in part by elevating the amount of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is something you want just enough of: too little, and you may not be as alert and motivated as you need to be; too much, and you may feel overstimulated. Neuroscientists have discovered that some people have a gene that leads the brain to break down dopamine faster, leaving less of it available; such people are generally a little worse at certain cognitive tasks. People with more available dopamine are generally somewhat better at the same tasks. It makes sense, then, that people with naturally low dopamine would benefit more from an artificial boost.
She repeats the oft-refuted advice to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. She claims that drinking water improves cognitive performance. Her citation for that claim is a small study in which participants were instructed to fast overnight and not eat or drink anything after 9 pm, so they were presumably somewhat dehydrated. There is no evidence that people who are not dehydrated benefit from increasing water intake.
Between midnight and 1:36 AM, I do four rounds of n-back: 50/39/30/55%. I then take 1/4th of the pill and have some tea. At roughly 1:30 AM, AngryParsley linked a SF anthology/novel, Fine Structure, which sucked me in for the next 3-4 hours until I finally finished the whole thing. At 5:20 AM, circumstances forced me to go to bed, still having only taken 1/4th of the pill and that determines this particular experiment of sleep; I quickly do some n-back: 29/20/20/54/42. I fall asleep in 13 minutes and sleep for 2:48, for a ZQ of 28 (a full night being ~100). I did not notice anything from that possible modafinil+caffeine interaction. Subjectively upon awakening: I don’t feel great, but I don’t feel like 2-3 hours of sleep either. N-back at 10 AM after breakfast: 25/54/44/38/33. These are not very impressive, but seem normal despite taking the last armodafinil ~9 hours ago; perhaps the 3 hours were enough. Later that day, at 11:30 PM (just before bed): 26/56/47.
The ‘Brain-Gut Axis’ is a term used to describe the two-way communication system between our digestive tract and the brain. A growing body of research into this axis demonstrates how much influence the gut can have over the brain and vice versa (1). When we speak about reactions to foods, we most commonly understand them as immediate and often dangerous allergic responses, such as the constriction of the throat and trouble breathing, or dizziness and fainting. It is usually easy to pinpoint the food that causes these reactions because of the immediate immune system response, caused by a type of immune cell known as IgE antibodies. In contrast to this, food intolerances are mediated by IgG antibodies and these reactions can take up to 48 hours to have an effect. Symptoms related to IgG reactions can often be manifested as chronic issues like joint ache, IBS and depression or anxiety, which are often overlooked and not associated with what we eat.
The above are all reasons to expect that even if I do excellent single-subject design self-experiments, there will still be the old problem of internal validity versus external validity: an experiment may be wrong or erroneous or unlucky in some way (lack of internal validity) or be right but not matter to anyone else (lack of external validity). For example, alcohol makes me sad & depressed; I could run the perfect blind randomized experiment for hundreds of trials and be extremely sure that alcohol makes me less happy, but would that prove that alcohol makes everyone sad or unhappy? Of course not, and as far as I know, for a lot of people alcohol has the opposite effect. So my hypothetical alcohol experiment might have tremendous internal validity (it does prove that I am sadder after inebriating), and zero external validity (someone who has never tried alcohol learns nothing about whether they will be depressed after imbibing). Keep this in mind if you are minded to take the experiments too seriously.
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?