The Neurohacker Collective is a group of scientists, academics, and creatives who, among other things, sell nootropics. One of its premier products is Qualia Original Stack (OS), which has 41 ingredients. The large print says it improves focus, mood, and energy within 30 minutes and “supports long-term brain health.” A 22-dose supply costs $129. Such stacks operate on the idea that synergies among ingredients yield additional benefits.
A big part is that we are finally starting to apply complex systems science to psycho-neuro-pharmacology and a nootropic approach. The neural system is awesomely complex and old-fashioned reductionist science has a really hard time with complexity. Big companies spends hundreds of millions of dollars trying to separate the effects of just a single molecule from placebo – and nootropics invariably show up as “stacks” of many different ingredients (ours, Qualia , currently has 42 separate synergistic nootropics ingredients from alpha GPC to bacopa monnieri and L-theanine). That kind of complex, multi pathway input requires a different methodology to understand well that goes beyond simply what’s put in capsules.
Panax ginseng – A review by the Cochrane Collaboration concluded that "there is a lack of convincing evidence to show a cognitive enhancing effect of Panax ginseng in healthy participants and no high quality evidence about its efficacy in patients with dementia." According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, "[a]lthough Asian ginseng has been widely studied for a variety of uses, research results to date do not conclusively support health claims associated with the herb."
But before you dismiss the diet-brain connection as mere conjecture, keep in mind that study after study has found a relationship between what we put in our mouths and how well we can perform important thinking and memory tasks. While certain nutrients may specifically assist brain function, there is also the totality of our diets to consider. One recent U.K. study found that a diet high in saturated fat actually caused damage to neurons that control energy and appetite in mice. And several well-regarded studies have shown that meal timing is an important predictor of performance. For example, research shows that eating breakfast can improve the memory and acquisition skills of schoolchildren.
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.
"Over the years, I have learned so much from the work of Dr. Mosconi, whose accomplished credentials spanning both neuroscience and nutrition are wholly unique. This book represents the first time her studies on the interaction between food and long-term cognitive function reach a general audience. Dr. Mosconi always makes the point that we would eat differently and treat our brains better if only we could see what we are doing to them. From the lab to the kitchen, this is extremely valuable and urgent advice, complete with recommendations that any one of us can take."
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.
You’ve no doubt heard that we’re now entering a new golden age of psychedelics, and microdosing with LSD, psilocybin, ketamine and other compounds previously placed in the realm of party animals and rave enthusiasts is now commonplace for CEO’s, the Navy SEALs, famous authors and beyond. You no longer have to be a tree-hugging, anti-war rebel to achieve the many positive health benefits of psychedelics. My own personal experience with these compounds has spanned several years of quarterly heavy psilocybin and DMT dosages for personal self-discovery, weekly LSD microdoses for creativity and productivity, and iboga microdosing for a pre-workout boost.
A passionate singer, yogi, and vegan baker, you can usually count on Jessica to be writing songs, inventing recipes, or doing handstands. Most notably, Jessica is recognized (by her parents) for a 3 minute vocal solo at Carnegie Hall (at 13), by her friends for her amazing Raw Vegan Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, and also by her yogi friends for her recent mastery of Camel Pose. In all seriousness, Jessica is beyond excited to write for SnackNation, and to share her passion for health, wellness, and delicious foods.
Obviously, as you can see, there are a host of benefits to the better living through science to be had through optimizing your brain with specific compounds. So, putting aside the intriguing topic of psychedelics for the moment (yes, yes, I know you probably want to know how to microdose with LSD or psilocybin), what’s the difference between a smart drug and a nootropic, and how do you choose which to take? You’re about to find out.
Nootrobox co-founder Geoffrey Woo declines a caffeinated drink in favour of a capsule of his newest product when I meet him in a San Francisco coffee shop. The entire industry has a “wild west” aura about it, he tells me, and Nootrobox wants to fix it by pushing for “smarter regulation” so safe and effective drugs that are currently unclassified can be brought into the fold. Predictably, both companies stress the higher goal of pushing forward human cognition. “I am trying to make a smarter, better populace to solve all the problems we have created,” says Nootroo founder Eric Matzner.
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.)
Ginkgo Biloba Leaf(23% extract), Phosphatidylserine 4% Complex(consisting of Lecithin and Phosphatidylserine),N-Acetyl L-Carnitine HCI, St. John's Wort(0.3% extract)(fower heads),L-Glutamine,Dimethylaminoethanol Bitartrate, Bacopa monnieri Leaf Extract(20% bacosides), Vinpocetine(seeds), Huperzine-A(aerial Plant) ; other ingredients: Gelatin(bovine), vegetable magnesium stearate, microcrystalline cellulose and silicon dioxide
Qualia Mind, meanwhile, combines more than two dozen ingredients that may support brain and nervous system function – and even empathy, the company claims – including vitamins B, C and D, artichoke stem and leaf extract, taurine and a concentrated caffeine powder. A 2014 review of research on vitamin C, for one, suggests it may help protect against cognitive decline, while most of the research on artichoke extract seems to point to its benefits to other organs like the liver and heart. A small company-lead pilot study on the product found users experienced improvements in reasoning, memory, verbal ability and concentration five days after beginning Qualia Mind.
The nootropics I’m taking are called RISE, and they're made by a company called Nootrobox, which was started by Geoffrey Woo, a young Stanford computer science graduate. There's no one common ingredient in nootropics; what unites them is the intent to improve brain performance. The RISE stack, which costs $29 plus shipping for 30 pills, contains 350 mg of bacopa monnieri powder (an herb that is commonly used medicinally in South Asia), 100 mg of L-theanine (an amino acid found in green tea), and 50 mg of caffeine (about the amount in a can of Diet Coke). Like most nootropics, the RISE stack itself isn't FDA-approved for use as a cognitive enhancer, but Nootrobox says that the compounds within it are approved as dietary supplements. "We use the precise ingredients at the right dosages and the right ratios as supported by double-blind, peer-reviewed clinicals," Nootrobox's site claims.