It is incredibly easy to abuse and become addicted to methylphenidate, and misuse is shockingly prevalent, even among so-called “non-affected” users: with students, biohackers, soccer moms and busy executives popping it – and many of the other smart drugs below – like candy. It’s also not all it’s cracked up to be. Side effects include insomnia, stomach ache, headache and anorexia. Overdoses (which may occur easily as it can be difficult to estimate and regulate dosage) can lead to agitation, hallucinations, psychosis, lethargy, seizures, tachycardia (rapid heart rate), dysrhythmia (irregular heart rhythms), hypertension and hyperthermia. Methylphenidate is particularly hazardous to developing brains, especially those of younger students who are frequently prescribed the drug or who – often in high school and college – use it without a prescription. The prefrontal cortex, located behind the forehead, is responsible for cognition, personality-expression and decision-making, and develops well into the mid-20s, at which point it takes over as the “rational” part of the brain. In the central nervous system, and particularly in the prefrontal cortex, dopamine levels must have a natural rise and fall in order for healthy rational processes (executive control) to develop. By influencing dopamine levels, methylphenidate can negatively impact this healthy cognitive development, especially when it is abused or used too frequently.
I’m wary of others, though. The trouble with using a blanket term like “nootropics” is that you lump all kinds of substances in together. Technically, you could argue that caffeine and cocaine are both nootropics, but they’re hardly equal. With so many ways to enhance your brain function, many of which have significant risks, it’s most valuable to look at nootropics on a case-by-case basis. Here’s a list of 13 nootropics, along with my thoughts on each.
Such competitive anxieties are already being felt in the workplace. Recently an advice column in Wired featured a question from a reader worried about "a rising star at the firm" who was "using unprescribed modafinil to work crazy hours. Our boss has started getting on my case for not being as productive." And on internet forums such as ImmInst (Immortality Institute), whose members share a nerdy passion for tweaking their cognitive function through drugs and supplements, people trade advice about dosages and "stacks" - improvised combinations - of neuroenhancers ("Cut a tablet into fourths and took 25mg every four hours, four times today, and had a great and productive day - with no side-effects"). In one recent post a 52-year-old - who was working full time, studying for an advanced degree at night and "married, etc" - wrote that after experimenting with modafinil he had settled on two daily doses of 100mg each. He believed that he was "performing a little better", adding: "I also feel slightly more animated when in discussion."

My predictions were substantially better than random chance7, so my default belief - that Adderall does affect me and (mostly) for the better - is borne out. I usually sleep very well and 3 separate incidents of horrible sleep in a few weeks seems rather unlikely (though I didn’t keep track of dates carefully enough to link the Zeo data with the Adderall data). Between the price and the sleep disturbances, I don’t think Adderall is personally worthwhile.
The hormone testosterone (Examine.com; FDA adverse events) needs no introduction. This is one of the scariest substances I have considered using: it affects so many bodily systems in so many ways that it seems almost impossible to come up with a net summary, either positive or negative. With testosterone, the problem is not the usual nootropics problem that that there is a lack of human research, the problem is that the summary constitutes a textbook - or two. That said, the 2011 review The role of testosterone in social interaction (excerpts) gives me the impression that testosterone does indeed play into risk-taking, motivation, and social status-seeking; some useful links and a representative anecdote:

Googling, you sometimes see correlational studies like Intake of Flavonoid-Rich Wine, Tea, and Chocolate by Elderly Men and Women Is Associated with Better Cognitive Test Performance; in this one, the correlated performance increase from eating chocolate was generally fairly modest (say, <10%), and the maximum effects were at 10g/day of what was probably milk chocolate, which generally has 10-40% chocolate liquor in it, suggesting any experiment use 1-4g. More interesting is the blind RCT experiment Consumption of cocoa flavanols results in acute improvements in mood and cognitive performance during sustained mental effort11, which found improvements at ~1g; the most dramatic improvement of the 4 tasks (on the Threes correct) saw a difference of 2 to 6 at the end of the hour of testing, while several of the other tests converged by the end or saw the controls winning (Sevens correct). Crews et al 2008 found no cognitive benefit, and an fMRI experiment found the change in brain oxygen levels it wanted but no improvement to reaction times.
There's no magic bullet to boost IQ or make you smarter -- but certain substances, like caffeine, can energize you and help you concentrate. Found in coffee, chocolate, energy drinks, and some medications, caffeine gives you that unmistakable wake-up buzz, though the effects are short-term. And more is often less: Overdo it on caffeine and it can make you jittery and uncomfortable.
Now, what is the expected value (EV) of simply taking iodine, without the additional work of the experiment? 4 cans of 0.15mg x 200 is $20 for 2.1 years’ worth or ~$10 a year or a NPV cost of $205 (\frac{10}{\ln 1.05}) versus a 20% chance of $2000 or $400. So the expected value is greater than the NPV cost of taking it, so I should start taking iodine.
Farah has also been considering the ethical complications resulting from the rise of smart drugs. Don't neuroenhancers confer yet another advantage on the kind of people who already can afford private tutors? Writing last year in the Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Virginia, a columnist named Greg Crapanzano argued that neuroenhancers "create an unfair advantage for the users who are willing to break the law in order to gain an edge. These students create work that is dependent on the use of a pill rather than their own work ethic." Of course, it's hard to imagine a university administration that would require students to pee in a cup before entering an exam hall. And even with the aid of a neuroenhancer, you still have to write the essay, conceive the screenplay or finish the grant proposal. Moreover, if you can take credit for work you've done on caffeine or nicotine, then you can take credit for work produced on Provigil.
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.
I’ve tried a few different ways of taking my nootropics—in the morning, in the afternoon, in addition to coffee, as a replacement for coffee—and so far, the effects I'm feeling are much more subtle than I expected. There’s no sweaty-palmed intensity, no eight-hour uninterruptible work sprints, and none of the hyperactivity you’d associate with a caffeine high. It’s just a sensation of being a little amped up, and of being slightly less distracted than normal.
For this batch, I tried out NOW Foods Magnesium Citrate Powder ($7 for 227g); the powder was still a bit sticky but much easier to work with than the Solgar pills, and the 227g made 249 gel capsule pills. The package estimates 119 serving of 315mg elemental magnesium, so a ratio of 0.315g magnesium for 1.9g magnesium citrate, implying that each gel cap pill then contains 0.152g magnesium (\frac{(119\times315)}{249}=150) and since I want a total dose of 0.8g, I need 5 of the gel cap pills a day or 35 per block.
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.

Paul McHugh, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University, has written sceptically about cosmetic neurology. In a 2004 essay he notes that at least once a year in his private practice he sees a young person - usually a boy - whose parents worry that his school performance could be better and want a medication that will assure it. In most of these cases "the truth is that the son does not have the superior IQ of his parents", though the boy may have other qualities that surpass those of his parents - he may be "handsome, charming, athletic, graceful". McHugh sees his job as trying to get the parents to "forget about adjusting him to their aims, with medication or anything else".
Your brain loves omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to play an important role in cognitive function. According to the New York Times describing research in the journal Neurology, low levels of these unsaturated fats in the blood are linked with smaller brain volume and worse performance on certain tests of mental function. Omega-3s, which are found in salmon and other cold-water fish like tuna, may improve the retention of brain cells and also bolster the brainpower of younger adults. According to University of Pittsburgh research published last year, adults under age 25 who increased their omega-3 intake over six months improved their scores on tests measuring working memory.
Of course, work pressure, post-Christmas financial constraints and time away from family and friends can make us all feel low, however, this can happen on any date depending on our own personal circumstances. Rather than taking a ‘duvet day’ to bail out of commitments on Blue Monday, as the media is suggesting, why not take a more positive stance and engage in some activities that are tried and tested tools to help support better mood? After all, as the evidence suggests, the date or day of the week is unlikely to change these worries for the majority of us. For example, doing some exercise and eating a healthy meal with good company are both scientifically proven to support our mental wellbeing. Low-intensity exercise such as walking sustained over an extended period can help release proteins called neurotrophic factors that improve brain function and support mood, and nutrients such as B12 and Omega 3, are just two of many that have been shown to improve symptoms associated to depression. Our Nutrition Solutions offers more information on nutrition for depression if you want to know more about practical actions you can take yourself through nutrition to prevent or tackle depression.
…Phenethylamine is intrinsically a stimulant, although it doesn’t last long enough to express this property. In other words, it is rapidly and completely destroyed in the human body. It is only when a number of substituent groups are placed here or there on the molecule that this metabolic fate is avoided and pharmacological activity becomes apparent.

However, as a result of the efficacy of this type of stacking, the supplement world is saturated with brain-boosting blends, and it can be difficult to cut through the confusion and figure out what really works and what could be a waste of time and money, or downright dangerous. The fact is, when creating your own stack, you must carefully think about your specific needs and goals. For example, if you want to reduce anxiety and depression, but don’t necessarily care to enhance your cognitive performance or get through a day of work in a sleep-deprived state, you could just stick to a single nootropic that increases dopamine levels, such as Mucuna pruriens or tryptophan. Or if you wanted to reduce anxiety and depression while simultaneously improving your memory because you’re studying for a school or work exam, you could add Bacopa monnieri to the mucuna or tryptophan. Then, let’s say you want long-term cognitive performance to the mix that lasts an entire day: in this case, you’d add a racetam, and to avoid an end of day crash, a touch of choline or DHA. It’s a bit like cooking in the kitchen, isn’t it?
With this experiment, I broke from the previous methodology, taking the remaining and final half Nuvigil at midnight. I am behind on work and could use a full night to catch up. By 8 AM, I am as usual impressed by the Nuvigil - with Modalert or something, I generally start to feel down by mid-morning, but with Nuvigil, I feel pretty much as I did at 1 AM. Sleep: 9:51/9:15/8:27

…Phenethylamine is intrinsically a stimulant, although it doesn’t last long enough to express this property. In other words, it is rapidly and completely destroyed in the human body. It is only when a number of substituent groups are placed here or there on the molecule that this metabolic fate is avoided and pharmacological activity becomes apparent.
The original magnesium l-threonate caused me no apparent problems by the time I finished off the powder and usage correlated with better days, further supporting the hypothesis that magnesium helps it. But l-threonate would be difficult to cap (and hence blind self-experiment) and is ruinously expensive on a per-dose basis. So I looked around for alternatives for the followup; one of the most common compounds suggested was the citrate form because it is reasonably well-absorbed and causes fewer digestive problems, so I could just take that. Magnesium oxide is widely available it looks cheap, but the absorption/bioavailability problem makes it unattractive: at a 3:5 ratio, an estimate of 4% absorption, a ZMA formulation of an impressive-sounding 500mg would be 500 \times \frac{3}{5} \times 0.04 = 12mg or a small fraction of RDAs for male adults like 400mg elemental. (Calcium shouldn’t be a problem since I get 220mg of calcium from my multivitamin and I enjoy dairy products daily.)
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).
So I eventually got around to ordering another thing of nicotine gum, Habitrol Nicotine Gum, 4mg MINT flavor COATED gum. 96 pieces per box. Gum should be easier to double-blind myself with than nicotine patches - just buy some mint gum. If 4mg is too much, cut the gum in half or whatever. When it arrived, my hopes were borne out: the gum was rectangular and soft, which made it easy to cut into fourths.
Another prescription stimulant medication, modafinil (known by the brand name Provigil), is usually prescribed to patients suffering from narcolepsy and shift-work sleep disorder, but it might turn out to have broader applications. “We have conducted at the University of Cambridge double-blind, placebo-controlled studies in healthy people using modafinil and have found improvements in cognition, including in working memory,” Sahakian says. However, she doesn’t think everyone should start using the drug off-label. “There are no long-term safety and efficacy studies of modafinil in healthy people, and so it is unclear what the risks might be.”

Noopept is a Russian stimulant sometimes suggested for nootropics use as it may be more effective than piracetam or other -racetams, and its smaller doses make it more convenient & possibly safer. Following up on a pilot study, I ran a well-powered blind randomized self-experiment between September 2013 and August 2014 using doses of 12-60mg Noopept & pairs of 3-day blocks to investigate the impact of Noopept on self-ratings of daily functioning in addition to my existing supplementation regimen involving small-to-moderate doses of piracetam. A linear regression, which included other concurrent experiments as covariates & used multiple imputation for missing data, indicates a small benefit to the lower dose levels and harm from the highest 60mg dose level, but no dose nor Noopept as a whole was statistically-significant. It seems Noopept’s effects are too subtle to easily notice if they exist, but if one uses it, one should probably avoid 60mg+.
Similarly, Mehta et al 2000 noted that the positive effects of methylphenidate (40 mg) on spatial working memory performance were greatest in those volunteers with lower baseline working memory capacity. In a study of the effects of ginkgo biloba in healthy young adults, Stough et al 2001 found improved performance in the Trail-Making Test A only in the half with the lower verbal IQ.
Ginkgo Biloba, Bacopa Monnieri, and Lion’s Mane: This particular unique blend boosts mental focus, memory, learning, and cognitive performance while reducing anxiety and depression, and I’ve found that it can significantly boost mental alertness for around six hours at a time without any jitteriness or irritability – or any significant amounts of caffeine. It’s important to allow for a grace period of about 12 weeks before you feel the stack’s full potential, so don’t expect immediate results with this combination.
With so many different ones to choose from, choosing the best nootropics for you can be overwhelming at times. As usual, a decision this important will require research. Study up on the top nootropics which catch your eye the most. The nootropics you take will depend on what you want the enhancement for. The ingredients within each nootropic determine its specific function. For example, some nootropics contain ginkgo biloba, which can help memory, thinking speed, and increase attention span. Check the nootropic ingredients as you determine what end results you want to see.
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