Nootropics are classically defined as something that a) improves brain health, and b) does no harm. So, while many treatments being advertised online and on TV can be classified as nootropics, some of them don’t fit the bill because of the dangerous and damaging side effects they also confer upon the unwary consumer. In fact, most of the results you might get from searching ‘best brain pills’ are similarly not that great, let alone the best.
Microdosing with LSD: LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is derived from a chemical in rye fungus. It was originally synthesized in 1938 to aid in childbirth and is widely known for its powerful hallucinogenic effects, but less well known for what I personally use it for: inducing intense sparks of creativity when a merging of the left and right brain hemispheres is the desired goal, such as a day on which I need to do a great deal of creative writing or copywriting. It also works quite well for keeping you “chugging along” on a sleep deprived or jet-lagged day. Similar to psilocybin, LSD affects serotonin levels in the body. By deactivating serotonin mechanisms, brain levels of serotonin are dramatically increased after a dose of LSD, which also causes a “feel good” dopamine release. It is thought that LSD may reduce the blood flow to the control centers of the brain, which weaken their activity, allowing for a heightened brain connection. This enhancement in brain connectivity is most likely why users experience increased creativity and unique thought patterns. Therapeutic effects of LSD include treating addiction, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, cluster headaches, end-of-life anxiety, resistant behavior change, and increase reaction time, concentration, balance, mood, and pain perception (See additional studies here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). A typical microdose of LSD is between 5 and 20 micrograms. My own approach for using LSD is quite simple and is called the “volumetric dosing” method. I purchase a blotter paper of LSD or P-LSD, then cut out 100 micrograms with scissors and drop one square tab into a 10-milliliter dropper bottle of vodka. I then know that a single drop of the liquid contains a neat 10 micrograms of LSD, and don’t risk the inaccurate dosing so notoriously associated with simply cutting out and placing the blotter paper into the mouth. Interestingly, I’ve found that if you take slightly too much LSD, a small dose of CBD (e.g. 10-20 milligrams) seems to knock the edge off.
Elaborating on why the psychological side effects of testosterone injection are individual dependent: Not everyone get the same amount of motivation and increased goal seeking from the steroid and most people do not experience periods of chronic avolition. Another psychological effect is a potentially drastic increase in aggression which in turn can have negative social consequences. In the case of counterfactual Wedrifid he gets a net improvement in social consequences. He has observed that aggression and anger are a prompt for increased ruthless self-interested goal seeking. Ruthless self-interested goal seeking involves actually bothering to pay attention to social politics. People like people who do social politics well. Most particularly it prevents acting on contempt which is what Wedrifid finds prompts the most hostility and resentment in others. Point is, what is a sanity promoting change in one person may not be in another.
Somewhat ironically given the stereotypes, while I was in college I dabbled very little in nootropics, sticking to melatonin and tea. Since then I have come to find nootropics useful, and intellectually interesting: they shed light on issues in philosophy of biology & evolution, argue against naive psychological dualism and for materialism, offer cases in point on the history of technology & civilization or recent psychology theories about addiction & willpower, challenge our understanding of the validity of statistics and psychology - where they don’t offer nifty little problems in statistics and economics themselves, and are excellent fodder for the young Quantified Self movement4; modafinil itself demonstrates the little-known fact that sleep has no accepted evolutionary explanation. (The hard drugs also have more ramifications than one might expect: how can one understand the history of Southeast Asia and the Vietnamese War without reference to heroin, or more contemporaneously, how can one understand the lasting appeal of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the unpopularity & corruption of the central government without reference to the Taliban’s frequent anti-drug campaigns or the drug-funded warlords of the Northern Alliance?)
Phillips told me that, much as he believes in neuroenhancers, he did not want to be "the poster boy for smart-in-a-pill". At one point, he said: "We really don't know the possible implications for long-term use of these things." (He recently stopped taking Provigil every day, replacing it with another prescription stimulant.) Nor does he think we need to be turning up the crank another notch on how hard we work. "But," he said, "the baseline competitive level is going to reorientate around what these drugs make possible, and you can choose to compete or not."
Before taking any supplement or chemical, people want to know if there will be long term effects or consequences, When Dr. Corneliu Giurgea first authored the term “nootropics” in 1972, he also outlined the characteristics that define nootropics. Besides the ability to benefit memory and support the cognitive processes, Dr. Giurgea believed that nootropics should be safe and non-toxic.
Nootropics aren’t new—the word was coined in 1972 by a Romanian doctor, Corneliu E. Giurgea—but the Silicon Valley-led body-hacking movement, epitomized by food replacements like Soylent and specialized supplements like Bulletproof Coffee, seems to have given them new life. There are dozens of online forums, including an active subreddit, where nootropics users gather to exchange stack recipes and discuss the effects of various combinations of compounds. And although their "brain-enhancing" effects are still generally unproven, nootropics proponents point to clinical studies showing that certain compounds can increase short-term memory, reduce reaction time, and improve spatial awareness.
I bought 500g of piracetam (Examine.com; FDA adverse events) from Smart Powders (piracetam is one of the cheapest nootropics and SP was one of the cheapest suppliers; the others were much more expensive as of October 2010), and I’ve tried it out for several days (started on 7 September 2009, and used it steadily up to mid-December). I’ve varied my dose from 3 grams to 12 grams (at least, I think the little scoop measures in grams), taking them in my tea or bitter fruit juice. Cranberry worked the best, although orange juice masks the taste pretty well; I also accidentally learned that piracetam stings horribly when I got some on a cat scratch. 3 grams (alone) didn’t seem to do much of anything while 12 grams gave me a nasty headache. I also ate 2 or 3 eggs a day.
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.
It's been widely reported that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and college students turn to Adderall (without a prescription) to work late through the night. In fact, a 2012 study published in the Journal of American College Health, showed that roughly two-thirds of undergraduate students were offered prescription stimulants for non-medical purposes by senior year.
Looking at the prices, the overwhelming expense is for modafinil. It’s a powerful stimulant - possibly the single most effective ingredient in the list - but dang expensive. Worse, there’s anecdotal evidence that one can develop tolerance to modafinil, so we might be wasting a great deal of money on it. (And for me, modafinil isn’t even very useful in the daytime: I can’t even notice it.) If we drop it, the cost drops by a full $800 from $1761 to $961 (almost halving) and to $0.96 per day. A remarkable difference, and if one were genetically insensitive to modafinil, one would definitely want to remove it.
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:
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.
He used to get his edge from Adderall, but after moving from New Jersey to San Francisco, he says, he couldn’t find a doctor who would write him a prescription. Driven to the Internet, he discovered a world of cognition-enhancing drugs known as nootropics — some prescription, some over-the-counter, others available on a worldwide gray market of private sellers — said to improve memory, attention, creativity and motivation.
I take my piracetam in the form of capped pills consisting (in descending order) of piracetam, choline bitartrate, anhydrous caffeine, and l-tyrosine. On 8 December 2012, I happened to run out of them and couldn’t fetch more from my stock until 27 December. This forms a sort of (non-randomized, non-blind) short natural experiment: did my daily 1-5 mood/productivity ratings fall during 8-27 December compared to November 2012 & January 2013? The graphed data29 suggests to me a decline:
Feeling behind, I resolved to take some armodafinil the next morning, which I did - but in my hurry I failed to recall that 200mg armodafinil was probably too much to take during the day, with its long half life. As a result, I felt irritated and not that great during the day (possibly aggravated by some caffeine - I wish some studies would be done on the possible interaction of modafinil and caffeine so I knew if I was imagining it or not). Certainly not what I had been hoping for. I went to bed after midnight (half an hour later than usual), and suffered severe insomnia. The time wasn’t entirely wasted as I wrote a short story and figured out how to make nicotine gum placebos during the hours in the dark, but I could have done without the experience. All metrics omitted because it was a day usage.
Research in animals shows that blueberries may help protect the brain from the damage caused by free radicals and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Studies also show that diets rich in blueberries improved both the learning and muscle function of aging rats, making them mentally equal to much younger rats.
A cup of coffee before a big exam can help your brain perform at its best. That’s because caffeine improves short-term memory and speeds up reaction times, according to New Scientist. Researchers from the National Institute on Aging found that individuals who drank more caffeine had better scores on memory tests, which explains why has been linked to a lowered risk of Alzheimer’s disease. It can also help prevent Parkinson’s disease and relieve headache pain. But don’t overdo it—too much caffeine can make you jumpy or irritable. Look out for the signs that you’re drinking too much coffee.
Recently I spoke on the phone with Barbara Sahakian, a clinical neuropsychologist at Cambridge University and the co-author of a 2007 article in Nature entitled "Professor's Little Helper". Sahakian, who also consults for several pharmaceutical companies, and her co-author, Sharon Morein-Zamir, reported that a number of their colleagues were using prescription drugs like Adderall and Provigil. Because the drugs are easy to buy online, they wrote, it would be difficult to stop their spread: "The drive for self-enhancement of cognition is likely to be as strong if not stronger than in the realms of 'enhancement' of beauty and sexual function." (In places like Cambridge, at least.)
Piracetam is used to increase memory, learning, and concentration. It is not reported to be toxic even at high doses, but healthy people are reported to not get that much of a boost from it, and it is understood to be most effective for older people. It’s been found to reduce the chances of a breath-holding spell in children, enhance cellular membrane fluidity, and prevent blood clotting on par with aspirin.
Qualia claims that its product stems from a new approach to science based on “principled meta-analysis and synthesis of existing research” to optimize “memory, focus, the speed of information processing, and pattern analysis.” The bottom line, however, is in its online medical disclaimer, which says: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. . . . No claims are made about the safety of this product, nor are any medical or psychological benefits claimed.”
The ingredients in her recipes are representative of her thinking. Local raw honey. Organic everything. Free-range eggs. Organic, grass-fed whole milk (I assume she means feeding grass to the cows, not feeding it to the milk). Filtered water. Goji berries. Açai berry powder. Ginseng extract with royal jelly and bee pollen. Organic spirulina powder. Even Himalayan pink sea salt, for heaven’s sake! Good grief!!
It’s also loaded with vitamin C — in fact, just one cup provides you with 150 percent of your recommended daily intake. Its high-fiber levels mean that you’ll feel full quickly, too. If you’ve only chowed down on overcooked, tasteless broccoli, you’ll love my Crockpot Beef and Broccoli, Creamy Broccoli Soup and Broccoli Pesto Dip — they’ll turn you into a broccoli lover fast!
Methylfolate and methyl B12 work together to control methylation reactions that repair your DNA and regenerate brain cells. The methylated forms are particularly important brain food — you have about three times as much methylfolate in your cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid around your brain and spine) as you do in your blood, where it’s working tirelessly to maintain your nerve connections and repair DNA mutations. Folate and B12 are particularly important for brain anti-aging.
Much better than I had expected. One of the best superhero movies so far, better than Thor or Watchmen (and especially better than the Iron Man movies). I especially appreciated how it didn’t launch right into the usual hackneyed creation of the hero plot-line but made Captain America cool his heels performing & selling war bonds for 10 or 20 minutes. The ending left me a little nonplussed, although I sort of knew it was envisioned as a franchise and I would have to admit that showing Captain America wondering at Times Square is much better an ending than something as cliche as a close-up of his suddenly-opened eyes and then a fade out. (The movie continued the lamentable trend in superhero movies of having a strong female love interest… who only gets the hots for the hero after they get muscles or powers. It was particularly bad in CA because she knows him and his heart of gold beforehand! What is the point of a feminist character who is immediately forced to do that?)↩
Thursday: 3g piracetam/4g choline bitartrate at 1; 1 200mg modafinil at 2:20; noticed a leveling of fatigue by 3:30; dry eyes? no bad after taste or anything. a little light-headed by 4:30, but mentally clear and focused. wonder if light-headedness is due simply to missing lunch and not modafinil. 5:43: noticed my foot jiggling - doesn’t usually jiggle while in piracetam/choline. 7:30: starting feeling a bit jittery & manic - not much or to a problematic level but definitely noticeable; but then, that often happens when I miss lunch & dinner. 12:30: bedtime. Can’t sleep even with 3mg of melatonin! Subjectively, I toss & turn (in part thanks to my cat) until 4:30, when I really wake up. I hang around bed for another hour & then give up & get up. After a shower, I feel fairly normal, strangely, though not as good as if I had truly slept 8 hours. The lesson here is to pay attention to wikipedia when it says the half-life is 12-15 hours! About 6AM I take 200mg; all the way up to 2pm I feel increasingly less energetic and unfocused, though when I do apply myself I think as well as ever. Not fixed by food or tea or piracetam/choline. I want to be up until midnight, so I take half a pill of 100mg and chew it (since I’m not planning on staying up all night and I want it to work relatively soon). From 4-12PM, I notice that today as well my heart rate is elevated; I measure it a few times and it seems to average to ~70BPM, which is higher than normal, but not high enough to concern me. I stay up to midnight fine, take 3mg of melatonin at 12:30, and have no trouble sleeping; I think I fall asleep around 1. Alarm goes off at 6, I get up at 7:15 and take the other 100mg. Only 100mg/half-a-pill because I don’t want to leave the half laying around in the open, and I’m curious whether 100mg + ~5 hours of sleep will be enough after the last 2 days. Maybe next weekend I’ll just go without sleep entirely to see what my limits are.
Ngo has experimented with piracetam himself (“The first time I tried it, I thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty strong for a supplement.’ I had a little bit of reflux, heartburn, but in general it was a cognitive enhancer. . . . I found it helpful”) and the neurotransmitter DMEA (“You have an idea, it helps you finish the thought. It’s for when people have difficulty finishing that last connection in the brain”).
All clear? Try one (not dozens) of nootropics for a few weeks and keep track of how you feel, Kerl suggests. It’s also important to begin with as low a dose as possible; when Cyr didn’t ease into his nootropic regimen, his digestion took the blow, he admits. If you don’t notice improvements, consider nixing the product altogether and focusing on what is known to boost cognitive function – eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep regularly and exercising. "Some of those lifestyle modifications," Kerl says, "may improve memory over a supplement."
Much of what she says is standard health advice. Avoid trans fats. Eat fresh vegetables and fruit. Avoid processed foods. Limit red meat consumption. It’s better to get your nutrients from food than from supplement pills. Exercise, get adequate sleep, and avoid stress. Since the brain runs on glucose, she wouldn’t agree with the low-carb diet folks; she says we need adequate sources of glucose in our diet, and recommends complex carbs, paying attention to the glycemic index.
Your article was both informative and enjoyable. Indeed the right type of brain food can help our brains overcome any potential damaging brain diseases. In this day and age when there are chemicals in many things we eat, it is nice to know that we can alter potential conditions with the right brain vitamin. Thank you so much for your generosity and kindness in allowing commenters to link with you too. You articles are quality. Thanks
An unusual intervention is infrared/near-infrared light of particular wavelengths (LLLT), theorized to assist mitochondrial respiration and yielding a variety of therapeutic benefits. Some have suggested it may have cognitive benefits. LLLT sounds strange but it’s simple, easy, cheap, and just plausible enough it might work. I tried out LLLT treatment on a sporadic basis 2013-2014, and statistically, usage correlated strongly & statistically-significantly with increases in my daily self-ratings, and not with any sleep disturbances. Excited by that result, I did a randomized self-experiment 2014-2015 with the same procedure, only to find that the causal effect was weak or non-existent. I have stopped using LLLT as likely not worth the inconvenience.
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:
A study mentioned in Neuropsychopharmacology as of August 2002, showed that Bacopa Monnieri decreases the rate of forgetting newly acquired information, memory consolidations, and verbal learning rate. It also helps in enhancing the nerve impulse transmission, which leads to increased alertness. Also, it is known to relieve the effects of anxiety and depression. All these benefits happen as Bacopa Monnieri dosage helps in activating choline acetyltransferase and inhibiting acetylcholinesterase which enhances the levels of acetylcholine in the brain, a chemical that is also associated in enhancing memory and attention.
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.