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.
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?
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:
The evidence? In small studies, healthy people taking modafinil showed improved planning and working memory, and better reaction time, spatial planning, and visual pattern recognition. A 2015 meta-analysis claimed that “when more complex assessments are used, modafinil appears to consistently engender enhancement of attention, executive functions, and learning” without affecting a user’s mood. In a study from earlier this year involving 39 male chess players, subjects taking modafinil were found to perform better in chess games played against a computer.
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.)
When it comes to brain power, greens should be on your plate (and cover a lot of that plate) every meal. “Leafy greens are a great base. You swap out a lot of the empty carbohydrates you get from things like pastas or breads, and you can use some leafy greens,” says Psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, MD, author of The Happiness Diet and Eat Complete: The 21 Nutrients That Fuel Brainpower, Boost Weight Loss, and Transform Your Health. “Again, just lots of nutrient density.”
A Romanian psychologist and chemist named Corneliu Giurgea started using the word nootropic in the 1970s to refer to substances that improve brain function, but humans have always gravitated toward foods and chemicals that make us feel sharper, quicker, happier, and more content. Our brains use about 20 percent of our energy when our bodies are at rest (compared with 8 percent for apes), according to National Geographic, so our thinking ability is directly affected by the calories we’re taking in as well as by the nutrients in the foods we eat. Here are the nootropics we don’t even realize we’re using, and an expert take on how they work.
In fact, this body-mind connection has become so relevant to our current era that communities like Mental Health America are devoting their efforts to create a challenge that raises awareness on how lifestyle plays an important role on our mental health. While our generation is definitely more conscious of our bodies and the importance of a healthy lifestyle, it's a good reminder that the body is like a machine and we should listen to it, tune it up, and update the system every so often.
The difference in standard deviations is not, from a theoretical perspective, all that strange a phenomenon: at the very beginning of this page, I covered some basic principles of nootropics and mentioned how many stimulants or supplements follow a inverted U-curve where too much or too little lead to poorer performance (ironically, one of the examples in Kruschke 2012 was a smart drug which did not affect means but increased standard deviations).
This research is in contrast to the other substances I like, such as piracetam or fish oil. I knew about withdrawal of course, but it was not so bad when I was drinking only tea. And the side-effects like jitteriness are worse on caffeine without tea; I chalk this up to the lack of theanine. (My later experiences with theanine seems to confirm this.) These negative effects mean that caffeine doesn’t satisfy the strictest definition of nootropic (having no negative effects), but is merely a cognitive enhancer (with both benefits & costs). One might wonder why I use caffeine anyway if I am so concerned with mental ability.
This tendency is exacerbated by general inefficiencies in the nootropics market - they are manufactured for vastly less than they sell for, although the margins aren’t as high as they are in other supplement markets, and not nearly as comical as illegal recreational drugs. (Global Price Fixing: Our Customers are the Enemy (Connor 2001) briefly covers the vitamin cartel that operated for most of the 20th century, forcing food-grade vitamins prices up to well over 100x the manufacturing cost.) For example, the notorious Timothy Ferriss (of The Four-hour Work Week) advises imitators to find a niche market with very high margins which they can insert themselves into as middlemen and reap the profits; one of his first businesses specialized in… nootropics & bodybuilding. Or, when Smart Powders - usually one of the cheapest suppliers - was dumping its piracetam in a fire sale of half-off after the FDA warning, its owner mentioned on forums that the piracetam was still profitable (and that he didn’t really care because selling to bodybuilders was so lucrative); this was because while SP was selling 2kg of piracetam for ~$90, Chinese suppliers were offering piracetam on AliBaba for $30 a kilogram or a third of that in bulk. (Of course, you need to order in quantities like 30kg - this is more or less the only problem the middlemen retailers solve.) It goes without saying that premixed pills or products are even more expensive than the powders.
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.
They reduce inflammation, are high in cancer-protecting antioxidants and help rid your blood of toxins. The natural nitrates in beets actually boost blood flow to the brain, helping with mental performance. Plus, during tough workouts, beets actually help boost energy and performance levels. I love them roasted or in salads — try my sweet potato beet hash or beet and goat cheese salad for some creative new ways to eat this brain food.
We already knew that rosemary oil has a variety of benefits, but did you know that the herb does, too? Carnosic acid, one of the main ingredients in rosemary, helps protect the brain from neurodegeneration. It does this by protecting the brain against chemical free radicals, which are linked to neurodegeneration, Alzheimer’s, strokes and normal aging in the brain. (10)
Next generation medical imaging and genomic sequencing studies, including my own work, have helped reveal that some foods are neuro-protective, literally shielding the brain from harm and supporting cognitive fitness over the course of a lifetime. Conversely, other foods are harmful for the brain, slowing us down in general, making us feel sluggish and tired, while at the same time increasing our risk of dementia.
Farah questions the idea that neuroenhancers will expand inequality. Citing the "pretty clear trend across the studies that say neuroenhancers will be less helpful for people who score above average", she said that cognitive-enhancing pills could actually become levellers if they are dispensed cheaply. A 2007 discussion paper published by the British Medical Association (BMA) also makes this point: "Selective use of neuroenhancers among those with lower intellectual capacity, or those from deprived backgrounds who do not have the benefit of additional tuition, could enhance the educational opportunities for those groups." If the idea of giving a pill as a substitute for better teaching seems repellent - like substituting an IV drip of synthetic nutrition for actual food - it may be preferable to a scenario in which only wealthy kids receive a frequent mental boost.
In 2011, a story surfaced that struck fear into many: A woman was being treated for brain and memory disorders, when in reality she was just incredibly low in B12 stores. Turns out, this isn’t uncommon; many physicians don’t run routine blood tests for the nutrient, which is especially troublesome considering that our ability to absorb B12 is dramatically reduced with age. Over time, low vitamin B12 can do a number of your cognition.
Whole grains. Whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole-grain breads, and brown rice can reduce the risk for heart disease. "Every organ in the body is dependent on blood flow," says Pratt. "If you promote cardiovascular health, you're promoting good flow to the organ system, which includes the brain." While wheat germ is not technically a whole grain, it also goes on Kulze's "superfoods" list because in addition to fiber, it has vitamin E and some omega-3s. Kulze suggests 1/2 cup of whole-grain cereal, 1 slice of bread two-thee times day, or 2 tablespoons of wheat germ a day.
Is 200 enough? There are no canned power functions for the ordinal logistic regression I would be using, so the standard advice is to estimate power by simulation: generating thousands of new datasets where we know by construction that the binary magnesium variable increases MP by 0.27 (such as by bootstrapping the original Noopept experiment’s data), and seeing how often in this collection the cutoff of statistical-significance is passed when the usual analysis is done (background: CrossValidated or Power Analysis and Sample Size Estimation using Bootstrap). In this case, we leave alpha at 0.05, reuse the Noopept experiment’s data with its Magtein correlation, and ask for the power when n=200
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.
According to McCabe's research team, white male undergraduates at highly competitive schools are the most frequent student users of neuroenhancers. Users are also more likely to belong to a fraternity or a sorority, and to have a grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 - ie satisfactory - or lower. They are 10 times as likely to report that they have smoked marijuana in the past year and 20 times as likely to say that they have used cocaine. In other words, they are decent students at schools where to be a great student you have to give up a lot more partying than they're willing to give up.
As expected since most of the data overlaps with the previous LLLT analysis, the LLLT variable correlates strongly; the individual magnesium variables may look a little more questionable but were justified in the magnesium citrate analysis. The Noopept result looks a little surprising - almost zero effect? Let’s split by dose (which was the point of the whole rigmarole of changing dose levels):
A common dose for this combination is 500 milligrams per day of Lion’s Mane, 240 milligrams per day of Ginkgo Biloba, and 100 milligrams twice per day of Bacopa Monnieri. Consider buying each ingredient in bulk to have stock and experiment with. If you are not experiencing positive results after 12 weeks, try adjusting the dosages in small increments. For example, you can start by adjusting Bacopa Monnieri to 150 milligrams twice per day for a couple weeks. Be patient: the end result is worth the trial and error.
But notice that most of the cost imbalance is coming from the estimate of the benefit of IQ - if it quadrupled to a defensible $8000, that would be close to the experiment cost! So in a way, what this VoI calculation tells us is that what is most valuable right now is not that iodine might possibly increase IQ, but getting a better grip on how much any IQ intervention is worth.
On the other hand, sometimes you’ll feel a great cognitive boost as soon as you take a pill. That can be a good thing or a bad thing. I find, for example, that modafinil makes you more of what you already are. That means if you are already kind of a dick and you take modafinil, you might act like a really big dick and regret it. It certainly happened to me! I like to think that I’ve done enough hacking of my brain that I’ve gotten over that programming… and that when I use nootropics they help me help people.
Unlike many hypothetical scenarios that bioethicists worry about - human clones, "designer babies" - cognitive enhancement is already in full swing. But how much do they actually help? Are they potentially harmful or addictive? Then there's the question of what we mean by "smarter". Could enhancing one kind of thinking exact a toll on others? All these questions need proper scientific answers, but for now much of the discussion is taking place furtively, among the increasing number of people who are performing daily experiments on their own brains.
B vitamins are also sold with claims of enhancing memory, usually rationalized by their reduction of homocysteine, a chemical in the blood that may affect circulation in the brain. No benefits from B vitamin intake have been demonstrated when it comes to memory or cognitive function except in the case of people who have high homocysteine levels due to a diet that is very low in B vitamins. There is some concern that folic acid, one of the B vitamins, may spur the growth of polyps in the colon at doses greater than 800 micrograms a day. Phosphatidyl serine is a natural component of nerve cell membranes and its promoters argue that a deficiency leads to impaired communication between nerve cells which in turn impairs cognitive function. Sounds reasonable, except that proper controlled trials have come up empty. The same goes for vinpocetine, a compound originally isolated from the lesser periwinkle plant by Hungarian chemist Csaba Szantay in 1975. It is widely used in Europe to treat strokes and memory problems with claims of increased circulation to the brain. It does indeed increase circulation, much like ginkgo, but there is no compelling evidence for memory improvement.
“In an era of confusion about what we should eat, Brain Food is a shining light. This is the straight story about ‘neuro-nutrition’ firmly rooted in research by a neuroscientist who has a deep understanding of how food affects our cognitive health. Dr. Mosconi gives us advice we can easily implement into our lives and a story about the science behind it that is both delightful and accessible. A must read!”
Increase your memory, alertness, energy and focus with the most revolutionary “limitless” pill ever created. As we age, our brains start to slow down both in reaction time and in the recalling of memories. That’s why we need to not only regain our mental capacity, we need to enhance it to such heights that we go well beyond where we started. When you use the dietary supplement Addium, you can total replenish and revitalize your mental alertness in a safe, all-natural way. Made of some of the most powerful brain enhancing ingredients on the market, Addium can be used each day to increase memory function, enhance brain power, increase physical energy and stay sharper and more focused. Don’t just settle for feeling like everyone else; it’s time to take your mind to a limitless state of mental preparedness. Addium Brain Enhancing Dietary Supplement also contains the following benefits: • Boosts your capacity for learning • Increases your alertness and focus • Safe and all natural • Promotes strong brain function • Enhances memory and performance Addium contains: Vitamin B6 - An economical source for cardio health and energy metabolism. Addium contains a Proprietary Blend of: Acetyl L-Carnitine - Energizes the mind and promotes concentration. L-Theanine - Enhances endocrine function, stimulating some brain waves and leaving others unaffected. Caffeine - Increase mental alertness. Rhodiola Rosea Extract - Fights the physical and mental effects of stress. Bacopa Monnieri Extract – This ingredient increases cerebral blood flow and cognitive function at the same time.
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."
Nootropics – sometimes called smart drugs – are compounds that enhance brain function. They’re becoming a popular way to give your mind an extra boost. According to one Telegraph report, up to 25% of students at leading UK universities have taken the prescription smart drug modafinil , and California tech startup employees are trying everything from Adderall to LSD to push their brains into a higher gear .
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).
However, they fell short in several categories. The key issue with their product is that it does not contain DHA Omega 3 and the other essential vitamins and nutrients needed to support the absorption of Huperzine A and Phosphatidylserine. Without having DHA Omega 3 it will not have an essential piece to maximum effectiveness. This means that you would need to take a separate pill of DHA Omega 3 and several other essential vitamins to ensure you are able to reach optimal memory support. They also are still far less effective than our #1 pick’s complete array of the 3 essential brain supporting ingredients and over 30 supporting nutrients, making their product less effective.
Take the synthetic nootropic piracetam, for example. Since piracetam has been shown to improve cell membrane function and cause a host of neuroprotective effects, when combined with other cell membrane stabilizing supplements such as choline and DHA, the brain cells on piracetam can better signal and relay messages to each other for a longer period of time, which improves cognition and brain activity and decreases risk of a crash. So one example of an intelligent “stack” is piracetam taken with choline and DHA.
The AC-11 that Marcus mentioned for health is an extract from the Amazon jungle vine una de gato, and has been shown in laboratory and clinical trials to encourage DNA repair. The Mucuna pruriens he named for motivation is a legume that's a concentrated source of L-Dopa, which the body converts to the neurotransmitter dopamine. The Huperzia serrata Marcus selected for hunting is the same substance that induces lucid dreaming. This seems appropriate. While I felt the Alpha Brain helped my hunting, maybe I was dreaming. Or maybe a dream state of mind is good for hunting.
Took pill 12:11 PM. I am not certain. While I do get some things accomplished (a fair amount of work on the Silk Road article and its submission to places), I also have some difficulty reading through a fiction book (Sum) and I seem kind of twitchy and constantly shifting windows. I am weakly inclined to think this is Adderall (say, 60%). It’s not my normal feeling. Next morning - it was Adderall.
Paul Phillips was unusual for a professional poker player. When he joined the circuit in the late 1990s he was already a millionaire: a twentysomething tech guy who helped found an internet portal called go2net and cashed in at the right moment. He was cerebral and at times brusque. On the international poker scene Phillips cultivated a geeky New Wave style. He wore vintage shirts in wild geometric patterns; his hair was dyed orange or silver one week, shaved off the next. Most unusual of all, Phillips talked freely about taking prescription drugs - Adderall and, especially, Provigil - in order to play better cards.
Modafinil, also known as Provigil, Modalert, and Alertec, was originally made and marketed for sleep disorders, and has been prescribed in the US for this reason since 1998. It was found only by chance to help with focus and concentration, and it is only approved for the treatment of narcolepsy, shift work sleep disorder, and obstructive sleep apnea.
The bitter reality of life is that there’s no organ of our body, which can defy the effects of aging with success. At least not entirely on its own. That’s why we need supplements in the first place. Remember? That’s only the beginning of the bad news for your brain. Certain sections of our brain, especially prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, can be seriously reduced in size as you are getting older. In addition, the number of capillaries in your head reduces, as well. Let’s not forget the arteries that become narrower and therefore limit the blood flow.
The basic idea is to remedy a deficiency (not look for acute stimulant effects) and magnesium has a slow excretion rate18, so week-long blocks seem appropriate. I can reuse the same methodology as the lithium self-experiment. The response variables will be the usual mood/productivity self-rating and, since I was originally interested in magnesium for possible sleep quality improvements, a standardized score of sleep latency + # of awakenings + time spent awake (the same variable as my potassium sleep experiment).
As a student Seltzer used both Adderall and piracetam. Now, after a hiatus of several years, he has recently resumed taking neuroenhancers. In addition to piracetam, he took a stack of supplements that he thought helped his brain to function: fish oils, five antioxidants, a product called ChocoMind and a number of others, all available at the health-food store. He was thinking about adding modafinil, but hadn't yet. For breakfast every morning he concocted a slurry of oatmeal, berries, soy milk, pomegranate juice, flaxseed, almond meal, raw eggs and protein powder. The goal behind the recipe was efficiency: to rely on "one goop you could eat or drink that would have everything you need nutritionally for your brain and body. I wanted to be able to keep it down - that was it." (He told me this in the kitchen of his apartment; he lives with a roommate, who walked in while we were talking, listened perplexedly for a moment, then put a frozen pizza in the oven.)
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One claim was partially verified in passing by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Supplementing potassium (citrate) hasn’t helped me much, but works dramatically for Anna, Kevin, and Vassar…About the same as drinking a cup of coffee - i.e., it works as a perker-upper, somehow. I’m not sure, since it doesn’t do anything for me except possibly mitigate foot cramps.)
This product is a miracle! I have purchased it TWICE because it is so helpful with my memory and cognition. I bought this product because I needed to strengthen my memory and focus, and I wanted to be awake when I did it! I had just switched to a job that is second shift (2PM-11PM) and it was very difficult to adjust to those hours AND learn all of the new technical systems required for my new job. But after taking this supplement, I noticed a HUGE difference in a few days! I was awake and alert like it was 11AM everyday. But it wasn’t like the jolt you sometimes get from caffeine, more like an alertness after a good night’s sleep. No jitters, no headaches, no stomach upset. Just energy and the feeling of being AWAKE. I am now telling all of my co-workers about it!
While the mechanism is largely unknown, one commonly mechanism possibility is that light of the relevant wavelengths is preferentially absorbed by the protein cytochrome c oxidase, which is a key protein in mitochondrial metabolism and production of ATP, substantially increasing output, and this extra output presumably can be useful for cellular activities like healing or higher performance.
Starting from the studies in my meta-analysis, we can try to estimate an upper bound on how big any effect would be, if it actually existed. One of the most promising null results, Southon et al 1994, turns out to be not very informative: if we punch in the number of kids, we find that they needed a large effect size (d=0.81) before they could see anything:
Some nootropics are more commonly used than others. These include nutrients like Alpha GPC, huperzine A, L-Theanine, bacopa monnieri, and vinpocetine. Other types of nootropics are still gaining traction. With all that in mind, to claim there is a “best” nootropic for everyone would be the wrong approach since every person is unique and looking for different benefits.