In August 2011, after winning the spaced repetition contest and finishing up the Adderall double-blind testing, I decided the time was right to try nicotine again. I had since learned that e-cigarettes use nicotine dissolved in water, and that nicotine-water was a vastly cheaper source of nicotine than either gum or patches. So I ordered 250ml of water at 12mg/ml (total cost: $18.20). A cigarette apparently delivers around 1mg of nicotine, so half a ml would be a solid dose of nicotine, making that ~500 doses. Plenty to experiment with. The question is, besides the stimulant effect, nicotine also causes habit formation; what habits should I reinforce with nicotine? Exercise, and spaced repetition seem like 2 good targets.
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.
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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.
The greatly increased variance, but only somewhat increased mean, is consistent with nicotine operating on me with an inverted U-curve for dosage/performance (or the Yerkes-Dodson law): on good days, 1mg nicotine is too much and degrades performance (perhaps I am overstimulated and find it hard to focus on something as boring as n-back) while on bad days, nicotine is just right and improves n-back performance.
The chemical Huperzine-A (Examine.com) is extracted from a moss. It is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor (instead of forcing out more acetylcholine like the -racetams, it prevents acetylcholine from breaking down). My experience report: One for the null hypothesis files - Huperzine-A did nothing for me. Unlike piracetam or fish oil, after a full bottle (Source Naturals, 120 pills at 200μg each), I noticed no side-effects, no mental improvements of any kind, and no changes in DNB scores from straight Huperzine-A.
As a result of her years of research in this area, Dr. Lisa proposes a variety of foods that lead to better cognitive functioning and those which, in contrast, minimize cognitive functioning. "The best four foods one can consume to boost brain power are fish, dark leafy green veggies, berries, and water," she explains. And the worst? "Fast food, processed foods and poor quality meat."
along with the previous bit of globalization is an important factor: shipping is ridiculously cheap. The most expensive S&H in my modafinil price table is ~$15 (and most are international). To put this in perspective, I remember in the 90s you could easily pay $15 for domestic S&H when you ordered online - but it’s 2013, and the dollar has lost at least half its value, so in real terms, ordering from abroad may be like a quarter of what it used to cost, which makes a big difference to people dipping their toes in and contemplating a small order to try out this ’nootropics thing they’ve heard about.
Brain focus pills largely contain chemical components like L-theanine which is naturally found in green and black tea. It’s associated with enhancing alertness, cognition, relaxation, arousal, and reducing anxiety to a large extent. Theanine is an amino and glutamic acid that has been proven to be a safe psychoactive substance. There are studies that suggest that this compound influences, the expression in the genes present in the brain which is responsible for aggression, fear and memory. This, in turn, helps in balancing the behavioural responses to stress and also helps in improving specific conditions, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
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.
After 7 days, I ordered a kg of choline bitartrate from Bulk Powders. Choline is standard among piracetam-users because it is pretty universally supported by anecdotes about piracetam headaches, has support in rat/mice experiments28, and also some human-related research. So I figured I couldn’t fairly test piracetam without some regular choline - the eggs might not be enough, might be the wrong kind, etc. It has a quite distinctly fishy smell, but the actual taste is more citrus-y, and it seems to neutralize the piracetam taste in tea (which makes things much easier for me).
For obvious reasons, it’s difficult for researchers to know just how common the “smart drug” or “neuro-enhancing” lifestyle is. However, a few recent studies suggest cognition hacking is appealing to a growing number of people. A survey conducted in 2016 found that 15% of University of Oxford students were popping pills to stay competitive, a rate that mirrored findings from other national surveys of UK university students. In the US, a 2014 study found that 18% of sophomores, juniors, and seniors at Ivy League colleges had knowingly used a stimulant at least once during their academic career, and among those who had ever used uppers, 24% said they had popped a little helper on eight or more occasions. Anecdotal evidence suggests that pharmacological enhancement is also on the rise within the workplace, where modafinil, which treats sleep disorders, has become particularly popular.
Your co-worker in the cubicle next to you could now very likely be achieving his or her hyperfocus via a touch of microdosed LSD, a hit of huperzine or a nicotine-infused arm patch. The fact is, concepts such as microdosing, along with words like “nootropic” and “smart drug” (yes, there’s a difference between the two, as you’re about to discover) are quickly becoming household terms, especially due to all the recent media hype that has disclosed how popular compounds such as smart drugs and psychedelics are among Silicon Valley CEOs and college students, along with the smart drug movies “Limitless” and “Lucy“ and popular TV shows like “Limitless”, “Wormwood” and “Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia”.
…The first time I took supplemental potassium (50% US RDA in a lot of water), it was like a brain fog lifted that I never knew I had, and I felt profoundly energized in a way that made me feel exercise was reasonable and prudent, which resulted in me and the roommate that had just supplemented potassium going for an hour long walk at 2AM. Experiences since then have not been quite so profound (which probably was so stark for me as I was likely fixing an acute deficiency), but I can still count on a moderately large amount of potassium to give me a solid, nearly side effect free performance boost for a few hours…I had been doing Bikram yoga on and off, and I think I wasn’t keeping up the practice because I wasn’t able to properly rehydrate myself.
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.
(If I am not deficient, then supplementation ought to have no effect.) The previous material on modern trends suggests a prior >25%, and higher than that if I were female. However, I was raised on a low-salt diet because my father has high blood pressure, and while I like seafood, I doubt I eat it more often than weekly. I suspect I am somewhat iodine-deficient, although I don’t believe as confidently as I did that I had a vitamin D deficiency. Let’s call this one 75%.
Microdosing with Iboga: Native to the rainforests in Central Africa, Iboga is an evergreen shrub, with high concentrations found in the root bark. It has a rich history amongst practitioners in the indigenous Bwiti religion in Africa and has recently found its way into Western practices, primarily for extremely effective therapy for drug addictions, but also for physical energy, cognitive performance in smaller microdoses, and a surge in positive emotions (See additional studies here and here.). To microdose with Iboga, you will want to find it in tincture or root bark form (the root bark form is typically encapsulated). If using a tincture, find a source that has the root bark extracted into its purest form, combined with Iboga alkaloids, which keeps the full spectrum of the plant untouched. Just a single drop of an Iboga tincture equates to about 0.5 milligrams and suffices as a microdose. For the root bark of Iboga, a dose of 300-500 milligrams is also an effective dose. I’ve personally found Iboga to be most useful prior to a workout or an effort that combines both brain and body demands, such as tennis or basketball – but it makes you hyperactive and jittery if taken prior to a day of desk work. This makes sense when you consider that African tribes traditionally whipped themselves into a frenzied pre-battle state on Iboga.
The Nootroo arrives in a shiny gold envelope with the words “proprietary blend” and “intended for use only in neuroscience research” written on the tin. It has been designed, says Matzner, for “hours of enhanced learning and memory”. The capsules contain either Phenylpiracetam or Noopept (a peptide with similar effects and similarly uncategorised) and are distinguished by real flakes of either edible silver or gold. They are to be alternated between daily, allowing about two weeks for the full effect to be felt. Also in the capsules are L-Theanine, a form of choline, and a types of caffeine which it is claimed has longer lasting effects.
Because smart drugs like modafinil, nicotine, and Adderall come with drawbacks, I developed my own line of nootropics, including Forbose and SmartMode, that’s safe, widely available, and doesn’t require a prescription. Forskolin, found in Forbose, has been a part of Indian Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. In addition to being fun to say, forskolin increases cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), a molecule essential to learning and memory formation. 
But it's not the mind-expanding 1960s any more. Every era, it seems, has its own defining drug. Neuroenhancers are perfectly suited to the anxiety of white-collar competition in a floundering economy. And they have a synergistic relationship with our multiplying digital technologies: the more gadgets we own, the more distracted we become and the more we need help in order to focus. The experience that neuroenhancement offers is not, for the most part, about opening the doors of perception, or about breaking the bonds of the self, or about experiencing a surge of genius. It's about squeezing out an extra few hours to finish those sales figures when you'd really rather collapse into bed; getting a B instead of a B-minus on the final exam in a lecture class where you spent half your time texting; cramming for the GREs (postgraduate entrance exams) at night, because the information-industry job you got after college turned out to be deadening. Neuroenhancers don't offer freedom. Rather, they facilitate a pinched, unromantic, grindingly efficient form of productivity.
The evidence? A 2012 study in Greece found it can boost cognitive function in adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a type of disorder marked by forgetfulness and problems with language, judgement, or planning that are more severe than average “senior moments,” but are not serious enough to be diagnosed as dementia. In some people, MCI will progress into dementia.
I have elsewhere remarked on the apparent lack of benefit to taking multivitamins and the possible harm; so one might well wonder about a specific vitamin like vitamin D. However, a multivitamin is not vitamin D, so it’s no surprise that they might do different things. If a multivitamin had no vitamin D in it, or if it had vitamin D in different doses, or if it had substances which interacted with vitamin D (such as calcium), or if it had substances which had negative effects which outweigh the positive (such as vitamin A?), we could well expect differing results. In this case, all of those are true to varying extents. Some multivitamins I’ve had contained no vitamin D. The last multivitamin I was taking both contains vitamins used in the negative trials and also some calcium; the listed vitamin D dosage was a trivial ~400IU, while I take >10x as much now (5000IU).
Blueberries and blackberries are at the top of the list of brain-boosting foods because they are exceptionally rich in chemicals called anthocyanins, which are among the most potent antioxidants. "But the real message here is that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables of all kinds does more than keep your heart healthy," says Tufts University neurobiologist James Joseph. It's healthy food for thought.
I do recommend a few things, like modafinil or melatonin, to many adults, albeit with misgivings about any attempt to generalize like that. (It’s also often a good idea to get powders, see the appendix.) Some of those people are helped; some have told me that they tried and the suggestion did little or nothing. I view nootropics as akin to a biological lottery; one good discovery pays for all. I forge on in the hopes of further striking gold in my particular biology. Your mileage will vary. All you have to do, all you can do is to just try it. Most of my experiences were in my 20s as a right-handed 5’11 white male weighing 190-220lbs, fitness varying over time from not-so-fit to fairly fit. In rough order of personal effectiveness weighted by costs+side-effects, I rank them as follows:
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)
Discussions of PEA mention that it’s almost useless without a MAOI to pave the way; hence, when I decided to get deprenyl and noticed that deprenyl is a MAOI, I decided to also give PEA a second chance in conjunction with deprenyl. Unfortunately, in part due to my own shenanigans, Nubrain canceled the deprenyl order and so I have 20g of PEA sitting around. Well, it’ll keep until such time as I do get a MAOI.
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.
I can test fish oil for mood, since the other claimed benefits like anti-schizophrenia are too hard to test. The medical student trial (Kiecolt-Glaser et al 2011) did not see changes until visit 3, after 3 weeks of supplementation. (Visit 1, 3 weeks, visit 2, supplementation started for 3 weeks, visit 3, supplementation continued 3 weeks, visit 4 etc.) There were no tests in between the test starting week 1 and starting week 3, so I can’t pin it down any further. This suggests randomizing in 2 or 3 week blocks. (For an explanation of blocking, see the footnote in the Zeo page.)
Whether you want to optimise your nutrition during exam season or simply want to stay sharp in your next work meeting, paying attention to your diet can really pay off. Although there is no single 'brain food' that can protect against age-related disorders such as Alzheimers' or dementia, and there are many other medical conditions that can affect the brain, paying attention to what you eat gives you the best chance of getting all the nutrients you need for cognitive health.
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
Taurine (Examine.com) was another gamble on my part, based mostly on its inclusion in energy drinks. I didn’t do as much research as I should have: it came as a shock to me when I read in Wikipedia that taurine has been shown to prevent oxidative stress induced by exercise and was an antioxidant - oxidative stress is a key part of how exercise creates health benefits and antioxidants inhibit those benefits.
Still, even if you acknowledge that cosmetic neurology is here to stay, there is something dispiriting about the way the drugs are used - the kind of aspirations they open up, or don't. Jonathan Eisen, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Davis, is sceptical of what he mockingly calls "brain doping". During a recent conversation, he spoke about colleagues who take neuroenhancers in order to grind out grant proposals. "It's weird to me that people are taking these drugs to write grants," he said. "I mean, if you came up with some really interesting paper that was spurred by taking some really interesting drug - magic mushrooms or something - that would make more sense to me. In the end you're only as good as the ideas you've come up with."
Clinical psychiatrist Emily Deans has a private practice in Massachusetts and teaches at Harvard Medical School. She told me by phone that, in principle, there's "probably nothing dangerous" about the occasional course of nootropics for a hunting trip, finals week, or some big project. Beyond that, she suggests considering that it's possible to build up a tolerance to many neuroactive products if you use them often enough.
Provigil may well confer a temporary advantage on healthy people, but this doesn't mean that it's ready to replace your morning espresso. Anjan Chatterjee told me that there "just aren't enough studies of these drugs in normal people". One study, published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that Provigil can be habit-forming. A group led by Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, scanned the brains of 10 men after they had been given a placebo, and also after they had been given a dose of modafinil. The modafinil appeared to lead to an increase in the brain chemical dopamine. "Because drugs that increase dopamine have the potential for abuse," Volkow's report concluded, "these results suggest that risk for addiction in vulnerable persons merits heightened awareness." (Cephalon, in a response to the report, notes that Provigil's label urges physicians to monitor patients closely, especially those with a history of drug abuse.) On the website Erowid, where people vividly and anonymously report their experiences with legal and illegal drugs, some modafinil users have described a dependency on the drug. One man, who identified himself as a former biochemistry student, said that he had succeeded in kicking cocaine and opiate habits but couldn't stop using modafinil. Whenever he ran out of the drug, he said, "I start to freak out." After "four to five days" without it, "the head fog starts to come back".
Mosconi does not make a persuasive argument that the brain requires anything unique, anything more than the same good nutrition that benefits the entire body. Her Brain Food plan provides much good advice about healthy lifestyle and diet, but the good advice is mixed with unsupported claims, speculations, extrapolations that go far beyond the evidence, and some very questionable ideas. (Himalayan pink sea salt? Water that doesn’t hydrate?) Her plan might reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s; it might not. Is it any better than any of the many other plans recommended in the “Awakening from Alzheimer’s” videos? The only way to tell would be to do controlled studies, which have not been done or even contemplated, as far as I could see. It might not be any better than the general health advice provided by science-based conventional medical practitioners. There may be no difference between eating for your brain and eating for your entire organism.
But, thanks to the efforts of a number of remarkable scientists, researchers and plain-old neurohackers, we are beginning to put together a “whole systems” model of how all the different parts of the human brain work together and how they mesh with the complex regulatory structures of the body. It’s going to take a lot more data and collaboration to dial this model in, but already we are empowered to design stacks that can meaningfully deliver on the promise of nootropics “to enhance the quality of subjective experience and promote cognitive health, while having extremely low toxicity and possessing very few side effects.” It’s a type of brain hacking that is intended to produce noticeable cognitive benefits.