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:
I have no particularly compelling story for why this might be a correlation and not causation. It could be placebo, but I wasn’t expecting that. It could be selection effect (days on which I bothered to use the annoying LED set are better days) but then I’d expect the off-days to be below-average and compared to the 2 years of trendline before, there doesn’t seem like much of a fall.
One should note the serious caveats here: it is a small in vitro study of a single category of human cells with an effect size that is not clear on a protein which feeds into who-knows-what pathways. It is not a result in a whole organism on any clinically meaningful endpoint, even if we take it at face-value (many results never replicate). A look at followup work citing Rapuri et al 2007 is not encouraging: Google Scholar lists no human studies of any kind, much less high-quality studies like RCTs; just some rat followups on the calcium effect. This is not to say Rapuri et al 2007 is a bad study, just that it doesn’t bear the weight people are putting on it: if you enjoy caffeine, this is close to zero evidence that you should reduce or drop caffeine consumption; if you’re taking too much caffeine, you already have plenty of reasons to reduce; if you’re drinking lots of coffee, you already have plenty of reasons to switch to tea; etc.
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A large review published in 2011 found that the drug aids with the type of memory that allows us to explicitly remember past events (called long-term conscious memory), as opposed to the type that helps us remember how to do things like riding a bicycle without thinking about it (known as procedural or implicit memory.) The evidence is mixed on its effect on other types of executive function, such as planning or ability on fluency tests, which measure a person’s ability to generate sets of data—for example, words that begin with the same letter.
There are over a thousand websites and hundreds of reference guides chock full of complicated methods for combining many of the compounds you’ve just discovered. There’s a reason for this: the practice of “stacking” nootropics and smart drugs into specific combinations can be far more powerful and efficacious than consuming a single, lonely compound in isolation. For example, dosing choline sources with your morning coffee can make your brain feel fresh for hours or mixing curcumin with black pepper can dramatically amp up the neural anti-inflammatory effects of both compounds. Ultimately, a teaspoon of lion’s mane extract just isn’t as titillating as lion’s mane blended with caffeine, theanine, nicotine and a touch of vinpocetine.
The effects of piracetam on healthy volunteers have been studied even less than those of Adderall or modafinil. Most peer-reviewed studies focus on its effects on dementia or on people who have suffered a seizure or a concussion. Many of the studies that look at other neurological effects were performed on rats and mice. Piracetam's mechanisms of action are not understood, though it may increase levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. In 2008 a committee of the British Academy of Medical Sciences noted that many of the clinical trials of piracetam for dementia were methodologically flawed. Another published review of the available studies of the drug concluded that the evidence "does not support the use of piracetam in the treatment of people with dementia or cognitive impairment", but suggested that further investigation might be warranted. I asked Seltzer if he thought he should wait for scientific ratification of piracetam. He laughed. "I don't want to," he said. "Because it's working."
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This is the same fallacious argument made for superfoods. The same levels of dietary nutrients can be supplied by eating more of other foods. Caviar contains more omega-3s than salmon, but the typical serving of caviar is much smaller than the typical serving of salmon. And it’s possible to get plenty of omega-3s in a varied diet without eating either one.
Please take care when you’re out there on the web or in the world shopping for something to help that in progress novel or craft project of yours along. Take all care when planning on taking anything, be it a nootropic, smart drug, or brain enhancer, and do your research before buying. Make sure your so-called ‘best brain pill’ really is the best brain pill for you.
Adderall is a mix of 4 amphetamine salts (FDA adverse events), and not much better than the others (but perhaps less addictive); as such, like caffeine or methamphetamine, it is not strictly a nootropic but a cognitive enhancer and can be tricky to use right (for how one should use stimulants, see How To Take Ritalin Correctly). I ordered 10x10mg Adderall IR off Silk Road (Wikipedia). On the 4th day after confirmation from seller, the package arrived. It was a harmless looking little padded mailer. Adderall as promised: 10 blue pills with markings, in a double ziplock baggy (reasonable, it’s not cocaine or anything). They matched pretty much exactly the descriptions of the generic I had found online. (Surprisingly, apparently both the brand name and the generic are manufactured by the same pharmacorp.)
Sure, you could certainly swallow too much St. John’s Wort and create the same type of serotonin or neurotransmitter issues you could create with a synthetic smart drug, but it’s far more difficult to harm yourself with a nootropic compared to a synthetic smart drug. Although synthetic, laboratory-designed nootropics do indeed exist, even those are not as harsh on the biology as a smart drug and have a mechanism of action that is a bit more natural. Let’s begin with the more natural nootropics.
Nootropics still exist largely in an unregulated gray area, which makes users somewhat hesitant to discuss their regimens. But I did speak to several people who told tales of increased productivity and sharpened focus. Bob Carter, a financial analyst for a start-up called LendingHome, says that nootropics have replaced his other morning stimulant. “I basically think of it as a substitute for coffee,” he says. “I think the problem with a cappuccino from Starbucks is that it gives you the feeling of being jittery. Whereas with this particular supplement, I feel more calm.”
The use of prescription stimulants is especially prevalent among students. Surveys suggest that 0.7–4.5% of German students have used cognitive enhancers in their lifetime. Stimulants such as dimethylamylamine and methylphenidate are used on college campuses and by younger groups. Based upon studies of self-reported illicit stimulant use, 5–35% of college students use diverted ADHD stimulants, which are primarily intended for performance enhancement rather than as recreational drugs. Several factors positively and negatively influence an individual's willingness to use a drug for the purpose of enhancing cognitive performance. Among them are personal characteristics, drug characteristics, and characteristics of the social context.