Last winter, I spoke again with Alex, the Harvard graduate, and found that, after a break of several months, he had gone back to taking Adderall - a small dose every day. He felt that he was learning to use the drug in a more "disciplined" manner. Now, he said, it was less about staying up late to finish work he should have done earlier, and more "about staying focused on work, which makes me want to work longer hours". What employer would object to that?


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.
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.
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After a month of testing nootropics, I’m not ready to commit to them permanently. They’re simply too untested, and while “move fast and break things” might be a good approach to building software, it’s not what I want for my brain. Still, I think we’ll likely hear more about nootropics, especially as recreational users of more powerful prescription drugs like Adderall and modafinil look for less harsh alternatives. Sometimes, when you’re working, you don’t want to put your brain on jet fuel—a little unleaded gas will do. And for those moments, nootropics could be a fertile testing ground for the intrepid body-hacker.
From the standpoint of absorption, the drinking of tobacco juice and the interaction of the infusion or concoction with the small intestine is a highly effective method of gastrointestinal nicotine administration. The epithelial area of the intestines is incomparably larger than the mucosa of the upper tract including the stomach, and the small intestine represents the area with the greatest capacity for absorption (Levine 1983:81-83). As practiced by most of the sixty-four tribes documented here, intoxicated states are achieved by drinking tobacco juice through the mouth and/or nose…The large intestine, although functionally little equipped for absorption, nevertheless absorbs nicotine that may have passed through the small intestine.
Is lifestyle truly important, though? According to Dr. Lisa, "genes load the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger." As someone who grew up very aware of my genetic predisposition (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, breast cancer — you name it and someone in my family has it), I always thought that this weighed heavily on whether or not someone manifests an illness. But, groundbreaking research on epigenetics actually states the contrary. 
Not that everyone likes to talk about using the drugs. People don’t necessarily want to reveal how they get their edge and there is stigma around people trying to become smarter than their biology dictates, says Lawler. Another factor is undoubtedly the risks associated with ingesting substances bought on the internet and the confusing legal statuses of some. Phenylpiracetam, for example, is a prescription drug in Russia. It isn’t illegal to buy in the US, but the man-made chemical exists in a no man’s land where it is neither approved nor outlawed for human consumption, notes Lawler.

It’s basic economics: the price of a good must be greater than cost of producing said good, but only under perfect competition will price = cost. Otherwise, the price is simply whatever maximizes profit for the seller. (Bottled water doesn’t really cost $2 to produce.) This can lead to apparently counter-intuitive consequences involving price discrimination & market segmentation - such as damaged goods which are the premium product which has been deliberately degraded and sold for less (some Intel CPUs, some headphones etc.). The most famous examples were railroads; one notable passage by French engineer-economist Jules Dupuit describes the motivation for the conditions in 1849:
Ginkgo Biloba Leaf(23% extract), Phosphatidylserine 4% Complex(consisting of Lecithin and Phosphatidylserine),N-Acetyl L-Carnitine HCI, St. John's Wort(0.3% extract)(fower heads),L-Glutamine,Dimethylaminoethanol Bitartrate, Bacopa monnieri Leaf Extract(20% bacosides), Vinpocetine(seeds), Huperzine-A(aerial Plant) ; other ingredients: Gelatin(bovine), vegetable magnesium stearate, microcrystalline cellulose and silicon dioxide
The single most reliable way to protect our brain cells as we age, most researchers agree, is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are chock-full of antioxidants and nutrients. In a study published in the October 1997 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers tested 260 people aged 65 to 90 with a series of mental exercises that involved memorizing words or doing mental arithmetic. The top performers were those who consumed the most fruits and vegetables and ate the least artery-clogging saturated fat.
Here’s how it works: Donepezil boosts serotonin and acetylcholine in the brain, chemicals that are usually found in high concentrations in the brains of young children which naturally decrease with age. As a cholinesterase inhibitor, Donezepil boosts brain function by increasing the amount of acetylcholine around nerve endings. In dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, the drug has been shown to improve memory function.
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.)
Nicotine’s stimulant effects are general and do not come with the same tweakiness and aggression associated with the amphetamines, and subjectively are much cleaner with less of a crash. I would say that its stimulant effects are fairly strong, around that of modafinil. Another advantage is that nicotine operates through nicotinic receptors and so doesn’t cross-tolerate with dopaminergic stimulants (hence one could hypothetically cycle through nicotine, modafinil, amphetamines, and caffeine, hitting different receptors each time).
Caffeine dose dependently decreased the 1,25(OH)(2)D(3) induced VDR expression and at concentrations of 1 and 10mM, VDR expression was decreased by about 50-70%, respectively. In addition, the 1,25(OH)(2)D(3) induced alkaline phosphatase activity was also reduced at similar doses thus affecting the osteoblastic function. The basal ALP activity was not affected with increasing doses of caffeine. Overall, our results suggest that caffeine affects 1,25(OH)(2)D(3) stimulated VDR protein expression and 1,25(OH)(2)D(3) mediated actions in human osteoblast cells.
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
Finally, it’s not clear that caffeine results in performance gains after long-term use; homeostasis/tolerance is a concern for all stimulants, but especially for caffeine. It is plausible that all caffeine consumption does for the long-term chronic user is restore performance to baseline. (Imagine someone waking up and drinking coffee, and their performance improves - well, so would the performance of a non-addict who is also slowly waking up!) See for example, James & Rogers 2005, Sigmon et al 2009, and Rogers et al 2010. A cross-section of thousands of participants in the Cambridge brain-training study found caffeine intake showed negligible effect sizes for mean and component scores (participants were not told to use caffeine, but the training was recreational & difficult, so one expects some difference).
That really says it all: there’s an initial spike in MP, which reads like the promised stimulative effects possibly due to fixing a deficiency (a spike which doesn’t seem to have any counterparts in the previous history of MP), followed by a drastic plunge in the magnesium days but not so much the control days (indicating an acute effect when overloaded with magnesium), a partial recovery during the non-experimental Christmas break, another plunge, and finally recovery after the experiment has ended.
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.
Alex's sense of who uses stimulants for so-called "non-medical" purposes is borne out by two dozen or so scientific studies. In 2005 a team led by Sean Esteban McCabe, a professor at the University of Michigan, reported that in the previous year 4.1% of American undergraduates had taken prescription stimulants for off-label use - at one school the figure was 25%, while a 2002 study at a small college found that more than 35% of the students had used prescription stimulants non-medically in the previous year.
The experiment then is straightforward: cut up a fresh piece of gum, randomly select from it and an equivalent dry piece of gum, and do 5 rounds of dual n-back to test attention/energy & WM. (If it turns out to be placebo, I’ll immediately use the remaining active dose: no sense in wasting gum, and this will test whether nigh-daily use renders nicotine gum useless, similar to how caffeine may be useless if taken daily. If there’s 3 pieces of active gum left, then I wrap it very tightly in Saran wrap which is sticky and air-tight.) The dose will be 1mg or 1/4 a gum. I cut up a dozen pieces into 4 pieces for 48 doses and set them out to dry. Per the previous power analyses, 48 groups of DNB rounds likely will be enough for detecting small-medium effects (partly since we will be only looking at one metric - average % right per 5 rounds - with no need for multiple correction). Analysis will be one-tailed, since we’re looking for whether there is a clear performance improvement and hence a reason to keep using nicotine gum (rather than whether nicotine gum might be harmful).
Speaking of addictive substances, some people might have considered cocaine a nootropic (think: the finance industry in Wall Street in the 1980s). The incredible damage this drug can do is clear, but the plant from which it comes has been used to make people feel more energetic and less hungry, and to counteract altitude sickness in Andean South American cultures for 5,000 years, according to an opinion piece that Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales Ayma, wrote for the New York Times.
A third of participants in clinical trials on Modafinil have reported crippling headaches.  An additional 11% experienced nausea, while others reported an array of other side-effects ranging from nervousness to diarrhea.  Dizziness and insomnia may also result from Modafinil use.   I can attest that the side effects are very real.  In fact, I had to stop using Modafinil after 2 days when my headaches became so intense I ended up at the ER.
So how do I pull off this stack? It’s quite simple, really. I order 1-milligram nicotine toothpicks on Amazon that I suck on when I’m downing a cup of coffee (the cinnamon flavor blends quite nicely with a cup o’ joe) and I also keep a dispenser of 1.5-milligram nicotine mints in my office. Warning: nicotine can be addictive. I recommend limiting yourself to no more than 1-2 toothpicks and 1-2 mints per day, and only using on more cognitively demanding days. As a bonus, both caffeine and nicotine are potent ergogenic, physical performance-enhancing aids (albeit in higher amounts, closer to 100+ milligrams for caffeine and 2.5+ milligrams for nicotine).
If Brainfood was important to you, help honor our work in your own life. Try cooking a new recipe and sharing it with a neighbor. Extend grace to those learning new skills. Volunteer somewhere that makes you smile and also respects your time. Create spaces where young people from diverse backgrounds are valued and seen. And always, always make sure to share your snacks.
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?)

Between midnight and 1:36 AM, I do four rounds of n-back: 50/39/30/55%. I then take 1/4th of the pill and have some tea. At roughly 1:30 AM, AngryParsley linked a SF anthology/novel, Fine Structure, which sucked me in for the next 3-4 hours until I finally finished the whole thing. At 5:20 AM, circumstances forced me to go to bed, still having only taken 1/4th of the pill and that determines this particular experiment of sleep; I quickly do some n-back: 29/20/20/54/42. I fall asleep in 13 minutes and sleep for 2:48, for a ZQ of 28 (a full night being ~100). I did not notice anything from that possible modafinil+caffeine interaction. Subjectively upon awakening: I don’t feel great, but I don’t feel like 2-3 hours of sleep either. N-back at 10 AM after breakfast: 25/54/44/38/33. These are not very impressive, but seem normal despite taking the last armodafinil ~9 hours ago; perhaps the 3 hours were enough. Later that day, at 11:30 PM (just before bed): 26/56/47.

One of the most common strategies to beat this is cycling. Users who cycle their nootropics take them for a predetermined period, (usually around five days) before taking a two-day break from using them. Once the two days are up, they resume the cycle. By taking a break, nootropic users reduce the tolerance for nootropics and lessen the risk of regression and tolerance symptoms.
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