More photos from this reportage are featured in Quartz’s new book The Objects that Power the Global Economy. You may not have seen these objects before, but they’ve already changed the way you live. Each chapter examines an object that is driving radical change in the global economy. This is from the chapter on the drug modafinil, which explores modifying the mind for a more productive life.
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.
However, anthropology suggests that paleolithic diets were dependent of where people lived. Close to shores, they ate more fish; within the forest they ate plants; in areas with herbivores they ate more meat. Also, humans ate grains millions of years before the agricultural revolution. And, we can digest those just fine because of an enzyme earmarked to digest grains (amylase). So, paleolithic diets were as varied as they are today.
Farah told me: "These drugs will definitely help some technically normal people - that is, people who don't meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD or any kind of cognitive impairment." But, she emphasised, "They will help people in the lower end of the ability range more than in the higher end." One explanation for this phenomenon might be that the more adept you are at a given task, the less room you have to improve. Farah has a hunch that there may be another reason that existing drugs - so far, at least - don't offer as much help to people with greater intellectual abilities. Drugs like Ritalin and Adderall work in part by elevating the amount of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is something you want just enough of: too little, and you may not be as alert and motivated as you need to be; too much, and you may feel overstimulated. Neuroscientists have discovered that some people have a gene that leads the brain to break down dopamine faster, leaving less of it available; such people are generally a little worse at certain cognitive tasks. People with more available dopamine are generally somewhat better at the same tasks. It makes sense, then, that people with naturally low dopamine would benefit more from an artificial boost.
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With this experiment, I broke from the previous methodology, taking the remaining and final half Nuvigil at midnight. I am behind on work and could use a full night to catch up. By 8 AM, I am as usual impressed by the Nuvigil - with Modalert or something, I generally start to feel down by mid-morning, but with Nuvigil, I feel pretty much as I did at 1 AM. Sleep: 9:51/9:15/8:27
Nootropic (new-tro-pik) is the term for supplements, also known as smart drugs, that improve brain function. They can be food substances like phenethylamine and L-Theanine, found in chocolate and green tea, respectively. Nootropics also include extracted and purified components of medicinal plants, as well as substances synthesized from chemical precursors, such as piracetam, the world's first official nootropic (piracetam was created in 1964 in Belgium by a team of scientists whose leader, Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, coined the term). Since then piracetam has been widely used as a cognitive enhancer and to treat neurological diseases like Alzheimer's.
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.
The fish oil can be considered a free sunk cost: I would take it in the absence of an experiment. The empty pill capsules could be used for something else, so we’ll put the 500 at $5. Filling 500 capsules with fish and olive oil will be messy and take an hour. Taking them regularly can be added to my habitual morning routine for vitamin D and the lithium experiment, so that is close to free but we’ll call it an hour over the 250 days. Recording mood/productivity is also free a sunk cost as it’s necessary for the other experiments; but recording dual n-back scores is more expensive: each round is ~2 minutes and one wants >=5, so each block will cost >10 minutes, so 18 tests will be >180 minutes or >3 hours. So >5 hours. Total: 5 + (>5 \times 7.25) = >41.
the larger size of the community enables economies of scale and increases the peak sophistication possible. In a small nootropics community, there is likely to be no one knowledgeable about statistics/experimentation/biochemistry/neuroscience/whatever-you-need-for-a-particular-discussion, and the available funds increase: consider /r/Nootropics’s testing program, which is doable only because it’s a large lucrative community to sell to so the sellers are willing to donate funds for independent lab tests/Certificates of Analysis (COAs) to be done. If there were 1000 readers rather than 23,295, how could this ever happen short of one of those 1000 readers being very altruistic?
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
After I ran out of creatine, I noticed the increased difficulty, and resolved to buy it again at some point; many months later, there was a Smart Powders sale so bought it in my batch order, $12 for 1000g. As before, it made Taekwondo classes a bit easier. I paid closer attention this second time around and noticed that as one would expect, it only helped with muscular fatigue and did nothing for my aerobic issues. (I hate aerobic exercise, so it’s always been a weak point.) I eventually capped it as part of a sulbutiamine-DMAE-creatine-theanine mix. This ran out 1 May 2013. In March 2014, I spent $19 for 1kg of micronized creatine monohydrate to resume creatine use and also to use it as a placebo in a honey-sleep experiment testing Seth Roberts’s claim that a few grams of honey before bedtime would improve sleep quality: my usual flour placebo being unusable because the mechanism might be through simple sugars, which flour would digest into. (I did not do the experiment: it was going to be a fair amount of messy work capping the honey and creatine, and I didn’t believe Roberts’s claims for a second - my only reason to do it would be to prove the claim wrong but he’d just ignore me and no one else cares.) I didn’t try measuring out exact doses but just put a spoonful in my tea each morning (creatine is tasteless). The 1kg lasted from 25 March to 18 September or 178 days, so ~5.6g & $0.11 per day.
Is a powerful antioxidant that can help you deal with the brain aging process caused by the harmful effects of free radicals. This ingredient does an amazing job of protecting you against muscle catabolism and brain deterioration. In addition, it helps your blood vessels to expand, so all essential ingredients and oxygen are delivered to your brain. The traditional Chinese medicine has been using this herb to boost memory and mental performance.
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.
“Brain-berries” is what Steven Pratt, MD, author of SuperFoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life, calls these antioxidant-packed fruits on WebMD.com. This tiny but powerful berry helps protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. In a recent study, researchers gave a group of adults with mild cognitive impairment, a risk condition for Alzheimer’s, freeze-dried blueberry powder daily, while another group took a placebo. After 16 weeks, those who ate the blueberry powder (the equivalent of one cup of berries) had improved memory, better cognitive performance, and increased brain activity. Your everyday habits may also reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s.
The general cost of fish oil made me interested in possible substitutes. Seth Roberts uses exclusively flaxseed oil or flaxseed meal, and this seems to work well for him with subjective effects (eg. noticing his Chinese brands seemed to not work, possibly because they were unrefrigerated and slightly rancid). It’s been studied much less than fish oil, but omega acids are confusing enough in general (is there a right ratio? McCluskey’s roundup gives the impression claims about ratios may have been overstated) that I’m not convinced ALA is a much inferior replacement for fish oil’s mixes of EPA & DHA.
Potassium citrate powder is neither expensive nor cheap: I purchased 453g for $21. The powder is crystalline white, dissolves instantly in water, and largely tasteless (sort of saline & slightly unpleasant). The powder is 37% potassium by weight (the formula is C6H5K3O7) so 453g is actually 167g of potassium, so 80-160 days’ worth depending on dose.
She says purified water is bad because essential minerals are missing. She makes the ludicrous claim that purified water is “entirely incapable of hydrating you”! As sources of water she recommends coconut water and aloe vera juice, but she doesn’t provide any evidence that they have significantly beneficial effects compared to plain old tap water. She says energy drinks are not good for you because they are “chockful of manufactured minerals and salts.” Again, no references.
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.)
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).
These little chemicals prompt the immune system to kick in and fight back against the stress through inflammation, as though stress is an infection. While inflammation helps protect us against illnesses and repairs the body when you do something like cut yourself, chronic inflammation is a different animal. It’s been linked to autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, anxiety, high blood pressure and more. (2)
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.
These are the most highly studied ingredients and must be combined together to achieve effective results. If any one ingredient is missing in the formula, you may not get the full cognitive benefits of the pill. It is important to go with a company that has these critical ingredients as well as a complete array of supporting ingredients to improve their absorption and effectiveness. Anything less than the correct mix will not work effectively.
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.
The nootropic sulbutiamine, of the synthetic B-vitamin-derived nootropics family, is generally considered a low-risk supplement; however, some users have reported that the supplement has addictive qualities. While there is no firm evidence of sulbutiamine addiction, the risk may increase at high dosages. For instance, users who consume this supplement for 10 consecutive days may experience withdrawal for two to five days. There are also increased risks when sulbutiamine is taken with antipsychotic medications.
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!
A new all-in-one nootropic mix/company run by some people active on /r/nootropics; they offered me a month’s supply for free to try & review for them. At ~$100 a month (it depends on how many months one buys), it is not cheap (John Backus estimates one could buy the raw ingredients for $25/month) but it provides convenience & is aimed at people uninterested in spending a great deal of time reviewing research papers & anecdotes or capping their own pills (ie. people with lives) and it’s unlikely I could spare the money to subscribe if TruBrain worked well for me - but certainly there was no harm in trying it out.