Recent developments include biosensor-equipped smart pills that sense the appropriate environment and location to release pharmacological agents. Medimetrics (Eindhoven, Netherlands) has developed a pill called IntelliCap with drug reservoir, pH and temperature sensors that release drugs to a defined region of the gastrointestinal tract. This device is CE marked and is in early stages of clinical trials for FDA approval. Recently, Google announced its intent to invest and innovate in this space.
But though it’s relatively new on the scene with ambitious young professionals, creatine has a long history with bodybuilders, who have been taking it for decades to improve their muscle #gains. In the US, sports supplements are a multibillion-dollar industry – and the majority contain creatine. According to a survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs last year, 22% of adults said they had taken a sports supplement in the last year. If creatine was going to have a major impact in the workplace, surely we would have seen some signs of this already.
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The use of cognitive enhancers by healthy individuals sparked debate about ethics and safety. Cognitive enhancement by pharmaceutical means was considered a form of illicit drug use in some places, even while other cognitive enhancers, such as caffeine and nicotine, were freely available. The conflict therein raised the possibility for further acceptance of smart drugs in the future. However, the long-term effects of smart drugs on otherwise healthy brains were unknown, delaying safety assessments.
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).
“Cavin has done an amazing job in all aspects of his life. Overcoming the horrific life threatening accident, and then going on to do whatever he can to help others with his contagious wonderful attitude. This book is an easy to understand fact filled manual for anyone, but especially those who are or are caregivers for a loved one with tbi. I also highly recommend his podcast series.”
Scientists found that the drug can disrupt the way memories are stored. This ability could be invaluable in treating trauma victims to prevent associated stress disorders. The research has also triggered suggestions that licensing these memory-blocking drugs may lead to healthy people using them to erase memories of awkward conversations, embarrassing blunders and any feelings for that devious ex-girlfriend.
One fairly powerful nootropic substance that, appropriately, has fallen out of favor is nicotine. It’s the chemical that gives tobacco products their stimulating kick. It isn’t what makes them so deadly, but it does make smoking very addictive. When Europeans learned about tobacco’s use from indigenous tribes they encountered in the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries, they got hooked on its mood-altering effects right away and even believed it could cure joint pain, epilepsy, and the plague. Recently, researchers have been testing the effects of nicotine that’s been removed from tobacco, and they believe that it might help treat neurological disorders including Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia; it may also improve attention and focus. But, please, don’t start smoking or vaping. Check out these 14 weird brain exercises that make you smarter.
Coconut oil was recommended by Pontus Granström on the Dual N-Back mailing list for boosting energy & mental clarity. It is fairly cheap (~$13 for 30 ounces) and tastes surprisingly good; it has a very bad reputation in some parts, but seems to be in the middle of a rehabilitation. Seth Robert’s Buttermind experiment found no mental benefits to coconut oil (and benefits to eating butter), but I wonder.
This formula presents a relatively high price and one bottle of 60 tables, at the recommended dosage of two tablets per day with a meal, a bottle provides a month’s supply. The secure online purchase is available on the manufacturer’s site as well as at several online retailers. Although no free trials or money back guarantees are available at this time, the manufacturer provides free shipping if the desired order exceeds a certain amount. With time different online retailers could offer some advantages depending on the amount purchased, so an online research is advised before purchase, as to assess the market and find the best solution.

The prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain is the zone that produces such representations, and it is the focus of Arnsten’s work. “The way the prefrontal cortex creates these representations is by having pyramidal cells – they’re actually shaped like little pyramids – exciting each other. They keep each other firing, even when there’s no information coming in from the environment to stimulate the circuits,” she explains.
Our 2nd choice for a Brain and Memory supplement is Clari-T by Life Seasons. We were pleased to see that their formula included 3 of the 5 necessary ingredients Huperzine A, Phosphatidylserine and Bacopin. In addition, we liked that their product came in a vegetable capsule. The product contains silica and rice bran, though, which we are not sure is necessary.

NGF may sound intriguing, but the price is a dealbreaker: at suggested doses of 1-100μg (NGF dosing in humans for benefits is, shall we say, not an exact science), and a cost from sketchy suppliers of $1210/100μg/$470/500μg/$750/1000μg/$1000/1000μg/$1030/1000μg/$235/20μg. (Levi-Montalcini was presumably able to divert some of her lab’s production.) A year’s supply then would be comically expensive: at the lowest doses of 1-10μg using the cheapest sellers (for something one is dumping into one’s eyes?), it could cost anywhere up to $10,000.

Looking at the prices, the overwhelming expense is for modafinil. It’s a powerful stimulant - possibly the single most effective ingredient in the list - but dang expensive. Worse, there’s anecdotal evidence that one can develop tolerance to modafinil, so we might be wasting a great deal of money on it. (And for me, modafinil isn’t even very useful in the daytime: I can’t even notice it.) If we drop it, the cost drops by a full $800 from $1761 to $961 (almost halving) and to $0.96 per day. A remarkable difference, and if one were genetically insensitive to modafinil, one would definitely want to remove it.
Finally, a workforce high on stimulants wouldn’t necessarily be more productive overall. “One thinks ‘are these things dangerous?’ – and that’s important to consider in the short term,” says Huberman. “But there’s also a different question, which is: ‘How do you feel the day afterwards?’ Maybe you’re hyper-focused for four hours, 12 hours, but then you’re below baseline for 24 or 48.”
I noticed what may have been an effect on my dual n-back scores; the difference is not large (▃▆▃▃▂▂▂▂▄▅▂▄▂▃▅▃▄ vs ▃▄▂▂▃▅▂▂▄▁▄▃▅▂▃▂▄▂▁▇▃▂▂▄▄▃▃▂▃▂▂▂▃▄▄▃▆▄▄▂▃▄▃▁▂▂▂▃▂▄▂▁▁▂▄▁▃▂▄) and appears mostly in the averages - Toomim’s quick two-sample t-test gave p=0.23, although a another analysis gives p=0.138112. One issue with this before-after quasi-experiment is that one would expect my scores to slowly rise over time and hence a fish oil after would yield a score increase - the 3.2 point difference could be attributable to that, placebo effect, or random variation etc. But an accidentally noticed effect (d=0.28) is a promising start. An experiment may be worth doing given that fish oil does cost a fair bit each year: randomized blocks permitting an fish-oil-then-placebo comparison would take care of the first issue, and then blinding (olive oil capsules versus fish oil capsules?) would take care of the placebo worry.
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?
In nootropic stacks, it’s almost always used as a counterbalance to activating ingredients like caffeine. L-Theanine, in combination with caffeine, increases alertness, reaction time, and general attention [40, 41]. At the same time, it reduces possible headaches and removes the jitteriness caused by caffeine [42]. It takes the edge of other nootropic compounds.
Not all drug users are searching for a chemical escape hatch. A newer and increasingly normalized drug culture is all about heightening one’s current relationship to reality—whether at work or school—by boosting the brain’s ability to think under stress, stay alert and productive for long hours, and keep track of large amounts of information. In the name of becoming sharper traders, medical interns, or coders, people are taking pills typically prescribed for conditions including ADHD, narcolepsy, and Alzheimer’s. Others down “stacks” of special “nootropic” supplements.

the rise of IP scofflaw countries which enable the manufacture of known drugs: India does not respect the modafinil patents, enabling the cheap generics we all use, and Chinese piracetam manufacturers don’t give a damn about the FDA’s chilling-effect moves in the US. If there were no Indian or Chinese manufacturers, where would we get our modafinil? Buy them from pharmacies at $10 a pill or worse? It might be worthwhile, but think of the chilling effect on new users.
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.

Most of the most solid fish oil results seem to meliorate the effects of age; in my 20s, I’m not sure they are worth the cost. But I would probably resume fish oil in my 30s or 40s when aging really becomes a concern. So the experiment at most will result in discontinuing for a decade. At $X a year, that’s a net present value of sum $ map (\n -> 70 / (1 + 0.05)^n) [1..10] = $540.5.


A study mentioned in Neuropsychopharmacology as of August 2002, revealed 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. It is also 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 improving memory and attention.
Two increasingly popular options are amphetamines and methylphenidate, which are prescription drugs sold under the brand names Adderall and Ritalin. In the United States, both are approved as treatments for people with ADHD, a behavioural disorder which makes it hard to sit still or concentrate. Now they’re also widely abused by people in highly competitive environments, looking for a way to remain focused on specific tasks.
Phenserine, as well as the drugs Aricept and Exelon, which are already on the market, work by increasing the level of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is deficient in people with the disease. A neurotransmitter is a chemical that allows communication between nerve cells in the brain. In people with Alzheimer's disease, many brain cells have died, so the hope is to get the most out of those that remain by flooding the brain with acetylcholine.
(In particular, I don’t think it’s because there’s a sudden new surge of drugs. FDA drug approval has been decreasing over the past few decades, so this is unlikely a priori. More specifically, many of the major or hot drugs go back a long time. Bacopa goes back millennia, melatonin I don’t even know, piracetam was the ’60s, modafinil was ’70s or ’80s, ALCAR was ’80s AFAIK, Noopept & coluracetam were ’90s, and so on.)

Studies show that B vitamin supplements can protect the brain from cognitive decline. These natural nootropics can also reduce the likelihood of developing neurodegenerative diseases. The prevention of Alzheimer’s and even dementia are among the many benefits. Due to their effects on mental health, B vitamins make an excellent addition to any smart drug stack.


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).
The title question, whether prescription stimulants are smart pills, does not find a unanimous answer in the literature. The preponderance of evidence is consistent with enhanced consolidation of long-term declarative memory. For executive function, the overall pattern of evidence is much less clear. Over a third of the findings show no effect on the cognitive processes of healthy nonelderly adults. Of the rest, most show enhancement, although impairment has been reported (e.g., Rogers et al., 1999), and certain subsets of participants may experience impairment (e.g., higher performing participants and/or those homozygous for the met allele of the COMT gene performed worse on drug than placebo; Mattay et al., 2000, 2003). Whereas the overall trend is toward enhancement of executive function, the literature contains many exceptions to this trend. Furthermore, publication bias may lead to underreporting of these exceptions.

20 March, 2x 13mg; first time, took around 11:30AM, half-life 3 hours, so halved by 2:30PM. Initial reaction: within 20 minutes, started to feel light-headed, experienced a bit of physical clumsiness while baking bread (dropped things or poured too much thrice); that began to pass in an hour, leaving what felt like a cheerier mood and less anxiety. Seems like it mostly wore off by 6PM. Redosed at 8PM TODO: maybe take a look at the HRV data? looks interestingly like HRV increased thanks to the tianeptine 21 March, 2x17mg; seemed to buffer effects of FBI visit 22 March, 2x 23 March, 2x 24 March, 2x 25 March, 2x 26 March, 2x 27 March, 2x 28 March, 2x 7 April, 2x 8 April, 2x 9 April, 2x 10 April, 2x 11 April, 2x 12 April, 2x 23 April, 2x 24 April, 2x 25 April, 2x 26 April, 2x 27 April, 2x 28 April, 2x 29 April, 2x 7 May, 2x 8 May, 2x 9 May, 2x 10 May, 2x 3 June, 2x 4 June, 2x 5 June, 2x 30 June, 2x 30 July, 1x 31 July, 1x 1 August, 2x 2 August, 2x 3 August, 2x 5 August, 2x 6 August, 2x 8 August, 2x 10 August, 2x 12 August: 2x 14 August: 2x 15 August: 2x 16 August: 1x 18 August: 2x 19 August: 2x 21 August: 2x 23 August: 1x 24 August: 1x 25 August: 1x 26 August: 2x 27 August: 1x 29 August: 2x 30 August: 1x 02 September: 1x 04 September: 1x 07 September: 2x 20 September: 1x 21 September: 2x 24 September: 2x 25 September: 2x 26 September: 2x 28 September: 2x 29 September: 2x 5 October: 2x 6 October: 1x 19 October: 1x 20 October: 1x 27 October: 1x 4 November: 1x 5 November: 1x 8 November: 1x 9 November: 2x 10 November: 1x 11 November: 1x 12 November: 1x 25 November: 1x 26 November: 1x 27 November: 1x 4 December: 2x 27 December: 1x 28 December: 1x 2017 7 January: 1x 8 January: 2x 10 January: 1x 16 January: 1x 17 January: 1x 20 January: 1x 24 January: 1x 25 January: 2x 27 January: 2x 28 January: 2x 1 February: 2x 3 February: 2x 8 February: 1x 16 February: 2x 17 February: 2x 18 February: 1x 22 February: 1x 27 February: 2x 14 March: 1x 15 March: 1x 16 March: 2x 17 March: 2x 18 March: 2x 19 March: 2x 20 March: 2x 21 March: 2x 22 March: 2x 23 March: 1x 24 March: 2x 25 March: 2x 26 March: 2x 27 March: 2x 28 March: 2x 29 March: 2x 30 March: 2x 31 March: 2x 01 April: 2x 02 April: 1x 03 April: 2x 04 April: 2x 05 April: 2x 06 April: 2x 07 April: 2x 08 April: 2x 09 April: 2x 10 April: 2x 11 April: 2x 20 April: 1x 21 April: 1x 22 April: 1x 23 April: 1x 24 April: 1x 25 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October: 2x 04 October: 2x 05 October: 2x 06 October: 2x 07 October: 2x 08 October: 2x 09 October: 2x 10 October: 2x 11 October: 2x 12 October: 2x 13 October: 2x 14 October: 2x 15 October: 2x 16 October: 2x 17 October: 2x 18 October: 2x 20 October: 2x 21 October: 2x 22 October: 2x 23 October: 2x 24 October: 2x 25 October: 2x 26 October: 2x 27 October: 2x 28 October: 2x 29 October: 2x 30 October: 2x 31 October: 2x 01 November: 2x 02 November: 2x 03 November: 2x 04 November: 2x 05 November: 2x 06 November: 2x 07 November: 2x 08 November: 2x 09 November: 2x 10 November: 2x 11 November: 2x 12 November: 2x 13 November: 2x 14 November: 2x 15 November: 2x 16 November: 2x 17 November: 2x 18 November: 2x 19 November: 2x 20 November: 2x 21 November: 2x 22 November: 2x 23 November: 2x 24 November: 2x 25 November: 2x 26 November: 2x 27 November: 2x 28 November: 2x 29 November: 2x 30 November: 2x 01 December: 2x 02 December: 2x 03 December: 2x 04 December: 2x 05 December: 2x 06 December: 2x 07 December: 2x 08 December: 2x 09 December: 2x 10 December: 2x 11 December: 2x 12 December: 2x 13 December: 2x 14 December: 2x 15 December: 2x 16 December: 2x 17 December: 2x 18 December: 2x 19 December: 2x 20 December: 2x 21 December: 2x 22 December: 2x 23 December: 2x 24 December: 2x 25 December: 2x ran out, last day: 25 December 2017 –>
In the nearer future, Lynch points to nicotinic receptor agents – molecules that act on the neurotransmitter receptors affected by nicotine – as ones to watch when looking out for potential new cognitive enhancers. Sarter agrees: a class of agents known as α4β2* nicotinic receptor agonists, he says, seem to act on mechanisms that control attention. Among the currently known candidates, he believes they come closest “to fulfilling the criteria for true cognition enhancers.”
Omega-3 fatty acids: DHA and EPA – two Cochrane Collaboration reviews on the use of supplemental omega-3 fatty acids for ADHD and learning disorders conclude that there is limited evidence of treatment benefits for either disorder.[42][43] Two other systematic reviews noted no cognition-enhancing effects in the general population or middle-aged and older adults.[44][45]
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