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Nootropics: Better Living Through (Neuro) Chemistry

Nootropics is a strange-looking word that most people have never heard before. But the word nootropics refers to a topic that you will want to understand if you want to live better in the future.

In this post, I will give you the rundown on this very important topic. I’ll also talk a bit about my own experience with some nootropics.

No matter what your vision of a freer tomorrow looks like, I doubt it includes slow thinking, lack of focus, and a crummy memory. Especially for people like us who are building our own future, instead of following the herd. It is very hard to be productive and do great things when you feel dumb, can’t focus, and keep forgetting the damn keys!

But wouldn’t it be easier to build a freer tomorrow if you felt sharp, focused, and had a great memory? Of course it would. This is why you need to learn about nootropics. Let’s go.

What the Heck are Nootropics?

Nootropics are substances that help you think better, stay focused, or remember stuff. Or any combination of those things. Also called smart drugs or cognitive enhancers, nootropics are becoming ever better known. It seems everyone is using them:

  • College kids use them to get better grades (high school kids too)
  • Top executives and entrepreneurs use them to compete at a higher level than they otherwise would
  • Emergency room medics use them to stay sharp and focused in total chaos
  • Military pilots use them to stay awake on long, dangerous missions
  • People dreaming of a freer tomorrow use them to make those dreams come true faster

Nootropics vs Stimulants

We need to talk about the difference between nootropics and stimulants. Nootropics are substances that boost your cognition or memory. They act on certain neurotransmitters to change the way your brain works. But so do stimulants such as amphetamines, which are not considered nootropics.

The differences include:

  • Which neurotransmitters they affect
  • Nootropics generally have few side effects
  • They don’t cause you to crash after they wear off like stimulants do
  • Nootropics also don’t have the addiction risk that stimulants can have

But these differences are somewhat subjective. And some substances have characteristics of both nootropics and stimulants. Which category they fall in depends on which expert you care to listen to.

Finding Useful Nootropics

There are lots of substances that people claim will boost your cognition or memory. Many of them don’t work. Others have very subtle effects that only show up in lab testing. But there are some that actually do what they say when used in the real world.

Some of these substances are newish creations fresh out of some scientist’s lab. And some are expensive, hard to get, or even illegal. But others have been around for a long time and are easy to get your hands on.

A guy named Scott Alexander did a survey of nootropic users in 2014. This survey got nootropics users to rate the substances they use. The survey is full of useful information. Among other things, it says that YOU likely use a powerful natural nootropic every day.

Caffeine – Your Grandfather’s Nootropic

Caffeine is the most widely-used nootropic in existence. Caffeine is the active ingredient in coffee, which people have been using for over 1000 years.

cup of coffee

The caffeine in coffee has both stimulant and nootropic effects.

Caffeine straddles the line between nootropic and stimulant. It definitely has some stimulant effects. You can develop a tolerance to it, and you can crash after you use it.

But caffeine also has nootropic effects. It inhibits the function of adenosine in the brain, increasing alertness. If you have ever used caffeine to stay awake and alert, you are well aware of how this works.

Other Plant-Based Nootropics

Besides caffeine, there are several other plant substances with reported nootropic effects. Here are two examples:

Rhodiola Rosea

Studies have shown that the extracts from this plant can reduce fatigue and boost memory. It is also known to improve concentration.

I had access to a very pure, very strong supply of Rhodiola Rosea for a short while several years ago. I noticed major improvements in concentration and resisting fatigue.

Unfortunately, that supply lasted only a few weeks. After that, I only had access to the much weaker concoctions available in health food stores. These didn’t have any noticeable effect on me.

Huperzine A

This substance comes from a moss that grows in India and Southeast Asia. Studies have shown it to give some boost to memory. It works by partially blocking the function of Acetylcholinesterase in your brain. This results in higher levels of Acetylcholine, which is important for memory.

I have no personal experience with Huperzine A. In Mr. Alexander’s study, nootropics users rated Huperzine A as mildly effective.

Products from the Lab

Besides natural nootropics, there are potent cognitive enhancers that come out of labs. While this is a rapidly changing area, we can talk about two products to get a sense of it all: Adderall and Modafinil.

Adderall

Much of the cognitive enhancement from caffeine comes from its action as a stimulant. Adderall provides a much stronger boost because it is a much stronger stimulant. Adderall is a combination of two chemical forms of amphetamine. Doctors prescribe it to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.

It is no surprise that folks without these conditions would try this stuff when under the gun. Drinking black coffee or popping caffeine pills only takes you so far.

It turns out that Adderall does indeed improve cognitive performance in healthy people. Clinical trials show it can improve memory as well as attention. But remember that this drug is an amphetamine. Using this stuff for cognitive enhancement has serious risks.

Side effects from using Adderall can include:

  • Tachycardia
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Tolerance (requiring ever larger doses to get the same effect)
  • Crashing when the drug wears off
  • Addiction

In short, Adderall works as a cognitive enhancer, but if you use it, you are taking serious risks.

My Favorite Nootropic: Modafinil

Modafinil is a true nootropic. That is, it boosts your cognition and memory with few side effects. It doesn’t cause the crash amphetamine users can experience, and is not addictive.

Doctors prescribe Modafinil for people with narcolepsy and similar disorders. It is also used off-label to treat various conditions that cause fatigue. It is not a typical stimulant. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how it does what it does.

But as far as I am concerned, here are the important points:

  • It isn’t addictive
  • You don’t crash when it wears off
  • People have been safely using it since the 1990’s
  • It works

What Does “It Works” Mean?

What do I mean by, “It works?” I mean it boosts my focus and productivity tremendously. When I use Modafinil, I can completely lose track of time. Today, for example, I started working on a project around 8AM.

I was completely focused on what I was doing and blasted out a ton of work. When I finished the project, I looked up and realized it was 1:30PM. I also realized I hadn’t eaten anything in 18+ hours.

I wasn’t tired or hungry but it seemed like a good idea to have breakfast (lunch, whatever). So I quick grabbed some food, took a short walk, and got to work on this article. It is now after 4PM and I am still not hungry, or tired. And I’m still cranking out the work.

This is what Modafinil can do for you.

And you don’t need to take my word for it. Numerous studies have shown Modafinil’s effectiveness. Here’s just one example. It is the first study I encountered when investigating Modafinil for my own use. This 1999 United States Air Force Modafinil study showed that Modafinil helped keep flight crews functioning effectively after 40 hours with no sleep.

About Regular Modafinil Use

I’ve been using Modafinil for around 3 years now. But I do not use it every day. In my experience, it seems to lose a bit of its punch if you use it too many days in a row. Besides, I don’t always want to be so focused and alert! I like being able to relax once in a while.

It makes sense to limit the use of any drug, even safe ones like Modafinil. I have seen many different suggestions for usage schedules. Here are some of them, along with ideas on when they might make sense for you:

  • If you are still working a regular job, you could try using it during the workweek and not on the weekends
  • If your job features crunch times or hard deadlines, you could use Modafinil then. This is the way I do it
  • If you tend to party a little too much during the work week, you could use it the morning after to mitigate the effects

How Much Do You Need?

The exact dosage of Modafinil depends on you. Some people get the desired effect from 50mg. Others need 200mg. It depends on your weight, age, and who knows what else. It is something each person needs to experiment with.

How Do You Get Modafinil?

This is where things can get a little tricky. Here in Ecuador, Modafinil is an over the counter drug. I walk into any pharmacy and walk out with a box of 20, 200mg tablets for about $20. In most countries, it is a prescription drug. If you can get the stuff at all, it usually costs several dollars per dose. In the USA, it is a Schedule IV controlled substance. The legal treatment varies from country to country.

modafinil box - a powerful nootropic drug

Modafinil is a powerful nootropic that is available OTC here in Ecuador.

Despite the restrictions on Modafinil, large numbers of people use it as a nootropic. Some get a friendly doctor to write them a prescription. But many get the stuff through other channels.

Modafinil is easy to buy on the Internet. Several companies in India and China manufacture it and will ship it anywhere in the world. Apparently it ships in plain, non-descript packages. These usually make it through Customs and the postal system without problems.

If a package does get stopped by Customs, it doesn’t seem to cause any problems for the buyer or the seller. Some sellers will even ship another package as soon as Customs intercepts the first one! So expect the use of Modafinil and related drugs to keep on increasing.

Where is This All Going?

Now that you know what nootropics are, you may be wondering where this all leads. Real, effective drugs do exist that can boost your memory and concentration. More and more people are using them every day.

What does this mean for you? If you don’t use Modafinil or something similar, you are at a disadvantage against people who do. It may not seem fair, but that is the reality. What are you going to do about it?

Do you use Modafinil or some other nootropic? Are you in favor of their use or opposed? What will you do as more and more people start using this stuff? Leave a comment and let us know.