What lengths would you go to to be just a little more focused, to get a little bit more work done or be a little more organized? Is your regular dose of caffeine just not cutting it anymore? How do you deal with the pressure to work more or more efficiently?
These are some of the questions being asked by people dabbling in or considering dabbling in nootropics, which are drugs or supplements that are meant to improve or enhance cognitive functions like memory, creativity or motivation in otherwise healthy individuals.
While there is a myriad of substances that fall under the nootropic umbrella, they’re generally considered to be over-the-counter supplements, prescription drugs and unclassified research chemicals. Nootropics are technically supposed to be safe, not have significant side effects and not be addictive.
But, with so many substances falling under the blanket term of nootropic, it’s difficult to talk in general terms about their safety or effectiveness, especially since scientific studies on their use as cognitive enhancers are so limited.
Many in the business community, particularly in startups, have glowing reviews of the use of nootropics to improve cognitive function. Founder and CEO of Bulletproof Dave Asprey is one of them. Asprey says he’s been benefitting from nootropics since first trying them 1997 and has continued to be a big fan of certain cognitive enhancers ever since.
“I’m wary of others, though,” he says in a blog post. “The trouble with using a blanket term like “nootropics” is that you lump all kinds of substances in together. Technically, you could argue that caffeine and cocaine are both nootropics, but they’re hardly equal.”
“With so many ways to enhance your brain function, many of which have significant risks, it’s most valuable to look at nootropics on a case-by-case basis.”
There are others still who have given nootropics a shot and remain unconvinced.
Local business community member Melanie (not her real name) gave nootropics a shot and is unimpressed with the results and cautions against their use.
“Overall, I was unimpressed with nootropics. Any positive effects were trivial,” she said. “Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I don’t tend to get a lot of ‘placebo effects’, I’ve never been the type.”
“As a professional, I would never experiment while working. The effects could be negligible at best and harmful at their worst. Even nonprescription or so-called natural remedies can be taken too often and in too high a dose.”
Melanie says she has tried prescription “smart drugs” numerous times but found the negative side effects weren’t worth it, especially after seeing how their continued use affected the life of a previous partner of hers.
“I saw the way the drugs were negatively affecting them and it really scared me, how much they chose to ignore, just because maybe 50 per cent of the time, they felt great,” she says. “This person was constantly chasing a high that just couldn’t be replicated after the first time.”
After abandoning prescription medications, Melanie continued to look for a safe, healthy way to give herself the boost she thought she wanted and needed. She tried both various “stacks” (the combination of two or more supplements) of nootropics as well as certain supplements on their own.
“Almost every nootropic and combination of nootropics I tried either did not do anything or caused me minor discomfort and unwanted effects,” she says. “For example, GABA, DMAE, huperzine A, L-tyrosine, and rodiola rosa (which many consider to be a nootropic) all caused me varying degrees of drowsiness, brain fog, and negatively affected my mood. The positive effects, such as a minor increase in energy, I attributed to the presence of caffeine (technically a nootropic, but more commonly accepted).”
“This type of energy in no way compares to prescription medication. The negative effects were not as bad as those experienced from prescription medication, but what’s the point when you could just drink a cup of coffee and know exactly how you’re going to react?”
In the end, Melanie says she never got the effects she wanted from nootropics and would only try them again if they were recommended by a doctor in a specified dose. She says now that she’s drug and nootropic free, her moods are a lot more predictable and she’s able to focus what she considers a normal amount.
“I definitely wouldn’t touch prescription ‘smart drugs’ again (whether nootropic or not). The risks just aren’t worth it,” she says.
“In trying to be the person you’re not, you risk losing what you have. Would you trade your creativity for a week of being organized? If you’re a happy and friendly person that everyone opens up to, would you trade that for six months of extra energy? Of course not, the tradeoff just doesn’t make sense.”
It goes without saying, though we’re saying it anyway, that you should probably check with your doctor before you start experimenting with your brain. Still, there’s a wealth of information out there from those convinced nootropics have done them a world of good that might at least be worth reading up on.
But whatever you do, don’t take medical advice from Reddit.