Thursday, June 12, 2014

Are Nootropics The New Multivitamin?

As I write this, vinpocetine is coursing through my veins.

In 1985, the European Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology published the results of a study conducted by the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.

Subhan & Hindmarch found that 40mg of vinpocetine significantly improved memory in healthy humans, compared to the control group.

The class of substances used as "smart drugs" are called nootropics. They are mix of natural supplements and synthetics used to enhance brain performance. Some are stimulants. Some boost blood circulation to the brain. Some support cell health. Some improve or even increase production of neurotransmitters.

And today, nootropics are all the rage.

Ray Kurzweil famously published a list of all his daily supplements, many of which are classified as nootropics.

Message boards all over the internet are lighting up with brain hackers creating their own nootropic "stacks" or ideal blends of nootropics to take daily.

Yup, just like grandma with her days-of-the-week vitamin box.

There's more.

Supplements companies are assembling their own proprietary stacks like Cerastim by Live Cell Research and Alpha Brain by Onnit.

Take the decision-making out of it! Go for a nootropic one-a-day!

I've been playing in the nootropic playground for a little while now.

And I must say, it is interesting.

If you hang out on message boards, you can get sucked down a rabbit hole that encompasses everything from kids talking about their amphetamine score to boost their homework skills to daring individuals mega-dosing on chemicals because there was that one promising racetam study on mice.

Okay, that said, I must confess. Vinpocetine is not the only nootropic I'm taking.

I'm also taking bacopa extract. In 2001, the School of Biophysical Science and Electrical Engineering in Australia found improved cognitive function in a double-blind placebo-controlled study in humans.

What can I say. Hacking your brain with nootropics can be addictive. 

And now that pre-formulated, brain enhancing stacks are available the same way you can purchase your multivitamin, they are accessible to everyone. 

How accessible?

Well that's easy to test. It just requires a visit to my parent's home.

I went there and did some snooping in my mother's medicine cabinet. She had this supplement bottle I had never seen before. I won't say the brand because it was private labeled for her physician and I don't want to poke the bear.

I checked out the ingredients.

Two things caught my eye: Bacopa Extract and Bovine Adrenal Extract.


First, my mom is taking nootropics and probably doesn't know it.

Second, the hell is Bovine Adrenal Extract?

Thank you, WebMD.

This stuff is exactly what it sounds like. It is literally extracted from the discarded adrenal glands of slaughtered cows. It supposedly supports a wide array of functions including fatigue and stress.

Hah! Sounds like some quackery to me.

But wait, then what am I doing hanging out on reddit with a bunch of sixteen year-olds figuring out the best amino acid to jack their caffeine high?

Okay, so maybe there's something to nootropics. Maybe there isn't. Maybe there's something to, gag, adrenal extract.

Is it worth the chance?

Well, I bet there were a bunch of sailors a hundred years ago that would have been happy for a tip about Vitamin C, even if it came from a message board.

If nootropics can at least offer the hope of protecting our brains and warding off aging, then they're here to stay.

And I'll be taking them, just in case.

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