Foreword and Disclaimer
FOUNDATIONS OF INTELLIGENCE
1. Defining Intelligence
2. A Word on Distractions Eliminating Distractions
3. A Word on Clarity of Purpose
4. Food for Thought
5. A Review of Supplements, Nootropics and Medication
THE PLASTIC HUMAN MIND
6. Skill Acquisition through Directed Learning
7. Mastering Energy with Eastern Practices
8. Technology to Upgrade the Brain
9. Memorization and Reading Speed
10. On Sleep and Creativity
11. The Key to Effortless Motivation
MARCHING TO THE SINGULARITY
12. A Map of the Brain
13. Innovation in Psychopharmacology
14. Thoughts on Legal Regulation
15. Superintelligence: Augmented or Artificial?
Appendix A. List of Pegs
SAMPLE CHAPTER - A REVIEW OF SUPPLEMENTS, NOOTROPICS, AND MEDICATION
Modern neuroscience has produced findings since the 1940s that allow us to improve our memory, attention, alertness, and general cognitive capacity. The application of these findings has led to the conception of cognitive enhancement and nootropics, largely sparked by the work of the Romanian chemist Corneliu Giurgea. Giurgea is best known for synthesizing piracetam, the most popular smart drug to this day, as well as for fathering the term “nootropic,” a marriage of the Greek nous, “mind,” and trepein, “to bend, to turn.”
Nootropics are naturally occurring or chemically synthesized compounds that can increase cognitive ability, including memory formation and retention, focus, alertness, and motivation. Although Giurgea did not coin the term until 1972, substances that alter human intelligence have been around for thousands of years, most notably in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. On the Indian subcontinent, herbs were utilized as cognitive enhancers as early as six thousand years ago. Caffeine, perhaps the most beloved of brain-boosting substances available to us today, was first consumed in tea form approximately three thousand years ago before the arrival of coffee in the 13th century. Our drive to improve ourselves to better understand our surroundings is ancient but only in recent years have we gained the full spectrum of analytical tools that allows us to push our intelligence even further.
NOOTROPICS, SMART DRUGS, AND COGNITIVE ENHANCERS
As we did with intelligence in Chapter 1, we shall underline what nootropics, smart drugs, and cognitive enhancers are not, rather than what they are, before delving into definitions and specifics because their role and relation to the other things you do to support your intelligence are paramount to understanding their significance and use.
The reason this chapter was preceded by one discussing diet and health is to highlight the fact that the currently available nootropics, smart drugs, and cognitive enhancers that come in pill or powder form are by no means a substitute for other things that enhance you. Chronic sleep deprivation, a nutrient-poor diet, and lack of exercise will not magically get fixed following the ingestion of a tablet, at least not in the present day. Regular sleep cycles, a nutritious energizing diet, and exercise allow your body to produce and release the necessary neurotransmitters required for brain function. Physical exercise facilitates the release of endorphins, which boost alertness and mood. Sufficient sleep, in turn, is necessary for memory formation and helps replenish neurotransmitters depleted over the course of the day. Your physical body is a system capable of generating some of its own raw materials endogenously, and taking good care of it will boost your performance. Furthermore, these substances are neither a replacement for effort and labor nor are they able to turn you into a superhuman overnight. Managing expectations, especially at the beginning, is crucial to long-term success with the use of cognitive enhancers. However, if you have those lifestyle factors in good standing, you can transcend your unenhanced potential when it comes to intelligence and performance with the use of cognitive enhancement.
Nootropics, smart drugs, and cognitive enhancers are to be thought of as an added boost to an already healthy mind. Relevant for the young and old, they are able to augment one’s mood, learning, motivation to undertake that learning, intelligence, and memory. They work by sustaining or changing the brain’s internal chemistry, which is rather profound: these chemicals are not free of side effects, and you must do careful research and evaluation prior to beginning the use of a substance. Some of them modify neurotransmitters, whereas others stimulate the creation of new neurons, also known as neurogenesis. Although they facilitate positive changes in the human brain, there are side effects to their use. Before we delve into technical definitions of nootropics, smart drugs, and cognitive enhancers, one must realize that the brain does not make distinctions between substances based on their names. When you inject, ingest, or otherwise apply something to yourself that crosses the blood-brain barrier, the highly secure permeability barrier filtering out unnecessary substances from entering your brain and your central nervous system, once something is inside your brain, its official name and definition do not matter at all. Whether a nootropic, a smart drug, or a cognitive enhancer, it will likely induce a change in your brain and might bring about an undesirable side effect irrespective of its definition and classification.
Giurgea, in addition to coining the term “nootropic,” worked out a set of criteria that, if met, would permit a substance to be classified as a nootropic. A nootropic should enhance an individual’s memory and learning, improve resistance to stress, such as oxygen or sleep deprivation and electroconvulsive shock, protect the brain from physical and chemical injuries, increase the efficiency of the tonic cortical and subcortical control mechanisms, miss a sedative or stimulatory effect, possess few or no side effects, and be non-toxic. These conditions are rigid and rule out cognitive enhancers such as caffeine, which strikes one as odd, given that caffeine has the ability to boost cognitive function. Since the first definition of nootropics was presented, there has been much quarreling over what the universal standard definition should be. In the case of caffeine, we are dealing with a cognitive enhancer rather than a nootropic due to its effects being limited to the short term, the presence of a stimulatory effect in large quantities, as well as side effects such as heart palpitations. Furthermore, the prolonged use of caffeine reduces its efficacy because its users quickly develop a tolerance to it.
Perhaps the most rigorous definition of a nootropic was laid out in 1979 by Vladimir Skondia who defined it in terms of metabolic activity in the brain. According to this definition, the substance ought to possess no vasoactivity—dilation or constriction of blood vessels—it should not change the brain’s EEG rhythm, it must cross the blood-brain barrier, show metabolic activity in the brain, possess little or no side effects, and undergo multiple clinical trials to establish the pharmacological mode of action. The fundamental disagreement between the two definitions is that according to Giurgea, the substance should enhance memory and learning, whereas Skondia argued that it should improve brain metabolism through increased glucose or oxygen uptake. The racetam family of nootropics, which you will read about later, would indeed fit the descriptions of both definitions but cognitive enhancers such as caffeine would not. Smart drugs and cognitive enhancers are essentially the same thing—nutritional or pharmacological substances that can improve memory, concentration, mood, creativity, and reduce fatigue—but even though all nootropics can be classified as cognitive enhancers, the inverse does not universally hold true: cognitive enhancers are not always nootropics.
Giurgea and Skondia’s definitions exclude a large number of certain substances that possess nootropic properties yet do not meet one or several criteria to be classified as one. Herbs such as ginkgo biloba and vinpocetine enhance working memory after crossing the blood-brain barrier yet show vasodilatory activity, thus excluding them from the club of nootropics by Skondia’s definition. We shall define nootropics as substances that are either naturally or chemically sourced, enhance cognitive function or are neuroprotective, and have a low tolerance and no side effects. However, because definitions are practically irrelevant when it comes to the integrity of your brain, we shall focus on cognitive enhancers, which encapsulate nutritional supplements that aid in cognition, classically defined nootropics, and additionally medication that instead of treating a disease or a disability, enhances the cognitive function of a normal healthy user.
Cognitive enhancers have a wide variety of different uses and effects depending on your personal goals. We can break those substances up into five specific goal-oriented categories: enhancement of memory formation and retention, improvement of concentration, elevation of mood, reduction of fatigue, and cultivation of creativity. There are some substances that will serve multiple goals but these will be the five categories under which we shall group common cognitive enhancers.
The cognitive enhancers designed to enhance one’s ability to form and retain memories are accessible for young professionals and the elderly alike, with benefits ranging from preventing neurally degrading diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s to improving working memory or bringing forth positive long-term memory enhancement. Common memory boosters include piracetam (and all other members of the racetam family of nootropics) and cholinergics (L-Alpha glycerylphosphorylcholine or Alpha GPC for short, citicoline, huperzine A, and the amino acid acetylcarnitine).
Substances boosting concentration include caffeine, popularly paired up with the amino acid L-theanine, Asian ginseng, the recently compounded CILTeP, and various stimulatory drugs such as modafinil and methylphenidate. Besides improving one’s focus, they often induce a clarity of thought in their user. Although substances in this category of cognitive enhancers include relatively safe things such as caffeine and theanine, there are more extreme pharmaceutical-grade substances that might inflict side effects upon the user and disturb one’s sleep, which you should discuss with your licensed physician if you were to undertake such an experiment or regimen. Similarly, another category of substances does not boost focus per se but reduces tiredness in the body and the mind by either blocking certain receptors in the brain or more efficiently utilizing the brain’s energy supply. On the safer side of this category are creatine monohydrate and the herb rhodiola rosea, while on the more potent side we have stimulants like modafinil and methylphenidate.
Improving one’s mood and reducing anxiety has been clinically proven to improve performance in a variety of standard cognitive tests measuring working and long-term memory. Anxiolytics, substances that diminish anxiety and bolster mood, include caffeine when coupled with L-theanine, the herbs bacopa monnieri and Asian ginseng, as well as phenibut. Compounds that boost reasoning, analytical problem-solving skills, and creativity include iodine and creatine monohydrate. However, due to a lack of research literature, some cognitive enhancers’ ability to improve reasoning has remained strictly anecdotal.
FIRST PRINCIPLES OF COGNITIVE ENHANCEMENT
Instead of an established set of definitive instructions, cognitive enhancement revolves around guidelines and principles that govern the use and experimentation with cognition-boosting substances. Because sophisticated smart drugs are still a fairly new phenomenon, they enjoy wide popularity in underground communities—not that there is anything illegal about their use but the communities of people who are interested in smart drugs are still strongly outside of the mainstream, which implies that the best way to understand and benefit from cognitive enhancers is by self-experimentation and analysis of the results of self-experimentation.
Despite promising innovation in neuropharmacology, we are yet to develop a real-life equivalent of the genius pill NZT-48, as seen in the movie Limitless. The harsh reality of cognitive enhancers remains: with the drive to improve one’s intelligence, one has to face the possibility of unfortunate consequences resulting therefrom, namely the risk of undesirable side effects and the fact that there are no shortcuts to mental greatness immediately available. Indeed, cognitive enhancers enhance you; they do not make you. Even though certain substances will not turn you into a genius by themselves, they will get you closer to that if that is your goal.
Being goal-oriented is the key to success with the use of cognitive enhancers. To begin, establish your goals: do you wish to sleep better, to concentrate better, or to develop your memory? Consider your current strengths and weaknesses, and attack your weaknesses first before moving on to fortifying your stronger cognitive abilities. Instead of asking which cognitive enhancer is optimal in general, seek out cognitive enhancers suitably addressing specific goals and then, later on, combine them with other cognitive enhancers addressing other goals. Experimenting with these substances is a journey you must undertake: begin at the lower end of the effectiveness range, and gradually move your way up to stronger and more potent nootropics and smart drugs in general.
Initially, keep it simple—instead of opting for a research chemical without any published human studies on it, choose a single mild nootropic, such as piracetam, without tweaking your diet or your sleep at the same time. Obviously, fully controlling your environment and life factors is impossible but if you wish to isolate the effects that cognitive enhancers have on you, you must do this to the best of your ability. Including multiple smart drugs in your regimen, also known as “stacking” in the unofficial lingo of the field, is not a good idea because it will disable you from discerning which compound is having which effect on you.
Once you begin adding new substances to your regimen, keep in mind that the most effective stacks will have substances that are very different from each other, differing mostly in their method of action. There is little point to ingesting multiple nootropics from the racetam family as they share a lot of common ground, meaning you will be far better off using, say, piracetam and a cholinergic like citicoline together because piracetam and citicoline differ by their mechanism of action—piracetam, amongst other things, increases choline uptake while citicoline increases choline for the synthesis of neurotransmitters and cell membranes. Further, you might like to add an adaptogenic herb, such as vinpocetine or ginkgo biloba.
Tracking results while experimenting is paramount to increasing your odds of success. Although the followers of the recent Quantified Self movement do not fully recognize the limitations of their data gathering and analysis, it is important nevertheless to keep a diary, or mental notes, of your progress, levels of performance, and substances used. There is also now a plethora of game-based or general cognitive tests available on the Internet that people use to track the progression of their intelligence when they add or keep using smart drugs. However, there has been no compelling test that would address the issue of isolating the effect of the player getting better at the game and thus receiving a higher score, rather than increasing his raw intelligence. For this reason, I recommend qualitative observations for self-evaluation. Furthermore, do not fall victim to attachment. Often enough, people will fall into the pattern of craving enhancement at all times and will use this as a crutch for poor performance. These are not addictions in the clinical sense, as these substances have mostly very low addictive potential but if you find yourself in a situation where not taking a smart drug on any given day turns out to be a mental burden that prevents you from thinking straight, take a break and realize that the reason you are taking those substances is to have the mental freedom to perform better at other times.
SUPPLEMENTING WITH ESSENTIAL AND NON-ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS
As stressed in the previous chapter, getting adequate levels of vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, and fatty acids is critical to enabling the proper function of one’s cognition. Focusing too much on macronutrients and caloric intake leads our focus away from the thousands upon thousands of biochemical reactions happening simultaneously in our physical bodies. Not surprisingly, these reactions require certain raw materials to occur, indeed indicating the obvious fact that undernourishment of micronutrients can contribute to poor cognition and what is commonly known as brain fog. Furthermore, supplementing with certain essential and nonessential nutrients past levels which you would “naturally” obtain from food, one can improve cognition past its natural, or rather unaugmented, potential.
If you are, for whatever reason, unable to consume cold-water fish per the recommendation in the previous chapter on a regular basis, you ought to supplement your diet with the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA—eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids—which are required for prostaglandin synthesis as well as the structural support in neural tissues. They are primarily involved in reducing inflammation, the burning fire we discussed in the previous chapter, but they also pertain to improving mood and glucose management. Even though both fatty acids can be synthesized from ALA—alpha-linolenic acid— the conversion rate is rather poor and cannot be relied upon for maintaining adequate omega-3 to omega-6 levels in the body.
The goal of supplementing with, say, a fish oil pill, is to bring the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats down to approximately between 3:1 and 1:1. Therefore, your individual dosage will vary depending on what your current ratio is, as revealed by an omega score blood test. Keep in mind that it might take years to clear out the excess omega-6 fats stored in your adipose tissues. A good starting point is three grams of fish oil per day, yielding approximately a gram of EPA and DHA.
Vitamin D3, cholecalciferol, is essential for calcium absorption, bone integrity, maintaining proper testosterone levels, and preventing autoimmune disease. Some of it we obtain from foods such as fish and eggs but the majority of it is produced by our skin under sunlight exposure. However, most people—especially those living in the Northern Hemisphere or with darker skin—are deficient in it because they are getting nowhere near the required intensity and sun exposure that is required for proper vitamin D levels, which you should measure by a 25-hydroxy vitamin D test. Ideal levels vary between 70 and 80 nmol/l. If you turn out to be deficient using a test, either increase your sun exposure deliberately or consider supplementing with 2000-4000 IU of vitamin D3 daily until getting another bloodtest in a couple of months and adjusting your dosage based on that result. Dosages of up to 10,000 IU are often considered non-toxic but, as always, consult your licensed physician.
Magnesium is a precursor to serotonin, having an effect on glucose management, sleep quality, and blood pressure. Magnesium deficiency is widespread due to water depletion and fallen levels of minerals in meat, which in turn is due to soil depletion. However, the difficulty in quantifying magnesium deficiency lies in the nature of its storage in the body: the majority of it is not present in the bloodstream but in the bones and skeletal muscle. It is also an NMDA receptor antagonist, meaning it has a slight anxiolytic and relaxing effect as it calms the mind. Good sources of magnesium are mineral water, meat, eggs, and possibly a magnesium supplement, such as magnesium citrate. Consider dosing between 200 and 800 milligrams per day and qualitatively assessing the effect it has on you. If you are an athlete or experience frequent cramping of the muscles, increase dosage.
Zinc is another mineral that is required for proper endocrine function, most importantly testosterone production. Water and soil depletion have lowered levels in the general population consistently for the past one hundred years, increasing the need for supplementation. Consider a zinc plasma or serum test and supplementing daily with fifty milligrams of zinc glycinate, which is readily absorbable.
Creatine monohydrate, commonly used by athletes to enhance recovery and increase muscular strength, has a significant effect in improving cognition, especially in the long term. When ingested in either food or supplemental form, it increases ATP synthesis in the brain via the phosphocreatine system, enhancing working memory and reasoning skills. Creatine can be consumed in either meat or in supplemental form as the amino acids arginine, methionine, and glycine which the liver uses for creatine production. It is mostly stored in tissues with a high demand for energy, such as skeletal muscle, but also in the brain. By supplementing with creatine monohydrate you improve the brain’s potential to produce energy in normal situations, as well as under stress. Vegetarians will often witness a greater benefit from supplementing with this nutrient than carnivores but both groups should experience a benefit to some extent. To begin supplementation, many experts recommend undergoing a so-called loading phase, during which one consumes twenty grams of creatine daily for a period of two weeks until dropping down the dosage to five grams daily. Despite this, gradual introduction is far better for tracking results. Instead of loading, begin with a dosage of three to five grams daily to avoid potential negative side effects of consuming a large quantity of creatine, such as water retention.
MILD COGNITIVE ENHANCERS
As mentioned earlier, there is variance in the intensity any given nootropic or cognitive enhancer will have on the person using it. As a beginner, experiment with substances at the milder end of the range of intensity, such as caffeine stacked together with theanine, bacopa monnieri, rhodiola rosea, and Asian ginseng.
Caffeine paired up together with theanine, a naturally occurring amino acid found in green tea that promotes GABA release in the brain, when consumed together, negates the jittery feeling brought forth by caffeine alone, improves alertness, motivation, relaxation, and mood, and reduces heart-rate, blood pressure, and anxiety. It is perhaps the most commonly recommended newcomer combination of cognitive enhancers that provides a mild anti-fatigue focus-boosting effect. As for the method of action, caffeine acts as an adenosine agonist in the brain, increasing levels of neurotransmitters such as adrenaline, acetylcholine, and dopamine. For dosage, consider using between 100 and 200 milligrams of caffeine and the same amount of theanine two to four times per week—the obvious downside of using this stack is habituation and tolerance. Further, monitor its effects on your sleep. Owing to caffeine’s stimulating effect, this combination should not be consumed six to eight hours prior to sleep, unless working through the night.
Bacopa monnieri is an herb commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine. Its purported benefits include improved long-term and working memory, reduced anxiety, enhanced alertness, and better focus. It works by modulating acetylcholine release in the brain, which enhances memory and reduces stress on the dopaminergic system. Bacopa is a fat-soluble herb and is best consumed in the quantity of 200 to 300 milligrams with a meal.
Rhodiola rosea, an adaptogenic herb as well, acts as a mood enhancer and as an anti-fatigue agent through increasing serotonin levels. Frequent use thereof can shorten reaction time and enhance reasoning in the long term, mostly due to the enhanced mood resulting from taking the substance. Begin by ingesting 250 milligrams a day to achieve effects similar to those from creatine use. However, due to its adaptogenic nature, rhodiola ought to be used cyclically, meaning you should take certain days off from use to prevent buildup of tolerance. Individual assessment and analysis is needed here but in most cases, rhodiola ought not be used more often than twice a week.
Asian ginseng is a gnarled root whose nootropic properties include improved memory, focus, mood, and reduced reaction time. A dosage of one hundred milligrams a day will yield the desired effect. Although effective in and by itself, Asian ginseng can be effectively paired with ginkgo biloba.
The racetam family of nootropics is a group whose beginning lies at the discovery of piracetam, a derivative of the neurotransmitter GABA. Piracetam’s subsequent derivatives, aniracetam, oxiracetam, pramiracetam, noopept, and phenylpiracetam are more potent chemically structural relatives that vary subtly in their effects on the mind. The racetams’ mode of action is still not fully clear but they do increase acetylcholine uptake in brain regions that are responsible for forming memories. Although shown to be more effective in improving memory than a placebo, the racetams are even more effective when paired up with choline, which will be discussed in the next part on cholinergics. Each racetam has subjective pros and cons that make it suitable for certain goals in certain situations. Some of them are stimulating, some calming, and some enhance focus while others enhance creativity. The racetams are by no means restricted to improving memory. Instead, they have effects on focus, attention span, mood, and overall cognition.
The first, best-known, and least stimulating member of the racetam family is piracetam. It has been clinically found to modestly enhance verbal memory and learning, in addition to showing general benefits for counteracting age-associated cognitive decline, which is why the elderly will most likely see a greater benefit than the younger population from using piracetam. Anecdotally, its users report greater clarity of thought, better focus, and increased verbal fluidity. As for safety considerations, piracetam is the best-researched of all nootropics with few side effects—insomnia, fatigue, digestive issues, and headaches—that do not come up unless taking abnormally high quantities. Typically, a starting dose of 1,600 milligrams daily, in between one and three divided doses, is recommended, though more experienced users can increase their dosage up to six grams daily. It can be taken with or without food, as it is water-soluble and is typically recommended to be consumed with choline.
Aniracetam is piracetam’s more potent fat-soluble analogue that absorbs rapidly but possesses a shorter half-life. Unlike piracetam, aniracetam possesses anxiolytic capability, making it suitable for users with mild or severe social anxiety. Its reported benefits include enhancement of memory, learning, and creativity. A typical dose is 800 milligrams taken one to three times a day with food. Aniracetam’s half-life is between one and two hours so it is best frequently dosed. However, if taking it becomes a hurdle and a distraction, consider another racetam. Interestingly enough, aniracetam is one of the more popular choices for individuals interested in lucid dreaming, as it reportedly enhances the vividness of dreams.
Oxiracetam has the ability to halt and reverse brain trauma and it possesses other neuroprotective properties, as well. A water-soluble analogue, it has a stimulating effect on its user. Of the racetams, oxiracetam seems to be the one whose effect depends the highest on the individual: some report it being incredibly stimulating and increasing memorization while others report no noticeable effect. It ought to be consumed between one and two times daily in doses of between 500 and 800 milligrams on an empty stomach or with a meal. Due to its long half-life, it should be ingested in the morning as it can cause trouble with falling asleep at night due to increased sleep latency. However, anecdotally speaking, oxiracetam seems to be the most popular choice for students as it increases focus to a point where the user begins feeling impatient when not studying.
Pramiracetam is thought of as the most potent racetam analogue available today that enhances choline uptake in the brain, thereby improving memory retention, motivation, verbal fluidity, and focus. One of the greatest anecdotally reported benefits of pramiracetam is a greater clarity of thought and a reduction in the mental chatter that often troubles people, though as a downside, it seems to decrease the ability to empathize with others in the short term, as one’s ability to focus on work grows greater. It is fat-soluble and highly bitter-tasting, so instead of opting for powdered form, strongly consider ingesting pramiracetam in capsules with a meal. Typical doses include between 200 and 500 milligrams taken once or twice a day.
Noopept, though technically not a member of the racetam family, is a precursor to a neuropeptide called cycloprolylglycine and has the ability to increase nerve growth factor as well as brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Its effects include anxiolytic capability resulting in a calmness of mind, as well as an improvement in abstract thinking and creative problem-solving tasks. Noopept has a short half-life, half an hour, but it is quickly converted to cycloprolylglycine whose half-life is unknown. However, subjective reported benefits seem to last between three and six hours so dosing between 10 and 25 milligrams twice a day seems like a reasonable approach to begin with.
Phenylpiracetam is the most potent of the well-researched members of the racetam family. It has a stimulatory effect and is commonly stacked together with sulbutiamine, which subtly contributes to energy and drive, as well as cocoa for mood enhancement. Sulbutiamine is a semi-synthetic form of vitamin B1 that crosses the blood-brain barrier and modulates dopamine through a complicated mechanism of action, increasing motivation. Because of phenylpiracetam’s long half-life and stimulatory effect, it is best consumed in the morning (between 100 and 200 milligrams) with sulbutiamine (between 200 and 400 milligrams), and a few squares of dark chocolate (preferably more than 85 percent cocoa by mass).
Although the racetam family has been anecdotally proven to be effective, the responses they produce vary highly in intensity depending on the individual. This potentially explains why the racetams show only a modest benefit in human studies—a large number of unnoticeable and a smaller number of positive responses together will produce a modest response for an average. The racetams seem to have a positive effect on treating patients with amnesia but the research literature is unfortunately limited, with the exception of some studies, to patients with cognitive deficits rather than healthy individuals. Stronger racetam derivatives have further benefits such as NGF and BDNF enhancement and there are other, more recent and less-studied racetams with stimulant-like effects, such as the ampakine sunifiram, as well as future ones that are currently in development, all sharing the low toxicity and solid safety profile that are characteristic of the racetam family.
The racetams, though their exact method of action is unknown, have been suggested to increase the turnover of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, thereby causing headaches unless supplemented with choline. Choline is often stacked with a racetam to prevent acetylcholine depletion but it is also a nootropic in its own right: it is a precursor to acetylcholine, involved in memory formation, as well as for phosphatidylcholine, which is required for the synthesis of cell membranes.
The combination of a racetam with choline can improve memory and prevent neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s in the elderly. However, when the brain’s choline stores have been depleted, the brain savages the phosphatidylcholine in its cell membranes by a process called autocannibalization. To prevent depletion, consume choline-rich foods such as milk and other dairy products like butter and ghee, eggs, meat, especially organ meats and animal brains, and lecithin. Unfortunately, most people are deficient in choline due to severe depletion and insufficient dietary intake, making a strong case for supplementation. There are three major bioavailable forms of choline: choline bitartrate, alpha GPC, and CDP choline, also known as citicoline.
Choline bitartrate is a very inexpensive form of choline that contains 40 percent choline by mass. However, it does not raise choline levels in the brain more than choline-rich foods, which makes it fairly ineffective in relative terms and it can be grouped along with choline citrate and lecithin in terms of its potency.
Alpha GPC, as well as CDP choline, is a naturally occurring intermediary form of choline. Like choline bitartrate, it is 40 percent choline by mass and also directly crosses the blood- brain barrier. It raises choline levels in brain tissue, as well as increasing growth hormone release for two hours after ingestion and supports the healthy fluidity of cell membranes.
CDP choline, or citicoline, is only 18 percent choline by mass but it has a dual mode of action. During the digestive process, citicoline is broken up into choline and cytidine, which is rapidly converted into uridine, a nootropic in its own right, aiding in phosphatidylcholine creation. Furthermore, citicoline seems to increase dopamine receptor density, which makes it useful for enhancing motivation. When choosing a choline supplement, pay careful attention to the differences in weight between CDP and GPC choline as well as CDP choline’s ability to enhance motivation. You may experiment with both but even if you try only one, you can be consoled by the fact that they are both great choices.
A stack improving memory and motivation to learn is often used by college students and consists of sulbutiamine (200 milligrams), huperzine A (200 micrograms), and choline (either 200 milligrams of alpha GPC if you are looking to improve your concentration, or alternatively 400 milligrams of CDP choline if you wish to enhance motivation). Huperzine A is an extract of Irish moss that inhibits the breakdown of acetylcholine, thus enhancing memory and concentration.
TYPES OF COGNITION-ENHANCING MEDICATION
Of all cognitive enhancers, medication prescribed by a licensed physician and then used by a healthy individual is the most potent way to augment intelligence, cognition, and performance. Drugs discussed in this part include modafinil, Adderall, methylphenidate, and donepezil.
Modafinil, sold in the US under the trade name of Provigil, is a wakefulness-promoting agent and though it is believed to modulate histamine levels in the brain, its exact mechanism of action is unknown. Widely used by armed forces around the world to combat fatigue and increase focus, its FDA-approved uses include treating narcolepsy, shift worker sleep disorder, and fatigue resulting from obstructive sleep apnea. Recently, it has sparked the interest of students and employees as it boosts focus, reduces fatigue, and improves working memory, which is an obvious advantage in a competitive setting. Although its long-term side effects are unknown, its short-term side effects are minor, unless the user is afflicted with a pre-existing condition, meaning it is relatively safe and can be recommended as a cognitive enhancer. However, it can interfere with the function of hormonal contraceptives and as we are discussing a medication, you should consult your licensed physician when obtaining it by legal means. Doses of 50-200 milligrams taken in the morning are typical. Although effective in and by itself, modafinil can be stacked with 200-500 milligrams of phenibut, which is a strong form of GABA, the relaxing neurotransmitter, to lessen modafinil’s stimulatory effect, which can interfere with your sleep if taken too late in the day. On the flipside, it can be used to decrease the need for sleep in the short term for whatever purpose.
Adderall, known by its trade name because it is a compound of amphetamine salts and inactive ingredients, works in the brain by increasing the activity of norepinephrine and dopamine. It is mostly used for treating narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. For cognition-enhancing purposes, it improves working memory, motivation, and ability to focus, and lengthens attention span. However, due to its tolerance-building, addictive potential, and possible severe side effects, this book does not recommend prolonged use of Adderall for the purposes of cognitive enhancement.
Methylphenidate, also known by its trade names Concerta, Methylin, and Ritalin, is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, narcolepsy, and tachycardia syndrome. By a complicated method of action, methylphenidate increases the concentrations of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, improving focus, motivation, working memory, and endurance. However, due to the questionable mode of action and high addictive potential, this book does not recommend the use of methylphenidate for cognitive enhancement in the long term.
Another less-researched drug that can be used for cognitive enhancement is donepezil, better known by its trade name as Aricept, originally designed to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Its anecdotally reported benefits include improvements in working memory and focus, yet because there are no human studies on healthy individuals, this book does not recommend the use of donepezil for cognitive enhancement.
Many students and working professionals will undoubtedly attempt to obtain these medications from physicians by either lying about a condition they have that cannot be fully diagnosed in a doctor’s office or by claiming a condition that warrants the off-label use of a medication they want to acquire for the purpose of enhancing themselves. Some will get it from friends and acquaintances who have legal prescriptions, and some will order generic forms of the medication from overseas pharmacies. If you are one of those people, recognize the risks and rewards associated with such an activity. Make no mistake about it: Adderall and Ritalin are extremely effective but they have downsides to them that make them unattractive in the long term. The rewards are high, and so are the risks. Do not engage in illegal activity, consult your licensed physician, and use common sense.
There is a plethora of ways to acquire cognitive enhancers, some of them more reliable and convenient than others. Food stores and websites are generally the two locations one should look in for a particular substance, unless we are speaking of pharmaceutical-grade medication, in which case you should only obtain it from a pharmacy with a legitimate prescription. Online overseas vendors exist and enjoy tremendous popularity but issues such as financial security, quality and safety of product, and lack of third-party authentication or government regulation make them inferior sources.
Grocery stores, pharmacies, and health stores often have a wide selection of dietary supplements that aid in cognitive function. However, the prices are often higher than on the Internet and the selection is limited to dietary supplements only, missing actual nootropics and cognitive enhancers. However, there has been a slow shift in this as affluent baby boomers begin taking care of their mental health.
Buying cognitive enhancers on the Internet will require more background research on behalf of the buyer. In the US, dietary supplements, which many racetams and other potent cognitive enhancers are classified as, are laxly regulated, and the consumer carries the burden of conducting his own research. On the Internet and in physical stores as well, most substances are available in either powder or pill form. Considering the hassle of weighing and ingesting an often questionable-tasting powder, opt for pills unless budget is a concern.
Furthermore, due to increased demand, there has been an increase in the number of beginner-friendly pre-made cognition-enhancing formulations, such as Alpha Brain and CILTeP, standing for “chemically induced long-term potentiation.” CILTeP, a product of an open-source collaboration, consists of artichoke extract, forskolin, phenylalanine, acetyl-l-carnitine, and vitamin B6. The unfortunate thing about a pre-formulated stack is the individual user’s inability to tweak the ratios in it but for a newcomer it can serve as a valid starting point, and is certainly something to keep an eye on in the future.
Before experimenting with a substance you have read about or a stack you have designed, always consult other sources, as well as your licensed physician, though this is not always a possibility. That also applies to this book: never blindly follow one person’s advice, do your own research, and diversify your sources of information to prevent accidents. Amino acids like L-Dopa, 5-HTP, GABA, and many other substances that are currently in use, in development, or have not even been conceived of yet, will no doubt be used in the future as cognition-enhancing agents. As new knowledge and new substances come along, keep up with the relevant research, network with other enthusiasts, and apply rational judgment to your choices.