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Nootropics: meta-research summary

For a while now I've been interested in experimenting with stuff that can improve mental functioning so I've spent some time researching nootropics (a broad class of psycho-active supplements) in depth.

Criteria for supplementation

  • safety (first do no harm)
  • affordable
  • no dependency build-up


  • Google: activate bullshit detectors. Beware of conflicts of interests from people trying to sell you stuff.
  • Wikipedia: incomplete but good for overview-level material for those of us who don't have a PhD in neuroscience.
  • Forums at the / Longecity. Lots of people who know their stuff there (e.g., MDs, PhDs in neuroscience). Lots of personal experiences (good and bad).
  • Erowid: personal experiences with all forms of psychoactive substances (including nootropics but not limited to). Watch out, there are many substance abusers here.

Safe and mild

  • Omega 3 from fish oil, molecularly distilled to prevent contamination from heavy metals: 4 grams/day (up from 2 grams/day)

    I buy NOW's brand of Omega 3 from

  • Piracetam + choline citrate:

    • piracetam is one of the oldest and safest nootropics known to science. 2500 research studies have been conducted. Proven effective in a wide range of usage scenarios including serious stuff like recovering from brain damage. It somehow improves communication between the two brain hemispheres which can boost concentration, memory and motivation. Dreams are intensified. No dependency build-up. No negative long term side effects are known and healthy people have been using it for decades. The enhancement effects seem to build up over about 12 months and then plateau.
    • choline improves memory. You need to take it together with piracetam as your brain uses its natural supply more quickly. Otherwise you get mild headaches.
    • dosage varies wildly so you need to experiment. The stuff builds up so most people take an attack dosage of 3-4 grams and then reduce to 800mg for daily maintenance.

    If you can stand the taste you can buy in bulk powder and then it's dirt cheap. I bought a year's supply - $75 with shipping.

  • Picamilon: Russian invented combo of GABA+niacin (vitamin B6). Unlike GABA alone, crosses the blood brain barrier. At 50mg mild anti-anxiety/sedative effect. At 100mg, a mild stimulant, concentration and memory enhancer.

    Takes anywhere from an hour to 2 days to effect mood.

    I don't plan on long term supplementation with Picamilon (yet) but I would like to experiment with it. It could be especially useful if it works for me on demand.

Herbal adaptogens

Improve your ability to handle stress while enhancing mood, motivation and concentration. For stressful times when I need the boost, I'm going to experiment cycling these herbal supplements:

  • Rhodiola Rosea: taken in the morning. Tolerance builds up. Stops being effective after about 2 months.
  • Ashwagandha: the Indian Ginseng, taken in the evening because it can make most people sleepy.

You can buy both cheap from

Serious stuff

  • Selegiline (AKA Deprenyl): invented in the 60s. Extremely potent booster of one of the body's natural anti-oxidants systems (superoxide dismutase AKA SOD). Extends maximum life span 40% in rats. Dogs treated with deprenyl showed similar anti-aging effects.

    Functions as a neuro-protectant. Slows down brain decline from aging. Also protects your kidneys.

    Used to treat Parkinsons. Irreversible MAO-B inhibitor. Raises Dopamine levels in the brain. Serious stuff that should not be messed with lightly. Do not take if you are not supplementing with a broad spectrum of anti-oxidants as increasing one natural anti-oxidant can inhibit other natural anti-oxidants.

    As you get older, your body makes more MAO-B, so you loose Dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter you need to want (e.g., motivation). Low dopamine triggers depression.

    Dopamine declines 13% every decade starting from your 40s. Most people die when their dopamine levels are at 30% of baseline levels.

    For now I'm going to take a very low dosage for the anti-aging benefits. 2mg/week. I shouldn't feel any psychological effects at this dosage. In liquid form that's 1 drop, twice a week. Doesn't sound like much but this stuff interacts with enzymes in the brain. Once it bonds with MAO-B enzyme, it disables it, which means that molecule can no longer do its job breaking down neuro-transmitters such as Dopamine. The levels of different neuro-transmitters are in balance so effecting one will change the level of another.

Materials I researched and decided not to supplement with:

  • Modafinil (AKA Provigil): a drug approved by the FDA for treatment of narcolepsy that is becoming increasing popular for off-label uses. Has been dubbed "viagra for the brain". Proven to boost IQ scores. Seems to have similar effects as amphetamines without the dependency build-up and burn out effect.

    Capable of restoring brain function in the absence of sleep. Used by the US air force to maintain alertness and mental functioning in pilots for 40 hours straight. Tests given to pilots show they are functioning at the same levels as well rested control pilots.

    Why not: way too powerful. Anything that can substitute for sleep should give one pause. Long term effects in healthy individuals not known. Reports that long term use inhibits creativity and free association. Not surprising that something that would increase focus so dramatically would do that.

  • Adrafinil: Precursor to Modafinil that is converted in the body to Modafinil. Basically a "legal" version of Modafinil that is easier to obtain and you don't need a prescription for in the US. Need to take this at higher dosages because not all of it will be metabolized.

    Why not: same concerns as Modafinil + possible kidney toxicity. Wouldn't take this without doing regular bloodwork to assure safety.

  • Hypericin (AKA St John's Worth): a herbal mood enhancer that functions as a natural SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). Has about half the side effects of the leading prescription SSRIs.

    I would only consider taking some if I was depressed and only after researching in depth possible interactions with other foods/drugs/supplements because if you take multiple substances that effect neurotransmitter levels at high enough dosages (e.g., MAO inhibitors + serotonin reuptake inhibitors) you can get some really nasty side effects (e.g., serotonin syndrome), which can in rare cases actually be fatal.

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