Are Brain-Boosting Performance Enhancers Invading Silicon Valley? [Opinion]

In the past year, some mildly obscure cognitive-enhancing compounds called “nootropics” have burst onto the scene. From the CBS show Limitless, based on the film of the same name, to a series of news pieces at CNN and elsewhere, nootropics are now starting to gain the attention of everyone from students to entrepreneurs. In fact, the Washington Post recently talked in-depth about nootropics with George Burke. The young Silicon Valley entrepreneur starts his day with a cocktail of cognitive enhancers and a microdose of LSD.

The Latest Trend: Micro-Dosing LSD

Micro-dosing LSD, which is illegal in most countries and often done alongside legal wakefulness enhancers like modafinil and nootropic supplements, has also recently become a hot topic in Silicon Valley. Just last spring, the Peak Performance conference, led by Dr. James Fadiman, expounded on the virtues of micro-dosing LSD for everything from anxiety relief, focus, better sleep, and expanded creativity and motivation. Dr. Fadiman recommends a minuscule amount that wouldn’t alter perception greatly, around one-tenth of a recreational dosage.

Burke, like many others, feels that cognitive enhancers will give him the edge he needs in the fast-paced, cutthroat world of California’s Silicon Valley. Burke told the Washington Post, “It’s not like every tech worker in Silicon Valley is taking nootropics to get ahead. It’s the few who are getting ahead who are using supplements to do that.”

San Francisco-based family practice doctor Vinh Ngo says, “People want to find an edge over their competitor — that’s how they got their position in the first place. I’m trying to give them a little more wiggle room — but in a safe way.”

The Origin of Nootropics

Romanian neuropharmacologist Dr. Corneliu Giurgea invented the original cognitive enhancers, now known as nootropics, in the 1960s. Beginning with the original nootropic, piracetam, the compounds in these enhancers are designed to be non-toxic and cause no major side effects. At the same time, they are intended to be neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing.

Smart Drugs: Adderall and Ritalin vs. Nootropics

nootropics adhd

College students, entrepreneurs, and others with high-stress lifestyles using “smart drugs” to alleviate a heavy work load is nothing new. Everything from all-night caffeine-fueled cram sessions to prescribed or illicitly acquired prescription drugs for ADD and ADHD, including Ritalin and Adderall, have been frequently utilized.

Unfortunately, use of excessive amounts of caffeine or non-prescription ADD drugs have notable side effects, and in the long term can have an overall deleterious effect on the brain’s functioning. For example, 26 percent of Adderall users end up with headaches, and 17 percent develop insomnia.

Nootropics are especially appealing for those who are concerned about the sustainability and long-term effects of what they are ingesting. Additionally, nootropics could be a safer alternative to cognitive enhancement medications such as Adderall because they appear to offer similar benefits without the risk of addiction or possible neurotoxicity.

Despite the fact that ADD and ADHD medications are occasionally used as study supplements, the term “smart drug” doesn’t apply very well when the potential long-term effects are considered. On the contrary, nootropics generally will not only provide a subtle boost to cognition but should also offer some neuroprotective benefits in the long and short term.

Nootropics for Beginners

nootropic supplements smart drugs

According to Gizmodo, nootropic enthusiasts indicate that before you even dip your toe into the pool of cognitive enhancement supplements, it’s best to carefully research how they work. In fact, these users from Reddit’s /r/nootropics board recommend the simple stack of caffeine and L-theanine for nootropic newbies. L-theanine is a slightly sedating and focusing compound that’s found naturally in green tea leaves, which means that most people will have already ingested this substance and caffeine on numerous occasions throughout their life.

A basic racetam like piracetam, aniracetam, or oxiracetam stacked with a choline source is another combination that is often utilized by those who are ready to move past the beginner stack of caffeine and L-theanine. Some users claim that piracetam stacked with choline can inspire a Zen-like “flow state.” Another option for people who don’t want to mess with putting multiple nootropics together on their own is trying one of the many available pre-made stacks.

Nootropics are generally considered non-toxic and fairly free of side effects. Piracetam, for instance, has an LD50 rating of 2000. This rating indicates the amount of a compound that makes it toxic. By comparison, sodium chloride’s LD50 rating is 3000. Therefore, piracetam is technically safer than table salt. Take that with a few grains rather than a full bottle, though!

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