Big heads wobbling on wee necks?....
March 5, 2004 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Nootropics ("smart" drugs) - all wish to be smarter, correct ? And - while exercise, nutrition, learning, travel, and social interaction (the last 3 via release of neurotrophins) effectively do this, Nootropic drugs have been researched since the 1950's and have been shown to cause at least short term cognitive function enhancement. Piracetam, the first of this drugs, shows promise in the treatment of Alzheimer's and Attention deficit Disorder. Alas, as with poor little Algernon, the effect seems temporary. Nootropics can be a little difficult to acquire in the US. Beer is not a nootropic, but sex on the other hand.....
posted by troutfishing (20 comments total)
For extra credit,
Which of the following relations is more correct ? :





Metafilter/yawning existential chasm of non-being
posted by troutfishing at 10:52 AM on March 5, 2004

"Beer is not a nootropic, but sex on the other hand....."

Sex on the other hand is highly over rated. It's clumsy and unfulfilling.
posted by torquemaniac at 11:10 AM on March 5, 2004

I don't want to be any smarter. I'm plenty smart. I would like have perfect pitch though. It would also be nice to have a natural aptitude for languages.

But smarter? Nah. What's that get you? More chicks? More cash? Better times at the Sci-fi convention? Or just a deeper sense of the futility of human desire and the fathomless emptiness of existence?

I mean, you take a smart drug, pretty soon your gonna need some other ones to get through the day.

And I'm pretty sure I don't want anyone else getting their hands on a drug like that. Theodore Sturgeon has a story about a futuristic drug from an alien plant that makes you faster, stronger, smarter, amoral, and is addictive like heroin. The best thing about beer is that clearly disadvantages those who consume it... unlike, ah, sex.
posted by ewkpates at 11:26 AM on March 5, 2004 [1 favorite]

You know, I did some research on this to find out if there was anything worth buying. Most of what I found (non-prescription) were expensive placebos. Even with prescription drugs, there's very little benefit (and I'd avoid the risks of frying your brains).

I do hope (kind of) they have nootropics in the future. They have drugs to improve our athletic ability, why not our mental? Of course if you think there's a gap in performance between upper-echelon children and the lower side of the economic scale... we'll see it widen when $100 a month drugs come into play. Plus, I saw kids go crazy over SATs and ACTs, doping would become common place for such tests.

If you want to see what'll really improve your mental performance, ask any college student. No one's taking nootropics but Adderall and other light amphetamines are being abused all over the place. And college students will be the first to get their hands on any successful nootropic.
posted by geoff. at 11:30 AM on March 5, 2004

I use this for short periods of increased brain activity and it works and is based in solid science from a Harvard peer reviewed published doctor. It also helps my mood when feeling depressed. However, it is costly and you have to take it at low levels for a few months to build up reserves of the Omega-3 fats in the brain then when you want a boost take large quantities. It also helps with eye site, colors are more vibrant and sharp. The same thing can be done with natural food but is harder to get the right ratio of fats, eating lots of sushi seems to be similar for me, but is costly and has some other problems like toxins.
posted by stbalbach at 11:43 AM on March 5, 2004

I've been on the hunt for decent nootropic for some time now, doing everything from gingko to L-theanine. I had a shot of vitamin B12 yesterday, long touted as a brain booster. And lemme tell ya, I feel amazing.

Sex, on the other hand, only works as a nootropic if it involves another person.
posted by moonbird at 11:52 AM on March 5, 2004

geoff - here's a decent sized collection of Piracetam research assembled by a woman who was investigating it as a treatment for Down's Syndrome. It was ineffective for that but proved effective in enhancing cognitive function in many other cases.

In any case, I defer to the good Stephen Harris, M.D. (from my "temporary" link) whose nutshell summation was (I thought) superb : " There are quite a number of nootropic drugs in which there are well-constructed studies showing a significant mental performance increase for a short time in healthy people (for a review, see the Smart Drugs books by Ward Dean and John Morgenthaler). None of these positive studies, however, are very long-term ones. There is much better evidence for nootropics as short term aids for special occasions (eg., final exams). Don't expect to take them every day and get the same benefit....

In short, nootropics are all pretty much either "uppers" or "cholinergic-activating memory drugs". Each class has characteristic side effects. All of the uppers-- purinergics like caffeine and theophylline, herbs like ginkgo and ephedra and coca, adrenergics like amphetamines, and functional ones like Gerovital, deprenyl, and thyroid, all make people naturally feel wired and high strung and irritable. If you're an anxious type, they may do more harm than good, and if you tell your boss one day to get lost, you may later decide that increasing your on- paper job performance wasn't worth the social price. By contrast, the more purely "cholinergic" or sympathetic type drugs (choline itself, DMAE, Lucidril, pantothenate, vinpocetine, vincamine, piracetam and derivatives, vasopressin, etc) all improve memory, but can give you the typical cholinergic side effects also: stuffy nose, GI upset or bowel looseness, stiff muscles, increased joint and tooth pain or sensitivity if you have any pre-existing problems, and general fatigue.

All the nootropics of both classes can cause insomnia, since
in general autonomic activation is not conducive to sleep (as an organism, you're supposed to be paying attention if your
autonomics are firing-- that's what they're THERE for).

FINALLY, ALL THESE EFFECTS OF NOOTROPICS ARE SHORT-LIVED, since the brain is an adaptive organ, and is not meant to be goosed by the autonomics in a big way all the time. Thus, if you use these drugs every day, like caffeine or like amphetamine, pretty soon you develop tolerance and need the drug to get back to normal. If you don't have the drug after that, you actually function subnormally until you "kick the habit." If it's a
short-lived drug, you use it in rapid cycles. That's not much
good for you, so be wise. Perhaps you've been there with
caffeine, a very typical nootropic. Note also that nicotine is a powerful nootropic-- this one a cholinergic (people wouldn't use the stuff if it didn't do SOMETHING for them). Aside from smoking and coffee, I've seen nootropic enthusiasts who spent the whole day popping pills just to function. Just like smoking, this was all legal, but it didn't look like much fun. And of course, the pill thing is expensive as hell, even if it has no adverse long term health effects (which I cannot swear to, in the case of all these drugs, either)

At least coffee and tea look pretty safe, epidemiologically.
Hydergine has been well-studied long term, as well, and at least does no harm. If you have to start somewhere, start with these. But don't overdo it."


moonbird - actually, the best one I know of is........exercise! ( sexercise too, but you're right - a partner is necessary to get that effect. See my link on Neurotropics (social activity promotes the release of these. Sex with a partner is a social activity )

stbalbach - I might give that a try. The stimulant nootropics tend to deplete nutrients - so they can have a backlash effect after a while. Nutriceuticals are more of a hoistic approach.
posted by troutfishing at 12:17 PM on March 5, 2004 [1 favorite]

Oops. "holistic".
posted by troutfishing at 12:17 PM on March 5, 2004

it works and is based in solid science from a Harvard peer reviewed published doctor.

Ok, let's clear that up right now. This is a referece to Andrew Stoll at Harvard Med. He has no peer reviewed published studies on the use of Omegabrite (TM) to make you smarter. The publications you refer to studied the use of omega-3 fatty acids in treating depression and bipolar disorder. You can search for "AL stoll omega" here to find a list of his abstracts. Note that two of them are about potential flaws in his own study designs.
posted by shinnin at 12:51 PM on March 5, 2004

I would agree with exercise, but not necessarily physical exercise. I am familiar with a form of meditation that deals with three mental states: focus, unfocus and transition.

Most people are plagued with transition, bouncing back and forth between a focused and an unfocused state. It consumes a great deal of attention, and distracts you from your purpose at hand.
If, however, you can train yourself to extend the time in a focused or unfocused mental state, you automatically increase your mental effectiveness.

Imagine how much better you would do on a test if you could focus on it, to the exclusion of distracters, for an entire hour? Seemingly: instant intelligence!

Conversely, if you wish to be intuitive, artistic or inspired, how much better would you be at it if you could just unfocus and not be distracted for an hour? Seemingly: instant creativity!

So instead of trying to chemically alter your brain, your perform a simple exercise to condition your mind to stop bouncing back and forth. Saving a lot of energy in the process, too.
posted by kablam at 6:09 PM on March 5, 2004

Don't leave us hanging kablam, what's this magical form of meditation called?
posted by yangwar at 7:32 PM on March 5, 2004

kablam - I would have mentioned meditation but for it's detractors (more rebuttal time would be involved in providing links to the relevant research).

These techniques you mention have an ancient lineage....but their language has mostly fallen to disuse.


yangwar - I don't know what kablam's school of meditattion involves, but there is considerable accepted empirical research which demonstrate meditation's overall benefits. I can illustrate this point of mine if necessary - this might even do me a service.
posted by troutfishing at 8:41 PM on March 5, 2004

shinnin, thats true he doesn't say it makes you smarter. I find it keeps me more alert and better able to concentrate. I have given it to friends and they all report being more productive. Take it as you will. Stoll is peer reviewed and is a Harvard associated doctor there is a lot of exciting research going on about Omega-3 in particular in certain ratios. His book is great reading. One theory is that early humans evolved in coastal areas of Africa with lots of seafood (Omega-3) when the brain was evolving to a larger size.
posted by stbalbach at 9:04 PM on March 5, 2004

F Mackenzie - Hmmm......interesting

Err, what was I saying? Oh yeah. Interesting, thanks for that tidbit. It reinforces the Harris "no free lunch" quote I posted above. The title of that story is misleading though - Kinease "A" suppresses prefrontal cortical activity but there wasn't any evidence of actual damage cited, though the article may just have been poorly written. Besides, they can counteract that problem by adding some amphetamines (which increase activity in the prefrontal cortex) to the mix. I'm sure long term amphetamine use (depending on the dose too, of course) is harmful. But in the long term, we're all dead.

I attribute that comment above to my satanically influenced, anti-holistic evil twin MelGibsonFishing. I had nothing to do with it. Really.

F Mackenzie - Hmmm......interesting

Err, what was I saying? Weren't we talking about memory drugs?
posted by troutfishing at 6:46 AM on March 6, 2004

I honestly doubt that 200 some-odd years of "real" physiological science can possibly compare with the millions of years that evolution has brought us. The human body is a marvel, and there are still so many things we don't understand about it that I find it highly amusing when I read that scientists are trying to "unlock" that extra 90% of brain power, or increase physical strength with a pill.

Don't you think that if the solution was so simple, we would already have evolved a process to do it? This reminds me of those people who "chip" their BMW's to get an additional 15 HP out of them. Great. 15 HP. At what cost? The delicate balance that the human body has achieved over millions of years is not going to be so easily improved upon with a few magic beans you can buy on the internet.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:45 AM on March 6, 2004

To those who are curious, *most* forms of meditation involve to some extent what I detailed. "Clearing the mind", is trying to willfully overcome "transition".

A deeper rationale involves the question: why do people *have* this annoying "bounce" between a state of focus and unfocus, that I call "transition", in the first place?

The answer to that is simple: in a survival situation, most of the time for our ancestors, it is *not* a good idea to be either too focused or too unfocused. It will get you eaten by a tiger or something. You won't notice it until it gets you, being either hypnotized by a pretty flower (focus), or pondering the nature of the universe (unfocused), while kitty contemplates his lunch.

So we, as a species, developed the technique to keep us bouncing back and forth, to maximize our survivability.

The technique is talking to ourselves, chatter inside our heads, that keeps us from becoming too focused or too unfocused. It is a learned behavior, and adults spend a goodly amount of time teaching their children to talk to themselves.

However, there no longer being a surfeit of tigers about, we now use lots of meditation techniques to get back the quiet in our heads that is needed to develop our states of mental focus and unfocus.

What method you use to get this varies. Some prefer one, I prefer another. The end result is the same thing.
posted by kablam at 8:09 AM on March 6, 2004

"Don't you think that if the solution was so simple, we would already have evolved a process to do it? This reminds me of those people who "chip" their BMW's to get an additional 15 HP out of them. Great. 15 HP. At what cost?" - I don't disagree at all. I just posted the idea (nootropics) but that doesn't mean that I am advocating such tinkering....although, in fact, I AM one of those crazed tinkerers.

In general I do think human biology is optimized....but for what, to what ends? And I agree that meddling will generally cause problems - but at the same time, if human civilization continues much longer (and that's a big "if") I suspect, we will be forced to meddle : at least for our own survival.

There may be other ways to forestall disaster too. But we do so love our tinkering. As a species, more than anything, it's what we do. Me, you, all of our kind - but some more than others.

I am both a tinkerer and also extremely sensitized to the perils of this. My tinkering is more of a compulsion....or an instinct.

: an instinct which led us to this moment in time and which may also lead us away, though not by gentle means.


kablam - (" there no longer being a surfeit of tigers about...") we think along similar lines, you and I.
posted by troutfishing at 7:35 PM on March 6, 2004

homunculus, OMG - It's "Flowers For Algernon" come to life! - " future experiments, Lahn will insert the human ASPM gene into mice to see what affect it has on brain development. He hopes to reconstruct the detailed story of how the human brain grew and changed as the result of natural selection, thereby creating the thing that makes us each unique—the human mind"

Mice with huge cerebral cortices. Then, Charly or - first this, then experiments on apes. Next, " The Planet of The Apes"....
posted by troutfishing at 9:23 PM on March 6, 2004

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