Imagine Multivitamin X. Research says taking Multivitamin X every day improves your alertness, reduces incidences of depression, and elevates your mood daily. There are no major side effects for most healthy adults. The multivitamin consists of naturally occurring nutrients and dietary supplements, and is inexpensive. Multivitamin X is mildly addictive — but it’s entirely possible to get completely off the multivitamin if you don’t like it, and stop using it with no negative long-term effects.
What if I told you Multivitamin X was also known as a caffeine? — one of the world’s most commonly consumed drugs. What about bacopa monnieri, a well-studied naturally occurring herb that has been proven to have memory effects? What if I told you it was adderall, piracetam, or modafinil? Would that change your mind? Why?
On a daily basis, I’m always trying to improve my intellectual attributes like attention and alertness, characteristics that I believe can help make me a more efficient and productive person. As a simple example, I’m amazed at the changes in my mood and output during days when I’m less sleepy. While of course getting sleep and exercise are fundamentals, I’m interested in taking it a step further. Nootropics, also known as “smart drugs,” promise to improve the human condition via intelligence, anxiety reduction, alertness, and more. Think about it — what if Multivitamin X could fundamentally improve our human capabilities — we can be more efficient in work, more sociable and happy in our personal lives, and generally more intelligent beings? Pretty awesome, huh?
Of course, nootropics are not perfect and have several ethical issues, varying from biological to political. One of the most common arguments: one should avoid reliance on a foreign substance for your own biology. Yet, consider birth control pills, vaccines, and painkillers — or even simple things like glasses and braces. All these substances are technologies that enhance our natural biology. The key is to make the right risk vs. reward calculation on a personal level — ask the question, “Is this upside worth the downside?”
So this is why, for the next month, I’m conducting self-experiments with well-studied legal supplements to evaluate this risk vs. reward tradeoff. Here’s a bit more info on what I’ll be doing.
I’ll take the pills in the following order, and change my regimen as needed.
- Caffeine + L-theanine (8 days)
- Break (5 days)
- Caffeine + L-theanine + Bacopa Monnieri (8 days)
- Break (5 days)
- Piracetam (14 days)
- Break, Reevaluate (4 days)
You can check out my Nootropic Self-Study Spreadsheet to see how I’m doing. (I’ll also use Quantified Mind’s tracking tools to take tests and evaluate some of my mental abilities) The quantifiable mental abilities I’m most interested in tracking are:
I’ll also track in other columns some relevant tangential info that may affect this information:
- Other substances I ingest
- Hours of sleep
- Negative effects
Why these drugs?
So you may wonder why I selected the supplements listed above as the first ones to experiment with. The tl;dr — I picked based on ubiquity of usage and intended benefits.
Caffeine + L-theanine
- Dose: 100mg + 200mg, in morning
- Info: Caffeine is one of the most widely consumed drugs in the world, and is seen as one of the safest to consume on a regular basis. Caffeine also has clear benefits to me, including attention, anti-fatigue, and sociability. L-theanine is often recommended with caffeine to both amplify the positive effects of caffeine while reducing the negative ones, and the combined effects of the two drugs together has been extensively studied.
- Safety: This drug is extremely common. It is also a part of Nootrobox’s “Sprint” supplement.
- Studies: Caffeine as an attention enhancer: reviewing existing assumptions, Post-study caffeine administration enhances memory consolidation in humans, L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state, Assessing the effects of caffeine and theanine on the maintenance of vigilance during a sustained attention task.
- Dose: 300mg, in morning
- Info: Research proves this supplement improves memory long-term, and has short term anti-anxiety effects. Unfortunately, many redditors reported a lowered motivation, so I will be tracking this very carefully. It seems as though, since Bacopa reduces stress, it may also reduce motivation that results from stress. Bacopa is often taken with a stimulant, so I’ll take it with caffeine. For now, I’ll just take Bacopa for a week to determine if I can handle the immediate effects, and consider taking longer-term for the memory effects.
- Safety: This drug is a part of Nootrobox’s recommended daily “Rise” supplement.
- Studies: The cognitive-enhancing effects of Bacopa monnieri: a systematic review of randomized, controlled human clinical trials, Chronic Effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) on Human Memory
- Dose: 1600mg thrice a day
- Info: This supplement, used by Tim Ferriss and Dave Asprey, can help with learning, memory, and sociability. There are reports of headaches as a side effect, so I may supplement with choline if this appears. Additionally, many report that when Piracetam’s effects subside, they get a “brain fog”, characterized by confusion and inability to think clearly. I will monitor this closely, and take it only for two weeks which is the minimum recommended amount to actually feel an effect.
- Safety: This one is the least safe of the three because it has the least public usage. Tim Ferriss’s usage as well as Piracetam’s high prevalence among the nootropics community gives me hope. I will only do this for two weeks to mitigate risks.
- Studies: Increase in the power of human memory in normal man through the use of drugs, Piracetam-induced improvement of mental performance. A controlled study on normally aging individuals.
Yes, there are many risks to doing this, such as weird interactions between supplements, or the risk of an undiscovered illness I may have, but I believe the risks are mostly mitigated by the following:
- These are all legal drugs.
- I am closely monitoring my health and wellness during this period.
- Many people take these drugs regularly in society.
I’ll be posting weekly updates on my experiences with the supplements and any effects I’m starting to notice, so stay tuned for more. I find the general field of nootropics to be very promising, but also riddled with many ethical open questions that I would love to explore.
More information, including links to research papers can be found in the following links: