Are You Using Caffeine the Wrong Way?
10 December 2019
When they work, nootropics can make you more productive, happier, more alert, and can help you build better habits. When they don’t work, they can keep you up all night, make you tired, give you a headache, or even cause a potentially dangerous overdose. I’ve experimented with Nootropics for years, but I don’t consider myself an expert on them. Below is a Summary of Specific Nootropics that are very common:
Melatonin is the primary hormone responsible for sleep onset. It is produced naturally by the brain in response to fatigue and low environmental light (particularly blue light) level. It’s also available as a pill — over the counter in the U.S. and some other countries, or by prescription in other countries, including most of the E.U. As a supplement, melatonin is typically taken 30–60 minutes before bedtime to induce sleep. Melatonin supplements are usually dosed at 3, 5, 10, or occasionally 1 mg, but these dosages are likely excessive. As little as .1 mg can induce drowsiness, .3 mg can induce sleep, and .5 mg can effectively shift your circadian rhythm. Some people, like Marius, report that melatonin also helps them to get more refreshing sleep in less time — whether this is due to sleeping more deeply or simply getting to sleep faster is unclear. Melatonin is very safe, with side effects no worse than placebo. This holds true even at higher dosages; while there’s little reason to use a high dose, there also seems to be little risk in doing so. Some individuals do report needing a higher dose for it to be effective, but this seems to be rare based on the research. The optimal way to use melatonin seems to be to take between .3 and 1 mg, 30–60 minutes before you want to go to sleep.
Piracetam is the granddaddy of all nootropics, and probably the only one that can compete with the caffeine + theanine combo for sheer popularity. It belongs to a class of related nootropics called racetams, and despite having been around since the 1950’s, it is still poorly understood. Studies on Piracetam have found mixed results. The most-supported use is in the prevention of cognitive decline—so much so that studies of other anti-dementia drugs will sometimes compare the effectiveness of the studied drug to that of piracetam. Anecdotally, many users report improvements in mood, cognition and the ability to focus, but these are not supported by research at this time. Many other users report no effect at all. Response to Piracetam seems to be highly individual. Piracetam is typically dosed between 1200 and 4800 mg/day, split into two or three (ideally three) doses. Based on the research, 400 mg three times a day is a good starting point. After the first two weeks, this dosage can be gradually increased to 800 mg three times a day — the highest dosage to have strong support in the research.
Another member of the racetam group, Phenylpiracetam hasn’t been studied as much as Piracetam. It seems to have similar effects as Piracetam, but the required dosage is several times lower. Like Piracetam, Phenylpiracetam seems to aid in preventing or slowing cognitive decline, particularly in stroke survivors. It has also been shown to reduce depression and anxiety…again, in stroke patients. Unfortunately, the research on it has mostly been confined to stroke patients. That said, widespread anecdotal reports suggest that it has similar effects to Piracetam, but with more of a stimulant effect. At least one study has found that rats move around more, and faster, after taking Phenylpiracetam. This has lead to it becoming modestly popular for athletic enhancement, and being banned as a doping agent in many athletic organizations.
Choline is not a drug, per se, but a naturally occurring essential nutrient. It is water-soluble, vitamin-like, and occurs naturally in many food sources — most notably in egg yolks. Its use as a nootropic stems from the fact that Choline is the primary building block of Acetylcholine, the primary neurotransmitter responsible for learning. In addition, since a Choline deficiency can cause fat accumulation in the liver, Choline is sometimes used to help treat fatty liver. Choline is one of the more popular nootropic supplements. It’s safe, affordable, and usually used in stacks with other supplements that act on the cholinergic system — as Choline can, at least in theory, potentiate anything else that promotes the production of Acetylcholine. Research is sparse on Choline — the one study I could find found no effect from it. That said, the study had a small sample size and short duration, and its design bears little resemblance to how choline is used in practice. If you want to try a Choline supplement, they come in several forms. CDP-choline and alpha-GPC are the two forms thought to be most active in the brain. Daily dosages range from 200 mg once a day, up to 1500 mg divided into several daily doses. I’d recommend staying near the lower end of that range, personally. As always, start low and gradually raise it over the course of several weeks, and be especially conservative if stacking it with other nootropics. To avoid overdosing, take Choline in pill form, not powder form.
Ashwaghanda is an herb known in ayurvedic (Indian) medicine for its ability to reduce anxiety and allegedly help the body adapt to stressors. It is well-established as an anxiolytic—multiple studies have found that Ashwaghanda is effective at reducing stress and anxiety. It has also been shown to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) and c-reactive protein (a measure of inflammation). The typical dosage is 300–500 mg per day, either divided or taken with breakfast. Lower doses, around 100 mg per day, may be preferable if combining it with other anti-anxiety agents. There’s a lack of data on how Ashwaghanda interacts with other anti-anxiety agents, so don’t combine it with prescription anti-anxiety drugs (at least without talking to your doctor first).
Over the past few years, Modafinil has become one of the most popular well-known nootropics. It has been the subject of many mainstream media articles- and arguably a bit of a fad. So what is Modafinil? It’s a prescription drug for keeping narcoleptics awake, and it’s very effective at what it does. It’s prescription-only in the U.S. and Canada. Adrafinil, on the other hand, is available over the internet, and it’s a prodrug of Modafinil — that is, it converts to Modafinil in the body. There can be no doubt at this point that Modafinil reduces fatigue and enhances wakefulness. It has also been shown in several studies that Modafinil improves cognition, working memory, motivation, and subjective well-being in healthy subjects. That said, studies find more pronounced benefits in sleep-deprived subjects or those with sleep disorders. In healthy, well-rested subjects, the benefits are still there, but fairly minor. While it is often compared to amphetamines, the effects are markedly different. Modafinil only slightly increases blood pressure and reaction time; overall, its effects seem to be less physical and more purely mental compared to most stimulants. Modafinil is typically dosed at 100–200 mg per day. It has a very long half-life — around 15 hours — so it should only be taken first thing in the morning, before breakfast, unless you want to stay up very, very late that night.
Adrafinil converts to Modafinil at somewhere between a 3:2 and 3:1 basis. That is, 300 mg of Adrafinil converts to somewhere between 100 and 200 mg of Modafinil, so the starting dosage should be around 200 mg. Since Adrafinil itself has a half-life of one hour, the effects last even a little bit longer than Modafinil. Again, only take it first thing in the morning.
LSD microdosing is currently growing in popularity as a way to improve productivity, mood, creativity, and overall well-being. Due to its legal status, research on LSD microdosing has been nonexistent until recently. While studies are now starting to be performed, the results aren’t out yet. That said, many individuals have found LSD microdosing to be highly effective, even life-changing. So what is micro dosing? A typical dose of LSD is around 100 micrograms — most blotters are dosed at that level, and that’s the typical “party dose” that will make you hallucinate a bit, but not completely lose your mind and forget where you are. People who want to “trip out” might take several times that much. A micro dose, by contrast, is around 10–20 micrograms. This dose doesn’t cause hallucinations, and in fact, the effects tend to be very subtle. Mostly, it just makes you have a really good day. People who micro dose typically take this dosage in the morning once every 3–4 days, and usually find that it doesn’t cause a tolerance at this level.
Yes, nicotine, the main ingredient in cigarettes. Surprisingly, nicotine in isolation seems to be far safer and less addictive than tobacco products, and is fairly popular as a nootropic. Part of this may be because cigarettes have other chemicals besides nicotine, but the rate of delivery is important too. Nicotine patches seem to be less addictive than other forms of nicotine, such as gums and inhalers — researchers attribute this to the slower rate of nicotine delivery in patches, which avoids any euphoria-inducing peaks. Studies on nicotine’s mental effects in non-smokers are few and far between right now. One study found improvements in cognition and memory, another found that nicotine combined with caffeine synergistically increased energy levels and calorie expenditure, and a third found that nicotine may mildly improve focus. Effects on anxiety are mixed — nicotine may increase or decrease anxiety. Anecdotally, nicotine is usually used for focus, and to suppress hunger while working. For non-smokers, the dosage is usually 1 mg or less of nicotine gum, or 1–4 mg of a nicotine patch. Nicotine patches are the preferred method due to their sustained release. Since patches are dosed at 7, 14 or 21 mg in the U.S., users typically cut them up to reduce the dosage.