Hacking brain health, without drugs.

This post is NOT intended to serve as any form of medical advice, but simply be informational on the practice of Neurofeedback for the informed individual. It is recommended you consult your doctor before trying, and If you do you try it at your own risk.

The dream, and the nightmare:

Peak performance enhancement, remediation of damage, and resilience in learning and aging have always seemed to me to be promised by the advances we are making in understanding how the mind and the brain work. Medical “technology” has indeed made vast strides against the landscape of pathology and imbalance in the mind and brain, and techniques exist to change most symptoms, from surgical to pharmacological. Indeed, drugs exist for most presenting complaints.

Problems exists, however, in drug oriented models of disease. They often ignore prevention, since the treatments were developed by evaluating symptom change, and second, there is this gross assumption that if we have “too little” or “too much” of something in the brain/body then just give a drug to make more, or suppress something. Most psychostimulants, antidepressants, anxiolytics, etc, work this way. Push one neurotransmitter production up/down, or allow it to accumulate more/less in the synapse, etc. But you can never make “one” thing happen in an interconnected system, and often produce non-intuitive behavior in the system.

Nonlinearity and chaos:

The central problem here with most drugs is an assumption of linearity. The brain – especially in cortex where higher cognitive functions occur – is a massively interconnected feedback system of positive and (mostly) negative feedback loops, systems, and subsystems. Some examples are the thalamocortical – corticothalamic loops. Tied in with brainstem arousal (reticular) areas. And acting as a switchboard for all our senses (except smell) as well as providing feedback to the systems that handle our emotional (limbic), memory and learning (medial temporal), movement (basal ganglia) and basic drive (hypothalamic) systems. And each of these somewhat modular systems have an astonishingly large number of inputs from each other and cortical regions. And let’s not even get started on the somewhat decoupled machine of posture and movement that is the cerebellum, or “little brain”. The cerebellum receives 19 of the 20 million descending motor command fibers, by the way, and only 1 million actually leaves the brain and heads down to drive things. And it’s got over half the neurons in the brain packed into 10% of the total brain space. So.. wiring aside, it’s safe to assume that a lot of brain function is in state transitions, and that gets us into the realm of dynamics. Dynamical Systems are ones that have thresholds, tipping points, and states. They revolve and oscillate and trip wildly through chaotic conditions.
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Introducing Nootropics: Piracetam

Several months ago, I began to experiment with nootropic substances.

That’s not as scary as it sounds, I promise. In fact, you may be so suitably impressed by the info in this blog post that you want to try them yourselves. Go right ahead; it’s a free country. But these series of posts on nootropics should not be interpreted or used as medical advice, and are simply intended to be informational. Any actions you take are your own responsibility, and I suggest consulting with your physician first. This becomes a very strong suggestion if you are taking any prescription meds. Also, this is a blog entry, so it’s a work in progress. I’ll be adding citations, editing content, and maybe even adding pictures as I have time, so your mileage may vary.

So exactly what are these “nootropics”? From the greek, we have noos (mind) and tropein (turn/bend). More plainly speaking, nootropics are “smart drugs” – brain-enhancing substances that improve cognition through various nutritive and/or drug-like effects.

Within peak performance, anti-senscence, medicine and psychology circles the term generally refers to substances that have few to no side effects and improve how the brain (typically the cortex) functions. Caffeine might be considered a nootropic, although it probably has too many side effects to truly be called one. Omega-3 fatty acids are probably a good example of a subtle nootropic. Substances like modafinil (Provigil) and either Adderal or methylphenidate (Ritalin) and it’s friends should probably not be termed nootropic. The psychostimulants carry some of the same cognitive, attentional, and learning and memory benefits as nootropics but often come with steep side effects, ranging from blood pressure and heart problems to maturational retardation or even sudden death. Various b-vitamin derivatives, plant substances, hormone/neurotransmitter-modifiers and some designer substances probably are. In contrast, these nootropics tend to increase oxygen absorption, support cellular metabolism, and/or increase and resupply specific neurotransmitters.
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