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.
The nootropic I’d like to focus on is in a called called the “racetams”, which are cholinergic in nature. E.g. they replenish and likely increase tonic acetylcholine in the brain. One of the best known and earliest used ‘racetams is Piracetam, which raises actylcholine and appears to work synergistically with choline sources and precursors such as CDP-choline, Centrophenoxine, alpha-GPC… even eggs.
Piracetam been used worldwide for many years to treat symptoms of ADHD, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and myoclonic seizures, posture in elderly, mood, fatigue, and many other complaints. Like many nootropics, Piracetam is non-toxic even at extremely high levels. The LD-50 (the amount that produces 50% death in lab animals) could not be determined because it’s impossible to feed animals enough to produce toxicity. Among humans there is no known LD-50 for Piracetam, and dosages range from 800 mg to well upwards of 5 g per day. These amounts would be a very high dose for most other supplements and drugs.
If you try Piracetam you may have to monkey with dosage to get an effect, and many reports suggest that full effects don’t emerge until after consistent supplementation for 4-6 weeks. That makes sense too, as it takes about 6 weeks for the process of neurogenesis (new neurons and glia developing from neural stem cells), and there may be other factors at work involving reorganization of memory and attention systems under this tonic change in ACh. Also on the note of dosage, taking a choline precursor seems decrease the dosage necessary as well as address any mild side effects experiences (such as digestive discomfort or nausea, and sometimes lethargy) that may be caused by either a sudden increase in ACh or perhaps by simple gastrointestinal reaction to absorption of a new substance. I began by taking 1600mg of Piracetam and 200 of Centrophenoxine in the morning and evening (3200/400 total). I discovered the Centro (and CDP-choline) tend to keep me awake if i take them in the afternoon, so i dropped back to 3200/200 per day. For a week or two I also tried 6400/400 divided per day, but found i got “too alert” and if i didn’t eat properly i got blood-sugar drops and low-energy headaches. For the past 6 weeks, I’ve been taking 3200/200 per day, and it seems this is the “perfect” dose for me, as long as I don’t skip meals. I tried the larger dose both because some people report needing much more to “feel” anything, and other anecdotal reports suggest that a loading or “attack dose” when beginning Piracetam may hasten effects, but there isn’t really any evidence this is necessary.
In picking a choline source, I chose Centro because it’s relatively cheap, has a host of other nootropic resources suggesting it works well all on it’s own, and also seems to have anti-aging effects on the skin as well as brain cells. Since the brain and skin start off as the same layer developmentally (the ectoderm) it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that Centro (and perhaps Piractam) have been shown to reverse lipofuscion in both the brain and the skin. These are fatty acid tangles that build up in brain cells, as well as in the skin (e.g. age spots).
So, what about the effects? On taking it for the first day, and for every day there after for at least a week, I experienced a “windshield wiper” effect, where my attention seemed both dramatically sharper and more relaxed. In fact my visual acuity seemed to be better, although that is probably a cortical (or simply cognitive) and not a retinal/eye effect of initial transduction. This became less obvious after a week or so, especially after I dropped the dose back to to 3200/200 daily. Essentially, however, Piracetam produces a state in me that is remarkably like taking Adderal (10mg a day) or dextroamphetamine, or even the right amount of coffee, but without any of the “stimulant” specific effects. E.g. no jitters, no appetite suppression, no nervousness or fidgeting, no loud voice, no bursts of aimless energy. It really does seem like the perfect “ADHD drug” to me, although of course, YMMV. I also find it has a slight relaxing (aniolytic) effect on me, without feeling the least sedating. It also improves my guitar playing (a bit – with regards to creativity mostly) and my african drumming (more than a bit – mostly in coordination and the ability to perceive time. I’m a much better drummer than guitar player – I bet that has something to do with it).
Suggested contraindications are hard to find, but if you are taking something else that is cholinergic be sure to speak to your doctor.
Sources for Piracetam and Centrophenoxine are abundant, but it is used much more in Europe and many other regions of the world compared to the US. It’s not a regulated substance in the US, however, and while it’s not something you can grab from places like GNC or CVS yet, you can get it from Amazon.com, for instance. I get mine from a place called Relentless Improvement. I do this because they keep 3-rd party purity certification on hand, and sell prepackaged capsules as opposed to only powder. Buying bulk powder from someplace (on Amazon.com for insatance) is certainly the cheapest way to go, but the stuff tastes horrible, so only go this route if you plan on masking it in workout shakes or capping a mix of powder yourself.
Many other sources of information abound on Piracetam, but http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nootropic is a good place to start.
Please let me know if you try Piracetam, and what your experiences are. Feel free to simply post your experiences in comments on this blog entry.