Here we are. One of my favourite subjects. Nootropics (smart drugs; synthetic and natural) are becoming more and more popular in the media and in the health sector, so I thought I'd give my 2 bitcoin (because if you put this information into action it’s definitely worth more than 2 cents 😘) worth.
Just as a precursor so you don’t sue me for giving you superhuman mental capacity 😉: I am not a doctor, nutritionist, dietitian, or have any papers required to prescribe any one of these 'drugs'. I am just a humble self-proclaimed biohacker sharing my favourite (what I like to call) brain steroids.
So in saying that, this is not a recommendation, or in any way medical advice.
Speak to your health practitioners for more information. Don’t take my word for it as we are all different and these substances—although safe in certain amounts—may not be safe for everyone.
Now that I have probably just increased your brain fog from having to read all of that, let’s start reducing it.
Life's hard—er ... for some.
Current society (especially 2020 to now, Jan 2022) forces us to start the ‘rat race’ 10m behind the original starting point. Fuck it, 50m now. It’s getting harder and harder to have the willpower to get off our Netflix binge/TikTok scrolling addiction. Our lounges and couches are tremendously more comfortable than our computer chairs, the gym, or outdoors in general.
Let alone all these dopamine (the happy, motivating, and arousal-causing neurotransmitter) boosting BAD habits, making us need more and more (already depleted) willpower to get our cooshy (fat’s an old-school word that offends us now) asses off that couch and do the things that truly make us happy.
One other thing before we start. The ‘you only live once’ statement (although literally true) I believe society has taken completely the wrong way.
Watching Netflix, scrolling social media, lazing about all the time does not make us happy. Yes, it releases dopamine which makes us think we are happy, but deep down we are definitely not. Why do you think depression is at an all-time high (other than the obesity epidemic and COVID forcing us inside)? It’s due to the fact that the majority of us have become too ‘comfortable’. Working tirelessly towards your dream job/business is becoming frowned upon as ‘working too much’…
... ‘You only live once Jimmy, why are you wasting it working all the time?’... ‘Well, did you ever think, Colin, that I love what I’m creating and get a sense of fulfillment doing it?’ This isn’t a real-life conversation I’ve had that I’m putting in here to prove my point btw 😅.
When we accomplish something we literally release happiness chemicals in our brains referred to as D.O.S.E (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphins).
Accomplishing things that make us happy is happening less and less. Especially as we age and we get comfortable in our 9-5’s. We don’t do outside-of-work team activities like sports anymore. We don't give ourselves fulfilling challenges as much. We give ourselves less and less opportunities to accomplish things.
Sidestepping this blog for a sec as I find it important. Here’s a quick rundown on these chemicals (neurotransmitters) and what they do for us. I think knowing this is a crucial part of living a happier, more fulfilling life.
Dopamine - The habit-former (good and bad). If used correctly, it will help you form healthy habits no matter how much you hate them.
Oxytocin - Weird, but the ‘hugging’ drug or love hormone. That sensation you get when you love someone, or after a couple of hours hanging out with your best friends.
Serotonin - The happy hormone. This stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. Also helps with sleeping, eating and digestion.
Endorphins - The natural pain killer. Once the pain factor is removed you will get a ‘high’ or relaxing sensation.
When you understand these chemicals and how they impact parts of your life, you can be more aware of the circumstances you are in and how you respond.
There are more neurotransmitters than this, but these are our main focus in this blog.
Lifes hard, working 40+hrs a week, then coming home to a family to look after depletes our willpower to do anything ‘extra’. Relaxation is key... just not the amount we all do it. Relaxation should be a reward for accomplishing something, not just living your normal life. I’m not saying don’t relax, just don’t call watching Netflix every night relaxing; it’s not, it’s a bad habit—plain and simple.
What we really need in order to kick our bad habits and start creating better habits is willpower. Especially because kicking any bad habit is already more painful than being a pinky toe and living in an endless loop of stubbing it on something you couldn’t even kick if you tried.
Precursor: nothing is ever going to beat a healthy lifestyle. These nootropics could be what you need to help you start living a healthier, more productive life.
These are my top 5 brain steroids that I use religiously either daily or whenever I’m feeling the ‘fuck this—I’m too tired’ start to kick in, and for increasing your inner Elon Musk Gene that we must all have because surely he’s an alien of some sort (fuck that was a long title but we try to do things differently, so I’m keeping it)
1. COFFEE/CAFFEINE (preferably blended with grass-fed butter, single-origin and a pinch of vanilla extract is always nice)
Dose: Let’s just say you shouldn’t be drinking any more than 3 a day.
I know you’re probably thinking ‘I just read all that nonsense to read about coffee?’... Education is key and you may be doing your coffee all wrong, making it less of a super drug.
If you don’t drink coffee, you can get your caffeine kick from tea or chocolate (the darker the chocolate, the more caffeine and the healthier it is in general).
Drinking coffee throughout our entire adult life has made us less aware of the effects and we have adapted to it being a necessity (some of us more so than water). A good way to get the mental kick we used to get is to fast from caffeine for a week or so. But since I know that’s blasphemy and I potentially lost 99% of readers from that statement, here are a few ways to help improve the effects without fasting.
We metabolize caffeine super fast (hence the toilet trip an hour after the contents of your cup vanished). Once metabolized, we reach for our mug and go fill it back up to counter the drop we just encountered from drinking the mental booster. Not including the intensified drop from adding sugar (if you do).
Hear me out: we are about to change your world of coffee drinking.
The formula: 1 tablespoon of unsalted grass-fed butter, 1 tablespoon of MCT oil, french/aero-press or long black coffee.
The method: Put it all in a cup and blend (it has to be blended, not stirred - there’s a reason for this, but we won’t go into that in this blog).
The result: Longer-lasting energy with no crash, increased caloric burn and mental boost.
Adding fat to your coffee slows down digestion, which slows down the caffeine release. Meaning a less-intense energy spike and longer-lasting energy.
You also feel fuller for longer (although butter coffee is yet to be scientifically proven as having a positive effect on satiety) so you’re not constantly thinking about your next meal, which gives you more energy to focus on whatever it is you’re doing. Being fuller for longer also means you will burn fat: fewer calories going in while your body continues to burn calories = fat loss.
Now for the benefits of MCT oil. When our bodies process MCT (Medium-Chain Triglycerides) oil it gets sent straight to our livers—bypassing the usual digestion process—where it is converted into energy. This longer-lasting energy can enhance our focus and mental performance. Although more controlled studies are needed, participants in 6 studies showed weight loss from this enhanced caloric burn.
This, my focus/energy-deprived family, is how coffee should be taken.
Caffeine is one of the fastest substances to be absorbed into your bloodstream. Once it’s in your bloodstream it travels to your brain. Once it hits your brain it blocks the inhibitory neurotransmitter adenosine. Once that happens, other neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine increase. This leads to enhanced neuronal firing, which improves your mood, memory, energy levels, and reaction times. The basic scientific rundown of caffeine. It’s boring, but now you know 🤓
2. THIS ONE’S GONNA SPARK SOME INTERNAL ‘I’M NOT TOUCHING THAT, I’M NOT A SMOKER’ OPINIONS. THAT’S OK BECAUSE THAT’S WHY WE’RE HERE. FOR THE LONG TITLES AND THE EDUCATION
Nicotine (Spray or clean gum)
Dose: 1-2mg whenever you need an extra hit of sustained mental energy.
Hear me out.
If you’re not convinced; it’s ok, but put on your ‘open-minded’ cap and read on so you can understand nicotine is not one of the 5000+ killing chemicals in smoking. There’s a big reason that some of the best books ever written were from coffee and cigarette addicts.
Nicotine on its own is a natural substance created by the nightshade family, tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants (think most vegetables with a hard surface) as a defense mechanism against insects. Tell me this, when was the last time you looked in the mirror and saw an insect looking right back at you? If this is a constant reflection you should more than likely go see a doctor. Unless you are an ant reading this and if that’s the case STAY AWAY FROM NICOTINE YOU SCARY LOOKING FUCK.
As a reference for those that care, the levels of nicotine in the nightshades you eat are very, very minute: tomatoes contain 332ng, potatoes 675ng and eggplants 525ng. A little bit of perspective, 1 cigarette contains 12mg of nicotine: 18,000 times more nicotine than a potato. Less than 2mg is transferred into the smoke of a cigarette.
If there are kids reading this, do not start trying to smoke vegetables to be cool. Smoking in general is stupid and a bad habit to start.
Fun Fact: Wild tobacco plants with higher concentration levels of nicotine survived longer than their sibling plants with lower levels of nicotine concentration. This, my friends, is evolution at work. Everything wants to survive longer, so it evolves by increasing its defense mechanisms. Writers’ thoughts—how is that a fun fact? It’s not.
I’m not going to go into why smoking is extremely bad for you; you would already know this. Be aware though that nicotine is the addictive chemical in smoking and is extremely hard to give up. Research shows it’s as hard to give up as heroin or cocaine as it affects the same parts of your brain. For this reason, I only take it when I need an extra instant boost of focus and memory, and in very minimal amounts of 1-2mgs.
Excessive use causes our brains to adapt to the presence of nicotine, which is reversible when you stop using it, but makes it hard to do so. Like anything, be smart with how you use it; too much of anything is bad for you.
Nicotine increases your heart rate and excessive use can cause your arteries to harden which can lead to cardiovascular problems. Do not take this close to your bedtime either—you will not sleep. I should really stop with the bad side of the nootropic, but I’d rather get that out of the way so you can make a conscious decision, not read all the good stuff then skip the bad stuff. Anyway, a quick conclusion: too much nicotine is bad, don’t be stupid and if you already have heart issues don’t bother.
THE GOOD STUFF
If you have a big day at work or need to sit at your computer for hours on end and need a heightened sense of focus, learning, and short-term memory, say hello to nicotine.
Fuck smoking. You want a clean source of nicotine like the spray or some gums. Be sure to check that there aren't other things in the ingredients that will affect your health.
Nicotine can be a stimulant and a sedative. If you choose to try it you will understand the stimulant side almost immediately. This is due to it stimulating your adrenal glands, which release adrenaline. Funnily enough, we have nicotinic receptors in our brains and when nicotine binds to these it increases numerous neurotransmitters including dopamine (motivation hormone), serotonin (happy hormone), norepinephrine (increases energy—this is where the elevated heart rate comes from—and helps break down fat), as well as some others, but this isn’t a neurotransmitter blog entirely and it’s too much to cover with nootropics... even though they are the reason for nootropics powers.
Nicotine has been shown to refine your motor skills and increase your reaction time. It significantly improves your ability to pay attention for longer periods of time, your short-term and working memory, and suppresses your appetite. If weight loss is a goal, combine this with caffeine (butter coffee).
Other than it’s focus-enhancing abilities, studies are showing that there are benefits for neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s), by reducing oxidative stress and neuroinflammation in the brain and improving synaptic plasticity, as well as neuronal survival of dopaminergic (in layman's terms: improves brain health).
If you’re going to try it: keep your usage to a minimum, keep it clean, be smart about it and talk to your healthcare practitioners if you have underlying issues. As I stated before, this is not a drug to take daily or in excessive amounts--it can lead to very bad health issues if you abuse it.
3. THE ‘I DON’T FEEL LIKE I’LL GET ATTACKED OR SCARE READERS AWAY FOR MENTIONING THIS’ ONE
Dose: 100 to 400mg Daily.
Now the scary one is out of the way, L-Theanine is a much safer nootropic. It’s not addictive nor does it have any confirmed or direct side effects.
I was getting anxious writing the last lot 😅, but luckily I’ve just taken some L-Theanine to reduce my anxiety and stress from the potential future backlash I may get. Smooth segue into this amazing nootropic 😉.
Found in tea, this amino acid has been shown to have a direct effect on your brain. L-Theanine significantly increases your alpha brain waves, relaxing your mind without inducing drowsiness. Although, the amount in black tea (approximately 20mg) is too small to show these effects.
Taking up to 400mgs daily significantly improves your focus, immune system, reduces anxiety and stress, and helps regulate your blood pressure. While there are no definitive studies to show a significant causative effect for preventing cancer, there have been a number of studies showing an association between people who drink tea regularly and lower cancer rates. This could be due to L-Theanine's anti-inflammatory activity.
L-Theanine can also help reduce insomnia. Although if you’re getting your dose from tea, follow the caffeine consumption guidelines. (I should have written the first 2 this way as it only took you 5 mins to digest 😅.)
4. THIS IS DEFINITELY ONE OF MY FAVS AS I AM HUGE ON INCREASING CELLULAR ENERGY
Acetyl-L-Carnitine (Capsule/ Powder) ALCAR
Dose: 1-3mgs Daily.
Sorry—this one has to be a bit longer. It’s a bit more complicated and I want you to understand why it’s such a great nootropic. So bare with me.
L-Carnitine is produced naturally in our brain, liver, and kidneys. Its primary function is to break down fatty acids and turn them into cellular energy. Studies have shown it reduces overall body weight, especially in adults who are overweight. And if you take Acetyl-L-Carnitine, the acetyl group lets it pass the blood-brain barrier to reach your brain and nerves and improve your mood, learning, and memory.
I take this religiously due to it breaking down fat and fueling our cells, keeping them powered and working efficiently. It’s a double whammy as it also helps remove some waste products from your cells to prevent them from accumulating and causing issues.
An energized, detoxified cell is a happy cell. The more energized your cells are, the more energy you will have and the better you will feel.
A basic rundown on how our body creates energy from stored fat.
Our bodies take stored fat and break it down into fatty acids. It sends these fatty acids to your mitochondria, which turns those fatty acids into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy that powers your cells.
Too bad it’s not that simple.
The fatty acids need a ‘carrier’ to be able to enter your mitochondria. This is where L-Carnitine comes into play. Performing at the most prestigious venues around the world I give you…........... The Carnitine Shuffle… I truly hope your brain automatically did the drum roll.
Without carnitine, your fatty acids can’t enter your mitochondria. Meaning they can build up in cells and damage your liver, heart, and lungs.
Sidestepping the blog here real quick again—it’s super important. Mitochondria are organelles; they are in every one of our cells; the powerhouse of our cells. Mitochondria uses the energy from either sugar or fat to create the energy (ATP) for our cells to function.
Now for why Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) is a great nootropic. Since ALCAR can enter our blood-brain barrier, it gets access to the dense collection of mitochondria in our brains. The more energy our cells can create, the better that collection of cells can do their jobs, whether they’re brain cells, muscle cells, heart cells, etc. More cellular energy in our brain leads to:
- Better overall cognitive ability;
- Improved cognitive function. A 2010 study showed 8 out of 14 participants reversed diagnosed dementia, returning to full cognitive abilities after taking ALCAR daily;
- Lowers inflammation due to increased glutathione (glutathione is a master antioxidant. Read our guide to supplements to learn more about glutathione); and
- Improves focus.
If you’re still here, you’re a real trooper. I know it’s a lot to take in, but trust me, it’s worth it. We are so close to the end. I can feel through my computer your excitement to start living your life to the fullest again.
5. THE ‘FUCK, I GOTTA GET THIS DONE BUT I’VE JUST HIT A WALL AND CAN’T GO ON’ DEMOLISHER OF THE WALL BEFORE YOU HIT IT DRUG.
Dose: 50mg whenever you need an extra boost. Can be taken daily.
The amount of times I’ve hit that title in my life is embarrassing. I used to blame it on everything: ‘work was too hard today, I’m depleted’ or ‘I’ve already done enough today, time for Netflix’.
Both are just excuses.
Before biohacking, I thought this was incurable, more of a personality trait. But man was I wrong. This little amino acid helped me understand that it’s—as most things are—a chemical issue, not a personality trait that I’m stuck with for life.
Tyrosine is an amino acid your body naturally produces from another amino acid called phenylalanine. You would already be consuming it in your diet. It’s found in almonds, cheese, chicken, turkey, dairy products, soy products, and most other high protein foods. Basically, it’s a building block for proteins (not the stuff you drink for muscle growth), and it boosts communication between nerve cells.
Proteins are complex molecules that play critical roles in your body. I’m not going to go into depth with them but they do important things in your body: antibodies (bind to foreign things like bacteria and viruses to help protect your body), enzymes (make the cellular chemical reactions happen), messengers (coordinate biological processes between cells), structural components (provide cellular structure and support), and transport/storage (help small molecules get around your body). Basically chains of amino acids that make your body do important stuff.
Supplementing with Tyrosine increases your dopamine and norepinephrine (more energy) neurotransmitter levels. Luckily we’ve already gone over these, so you understand why this is important 😛.
When we stress, we start to deplete our neurotransmitter levels, meaning we start to get irritable, lose focus, our short-term memory starts to fade and we experience brain fog.
Ever been working on an important project/assignment and all of a sudden you hit a wall? More than likely it’s to the depletion of those neurotransmitters (unless you’ve been up for 18hrs doing the same thing, in which case you’re more than likely tired—go sleep). Supplementing with L-Tyrosine will keep it circulating in your body, replenishing your neurotransmitter levels before stress can deplete them.
If you’re feeling down or just ‘off’, Tyrosine could give you the boost you need to get back on track due to it turning into dopamine. Aren’t you glad a sidelined you at the start to explain what dopamine is 😛.
BONUS: THE ULTIMATE ‘I REALLY NEED TO GET THIS SHIT DONE’ DRUG
Modafinil/Armodafinil (Prescribed Pill)
Dose: One in the morning (as early as you can if you want to sleep that night).
I saved the ultimate focus drug for you—the one who made it to the end—because I know you are going to take the most away from this super long, brain-juice draining blog.
This is my ultimate ‘today is the day I stay at my computer all day and write a blog’ nootropic. This powerful little nootropic keeps you focused for hours on end. Also if you're trying to lose weight, a study of 11 participants showed it decreased their total caloric intake by 18%- 38%. This is probably due to it increasing histamine (another neurotransmitter), which inhibits our appetite. That’s not to say you should be taking it as a fat loss substance. There is not enough research and the other effects it can have on your brain are not worth the fat loss effect.
Modafinil was originally created for shift workers and people with narcolepsy (a condition where you are chronically drowsy and spontaneously fall asleep), but has been shown to increase neurotransmitter levels that have a critical role in attention, focus and motivation, and improve short-term memory by up to 10%.
This isn’t a take-everyday drug. Our brains will start to adapt to it so it will become less effective.
Our brains are very efficient at how they use energy; if your brain doesn’t have to do something—it won’t. If you’re increasing neurotransmitter levels through supplementation daily, your brain will adapt and start to expect that supplement to do the work. Meaning that when you stop taking it, your brain won’t be creating the neurotransmitter levels it was before you started supplementing. Your new ‘natural’ level will be lower than before you introduced the supplement.
So take care. Don’t double-dose. And don’t continue prolonged usage.
It can also damage your sleep architecture (you won’t get enough deep sleep). This makes the drug counterproductive as deep sleep is where your brain consolidates memories, improves its recall ability and replenishes its energy. So if you’re studying for an exam and loading up on modafinil you could potentially forget most of the things you’ve learned throughout the week, or however long you’ve been cramming for.
Treat this nootropic as an ‘only every now and again’ supplement. It can easily be addictive due to feeling like Einstein or Elon when you’re on it. So be careful not to take it too often and only on the days you really need to get things done.
YOU MADE IT
I hope you got everything you wanted out of this blog. Remember to be careful, seek medical advice as I am not a doctor and some of these drugs can have negative interactions with any medication you're currently taking, or have some serious side effects.
Education and understanding is the most valuable asset we can have.
Go crush your goals, set new healthy habits, and let us know if these helped.