You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to effectively begin supplementing with nootropics, but understanding at least the bare bones of a few related fields is actually vital in order to most efficiently put them to work for you. I recall first dipping my toe into the nootropics scene nearly a decade and a half ago around 2002 when an artist friend had brought my attention to them. I already had an abiding interest in psychology and some basic neuroscience at hand, in other words I could tell you which lobes did what and what neurotransmitters were involved as far as some minor processes go. It certainly is a daunting task at first, even with a bit of a psychology background. If you’re determined to make a go at supplementing with cognitive enhancers, then logically the smart thing to do is implement the smartest ways to use smart drugs.
Even with 3 years separating me from my first earned college credit in Psychology and a basic working understanding of the major neurotransmitters and their action it was rough going at first. It seems a Herculean task, tackling the fundamentals of neuroscience so that you can understand just enough of the building blocks of neuropharmacology as regards the compounds at hand. This actually sounds more daunting than it is, or at least it seems more of a challenging journey than it would be without a decent road map anyway.
WHAT ARE NOOTROPICS AND HOW DO THEY WORK
If you’re new to the scene you may not be fully sure exactly what is referred to by nootropics. Nootropics were introduced in the 60’s by Dr. Corneliu Giurgea who not only introduced piracetam and aniracetam to the world but formalized the original criterion for what constitutes a nootropic substance. According to Dr. Giurgea himself: “The general aim of nootropic research is to find new drugs capable of enhancing directly the efficiency of the cognitive, noetic activity of the brain, thus compensating various neuro-psychologic deficits such as, but not exclusively, those related to aging.” So the field of nootropic research may appeal to anyone who’s interested in not only slowing the inevitable cognitive decline that accompanies aging but possibly even improve cognitive function beyond current baseline by shoring up deficits. This, as well as being generally neuroprotective and (in the case of the classic racetams especially) studied and generally considered highly non-toxic. It’s a good idea to learn the difference between true nootropic substances and other cognitive enhancers and smart drugs that may not have the same neuroprotective benefit in the long term as the original class of nootropic compounds have been shown to.
Ideally, before taking the plunge you want a good working understanding of all the major mechanisms of action, including receptor systems involved (cholinergic, glutamergic, GABAergic, AMPAkine, etc.). Attempting anything other could end up as catastrophically as fiddling with the kernel of your operating system without understanding how it works. The best way to go about it is to begin studying the classic nootropics, the cholinergic racetams, and understand how they work. You’ll also want to begin learning about acetylcholine (the learning and memory neurotransmitter), how it works, how it’s endogenously produced by the brain. Learning the major neurotransmitters, understanding the difference between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters, all these are great places to start.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER STUDY AND RESEARCH
Examine.com, BrainProTips.com and Gwern.net are also good spots for information about nootropics and the related fields. Gwern.net features a host of in-depth essays, articles and raw research data by former writer for Wired, Gizmodo vitamins, minerals, amino acids, various nootropics and other “bio-hacking” tricks of the trade like using Low level laser light therapy (LLL-T), brain sharpening “games” like Dual N-Back software, learning techniques like spaced repetition. You can also see what stacks are popular and trending at TrackMyStack.com Podcasts like SmartDrugSmarts and personalities like Tim Ferris and Dave Asprey cover the field of nootropics and many related subjects important to the would-be cognitive enhancer (fitness, nutrition, other environmental factors). The nootropics sub-reddit features a lively community. Multiple nootropics groups are springing up on social media and life extension and cerebral health forums like Longecity are also priceless storehouses of related knowledge.
OTHER TOOLS OF THE BIO-HACKING TRADE
Once you’ve armed yourself with the basic knowledge it’s best to discover your baseline. This is best done with the use of biometrics and/or cognitive/physiological tracking softwares. Applications are available for your smartphone like dual n-back software, that can actually result in improvements in memory after regular use. With the affordability and availability of the latest in biometrics, like galvanic skin response systems that can rea, that can actually result in improvements in memory after regular use.
Another possible boon to the rise in popularity of the cognitive enhancement movement is the rise of “personalized medicine” due to recent advances in the realm of genetics. Seeing as everyone has a vastly different inherited genetic makeup, certain people are more or less susceptible to certain diseases and may find certain medications more or less effective based on their DNA. Personalized services like 23&me allow users to submit a saliva swab and receive information about their genetics and ancestry. By taking part in such services you’re not only receiving valuable information about your ancestry and genetic make-up but also helping advance science by contributing data to a pool being studied by scientists dedicated to uncovering more secrets about our genomic sequence.
Remember that cognitive enhancement isn’t all about supplements either. Proper health is the basis of a fully functioning mind and body. You don’t fix the roof on a house until you’ve made sure the foundation is secure first in other words. Nootropics are just one tool available to get the most out of the gray cells. Tricks and methods for increasing intelligence, memory and other cognitive capacities have been utilized by the Egyptians, Hindus, Buddhists and beyond, but with the latest in neuropharmacological and technological advancements “brain hacking” in order to elicit higher states of performance, creativity and even enjoyment are now available to the masses. The development of Neuro-linguistics programming (NLP) with Drs. John Grinder and Richard Bandler’s debut text The Structure of Magic led to the rise of the self-actualization and self-help movemenent.
2016 seems primed to be the year that some formerly esoteric, cutting edge transhumanist ideas and technologies begin to gain widespread, mainstream acceptance as well as some appeal and interest among the general public. As a result in order to safeguard the use of these compounds, one of the most important things to learn is how to safely supplement. Though it’s been said many nootropics are “as safe as salt” exorbitant ingestion of the sodium in salt doesn’t quite “do a body good.” Understanding the safe range and only introducing one new compound after it’s been tested alone so you see how it affects you by itself and cycling on and off compounds are ways to avoid possible negative responses. The important thing is to remember that just reading a few articles a day for a year means your already on your way to becoming a burgeoning expert in an exciting new field.
If you’re ready to take the step into actually experimenting with nootropics don’t be put off by the study required. There is no “magic bullet” that can provide an instant increase in intelligence without any effort. Knowledge is, indeed, power. Taking this as an assumed axiom, then a possible corollary would be that gaining greater understanding about how the mind and body work and and the fascinating inner life of our learning processes and how to gain a competitive mental edge, is not just potential power, but a marketable commodity.
It is important to note that nootropics have not been approved by the FDA and that there are still dangers to consuming these substances. Although many have been shown in studies to be generally safe, consuming is not without risk. Adverse side effects and allergic reactions are possible so that must be taken into account. Every nootropic should be reviewed and allowed by a doctor as there is always some level of risk.
Nootropics are not approved to treat or manage any medical condition. Always check with your personal care provider before attempting any exercise, workout or supplement regimen especially if you are currently under a doctor’s care or taking any over-the-counter or prescribed medicines.
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