Category: Articles

These posts aren’t associated with a particular podcast episode. They’re just good, old-fashioned writing on a variety of nootropic, neuroscience, or personal optimization topics.

There’s a word I’ve always felt to be missing from the English language.  It’s a bizarre omission, I think — because if it existed, it would describe pretty much my favorite thing.

You know that “pins and needles” feeling when something really excites you?  Your skin feels electric, like the hairs on your legs and arms are little lightning-rods, pulling in energy from the air around you.

It moves in a slow wave, tingling up your body toward your head and neck.

You can feel the blood in your face.  Maybe you feel compelled to take a breath — like a slow-motion gasp, in recognition of whatever triggered the sensation.

Why is there not a word for this?

The closest thing English offers is the phrase “a sense of wonder” — but that seems too abstract, and misses the very physical, very transient nature of what I’m talking about.

Despite its namelessness, this one sensation is the biochemical carrot that keeps this particular rabbit running.

A Chemical Harpoon

Something is going on for me physically, internally, when I feel this.  I’m sure dopamine — the brain’s “reward” neurotransmitter — is involved, because the sensation is both pleasurable and an automatic inducement to feel it again.

In fact, at the risk of venturing into PG-13 territory, I think there’s a strong analogy between this sensation and an orgasm.  If an orgasm is the physical endgame of sexual arousal, the sensation-of-which-I-speak is the physical culmination of intellectual arousal.  When a sense of understanding gets so big it spills out of your brain into your body’s epidermal nerve endings… well, that’s my layman’s-science sense of what’s going on here.

For me, it’s triggered in a few ways…

  • Sometimes by really “epic” music, almost always timed to some audible crescendo.
  • Sometimes through emotional voyeurism, when I see someone experiencing an emotion, and for a moment I empathize so clearly that the walls of identity between us become semi-permeable.  (“If I were you, I’d feel that way too”; in a profound way.)
  • And lastly, by dawning comprehension.  A feeling not of “I know,” but of “Now I know.  I have figured it out.

It’s this third of these that feels like the heart of the matter; maybe the first two are just specific instances of this general case.  So — so that we have something to call it — I’m going to call this feeling PSoE: the Physical Sensation of Epiphany.  (If you’ve got a better name, email me.)

The Relentless Search for Novelty

Let’s divert for a moment with a hard-drugs parallel and some thoughts about novelty — then we’ll tie all this back to nootropics.

This sensation can be triggered by dawning comprehension.  A feeling not of “I know,” but of “Now I know.  I have figured it out.

I’ve never been a heroin user, and I certainly hope you haven’t been one either.  But I’ve seen enough movies to be familiar with the idea that long-term junkies are always “chasing their first high,” and the only way to re-approach their initial euphoria is to up their dosage.  (In heroin’s case, with predictably disastrous consequences.)

So it is with many forms of pleasure.  A measure of novelty — either a new experience, or a new amount of a familiar experience — is required to deliver flat-lined levels of joy.  Somewhat frustrating, until you think about how adaptive this is.

Think of the joy a little baby feels when he masters the pronunciation of his first syllable, or a toddler feels when he’s able to consistently not crap himself.  If those levels of self-satisfaction didn’t quickly subside, there wouldn’t be much motivation to move past not-crapping-one’s-self to, say, discovering the Laws of Thermodynamics.

So, luckily for the pragmatists among us, good feelings don’t last.  They fade, they fade fast, and they challenge us to re-earn them.  Continually.

So for me, as I chase my drug-of-choice — PSoE — I’m distinctly aware that I won’t feel it by merely revisiting my old Calculus homework and tweaking with stuff that I’ve already figured out.  It’s the figuring it out that brings the rush, not the knowing it.

And this forces me to put myself into circumstances that are conceptually challenging.  As often as I can.  Day in, day out.  Because this is the forest where my game is hunted.

I’m pretty disciplined about this.  My life is no smoothly-oiled machine — not by a long shot — but one thing I will say for it is this: I have effectively banished boredom.  I’m never bored.  I’ve spent maybe 10-15 hours bored in the past two decades.

This is largely by design.

At a fairly young age, I realized I dislike boredom more than misery.  (And believe me, I’m no fan of misery.)  PSoE had something to do with this.  I could feel PSoE when empathizing with loss — with an epic, shattering defeat.  (Think William Wallace being drawn and quartered at the end of Braveheart.)  But I’d never felt even a twinge of PSoE while empathizing with boredom.

Boredom is essentially un-empathizable.  You can’t share the emotion because boredom is a lack of emotion resulting from a lack of engagement.  And epiphany, realization, dawning understanding — whatever you want to call it that sits at the root of PSoE — it comes only in times of intellectual engagement.

So engagement — to put it in math-nerd terms — is a necessary-but-not-sufficient condition.  You may be fully engaged and not have an epiphany.  But you’re never going to have an epiphany if you’re shirking on intellectual engagement.

And Finally, Nootropics

Nootropics help me to maximize my time spent in full intellectual engagement.

If PSoE is the game I’m hunting, and intellectual engagement is the forest where I hunt, then nootropics are a predictable shortcut deeper into the heart of that forest.

I like the focus I feel when I strap on noise-canceling headphones, crank up music with lyrics in a language I don’t speak, drink a black coffee, pop 100mg of Modafinil, and immerse myself into something.  This ritual is like a prizefighter lacing up his gloves, or a concert pianist cracking his knuckles — an intersection between the brass-tacks physicality of the discipline, and a Pavlovian trigger that here we go again, this is what we train for.

Many days I’ll work without the rush of PSoE ever coming.  And that’s okay, because I know it’s a now-and-again thing.

Many days I’ll work without nootropics in my system.  And that’s necessary.  I don’t want to build up a tolerance to my favorite substances any more than a samurai wants to let his katana-blade get rusty.

Many days Mozart would sit down at the piano and compose something unremarkable, and toss it out by mid-afternoon.  This is part of the discipline, maybe the largest part.

But sometimes, a new domino will fall.

Sometimes a hard problem will be solved, and we’ll understand why.

Sometimes the universe will de-riddle itself, just a little.

And when it does, the hairs will go electric.  The blood will rise in our cheeks. Pupils will dilate.  Dopamine will release.  The intermittent, unpredictable burst of pleasure will strengthen our addiction.

And the hunt for the next PSoE rush will have already begun.

The following is a guest post by Saint Jude Retreats, a non-12 step non-treatment alternative to traditional drug and alcohol rehab. The program concentrates on self-directed positive neuroplastic change and positive self-change as an alternative to traditional alcohol and drug treatment.

For more on Adderall, check out Episode 98, where we cover Adderall on and off-label, plus pros and cons.

Adderall: The Off-Label Study Drug

Receiving a college degree used to be achieved through hard work, determination and strong work ethic only. Now in 2014, with the rising cost of college education and the appeal of binge drinking and partying, students are feeling that pressure to work harder to obtain better grades, all while balancing an active social life. Students are now turning to prescription drugs for recreational use or to improve their overall work performance, which has led to the trend of off-label use of Adderall among stand out students looking to increase their chances of attending college with competitive admission standards.

Understanding What Adderall Is

Adderall is an amphetamine comprised of several different amphetamine salts that increase focus and concentration.[1] Adderall is commonly used to treat “Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) which is a chronic disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. Persons with ADHD often struggle with low self-esteem troubled personal relationships and poor performance in school or at work.” [2]

Unlike drugs such as cocaine, meth and heroin, Adderall is used more among teens and young adults in college as new means of concentrating on school work. Adderall has served this purpose for some time. According to the article Abusing Adderall, “Historically, amphetamines have served other purposes beyond treating ADHD. For example, amphetamines were used in the trenches of World War II to increase alertness and fight fatigue. More recently, Adderall and medications like it are being used illicitly as a study aid, a party drug or to lose weight.” [1]

Many children are diagnosed with ADHD at a young age and remain on Adderall through adulthood. However, some students are diagnosed later in life. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, on average about “25 percent of college students with disabilities are diagnosed with ADHD”, “while more than half of students with ADHD were first diagnosed on their college campus.” [3]

The Increase Demand For Adderall

With the increasing amount of ADHD diagnosis comes a much greater demand for Adderall prescriptions. Since the mid-90’s when Adderall’s popularity steadily began to rise prescriptions for this drug have nearly tripled. In 2012, “the demand for the drug—originally meant to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy—was so high that patients were turned away from their local pharmacies and the DEA eventually had to increase the drug makers’ annual amphetamine allotment to combat the shortage.” [4] This increase of prescription on college campuses makes Adderall very easy to obtain by any type of college student, regardless of age.

The University of Maryland recently completed a study involving the responses of 26 student researchers. The study is based off of their’ perceptions of non-medical use of prescription stimulants by their peers. [5] These student researchers individually reported on what they have heard or observed regarding off-label prescription drug use on their campus.  An important part of this study revealed that students believed that Adderall was most often used due to it’s accessibility, “better reputation, less emotional ups and downs, stronger effects, and works best.” [4,5]

Who Uses Adderall and Why?

The overall understanding of Adderall among students makes it a drug used for multiple reasons such as non-medical general use, to help as a study aid or added to alcohol for recreational use.[5] To many students taking Adderall, it is not much different than taking aspirin. With the general attitude of “every other person I know is on Adderall,” adolescents are more likely to use a drug that is socially acceptable–even if still illegal.

As far as off-label use of Adderall is concerned, there are generally two types of students who are misusing the drug. One type is typically the student who enjoys the partying lifestyle and may be misusing alcohol or others drugs as well. On average “users of Adderall are more often white, male, members of fraternities or sororities, and have lower grade point averages.” [4] On the other hand, hard working students in highly competitive degree programs can also be Adderall users.

According to a study completed by the Journal of Medical Internal Research, medical and dental schools, report abuse rates of stimulant ADHD medications ranging from a low of 8.1% to a high of 43%.”[6] The research additional sites; “Given high academic expectations and competition in college settings, some students turn to prescription stimulants like Adderall as a study aid to improve concentration and increase mental alertness. Rates of nonmedical use or abuse of ADHD drugs tend to be higher at colleges and universities where admission standards are higher as well. A contributing factor to abuse of ADHD drugs is attention difficulties and the notion that these drugs can help with academic success.” [6]

However, students under high levels of academic stress, have discovered Adderall long before their college careers began. According to the Boston Globe article, more and more teens use pills to lift grades, “At high schools across the United States, pressure over grades and competition for college admissions are encouraging students to abuse prescription stimulants, according to interviews with students, parents and doctors. Pills that have been a staple in some college and graduate school circles are going from rare to routine in many academically competitive high schools, where teenagers say they get them from friends, buy them from student dealers or fake symptoms to their parents and doctors to get prescriptions.”[7]

Adderall is one of the cheapest pills available to college and even high school students, with heroin being a close runner-up. This is one of the main reasons Adderall is among the most commonly misused prescription pills. Students report paying on average “between $2 to $3 per 10mg or $4 to $5 for 20mg or may get pills free from friends.” [5], These drug deals, are happening on and off college campuses regardless of strict substance use policies.

The Perception That “Adderall Can Fix It All”

While Adderall is a popular choice among students, there is no guarantee it will work for everyone who takes it. Not to mention, like any drug, Adderall can have side effects since most amphetamines are stimulants which can cause insomnia, heart palpitations, and loss of appetite. In the Huffington Post article, Adderall: America’s Favorite Amphetamine, James Kent quotes, “Adderall use may help some of these students, but it can be detrimental to others, though no formal studies have been conducted to show how pervasive non prescription Adderall use is among students and what effect, if any, it has on overall academic performance.” [8]

College student’s perception of Adderall have become more public, as well. Most students casually talk about off-label use of Adderall without knowing much about the drug. The growing perception of Adderall, however, is that it primarily aids as an effective study tool increasing the ability to focus, multitask and increase overall grades and GPA. The general belief among college students is that Adderall can be a positive learning tool that possess more benefits than negatives.

Adderall and off label brands are people increasingly popular discussion among college students, especially on social media outlets. Between the years 2011 and 2012 the word “Adderall” in some association was tweeted close to 214,000 times, and peeked around the time of year when finals would be taken.[6]

According to the same study completed by Brigham Young University, “rates of Adderall tweeters were highest among college and university clusters in the northeast and south regions of the United States. 27,473 mentioned an alternative motive (eg, study aid) in the same tweet. The most common substances mentioned with Adderall were alcohol (and stimulants), and the most common side effects were sleep deprivation and loss of appetite.” [6]

While students may think that joking about taking a drug over the internet is innocent enough, it could jeopardize their future career unintentionally. According to the University of Wisconsin Stout, “Posting evidence of illegal or unprofessional behavior on social networking sites may also have a long term impact on your professional opportunities. A 2009 CareerBuilder survey of over 2,500 employers found that forty-five percent admitted routinely screening applicants by accessing social networks that the prospective employees think are ‘private’.” [9]

Preventing Future Adderall Use

It’s certainly hard to prevent young adults from using Adderall to seek an advantage in their academic career. Some students begin taking pills by choice, some may continue to take them to avoid physical withdrawal symptoms or are fearful their grades may drop without the influence of Adderall. Regardless of the reasons, parents can certainly begin looking for drug use signs as a student approaches their junior and senior years in high school, especially if under a high amount of pressure and stress to get into the right college or juggling numerous extracurricular activities. Noticeable physical symptoms can range from extreme alertness or focus, dilated pupils, paranoia, weight loss/lack of appetite or sleeplessness (insomnia).

It’s important to speak to students about pressure and stress early on, while explaining to them that drugs are a temporary quick fix solution. Working hard in the traditional means will provide them with a long term competitive edge, and confidence to know that their individual hard work pays off, without the extra help.


Sources:

[1] Scattarelli, J. (n.d.). Abusing adderall. Retrieved from http://www.stuorg.iastate.edu/ethosmagazine/adderall.html

[2] Tolleson ‐ Rinehart, S., Massie, S., & Hughes, J. (2007, July 17). What every parent should know about off label use of ADHD medications. Retrieved from http://www.aap.org/en-us/professional-resources/practice-support/quality-improvement/Quality-Improvement-Innovation-Networks/Documents/Parent_Ed_Tool_Lit_Review.pdf

[3] Smith-McDowell, K. (n.d.). Easing the transition to college for students with ADHD. Retrieved from http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=top_story&template=/contentmanagement/contentdisplay.cfm&ContentID=152624&title=Easing the Transition to College for Students with ADHD

[4] Zadrozny, B. (2013, December 02). 7 things you need to know about Adderall. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/12/02/7-things-you-need-to-know-about-adderall.html

[5] Wish , E., Falls, B., & Nakamura, E. (2005, May 02). 1 college students’ perceptions of non-medical use of prescription stimulants by their peers . Retrieved from http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/pubs/20050302.pdf

[6] Hanson, C. (2013). Tweaking and tweeting: Exploring twitter for nonmedical use of a psychostimulant drug (Adderall) among college students. J Med Internet Res. , 15(4),

Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3636321/

[7] Schwarz, A. (2012, June 10). More teens use pills to lift grades. Retrieved from http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2012/06/09/more-teens-use-pills-lift-grades/XDhadn8ncmbCa4o5ElpYPK/story.html

[8] Kent, J. (2013, May 09). Adderall: America’s favorite amphetamine.

[9] The effect of alcohol and other drugs on your professional identity. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.uwstout.edu/services/aspire/protect-your-professional-identity.cfm

I live in a house with a flushing toilet.

This does not amaze me, and it probably does not amaze you.  It does, however, amaze my cat.   To my cat, a flushing toilet  (we have three!) is about the most ceaselessly amazing thing in the universe.

At the risk of seeming like a bad pet owner, I admit the following:  It’s sometimes a struggle, while peeing, to keep my cat from sticking her head into the urine stream so she can get a better look at the soon-to-flush toilet bowl.

Funny anecdote – cats, bodily functions, etc. – but what’s my point?  The point is: My cat is stupid.

She hasn’t caught on to how a toilet works, and she’s in no danger of doing so.  I could teach her that the silver handle makes the toilet-flush happen, but even if she memorized that relationship in a Pavlovian sort of way, she’d never really “get it.”  She’ll never have an ah ha! moment and recognize what that floating ball in the water tank is for, or what the chain attached to the handle does, or any of that “complicated toilet stuff.”

To a certain extent, we are all my cat – how many of us could explain a transistor, or a six-cylinder engine, or tell you the most efficient algorithm for a 2-elevator building to keep people on different floors from waiting any longer than is necessary?  Yet these things are all around us, and we use them every day.  We’re vaguely aware that we owe a lot to prior geniuses within our species, but basically we just expect stuff to work.

And yet, on the other hand…  We are not at all like my cat.  With proper instruction and some intellectual effort, you could figure out my toilet.  You could learn how a transistor works, or an engine.  Excepting those people with real shortcomings, be they genetic, nutritional, or maybe due to some brain trauma, most Homo Sapiens are capable of figuring out these complicated-but-not-intractable systems.

So while you might not exactly understand how your toaster works, you’re not threatened by this. Because you can honestly tell yourself, “Hey, if I ever put my mind to it, intellectual mastery of my toaster is my biological birthright.”  And off you proudly go.

But I’m nervous about a future where this will no longer be true.

It used to be, back in the Enlightenment, if you wanted to be a world-level expert on most realms of human knowledge, it’d take some effort and access to the best books then-available, and probably a few years of time…  But with those ingredients, you could essentially know everything there was to know about a broad subject.  Like, for example, “Biology.”

This clearly isn’t the case any more.  The envelope of human knowledge has radically expanded in the past few centuries.   No one with any sense claims to be a world-class expert on a domain like “Biology” or “Engineering.”  Our species’ best are experts within domains now, not on domains.   A career can easily be spent just developing incomplete understanding of a single molecule — like, for example, nicotine.

(Quoth the Enlightenment-Era biologist: “What’s a molecule?”)

Of course, nature left us ill-equipped for studying distant pulsars or tiny microbes or weather-system models with our built-in tool set.  We needed telescopes and microscopes and computer mainframes first.  One could argue that we needed caffeine first.

Advancing technology has always been necessary to push forward our understanding of the world.  Without it, we’d be in the predicament of my cat — caught under a low biological ceiling limiting comprehension of our everyday environment.

Nowadays, the tools available to intellectual envelope-pushers aren’t just tools of enhanced perception (telescopes, microscopes, etc.), they’re tools of expanded cognition.  From a spreadsheet auto-calculating results tens of thousands of times faster than any human, to a biochemical booster-shot like caffeine, nicotine, or a Racetam, thinking tools are helping discoverers get further and further beyond old-school biological constraints on understanding.

This makes the things they’re learning are not only profound — but sometimes profoundly counterintuitive.

Luckily, metaphor and analogy help us out a lot here.  “This is like that.”   I explain SMS messaging to my dad as “It’s like email, only on your phone.”  Someone in the 1980s could have explained a PC as “It’s like an electric typewriter that allows you to edit words before they’re actually typed.”  These sorts of gross oversimplifications allow the cerebral superstars who actually figure things out to bring back intellectual meat for the rest of the tribe, and cook it up in a way we can digest.

But now, as boundary knowledge is increasingly generated not just by smart people, but by smart people amplified by thinking technologies, the things they figure out are going to be tougher and tougher to wrap mere-human brains around.

Relativity is a great example.  It’s a fantastically complex realization Einstein had, and in 1905, armed with only a pen and a notebook, he changed the bedrock of our understanding of the universe.  Yet now, over 100 years later, most humans can’t explain what relativity “means” in any more than an obscene, cartoonish bastardization of Einstein’s idea.

In other words, while Homo Sapiens can generally lay claim to intellectual mastery over their toasters… relativity is a different story.

With Einstein-level insights, the majority of us are more like my cat with the toilet:  Permanently baffled.

Here’s the good news/bad news:  We’re going to be seeing an upswing of relativity-like discoveries.  But the far edges of human knowledge are getting so fantastically complex that it will no longer just be a matter of instruction and initiation to be able to follow along; a person will have to be pretty damned smart just to understand the dumbed-down analogy.

This, in large part, is why I’m interested in smartening technologies — smart drugs, brain stimulators, man/machine interfaces.  I want to maintain an intellectual foothold in the world being built around us.

I want to maintain my relationship with my toilet.  I never want to have my cat’s relationship with my toilet.

Fair Warning:  This is not a neuroscience article.

But, I’m assuming that those of us who are into nootropics and brain optimization are probably interested because we want to maximize our least renewable resource: time.

So I wanted to share something I’m doing this year — my New Year’s Resolution of sorts — both because it will probably have impact on Smart Drug Smarts, and because the  idea itself may have value to other people.

I call them “Barbell Weeks,” and I’m gambling approximately 25% of my 2014 on them.

Last year, I read Antifragile, a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb that’s too idea-rich to easily synopsize.  To grossly oversimplify things: it explores how some systems contain feedback loops that make disorder and unpredictability a good thing rather than a bad or neutral thing.

One of several terms Taleb introduces in his book are “barbell” upsides and downsides, derived from the idea of looking at a graph where results are flat-lined in middle-ground likelihoods, then shoot up on a nearly-straight trajectory at some point on the x-axis — much like a barbell if viewed head-on.  Taleb, a former derivatives trader who got wealthy following his own advice, says to look for “barbell upside” opportunities — situations where the worst-case is small-to-middling, but the best-case goes straight up.

(His thesis is: On a long enough time-frame, or with enough total repetitions or chances, you will eventually land on the outlandishly-winning end of this curve, while the other, far more common areas of the curve won’t cost you that much as you land on them for months, years, or decades.)

Needless to say, not all opportunities have barbell upsides.

But one that I’m thinking might, is my plan for…

Barbell Weeks: The Recipe

  • One Week per Month — a full 7 day stretch — I will sweep my normal day-to-day obligations aside and force them to sit and wait.  A full clearing of both the mental and physical desktop.
  • Dedicated Single-Project Focus.  I’ll be working on something, to the exclusion of everything else, for all 7 days.  The “something” I’m not putting any particular parameters on — in some cases it may even be a traditional vacation — but only one something per Barbell Week.  No split-focus, and any multi-tasking will be multiple tasks within the overall project.
  • If Something Isn’t Worth A Week, It’s A “No.”   There are 12 months in a year, so I’ll have 12 chances to say “yes.”  But aside from that, I’ll be Mr. No.  This is where I expect major benefits in the rest of my life (the non-Barbell weeks).  I tend to get distracted by a lot of mini-projects that nibble up an hour here, 3-4 hours there.  In 2014, I’ll be saying no to these things.  If an endeavor doesn’t merit a Barbell Week commitment, it’s not weaseling into my calendar.  Period.

What does any of this have to do with Taleb’s “barbell” lingo?  Here’s my thinking: Most of these weeks will probably have no long-term upside for me.  I’ll be finger-painting or learning Esperanto or something that will seem inane or ill-advised.  But in all cases, I’ll have only lost a week, and probably gotten a nice recharge by shaking off my normal daily schedule.  A week, by my reckoning, is a low-impact, acceptable loss on the “bad end” of Taleb’s results-graph.

But if even one of these weeks yields a project that is a real success (in business, learning, adventure, or whatever), the potential upside is essentially unbounded.  Thus, the “barbell” name.

My first Barbell Week will land at the end of January, and the project focus is going to be a tech start-up gambit that I can’t reveal just yet.  But the name includes “jetpack,” so that’s fun.

Also, a public hat-tip to my friend Marcus, whose off-handed statement “You should take a week off every now and then” spurred this whole idea.

Finally, if you read this and get inspired to implement Barbell Weeks yourself, let me know.  I’d be curious to hear what other people would devote a week to.  And maybe we could set up some sort of post-board or forum to watch for the low-frequency, high-upside barbell win that on a long enough timeline, one of us is sure to get.

Best,

Jesse

PS:  Negative barbell graphs are possible too, and thanks to Murphy’s Law, more common.  So watch out for those.

2013 was the first full year of Smart Drug Smarts.

The podcast toddled, I think it’s fair to say.  In 2014, I intend for it to walk.  And by 2015, hopefully it will be entirely out of diapers and entering its first spelling bees, but that’s looking too far ahead.

Anyhow, being that it’s the end of the year now (2013), I’m feeling, as many of us are, in a “looking back / looking ahead” sort of mood.  I’m also away from family during this year’s holidays, which gives me a rare bushel of free time.

So what can you expect from Smart Drug Smarts in 2014?

I might as well hang some things out there to hold myself to, both as an accountability metric, and so listeners and readers (that means you!) can chime in if I’m way off the mark on what I think might be valuable for you.  The first one is obvious to any repeat-listener: I need to get on a more consistent production schedule.  The podcast was always intended to be weekly, and in 2014 I’ll be redoubling my efforts to make that happen.  But that’s not all…

Nootropic Stack Data Collection + Sharing

Who’s taking what, how much, and how often?  This is a big question for a lot of minds, including me.  I’m guessing the answers are going to vary really, really widely, but that’s just based on my informal straw polls.  I’m excited to get some online data-collection happening in the really near future.  As in, it’s being coded now, by the time you read these words.

A Quickie Guide to Nootropics

What you can expect from different smart drugs as far as…

  1. Subjective Experience
  2. Evidence-Backed Effectiveness
  3. Safety
  4. Time Period of Effects
  5. Ballpark Cost-per-Dosage

Putting a simple resource like this together on the website is something that’s long overdue.

An App

Yep, an app.  In my life outside Smart Drug Smarts, I’m a software developer, and why the heck haven’t I made an app for Smart Drug Smarts yet?

No good reason, that’s why.

I’ll be changing that soon.  Probably nothing too fancy, but a way to make sure you’ve always got the newest podcast episode in your hip-pocket, plus a way to manage your nootropic stack and what you’re taking on what days, for those of you who like to cycle your supplements.  This will be iOS first, Android second, because I’m an Apple guy, so apologies to the ‘droid fans out there.

More Awesome Guests, on a More Regular Schedule

So why can I now predict this with conviction when I’ve tried and failed at this for a year now?

One very good reason, and his name is Ben.

As of about 3 weeks ago, I’ve got a bona fide producer running things on the show: Ben Pomeroy (a man who’s nootropic credentials include accidentally hyper-dosing himself on Modafinil).  Ben will be the engine behind the vast majority of the changes and improvements you see in Smart Drug Smarts over the next 3-6 months, and he’s already been directly responsible for the uptick in publication over the past couple weeks.  So far as that goes, if you have any requests for episode content, drop an email directly to Ben and cut out the now-extraneous middle man (me).

More Futurism

I always thought I was into sci-fi. Well that’s true, I am, but I think I’m really generally just into what if scenarios, and the future is the ultimate what-if.  Not to mention, some version of it (whether we see it coming or not) is real.  One of my favorite episodes thus far, though it touched only lightly on smart drugs, was with philosopher David Pearce on transhumanism and really broad “where are we going as a species” topics.  It’s something I find incredibly intriguing because inevitably, something amazing is going to happen — good, bad, or just weird — and there are too many variables involved to do much more than speculating.  Anyway, expect more episodes with themes along these lines.


That’s five things already, probably enough to stop before my typing fingers start writing checks that my schedule can’t cash.  But rest assured that Smart Drug Smarts is moving way up the priority-pole around here, and I really thank all of you who have been listening and participating up until this point.

This nerd party is just getting started.

Happy Preemptive New Year.

Jesse

As promised in Episode #21, here’s some new intel on the “launch sale” for Natural Stacks, the new nootropics company from the episode guests Abelard Lindsay and Roy Krebs.

A Note from Jesse: The Natural Stacks guys were nice enough to offer me a commission on sales that come their way from Smart Drug Smarts listeners. I thought about it, and my policy in situations like this will be to provide two links – one “affiliate link” where I’ll get a referral commission on sales, the other a plain-old normal link, the same as if you typed their website name into your browser yourself. It’s totally up to you, and I plan to keep Smart Drug Smarts first and foremost an information hub, not a marketplace.

NaturalStacks.com Launch Offer

From now until October 16th, all CILTEP purchases also include a free bottle of SMART CAFFEINE (caffeine + l-­theanine).

SMART CAFFEINE can be stacked with CILTEP for the ultimate focus boost.

One month’s supply of CILTEP and SMART CAFFEINE (120 total capsules) for only $42.95 with free shipping.

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Also, Abelard was both kind and thorough enough to do some post-interview research and wanted to add some corrections to the points he made during the episode. His amendments are below:

­­­­


Correction #1:

Viagra inhibits PDE5 which breaks down cGMP (Cyclic guanosine monophosphate ) which is a secondary messenger as cAMP, is but is not the same as cAMP.

Support:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclic_guanosine_monophosphate
“Cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) is a cyclic nucleotide-derived from guanosine triphosphate (GTP). cGMP acts as a second messenger much like cyclic AMP.” …
“Numerous cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterases (PDE) can degrade cGMP by hydrolyzing cGMP into 5’­ GMP. PDE 5, ­6 and ­9 are cGMP­specific while PDE1, ­2, ­3, ­10 and ­11 can hydrolyse both cAMP and cGMP.” …
“Sildenafil (Viagra) and similar drugs enhance the vasodilatory effects of cGMP within the corpus cavernosum by inhibiting PDE 5 (or PDE V)”

Correction #2

Another mistake I made was saying that acetyl-l-carnitine lowers or inhibits acetylcholinesterase. Its mechanism of action is actually increasing levels of acetylcholine in the brain which helps mitigate the increased activity of acetylcholinesterase which breaks down acetylcholine.

Support:
Acetyl­L­carnitine enhances acetylcholine release in the striatum and hippocampus of awake freely moving rats.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2616037
Acetyl­L­carnitine as a precursor of acetylcholine.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2215852

Correction #3

One last mistake is that cAMP does not directly increases acetylcholinesterase. The study I found said that forskolin was observed to increase acetylcholinesterase levels and cAMP, but wasn’t specific on how it did it, nor did it say it did it via an increase in cAMP.

Support:
Forskolin, an inducer of cAMP, up-­regulates acetylcholinesterase expression
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16924422
Spoiler Alert: This story does not end well.  Think of it as a cautionary tale.

The following events took place during early summer of 2012, in Los Angeles, California…

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

At this point it’s Tuesday morning, 3:35 AM.

The last time I got a full night’s sleep (thanks to jet-lag) was the previous Thursday afternoon.  The last time I slept more than 2 hours at a stretch was Saturday morning between 6 AM and 8:30 AM.  And since then, I’ve been cutting off my sleep after 23 minutes every single time – about 22 cycles so far over the past two and a half days. This is the strange and unnatural process of becoming a polyphasic sleeper.

Or maybe it’s better said “returning to being a polyphasic sleeper,” as we’re all born sleeping this way.

Babies sleep in multiple short cycles throughout the day, basically unhitched from the day-night cycle of the sun to determine their wakefulness. But after decades of practice of sleeping the way non-baby humans sleep, forcing a return to a polyphasic pattern is a tough row to hoe.  It means bucking societal custom, bucking your own lifelong habits, and bucking the adjustable-but-not-happy-about-it neural pathways of your own brain.  Sleep, as most of us know, isn’t just lying on your back and resting – there’s a lot going on; different phases of sleep that do different things for you physiologically. So, given that sleep is this complex, automatic behavior, why mess with a good thing?

Well, greed, of course. Greed for more hours in a day.

Here’s the thing:  In those different phases of sleep that “sleep scientists” have discovered and “sleep researchers” research, you, as a sleeper, are not getting equal benefit for every minute spent.  Some parts of your sleep cycle are far more important than others.  Some, like REM (Rapid Eye Movement), literally keep you from going crazy.  Others are kind of just a tossing, turning, transitional waste of time.  So when you consider that your average adult spends between 7 and 8 hours invested in this sleeping process every day, it makes sense to ask:  What parts of this investment are a win?  Which are a loss?  And can you sway your ratio of winners to losers higher and derive some benefit during your waking hours?

That’s the goal.  Essentially, to crush out the non-essential types of sleep from your daily sleep-mix until all that remains are the phases your body really requires, and reclaim all the hours wasted on the “just-killing-time” phases.

The furthest this line of reasoning apparently can be pushed is what’s called the “Uberman Schedule,” which is six 20-minute naps spread equally at four-hour intervals (or thereabouts) throughout the day.  Or – since sun-based days become irrelevant in this schedule, think of it as a never-ending cycle of four-hour mini-days, during each of which you sleep a mere 20 minutes.  This is tough to train your body to do, but it is apparently possible, and there are people (most famously, Steve Pavlina) who have kept it up in perfect health and with rave reviews for extended periods. So that’s the pot of gold at the end of the polyphasic-sleep rainbow: reclaiming 5-6 hours of each and every day that you would normally be sleeping, at the cost of 1) the non-negotiable need for evenly-spaced naps every four hours or so, and 2) a reputedly brutal transition process to adapt your body to this new regimen.

It’s this self-directed brutality part in which I now find myself.

The actual “how-to” for this transition can be found here.  This is a work-in-progress, as the online community of human guinea pigs working to build the body of knowledge on polyphasic sleeping is relatively small and young.  I’m not going to go into detail on the theory behind this adaptation method, I’m just going to offer my subjective experience as the process as I go through it.  A lot of people have told me they’d be interested to try it if I live to tell the tale…

So here’s the ongoing tale…


Day 1:  Saturday the 12th

I was still coming off the jet lag from a 30-hour airport-to-airport plane flight from India to Los Angeles, knowing that I had the adaptation-period to polyphasic sleep not far in the future, so I didn’t even bother trying to reset to the local clock.  I’d slept when I was tired, and didn’t when I wasn’t.  The last lengthy block of sleep that I had was 2.5 hours starting at about 6 AM on Saturday.  When I woke up for what was destined to be a busy day, I just stayed up.  I took a total of three naps at oddball times throughout Saturday day and night, just kind of practicing to see how long it would take me to fall asleep from a standing start, etc.  Based on the advice I’d read elsewhere on the Internet, I set my countdown-timer for 23 minutes for my naps — figuring it might take me 2-3 minutes to fall asleep, and then 20 for real sleeping.


Day 2:  Sunday the 13th

My first full day of polyphasic sleeping.  My iPhone was set for alarms every 2 hours, 40 minutes, leading to 9 evenly-spaced naps per 24 hour period.  Staying up all night this way was surprisingly easy.  (Of course, it wasn’t “all night” because I napped at midnight, 2:40 AM, 5:20 AM, etc. – but the naps are so short that it just seems like a momentary break, and the psychological feeling is like having pulled an all-nighter.  Albeit one that magically required no caffeine.)

When the sun rose on Sunday morning, I felt almost completely awake; if I hadn’t known I’d been up throughout the night, I don’t think I could have discerned it from my reaction speed or manual dexterity.

It was as the sun started to dip around 7 PM that I started feeling my first real wave of tiredness.  Up until this point, I’d always awoken from the naps feeling relatively refreshed.  But now I was waking up still-tired.  Definitely an unpleasant feeling, knowing that I “wasn’t allowed” to go back to bed and sleep off the grogginess.  But it was the eventual total deprivation that my body would feel that was going to force it to adapt – so this was actually a good thing; one step back for a later two steps forward.


Day 3:  Monday the 14th

When I was reading up on the adaptation period and planning for it, I read a lot of failure-stories from those who had tried the transition and for whatever reason couldn’t pull it off.  Oversleeping seemed to be the common theme.  People would sleep through alarm clocks or, more commonly, turn them off and then go straight back to sleep before their willpower forced them up and out of bed.

Many of the “survivors” recommended a massively loud, thumping alarm clock, and so I bought something called the “Sonic Bomb” that not only has a shockingly loud alarm at the top of its volume-range, but also a mattress-vibrator to literally shake you awake.  (This isn’t as big as it sounds; you just notch this thing under the pillow-area of your mattress and your head will vibrate.)   I would find on Monday that, once again, daylight hours were relatively smooth-sailing.  I took my naps at the appointed times, and fell right asleep, but I also felt that I could easily have waited for the next nap with no adverse effects.

Nighttime was a different ballgame, though. Waking up wasn’t a problem.  I set my iPhone’s time-based alarm a couple of minutes before the Sonic Bomb backup alarm, and never once needed the “Bomb” to go off.  I would put my iPhone across the room from my bed, so in order to turn it off, I’d need to stand and walk over to get it.  That proved to be enough time/effort to wake me enough to remember my goal – fighting through the discomfort.  So I never succumbed to crawling back into bed.  (Actually, crawling onto bed; throughout this period I’ve just been crashing on top of the bedcovers in whatever I’m wearing at the time, not making normal preparations for a nightly sleep.)

The problem came as I was awake at night – the dull feeling of unshakable grogginess that kept me from fully concentrating on anything, and a fear that if I let myself get too comfortable I would doze off.  My normal practice of lying on my bed while working with the laptop was a temptation I knew I’d never survive…  So instead I opted for more physical tasks – reorganizing my room, doing dishes, trying to orchestrate a makeshift “standing workstation” for my laptop, etc.  The best solution to the fatigue seemed to be physical distraction.


Day 4:  Tuesday the 15th

Once again, a difficult night and a comparatively easy day.

I hadn’t recognized just what a grip our Circadian rhythms have on us; I had figured that because I was fresh off of a 12-hour time difference after my return from India, my Circadian rhythm was so confused that I could boss it around, and at worst, day and night would be an indistinguishable melange from my adapting body’s concern. This proved to be wildly inaccurate.

Nights were hard; I would still wake up easily at the sound of the alarm, and quickly find myself across the room, standing, turned-off phone in my hand.  The backup alarm not the Sonic Bomb was a needless insurance policy, as it turned out.

But once I was up, staying up was a greater challenge than I’d prepared myself for.  I really wanted to sit down, lie down, close my eyes, black out.  Every impulse my body could offer was adamant that rest was the sweetest, most all-encompassing priority.   And yet I could not listen to these impulses.  They were the enemy.  They were trying to return me to my long-established, deeply-rooted, 24-hour default schedule.  And I had to make things worse on my body in order to force a change.  I was playing chicken with myself.  I was telling my body I was willing to totally starve it of REM sleep, inviting radically reduced mental performance and the associated physical risks, and I would run it into the ground unless it gave me what I wanted – REM sleep front-loaded at the beginning of my sleep-cycles, rather than 75+ minutes deep in them.

It was a confrontation where, quite literally, I dared not blink.

I haven’t talked much about the nap themselves.  For one, by this point, falling asleep has become remarkably easy.  There is no waiting.  60-90 seconds after my head hits the pillow and I am gone, lights out, sayonara.  I’ve been sleeping exclusively on my back, because I’ve always heard and also felt instinctively this is the most restful way to sleep, good for breathing, etc.

I’ve been trying – even during daytime naps — to cover my eyes from the light as best as possible, since apparently light (surprise surprise) makes it harder for your body to drop in to deep sleep.   The naps often feel longer than they are.  I think this is because I am so exhausted that I zonk out to a far deeper level than I would during a 20-minute nap on a normal day when I’d slept the night before.  Sometimes I notice patches of dream, sometimes not — but in general these dreamy moments tend to be as I’m falling asleep rather than when the alarm wake me up, which makes me think that I’m not really getting into REM yet.  I know from a lifetime of my normal sleeping I’ll sometimes have little dream-patches (I believe this is called “hypnagogic imagery”) while drifting off to sleep, well in advance of the REM-stage that won’t come for more than an hour.


Day 5: Wednesday the 16th

As the calendar-day flipped to the 16th, I was at somewhat of a mental low-point in this adjustment process.

I had found reason to hope that I was on the upward swing out of the really hard part and into the only kind-of hard part…  That the nights wouldn’t be so simultaneously boring and demanding, that REM would find its way into my naps and my ability to really concentrate would return.  But this night was proving every bit as hard, and maybe harder, than the previous two.

I went on two 45-minute walks around my neighborhood in an effective bid to stay awake, but even the physical movement didn’t really clear my head off the brain-fog that had settled.  I found myself wishing that whatever storehouse of REM was seeing me through would just bottom out so my body would be forced to press forward with the adaptation… but there was no way to force it.

I tried doing more middle-of-the-night research on polyphasic sleep transitions to see if I was doing something wrong or missing some key ingredient to accelerate the process… but even sitting at the computer put me in grave danger of nodding off.  I would lose the words I was typing, sit for a second trying to recapture my train of thought, and then find myself lapsing into a second-or-two mini-dream – just a nonsensical image or two or a patch of voices – and then I’d realize I was still at the computer.

I knew it was important to keep my naps broken up.  Adding more of them wasn’t supposed to be a problem, but their length couldn’t grow.  It was important to not let myself sleep until a point where REM could naturally occur, or otherwise I might “refill my REM tank” and delay the adaptation that was the whole point of this increasingly torturous process.

But by the time the dawn was breaking at about 6 AM, I realized that for the first time, the start of the solar day was not bringing increased wakefulness… I still felt like a brain-dead zombie who could barely stay animate. I was literally walking in circles around my bedroom to keep myself from nodding off.  It was a little insane.

Someone in one of the polyphasic sleep blogs had written that the naps should be kept at least 2 hours apart from one another, otherwise your “body could interpret the multiple naps as one interrupted sleep cycle, rather than two discrete sleep cycles” – which could, in theory, mean that you might be given some “free REM” in the second cycle without any long-term adaptation taking place.  A bad thing for anyone who wants to adapt quickly and end this painful transition.

But at 7 AM this morning, groggy to the point of misery and unable to do anything other than shuffle around my room with my eyes three-quarters closed, I made the decision that I didn’t believe this.  This blogger was either wrong, or lying, or a bastard, or all three.   So I took a nap, then forced myself awake for about 20 minutes, then took another nap, then forced myself awake for 20 minutes, then took another nap, then actually woke up for an extended period.

Whether physiologically or psychologically, the semi-concentrated burst of sleep seemed to help.  And by the time that was done, the sun was all the way up, it was bright outside, and the rhythm of the sun was once again friend, not foe.   Also notable today was the arrival of the “Zeo,” a gadget that I bought that will sit on my forehead as I sleep, measure my brain waves (cue freaky sci-fi music), and report to my nearby iPhone how long I remain in which stages of sleep.  Pretty amazing tool, especially for what I’m trying to do right now.  As I write this, the Zeo is still charging, so it won’t be until my next nap that I’ll be able to get this valuable data.

Update:  I screwed up.  Pride comes before a fall, as they say.

I took my 9:20 PM nap without setting the backup Sonic Bomb and for the first time, I wound up oversleeping, all the way through until midnight when the alarm for my next scheduled nap went off.  I woke up still tired, but also a sweaty mess, face-down in my pillow.  I’d obviously a) rolled over, b) gotten some undeserved REM based on the amount of time I’d slept and the amount how much more fantastically well-rested and clear-headed I feel.  Short-term win, but actually a loss – that 2 hours of slippage might have cost me a day or more in my adaptation schedule.  Bah, humbug!


Day 6: Thursday the 17th

Maybe last night’s screw-up with oversleeping was a blessing in disguise.  We’ll see…

One other interesting thing that happened yesterday was this – the sleep-stage measuring gizmo called the ZEO that I ordered over the weekend arrived by mail.

Modern-day Jesse Interjection: 
Wow, I must have forgotten that I’d written about the Zeo less than 24 hours before.  I really was frickin’ brain-dead!

This amazing little doohickey is worn on your forehead while you sleep and sends data about your sleeping to your nearby iPhone, which will collate the information and show you a “sleep report” when you awaken.  For someone doing the adaptation-process I’m in, the utility of this sort of information is obvious.  I wish I’d had it days ago so I would have some baseline information about my monophasic sleep, but no point in crying over spilled milk.

Zeo app readout

Zeo app readout

Here is what I found out.  According to the Zeo, I am now pretty much maxing out on REM during my naps.  This is pretty great news, as it means I’ve made it through the first of the two “difficulty humps” in the adaptation process.  The first is to get your naps to include your daily needs for REM.  The second is to get your naps to also include your daily needs for SWS (“Slow-Wave Sleep”), the super-deep, physically revitalizing and replenishing sleep.  (My chart shows only 1 minute of this type; definitely not enough.)

The open questions are: How many days in did the REM start coming through in my naps?

Maybe I made it over that hump days ago, and the groggy nastiness I’ve felt the last few nights was a symptom of being totally depleted of SWS?  Or maybe my timing is just coincidental, and it is only in the past 24 hours I made the switch to forward-spiking the REM, and the depleted feeling I had earlier was REM-deficit?

There’s no way to tell, but if I had to take a stab, I’d say it’s more likely the former than the latter.  Lack of REM is supposed to make you nuts, and I never felt crazy.  It was more of a total physical depletion feeling, like a Pinto trying to haul a tractor-trailer.  That sounds more symptomatic of SWS-depletion, as I understand it.

But either way, this morning (it’s 8 AM as I type this, due for another nap in just a few minutes) I feel more rejuvenated and alert than I have in days.  I hope that it is increasing adaptation that is responsible for this, and not a benefit of the 2 hours of oversleep I got just before midnight…  Time will tell.

[This was abruptly followed by the following email to those who I had pre-informed of the experiment…]

Hey there everyone – Here’s a follow-up report on my sleep experiment on the past several days…   In the midst of my reading up on this topic, I came across this article from an actual sleep scientist who shreds the idea that long-term benefits can be had from a radically reduced sleep schedule.

While it might be possible to stay awake for that many hours, maybe indefinitely, creativity and productive intelligence will plummet during all wakefulness, and you wind up in a worse position than where you started.   He believes that the “success stories” of several Internet bloggers are basically lies used to drive up their own readership.   Unfortunately, as much as I’d love to believe that being able to function effectively across all time zones is possible, this article basically put an iron spike through my faith in the idea.  (Let it not be said that I won’t change my mind in the face of superior evidence.)

What’s funny is that despite the radically reduced sleep I’ve had in the past week, with zero caffeine, I’ve actually performed pretty well during daylight hours…  but nights have been hard, sometimes very hard; there’s no getting around that.

I did get three useful things out of this experiment:

  1. I found this website, which has a really great, free e-Book for 40 ways to improve your sleep quality.
  2. I discovered the existence of the “Zeo”, a cool little gizmo that you can wear on your head at night and it feeds information to your nearby iPhone about the stage of sleep you’re in, so you can try to optimize the amounts of REM and SWS sleep you get (these are the two really important types).
  3. It was a great exercise in willpower, especially now that I realize what I was trying to do was essentially impossible.  Given that sad fact, my ability to get by on around 3 hours of sleep per day for five days in a row, without caffeine, at least kind of makes me feel good.

So, needless to say, the experiment is over.  I’ll be returning to something like a normal schedule, although possibly including a Mexican-style afternoon “siesta” to improve late-day concentration and alertness.

Talk to you all soon,

Jesse

Don’t mess with a good thing…

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…

And live simply, so that others may simply live.

These sound like great maxims – but are they really?

If you’re not prepared for a little mini-rant, it’s best you click the Back button on your browser right now.

The human brain is the best, most complex, and – all hyperbole aside – the most sacred thing in the known universe. If there is anything to which the sentiments in the maxims above should apply, it would be our brains.

Brains are amazing. The morphological differences in the human brain versus those of other animals have made us the dominant species on the planet. They allow us the gift of language, which has let us know ourselves. We think in narrative, we create symbols, and our insights become ideas that can be shared worldwide, across cultures and through oceans of time, surviving even ourselves. Our brains are so fantastically complex that we’re only now beginning to grasp how they really work.

And just like the world’s most skillful carpenter is going to be totally outmatched by the task of “building a rose,” our current means of augmenting our minds (through the physical substrate of our brains) is at best a blunt and awkward tool-set. We rightfully condemn the surgical lobotomies of the 1950s as fractional murders masquerading as medicine, and no doubt in the future our descendants (and our older selves) will grimace, remembering that we tried to affect specific neurological pathways with generalized application of chemicals throughout our entire bloodstream.

But we’ve got to start somewhere.

In our species’ effort to further improve our minds, there will be false starts, blind alleys, dead ends, and lives and minds wasted (literally and figuratively). But nobody said chasing the future was going to be easy.

The fact that our brains are our most precious assets is simply no reason not to muck about with them –it’s added incentive to do so. Biological evolution has brought us to an amazing launching-pad for the potential of Mind. The herky-jerk happenstance of history has helped us further, giving us the Enlightenment, a few hundred years of scientific progress, and finally, as a species we’re now ready to take toddling steps into the potentials offered by neuroscience.

It’s hard not to classify neuroscience as the most exciting field in the scientific spectrum today. It is the science of what we could become next. If we, as biological beings, are going to match pace (and continue to match wits) with our own silicon-based inventions – which are gaining intelligence at an astonishing rate – it is only by a near-fanatical devotion to neuroscientific progress that we will be able to do so.

To many people this may sound irresponsible.

Leave well-enough alone…

It’s your brain. You don’t know what the long-term effects will be…

But with the world changing at the incredible rate it is today – with feedback loops in technology and society remaking things year by year, decade after decade – we don’t know what the long-term effects of anything will be.  Anyone who is honest, intelligent and informed has no choice but to admit: We don’t know very much about the world we are preparing ourselves for.

So… Smart Drugs. The term itself is almost cartoonishly simplistic.

Are they something we should be taking? What are the risks? What are the upsides? What are the effects, and side-effects? Is there another way? Or should “other ways” simply be add-ons to a growing psychopharmacological prescription?

These are the questions Smart Drug Smarts is set up to explore. It would be dishonest not to characterize ourselves as enthusiastic advocates. Indeed we are. Brain optimization isn’t a topic for neutrality. But neither is this a region one should wander into without the best road map currently available. That is what we hope to provide.

Ultimately, for us it is about curiosity as to where Mind is going, and what we can do – individually and collectively – to look as far into that horizon as possible. We’ve come a long way since the paramecia of primordial night. But at the same time, dawn is only now breaking.

Nearly 20 days after emerging from the Sago Mining disaster, lone survivor Randall McCloy began to awaken from his coma. Carbon Monoxide poisoning and brain hemorrhage topped a long list of injuries.

His emergence from the coma led to a lengthy recovery period and rehabilitation, which included the use of Omega-3 fatty acids to treat his brain injuries. After three months, McCloy was walking and talking.

Traumatic brain injuries can be marked by swelling and cell death. So far, studies in animals show fish oil has large potential for prohibiting cell death and triggering the brain’s own natural healing process and stimulating neuron growth. These are quite literally the building blocks of the brain. (See here.)

McCloy’s brain injury was unique in that his exposure to toxic gases while trapped inside the mine stripped myelin from his nerve cells. Myelin, which serves as the “protective sheath” around brain cells helps connect them to one another. McCloy’s neurosurgeon at the time, Dr. Julian Bailes believed “restoring his normal brain function was a long shot.” (http://edition.cnn.com/2012/10/19/health/fish-oil-brain-injuries/)

McCloy’s unorthodox treatment was based around extremely high doses of fish oil in an attempt to rebuild his brain, much the way a fetus in the womb builds its brain during prenatal growth. Considering that the brain itself is 30% fatty acids by weight, the simplest way to understand this experimental treatment is that the doctors were simply attempting to replace “ingredients” normally used in the building of a healthy brain.

While large-scale studies are still needed, there is strong data to suggest that Omega-3s can essentially “turn off” proteins that cause neuro-inflammation, while giving the brain its essential biochemical building blocks to re-build nearly all by itself.

Additional Reading

I’m very happy to announce the late-term gestation of an all-new podcast, the Smart Drug Smarts podcast, which will be publishing starting in October.  Stay tuned here for a list of upcoming interview subjects and topics.

The podcast will cover all the latest in the explosive, fascinating, and sometimes controversial topics of smart drugs and brain optimization – everything from nutrition and neural supplements to meditation and neurofeedback – but with an emphasis on the new school – the stuff that is just coming online right now.

This will be a learning experience (and how can it not be?) for all involved.  I, your humble host, am certainly not a neurologist myself, just an educated layperson with a deep fascination with what is becoming possible as our knowledge of the human brain and its inner workings grows seemingly day-by-day at a rate never before imagined.

Our guest interviews on the podcast, of course, will each be standouts within their various fields of expertise.  We expect this project to quickly grow into an amazing body of knowledge, and help to attract – as well as produce — some of the world’s very best minds.


And oh yes:  If you are reading this post on this brand-new website, I would love to hear from you about what you’re interested to hear on the podcast, and which experts you would like to hear from.

What brain optimization strategies have you found effective?  (Or worthless?)

What experts and fields of research have you found most interesting?

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