August 26, 2016 Fringe, Podcast, Smart Drugs 5 Comments

Episode 143

When you think of cognitive enhancers, what comes to mind?  Caffeine, herbs like Bacopa Monnieri, maybe Modafinil…  but probably not a substance that has been used as a textile dye or a parasite treatment for fish, right?

Meet Methylene Blue, a memory enhancer, antioxidant, and neuroprotectant.

Jesse talks to Dr. Francisco Gonzalez-Lima of the University of Texas at Austin about his work studying the benefits of methylene blue and why this impressive smart drug isn’t more widely known.

A Cognitive Enhancer That Turns Your Pee Blue

It’s in the name — methylene blue is blue.  That’s why it was used as a dye for textiles as early as 1876.

And also why it’s been used by pranksters to turn their victims’ pee blue.

But it’s way more than that.

As early as 2002, Dr. Gonzalez-Lima has been studying the cognitive enhancing properties of methylene blue.

It improves the oxygen consumption of cells, increasing cellular energy, which in turn enhances memory — both long- and short-term — is neuroprotective, and is an antioxidant.

In the words of Dr. Gonzalez-Lima, there’s “no better antioxidant.”  Because it accumulates in areas of cells with a high concentration of mitochondria, it stops free radicals as they are formed, preventing any oxidant damage or stress.

It’s a particularly effective cognitive enhancer because methylene blue targets “respiring cells” — cells that are using more oxygen.  The brain is an oxygen hog, so methylene blue collects there.

How To Take Methylene Blue

Methylene blue has a hormetic dose response (for more on hormesis, check out Episode 108), meaning that low doses are beneficial, while high doses are harmful.  Intermediate doses have no effect.

So what’s a safe dose?  Don’t take more than 5mg per kilogram of body weight (and take less if you are obese).  Anywhere from 0.5mg – 5mg per kilogram is safe and effective.

But at high doses, watch out!  It interferes with the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen and can be fatal.

Keep in mind that methylene blue has a long half-life — 12 hours to be exact.

Don’t Buy It At the Pet Shop

Bizarrely, for a cognitive enhancer, you can buy methylene blue at a pet shop.  But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

It’s available in three categories of purity, and there’s only one purity level appropriate for human consumption:  Pharmaceutical Grade (USP).  To get this grade, you’re going to need a prescription and a compound pharmacy to prepare it.

The good news is that there are enough off-label uses for methylene blue found in the scientific literature that your doctor should be amenable to prescribing it for you.

That stuff you get at the pet store to eliminate parasites in fish?  It’s 85% purity (or less), and you should definitely not use it.

Episode Highlights

0:22Methylene Blue
1:31This Week in Neuroscience: Aren’t You Dying to Know What This Story Is About?
4:17The audience interaction section
6:47Intro to Dr. Francisco Gonzalez-Lima
8:05The history of Methylene Blue and the ”magic bullet”
12:18Memory enhancement improvement
12:56What is the half-life of Methylene Blue?
15:17Proper dosages
19:51How Methylene Blue works in the body
24:23Methylene Blue versus near-infrared light
28:54Are there any downsides to Methylene Blue?
30:43How Methylene Blue fights parasites
32:00Purity, safety, and over-the-counter status in the U.S.
38:05Other helpful uses for Methylene Blue
39:33Ruthless Listener-Retention Gimmick: How social media affects real-life social networks

PS:  For more cognitive enhancing tips that don’t involve turning your pee blue, join our weekly Brain Breakfast!


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Written by Hannah Sabih
Hannah believes there's nothing 8 hours of sleep and some kale can't cure (yes, she's from California). She's an avid runner, reader, and traveler, who brings you the latest and greatest in neuroscience via our social media channels.