Experimenting With Nootropics to Increase Mental Capacity, Clarity

These smart drugs, made up of a combination of food substances and purified components of medicinal plants, help to improve brain function.


Hunters will go to great lengths to gain an edge over their prey. You never know where the margin between success and failure may lie, so you wake up extra early, say a prayer, spray bottled deer piss on your boots, and do whatever else you think might increase your odds. My schedule recently got more demanding thanks to a new baby. With less time to kill and another mouth to feed, I've had to step up my game.

Hunting can be physically demanding but, assuming that you're prepared, it's mostly mental. Staying sharp is how opportunities are created. I ordered a bottle of nootropic pills, in case it might help.

Nootropic (new-tro-pik) is the term for supplements, also known as smart drugs, that improve brain function. They can be food substances like phenethylamine and L-Theanine, found in chocolate and green tea, respectively. Nootropics also include extracted and purified components of medicinal plants, as well as substances synthesized from chemical precursors, such as piracetam, the world's first official nootropic (piracetam was created in 1964 in Belgium by a team of scientists whose leader, Dr. Corneliu E. Giurgea, coined the term). Since then piracetam has been widely used as a cognitive enhancer and to treat neurological diseases like Alzheimer's.

Some people consider stimulants to be a form of nootropic, while others distinguish them from the likes of caffeine, and Adderall -- of which there's currently a nationwide shortage. Most legal users of this attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug are children; it's prescribed sparingly in adults for fear of abuse. The FDA caused the shortage by halting delivery to drug manufacturers of the drug's active ingredient, an amphetamine, for months, arguing that enough Adderall had already been produced to satisfy all legal demand. The agency argued that abusers of Adderall are responsible for the shortage. That's a group that includes students and professionals using Adderall to help boost productivity during stressful times.

My schedule recently got more demanding thanks to a new baby. With less time to kill and another mouth to feed, I've had to step up my game.

I chose the nootropic pills I ordered, a formulation called Alpha Brain, mainly because their ingredients are extracted rather than synthesized. I swallowed some the day they arrived, and waited to become mentally sharp. I wanted fireworks bright enough to eliminate all doubt about whether they worked.

Nothing happened until I was falling asleep, when I became distinctly aware that I was falling asleep. I monitored the entire process and remained lucid, with a measure of free will, as I dreamed, and woke up surprisingly refreshed. While I remembered many of my dreams, some of which were quite long, I couldn't recall how my underpants ended up around my ankles.

I bought the pills hoping they might make a difference in the one hunting trip I had time for last season. I was headed for an area so populated with deer that I could legally shoot several. But even when animals are abundant they don't exactly dive eagerly into your rig. You still have to go get them.

Alpha Brain's most noticeable impact on hunting was making it easier to wake up early. Since I'm typically not a morning person, this was striking, and helpful. I also felt slightly more organized, and a curious sense of emotional stability. These changes could also be attributed to parenthood, and my determination to do the deed and get home as soon as possible.

For whatever reason, it was a good hunt. I got my allotted four deer, and was able to convince a trophy hunter to give me the body of a monster buck we both knew he wasn't going to eat.

Back home, I contacted Aubrey Marcus, whose company Onnit Labs produces Alpha Brain. He attributed my lucid dreaming to increased levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which enhances REM dreaming. Alpha Brain has two ingredients that boost acetylcholine levels: GPC choline, which the body converts to acetylcholine, and Huperzine A, an alkaloid derived from Chinese club moss, also known as Huperzia serrata. "Huperzine A disarms the enzyme that naturally breaks down acetylcholine," Marcus said. "So while the GPC choline is being converted to acetylcholine, the Huperzine A is keeping it from disappearing. It's like plugging the drain and turning on the faucet."

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Ari LeVaux writes Flash in the Pan, a syndicated weekly food column that has appeared in more than 50 newspapers in 21 states. Learn more at flashinthepan.net.

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