It was 7 p.m. on a Thursday, and Eric Matzner had gathered a group of bio-hackers and futurists in a bright room in San Francisco’s Mission District for an invite-only Meetup. The event promised to school them in “nootropics,” or cognitive-enhancement pills, like the ones he sells through his start-up, Nootroo.
Matzner’s pills come in “gold” and “silver” formulas, which are to be taken on alternating days. Over time, they’re intended to enhance focus, memory, and cognitive function. The pills are what he does for money, but it’s talks like these—the chance to evangelize about nootropics—that really fire him up.
“I’m basically going to cover how they came about and, like, a little bit of their properties,” said Matzner, launching his slide deck. The first slide featured a portrait of Corneliu E. Giurgea, a Romanian scientist regarded as the father of nootropics, and a quote from him: “Man will not wait passively for millions of years before evolution offers him a better brain.” With that, Matzner, who is 28, began rocketing through the history and science of nootropics at a pace typically heard only at debate tournaments.
Nootroo’s gold pill contains noopept, a memory aid developed in Russia, while the silver one delivers an older drug called phenylpiracetam, which is said to have been used to boost cosmonauts’ stamina. Phenylpiracetam is similar to piracetam, which Giurgea and his colleagues discovered by accident in the 1960s while trying to develop new sleeping pills. Finding that piracetam seemed to activate rather than quiet the brain, Giurgea declared that it belonged in a new category of drugs, which he called nootropics, from the Greek word for “mind.”