By “short-term memory enhancer”, I mean Huperzine (A.K.A. Huperzine A) improves your working memory. It’s a substance found naturally in the plant huperzia serrata but also happens to be equally effective when synthesized.
My subjective experience with Huperzine is like this:
- I find it easier to remember both trivial and non-trivial things
- It’s much easier to think on your toes and improvise
- Your mind is able to take in more information at once
Say if I had to write down a phone number, I could just remember it in my mind instead with no issues if I had taken huperzine that day.
If I had to study to learn a new subject, I would be able to take in new concepts more easily and form a bigger picture of a concept. It makes memory seem more “sticky” so that you can hold onto concepts while studying without having to revisit old things as much.
With Huperzine, my mind is better able to form a much larger and more vivid conceptual framework than it would have been able to otherwise.
So in a nutshell, huperzine is extremely useful for grokking new things.
Huperzine’s mechanism of action
Now it’s time for the nerd stuff: Huperzine is an acetylcholinestearase inhibitor, meaning it inhibits the action of the enzyme acetylcholinestearase (that word is a doozy).
Basically, it’s the thing that helps to pull acetylcholine out of the neurons as you are awake throughout the day, reaching its lowest point by the evening in healthy individuals. It recharges during a good night’s sleep and is at its peak by the morning, leaving you refreshed the next day.
So how does huperzine benefit cognition in any way?
Firstly, acetylcholine plays an important role as a neurotransmitter. Elevated levels of acetylcholine relative to baseline are associated with improved responsiveness to stimuli and more mental juice for decision-making. It’s no coincidence that a disease like Alzheimer’s is associated with decreased cholinergic (acetylcholine-generating) ability, and much research on huperzine began with Alzheimer’s treatment in mind.
So, in layman’s terms, huperzine works by keeping more juice in your brain’s battery.
More of my experience with huperzine
Mind you, just because it metaphorically puts more juice in your brain doesn’t mean huperzine makes you feel stimulated or more awake in the way caffeine does. Huperzine is pretty subtle. But you do start to notice more things through your senses. Colors may be more vivid. Music seems more nuanced. Your ability to visualize becomes more powerful and more vibrant.
I suppose this is because your brain has more fuel to work with. It can handle the cognitive impact of paying attention with all of that extra juice to go around.
A fun side effect of huperzine is that it increases the vividness of dreams and the likelihood that you’ll remember them upon waking. Good for lucid dreamers.
Recommended dosage and cycles
Take 100-200 µg of huperzine per day when needed. Only upon waking, and only on days when it is necessary (example: not weekends or vacations)
A researched cognitive dosage is 200 µg (micrograms or mcg).
This is why huperzine comes in tiny little tablets, it’s a very tiny dosage. However, I would begin with 100 µg to see if that works for you.
For lucid dreaming, Tim Ferriss’ blog says to take this dose 30 minutes before sleeping.
My favorite brands:
Source Naturals Huperzine A – 200 mcg, 120 tablets
Best deal. Comes in small, round tablets with the brain-boosting dosage of 200 micrograms per tablet. You’re getting 4 whole months worth of tablets for $22.
Take away 5 bucks for a first-time order over at iHerb and get free shipping: You’ll pay just $16.
Source Naturals Huperzine A – 100 mcg, 60 tablets
This size is good for someone who wants to try this brain-booster without committing too much to it. It’s half of the 200 mcg cognitive dosage, so if you need to take a full 200 mcg dose, this will last you a little more than 1 month (2 tablets a day for 30 days).
As of this post, this particular bottle size is going to cost about $7 plus delivery, if any.
Huperzine has a fast uptake of ~15 minutes but a half-life of about 12 hours. So it goes in fast and comes out slow. You won’t need a big dose more than once a day, or maybe 2 small doses throughout the waking parts of a day.
You will most likely build a tolerance to it, or at least you will reach a point of diminishing returns if you take it every single day. For this, take a small break on the weekends and on days when you don’t need it (A week on vacation, for example). It’s been recommended by others to take a week-long tolerance break once every month or so.
Alternatively, take huperzine only when you really need to study, say the week or so before a test, and don’t take it any other time.
Again, if you’re doing it regularly, I recommend taking huperzine only upon waking. Others have reported it more difficult to fall asleep with regular doses of huperzine, but I haven’t experienced this myself. Still, I’d err on the safe side if you have any kind of sleeping issues.
(h/t to Examine.com for the source information, and to Four Hour Work Week blog for noting the huperzine and lucid dreaming connection.)