Since this site began a year ago, I have written about several nootropics that nearly anyone can purchase online easily.
My personal journey with nootropics started with Piracetam, which I first began to take in 2010. I read as much layman literature about Piracetam and similar nootropics in my free time as a full-time student.
While I don’t consider myself the ultimate expert on nootropics (you’d be hard-pressed to find a real one) I have to consider myself somewhat experienced with them.
Since smart drugs are such novel substances, not too many formal studies have been done to demonstrate the efficacy of preparations like Noopept or Pramiracetam on cognitive performance. They were originally studied to treat cognitive decline, not necessarily to enhance mental performance in healthy people.
So with a dearth of third party evidence as to whether or not nootropics do anything for healthy people, how do we even tell if they work for us, and is there a way to tell without interrupting a busy lifestyle?
Subjective Experience of Nootropics
This is the easiest way for anyone to tell if your nootropics are doing something. You take your chosen smart drug, then sit and relax and figure out how you feel in 20 minutes to an hour. Piece of cake.
Based on my ~4 years of experience using various nootropics and perusing different discussion boards and websites on the topic, I have to say that subjective observation and feeling is something that newbies almost always rely on in order to tell if something is happening.
Here are some positive things I would look for after I took something like Piracetam:
- Subtle improvement in energy or mood
- “Sharpening” and structuring of conscious thought
- Ability to remember or focus without effort
Some neutral effects:
- Tiny pressure behind eyes or in forehead
- Leveling of mood – neither sad nor manic (in the manner of stimulants)
And some more negative ones:
- Dulling of thought
- Feeling of “cotton balls” in forehead region
The inherent problem with this method is that it’s subjective.
Two physically identical people can take the same dosage of a smart drug and it’s possible for them to report back two entirely different things about the drug. Furthermore, there is the well-documented placebo effect. It’s entirely possible to fool ourselves into thinking that something is happening, especially if we’ve never taken a drug in our entire lives.
Lastly, certain nootropics do not have any obvious effect to the person who took them. The only way to tell that they’ve made any difference or given one a slight edge is to track cognitive benchmarks and see whether there has been a positive or negative change.
Cognitive benchmark tests
There are a variety of cognitive benchmarks that nearly anyone can use should they feel the need to experiment with nootropics and find out if they actually do anything for them personally.
One of the easiest cognitive benchmarks is a reaction time test. Reaction time is a fairly reliable litmus test for mental performance and health.1
Human Benchmark has a free in-browser app that lets you test your reaction time. The smaller it is, the better.
Another method of monitoring cognitive benchmarks over time would be to use an app that measures your cognitive performance over time. Two of the most popular (and free) ones are:
- Quantified Mind
- Cambridge Brain Sciences
If you don’t have a method of using these tools however, you’re basically just playing games.
Designing your experiment
There are a couple of things you need to do in order to make a proper DIY science experiment:
- Establish a “control” or measurement of baseline cognitive performance
- Record variance of dosage
- Take a period of time between going on/off nootropics
- Note other supplements you stack with and their dosages
Because our DIY experiment is just a sample size of 1 person (you), our “control” is going to be our baseline cognitive performance, that is, our scores on all of the tests without taking any nootropics. This should go on for some time too. Some days you may have some flukes, and others you’ll get lucky. Therefore, taking many tests over time and averaging your scores should smooth out the rough edges.
Generally I take a week off of any nootropics to more or less ensure that it’s out of my system before I establish my control.
Variance of dosage is another important factor to keep track of. When you start on this leg of your self-experiment, you’re going to need to be consistent with dosage for the duration of your trial.
For example, say you’re going to take 10 mg Noopept every time you take the test for the week that you’re going to see if 10 mg Noopept has a notable effect on your cognitive performance. Then to continue your experiment, you take 20 mg Noopept for a week to see if there is any difference in effects, and so on. Waiting at least a half-hour after taking it before taking your test so your drugs have time to kick in, of course.
Lastly, you will want to keep track of any other supplements you take with your nootropic, usually something like ALCAR with a choline source, which is effective in increasing brain acetylcholine levels and will theoretically improve mental performance in combination with a racetamic nootropic. Don’t forget to keep track of the doses!
Checking your results
If you chose to do cognitive benchmarking, you should have some detailed records as to what test you took, what nootropics and doses you took, and the outcome of those tests.
If you plug all those outcome numbers into a calculator (in the case of the reaction time test) and average them out for the control group and the nootropic group of tests respectively, you should be able to see a difference between the two.
With the tools found at Cambridge Brain Sciences and Quantified Mind, you can see your scores in the form of graphical charts so you can see whether or not there is any statistically relevant change in performance.
Are your scores worse? Better? Exactly the same?
This is why cognitive benchmarking and doing little experiments like this are better than just relying on subjective feeling on its own: you can see for yourself whether or not your smart drugs are really working for you, or whether your current stack or regimen is working as intended.
From here, you can troubleshoot your regimen, or complain to your supplier about a bad batch. The power is yours!
Expect to see some posts of the results of my latest experiments very soon.
“Complex reaction time test is related to more components of cognitive function. Thus, simple and complex reaction time tests could serve as bedside measurements reflecting, respectively, QoL or cognitive function.” ↩