To answer my own titular rhetorical question, the truth is that nootropics are overhyped in general by nootropic affiliate sites and vendors that neglect to mention that most nootropics are experimental (under-researched) and not guaranteed paths to success and dreams and Heaven. Even people who are hyped on nootropics themselves make great claims.
By exaggerating or making unsubstantiated claims, these people do all of nootropics a disservice.
Each drug is different and generally each has properties that set it apart from the rest. Exaggerating their properties to make a quick buck is just lame and ensures no one will buy from you again let alone give nootropics a chance.
Instead of detailing the reasons why you can’t always “feel” a subjective difference like you would after taking caffeine or phenibut or even defending why one’s experience may not be as glowing as one’s expectations, I decided I would write this up to do my part to ensure that nobody gets into buying experimental drugs with any delusions or false impressions they may have gleaned from my personal positive experiences and slap it up on the sidebar for new people who find my nootropic pages via Google search.
Consider this post the red pill about nootropics.
Nootropics are not magic shortcuts – start with the easy stuff first
If you believe that you’re experiencing cognitive decline or feel you aren’t as mentally sharp as you should be, consider doing one or more of the following before trying experimental drugs:
- Drinking plenty of water each day
- Physical exercise at least 3 times a week
- Getting a good night’s sleep in a comfortable place
- Pranayama1 and other meditation and breathing exercise
- Getting your omega-3’s in the form of fish oil
- Avoiding foods that contribute to brain fog and neurological degradation over time
- Trying the theanine and caffeine combo (or just drink a strong cup of tea)
- Playing some free games of Dual N-Back (see studies on page showing it may increase working memory and fluid intelligence)
- Other herbal and nutritional supplements
If you need more details on these, feel free to drop me a line. (no charge!)
Expectations vs. Realities
Even though I am a believer in nootropics, expect that this segment will be thoroughly disappointing to you, and that you will not feel any pressing need to purchase or experiment with them.
The reality is that nootropics are just legal drugs that we don’t know much about other than people on the Internet saying they might have helped them.
Some of the better-researched ones like piracetam2 and vinpocetine3 have little evidence to show that they might improve cognition in people with healthy brains. However, keep in mind that dearth of evidence is not proof that something doesn’t work. The fact is we just don’t know yet either way from a scientific standpoint.
Expectation: Nootropics will make me a smarter, better person.
Reality: You might wake up your brain a little, below your level of acute awareness, but nootropics are not going to replace character or your ability to learn or practice new skills.
Expectation: Nootropics will give me motivation.
Reality: If you already have the motivation to do or achieve something, you’ll be more likely to act toward it in any case.
Likewise, if you’re motivated to sleep in and catch up on Game of Thrones before the new season airs, you’ll be more likely to act toward that. Maybe they could help you understand your motivation toward things, but these drugs will not magically make you motivated.
Expectation: Nootropics will profoundly change my life.
Reality: You can change your life with or without nootropics.
Nootropics are experimental
Nootropic drugs like Noopept, piracetam, phenylpiracetam and so on are drugs that seem to have some potential for helping people with serious conditions of cognitive decline like Alzheimer’s disease, but their benefits for healthy people are largely unknown or under-explored. There aren’t many large-scale studies proving one way or another if they have serious positive or negative effects, only self-reports and N=1 experiments by amateurs and hobbyists like me.
There are entire communities of people dedicated to exploring these drugs, like Reddit’s /r/Nootropics4 and Longecity forums5. Many of their personal subjective experiences are positive (or at least have few serious negatives aside from dumb or careless combinations and mistakes), but if you’re looking for hard scientific evidence for humans, I must point out that there is little science behind their self-reported and subjective findings.
Additionally, what works for someone else may not work for you. Maybe your breakfast (or lack of one) prevents you from absorbing the active substances among many other things that may negate the effect of the drug. This goes back up to my initial section above about lifestyle changes.
Why aren’t there more individual tests using some kind of objective cognitive measurements? I’ll say that they’re difficult to do and time-consuming, not to mention that if you want to make your life a perfect laboratory control setting, you can say bye-bye to living a normal life.
Gwern has an extensive, relatively meticulous personal experiment and analysis on Noopept that might appeal to people who are more well-versed in statistics than I am. His work may give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here. He notes in the link above on his experiment that Noopept may have a “small” effect but there is little incentive for him to experiment with it again any time soon. He adds that he was already taking piracetam at the time.
So why bother taking nootropics?
I don’t think the average person should bother taking them.
There’s no need to when there’s plenty of methods that are already better proven and with little doubt to help with cognition and brain health. I take them because I find them interesting.
As to why anyone else would bother taking them?
Nootropics are an intriguing new frontier in terms of drugs. The late Robert Anton Wilson surmised in his book Prometheus Rising that by 2010 “intelligence raising drugs” would be widely available to the public, and I don’t think he was too far off the mark. You can’t buy most of them at GNC or the local pharmacy, but anyone with a little money and access to the Internet can get them.
Wide-eyed hippie futurism aside, the idea of taking a pill and changing your life is highly alluring to many. The movie Limitless alone has probably inspired thousands of psychonauts to find that one holy grail of drugs that will change their lives.
The least romanticized part of becoming a smarter, better person is the amount of trials, tribulations and failures that it takes to get them to that point. We want to be able to take a magic pill like Neo in The Matrix to see “the truth” or take a drug like the protagonist in that Lucy movie and wake up to these cool powers and having our lives fundamentally transformed.
Why should it be so easy as just popping a pill?
No one wants to do the hard work.
Apparently the hustle is too much. Plus it’s more profitable for someone to sell the dream or the kneejerk pessimistic reaction to that dream than to explain the sober reality. It’s easier to tell someone “here, take a pill” than to inform them their mentality, their lifestyle, and every preconceived notion they’ve been conditioned into is what’s holding them back.
In conclusion: nootropics may work, and nootropics may not. They may work for some people and they may not work for others.
If there’s ever any solid evidence that a nootropic doesn’t nootrope (not just a single special person saying “it didn’t work for me”), I’ll throw it up on here. If there’s positive scientific human evidence of nootropic drug efficacy, it will be here for certain. In the meantime, I’ll keep experimenting with the stuff that has little to no toxicity for myself and writing about anything else I find interesting here.