Do Nootropics Actually Work? I Took a Bunch of Magic Brain Pills to Find Out
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    Do Nootropics Actually Work? I Took a Bunch of Magic Brain Pills to Find Out

    The resurgent popularity of Best Nootropic Powder—an
    umbrella term for supplements that purport to boost creativity, memory,
    and cognitive ability—has more than a little to do with the recent
    Silicon Valley-induced obsession with disrupting literally everything,
    up to and including our own brains. But most of the appeal of smart
    drugs lies in the simplicity of their age-old premise: Take the right
    pill and you can become a better, smarter, as-yet-unrealized version of
    yourself—a person that you know exists, if only the less capable you
    could get out of your own way.

    Federal law classifies most
    nootropics as dietary supplements, which means that the Food and Drug
    Administration does not regulate manufacturers’ statements about their
    benefits (as the giant “This product is not intended to diagnose, treat,
    cure, or prevent any disease” disclaimer on the label indicates). And
    the types of claims that the feds do allow supplement companies to make
    are often vague and/or supported by less-than-compelling scientific
    evidence. “If you find a study that says that an ingredient caused
    neurons to fire on rat brain cells in a petri dish,” says Pieter Cohen,
    an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, “you can probably get
    away with saying that it ‘enhances memory’ or ‘promotes brain health.’”

    Since
    dietary supplements do not require double-blind, placebo-controlled,
    pharmaceutical-style human studies before going to market, there is
    little incentive for companies to really prove that something does what
    they say it does. This means that, in practice, nootropics may not live
    up to all the grandiose, exuberant promises advertised on the bottle in
    which they come. The flip side, though? There’s no need to procure a
    prescription in order to try them out. Good news for aspiring
    biohackers—and for people who have no aspirations to become biohackers,
    but still want to be Bradley Cooper in Limitless (me).
    After
    consulting Reddit’s (predictably) excessive guide for beginners—it
    features 270 footnotes!—I began fiddling with “stacking”: the practice
    of taking different amounts of varying nootropic substances, which users
    are encouraged to refine for as long as it takes to achieve Peak
    Cooper.

    First was a combination of L-theanine and aniracetam, a
    synthetic compound prescribed in Europe to treat degenerative
    neurological diseases. I tested it by downing the recommended dosages
    and then tinkering with a story I had finished a few days earlier, back
    when caffeine was my only performance-enhancing drug. I zoomed through
    the document with renewed vigor, striking some sentences wholesale and
    rearranging others to make them tighter and punchier.

    It was a
    productive hour, sure. But it also bore a remarkable resemblance to the
    normal editing process. I had imagined that the magical elixir coursing
    through my bloodstream would create towering storm clouds in my brain
    which, upon bursting, would rain cinematic adjectives onto the page as
    fast my fingers could type them. Unfortunately, the only thing that
    rained down were Google searches that began with the words "synonym
    for"—my usual creative process.

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