Re: Smart drugs - an interesting survey

From: Martin Striz (
Date: Wed Dec 22 2004 - 07:55:25 MST

--- wrote:

> Quoting Harvey Newstrom <>:
> >
> > On Dec 21, 2004, at 3:04 PM, Thomas Buckner wrote:
> > > Other smart drugs work by supplying
> > > more neurotransmitters, thus are more along the
> > > line of nutrients (think Red Bull, etc.)
> >
> > > If
> > > I could afford to suck down a can or two of $2.50
> > > Red Bull every day, drop fifty a month on RNA
> > > pills or lecithin, etc.,
> >
> > Why do you think Red Bull is a smart drug? You can get the same thing
> > with a one-a-day vitamin pill and a can of cola.
> >
> > Red Bull Ingredients: carbonated water, sucrose, glucose, sodium
> > citrate, taurine, glucuronolactone, caffeine, inositol, niacin,
> > D-pantothenol, pyridoxine HCL, vitamin B12, artificial flavours,
> > colors.
> By the way, Red bull is a westernised version of Krating Daeng
> which as I remember means Red Bull in Thai. It is similar,
> but doesn't have carbonation and is also seems more concentrated.
> Still, it is not a smart drug.
> I prefer the term nootropics over "smart drugs", because nootropics
> are specifically safe with minimal side effects. In fact, the most
> well known nootropic, piracetam, is amoung the safest pharmaceutical
> compounds around. Piracetam is also reasonably priced too if you buy
> the powder direct and capsule your own.

Unfortunately, from my experience, piracetam, aniracetam, and oxiracetam don't
seem to do very much (the last only gives me a headache). Nootropics are a
subset of the nutrition/pharma scam. Well, scam may be a strong word, but the
claims certainly don't live up to the hype, and there's a strong current in
Western culture that wants to take magic bullet pills.

Modafinil, for example, was designed by my boss's colleague, a man whom we know
has overhyped the product, and we're thinking about starting trials to test its
efficacy against caffeine. Previous work has shown that Modafinil only
marginally improves psychomotor vigilance over repeated doses of caffeine, and
it's nowhere near as potent as amphetamines. It's a glutamate agonist, though,
so it doesn't have the addiction potential of the dopaminergic drugs, and it
doesn't create the anxiety that caffeine does. I doubt the claim that it
IMPROVES intelligence/cognitive ability. More than likely, it extends your
ability to remain at your innate peak performance.

The only drugs that I've experienced that give me the subjective feeling of
improved performance are those which improve blood flow to, and therefore
oxygenation of, the brain. These include vinpocetine and ginko biloba. I say
subjective, because even after 10 mg of vinpocetine I did not appear to do
better on a PVT. Also, I've noticed that if I read a verbally challenging
piece of literature for about an hour, I suddenly find myself better able to
articulate, probably due to increased blood flow to Broca's, Wernicke's and
Geschwind's areas, and the sense of improved cognitive enhancement is far
stronger than any chemical I've used.

None of these things are magic bullets to cram for an interview or an exam,
though, and good old fashioned repeated exposure to the material will still
work much better, imho.

That's not to say that increases in intelligence won't happen, but drugs can
only effect things like neurotransmitter output, receptor density, and so
forth. Some part of intelligence is controlled by the myelination of the axon,
which is a process that's complete when the neuron differentiates, or the
higher-order organization of neurons and their synapses, which determines
SMARTNESS, the qualitative aspect of intelligence. I doubt that any drug will
suddenly make problems with inconceivable solutions seem obvious.


I love this quote, btw: "There are no hard problems, only problems that are
hard to a certain level of intelligence." -- Yudkowsky

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