Monday, April 11, 2016

Experimenting With Nootropics

There are a few kinds of people that stumble into the nootropic community. I ended up there about five years ago because I like drugs and I wanted better ones. I’d been reading about weird drugs on the Internet since I was 15, back when we bought Salvia divinorum at the tacky head shop near the mall and fell down laughing and tried to get high on an amped-up kava kava homebrew.

I’ve generally experimented with nearly every upper and downer out there, across a pretty broad spectrum of legality. But what began as escapism when I was tethered to a Texan teenage wasteland later blossomed into something less bleak and more life-affirming, intellectual even. If perception is reality and we can actually retune the five senses—and do so safely and scientifically—well, that’s something indeed. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.

“I think nootropics appeal generally to folks with an armchair (or professional) interest in psychology, neurology, biology, and other facets of brain science, [who] feel comfortable occupying the role of both experimenter and subject,” an avid nootropics user with a degree in biochemistry tells me. “Nootropics may appeal greatly to those who have already rejected society’s blanket judgment that ‘drugs are bad.’”

Much like dive bars, virtual haunts all have their own cast of characters. On LongeCity, “the premier forum about extending the human lifespan”—and, more pertinently, extending human consciousness—one figure inspired a sort of messiah-like reverence: Isochroma. Isochroma had used the forums for years, often among the first to try newly synthesized drugs. He wrote with a mania that approached psychosis, but always coherently and with a strange, breathless elegance. He was a mega-doser—one of the brave few who’d take massive, unheard-of dosages of a substance to see what lay at its outer edges. Fascinated, I devoured his posts. That’s how I began to learn about nootropics.

In a handful of spartan, text-based Web forums like LongeCity, geeks with a wild streak convene with recovering addicts and mind-expanding, hippie types in pursuit of experiential knowledge—the kind mainstream science can’t or won’t provide. The result is a strange intellectual compound: virtual symposiums where bold souls ingest chemicals that science barely has a name for—and then they blog about it.

The class of drugs known as “nootropics” span a broad, heterogeneous swath of psychoactive substances. Many things that could be called nootropics are legal, often because the law either doesn’t know about it or just doesn’t know what to do with it yet. You can buy some nootropics, sometimes marketed as “smart drugs,” at Whole Foods next to the Vitamin D supplements. Others only pop up for sale online in limited quantities, straight from being synthesized and never before tested on humans.

“The biggest unknown factor remains long-term effects,” the psychonaut with the biochem background explains. “Where online forums and ‘amateur’ sources of information are light years ahead of official research and regulation for the vast majority of these substances, the recency of most of them makes long-term information simply unavailable anywhere.”

Naturally, here on the crowdsourced cutting edge of brain science, that’s part of the appeal. “Beyond the actual experimentation with nootropics, the research and investigation into some of the more esoteric corners of what we know (and don’t yet know) about how our brains work is a fascinating exercise unto itself.” (...)

Unlike many of Big Pharma’s greatest hits, some nootropics are heralded as “neuroprotective”—ideally capable of improving indices of cognitive function over time, not just in dangerous spurts. “I would recommend piracetam as a mental stimulant along with choline,” a user responds in the same thread. “Other safe stimulants are rhodiola rosea, st john’s wort and perhaps ginseng.” On this forum and many others, users look out for one another. Many threads emphasize the importance of diet and exercise. Some even dismiss caffeine as too dangerous, though green tea is generally well liked for its active ingredient, the amino acid L-theanine. Don’t want to drink tea? Buy 100 grams of bulk L-theanine powder on Amazon for $20.

The craziest part about all of this is that all of these faceless nootropics enthusiasts might be on to something. The most popular forums function like a fast-action thesis review: Users throw out potential chemical combos, known as “stacks,” and even hypothetical molecular compounds, often citing obscure but surprisingly solid scientific research. Then, it’s time for the peer review. It’s not uncommon for users to note their own backgrounds in biology, psychiatry, and other related fields, sprinkling their posts with complex molecular diagrams and neuroscience shorthand.

by Taylor Hatmaker, The Kernel |  Read more:
Image: Max Fleishman