I recently began to experiment with various nootropic compounds including caffeine, choline, modafinil, and several different drugs which fall into the racetam family. Each of them is reasonably safe although modafinil is a scheduled drug in the United States and is probably the most aggressive nootropic substance on the list.
When deciding whether or not to try a nootropic substance I basically go through a risk reward analysis weighing the potential risks and benefits of the substance. The amount of time I spend researching a substance depends upon the risks posed by the substance. The higher the risk the more time I spend researching.
However most of the research has already been analyzed in meta-studies and compiled for laypersons like myself!
There are incredible resources out there for those interested in trying nootropics. Examine, Erowid, Gwern.net, and reddit.com/r/nootropics (specifically the FAQ), are all very well organized repositories of information on the various nootropic compounds. These resources contain scientifically rigorous information about each of the substances. Below I will give a brief overview of my personal (and very unscientific) experiences.
Full disclaimer: I have not performed placebo controlled studies. I also began taking other supplements in addition to the nootropics mentioned here around the same time (fish oil, vitamin D, vitamin B12).
However, I had at least a few days in each case to allow myself to establish a new baseline before adding a new drug to my stack. The one exception being choline as most (but not all) of the material I read suggested choline should be taken in conjunction with racetams as they are known to deplete choline in the brain (which can lead to a headache if you do not supplement choline). More on this in the section labeled choline below. Also, make sure you consult your doctor prior to taking anything mentioned on this site.
When it comes to optimizing brain function – nothing on this list comes close to a healthy diet, regular exercise, and 8 hours of sleep.
Caffeine is one of the most noticeably effective drugs on the list. It’s also one of my favorites. This should come as no surprise really since it’s a stimulant.
I have tried caffeine in a number of varieties including tea, coffee, and pills. Most recently I have been drinking either a cup of coffee or a cup of green tea in the morning. I’ve also been taking a 100mg tablet of caffeine every morning and often one more tablet in the middle of the day.
Caffeine does a wonderful job of perking me up at the start of the day allowing me to focus on what I want to accomplish. Caffeine improves my ability to focus and enhances my mood.
The /r/nootropics FAQ recommends complementing caffeine with L-Theanine in order to smooth over ‘caffeine jitters.’ I tried L-Theanine a few times (albeit at a relatively low dose of 100mg) and I didn’t feel any effects one way or the other. As I’ve never really experienced any jitters or agitation from caffeine I didn’t feel the need to continue taking L-Theanine. Your mileage may vary.
I have only taken choline in conjunction with a racetam. For that reason I haven’t been able to isolate the experiential effects of choline. I also started with choline bitartrate which is apparently worse at crossing the blood brain barrier than Alpha GPC choline and also less bioavailable. I haven’t taken Alpha GPC often enough to comment on it.
I have tried to isolate for choline by removing it from my regiment while continuing to take piracetam or oxiracetam. I did not experience a headache. It’s my understanding that some people naturally have extra choline in their brain and therefore experience no headaches when taking a racetam.
I will update this section as I continue to experiment with Alpha GPC with and without a racetam.
This section contains a number of racetams in order of increasing potency. Piracetam is far and away the most researched racetam. The scientific consensus at the time of this writing is that Piracetam is completely safe.1 & 2 The remainder of the racetams still need to undergo further human study in order to determine if they are safe. However, none of the racetams mentioned below appear to be neurotoxic (unless administered at incredibly high doses) according to the studies which have been completed.1 & 2
I began with ~4800mg/d spread out across three equal doses. Each dose was combined with ~200mg of choline bitartrate.
There was no perceptible change in focus, attention, memory, or anything else for the first 4 days. This was expected as piracetam takes time to build up in the system. On the fifth day I took an extra 800mg and still experienced nothing during the day. That night however I had particularly vivid dreams. The next day I woke up and took 2400mg of piracetam and 300mg of choline bitartrate. I felt slightly more focus and energy. I also felt a noticeable improvement in my mood when I went grocery shopping. I just felt very good.
For the next week I continued taking ~5600mg of piracetam and ~700mg of choline bitartrate daily and I experienced nothing whatsoever.
However it’s quite possible that I’m not supposed to feel anything. It’s possible that had I measured my cognitive performance before and after taking piracetam I would have outperformed my initial scores (despite the fact that I don’t feel any different).
A 1976 placebo-controlled study measured healthy participants’ performance on verbal memory; participants taking piracetam outperformed those taking a placebo.3
Additionally, piracetam has been shown to have a neuroprotective function. Studies show that piracetam appears to diminish the effects of age-related cognitive decline.1
For these reasons I have continued to take ~800mg of piracetam daily even though subjectively I don’t notice any difference in my cognitive performance.
One final note on piracetam: I took 4800mg/d of piracetam for about 2 weeks before I more or less abandoned it. This is in line with several recommendations I’ve heard. More recently however I read a few reports where people didn’t begin to experience positive effects for closer to 3 weeks or even a month. You may want to give piracetam 3 weeks before deciding to move on.
Unlike piracetam, or perhaps because I had already been taking piracetam, the effects of oxiracetam were immediately apparent.
Within an hour of taking an 800mg dose of oxiracetam I began to feel lazer-like focus. I also took ~650mg of choline bitartrate.
I was reading at my computer I noticed that I was instinctively skimming the material and filtering out the useless information and quickly absorbing key points. This pseudo-speed reading is something that I try to do regularly anyway, but I frequently find myself sub-vocalizing when I study or read for pleasure; I will notice that I am reading every single word on the page ‘aloud’ in my head (which is often a waste of time).
This time it was completely automatic. Speed-reading was my default setting.
I wish I could say that I effortlessly absorbed all of the information contained in the text, but that is not the case. I had no trouble following along and understanding the material, but unfortunately merely reading through a book about programming does not make one into a programmer.
Nevertheless I did feel an improved ability to process information.
I took another 800mg of oxiracetam a few hours later. The second dose seemed to have a similar but diminished effect (although the first dose was still having a strong effect at this point in time).
I continued to take 800mg of oxiracetam twice a day for about a week with nothing anywhere near the results described above. I felt no improvement to my focus or mood.
My one exceedingly positive experience with oxiracetam was interesting enough that I will continue to experiment with it. If I manage to figure out a regiment where I can overcome apparent tolerance problems then I will update this post.
Aniracetam & Pramiracetam
I have not yet had a chance to experiment with either of these racetams.
In my experience modafinil (with the exception of my one good experience with oxiracetam) is the strongest and most effective drug on this list. It seemed to greatly improve my focus and alertness even though I opted to take a 50% dose (100mg).
You can read my full modafinil experience report here (coming soon).