Nootropics: Silicon Valley’s New Growth Hack

Nootropics in the USA: Are the World’s Tech Titans Micro-processing Their Brains?

Silicon Valley – that region in Santa Clara County, California that houses many Fortune 1000 businesses, high-tech companies, and startups – is like the Mecca of the information technology industry. Not only is it the birthplace of the microcomputer, the microprocessor, and other innovations that spawned today’s technologies, but it’s also home to the world’s greatest IT brains.

Apple’s Steve Jobs, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Cisco’s Leonard Bosack, Google’s Larry Page, Netflix’s Reed Hastings and Intel’s Gordon Moore are only a few of the IT champions who have likely spent their time in the Valley, tinkering with chips, binary codes, and some venture capitalists’ money. These people are responsible for the greatest developments in the past two decades that we are now enjoying.

Hence, are their shoes too big to fill by today’s tech titans in the same Valley? Is this the reason many of them are now turning to “brain hacking” to come up with something bigger, something more life-changing than their predecessors’ creations? According to news reports, two of the brain hacking methods currently attracting a semi-cult following among scientists, mathematicians, and tech experts are nootropics and microdosing.

Overview on Nootropics

Reports are abuzz about a new type of ingestible cocktails called nootropics, designed to boost the brain’s cognitive abilities. A Forbes article refers to nootropics, or “smart drugs,” as natural or lab-derived supplements that enhance the brain’s performance. They focus mainly on improving one’s memory and concentration.

Nootropics are available as a natural food item, a supplement, or a medicine. You can order it in pure form or as part of a compound, such as multivitamins. You may also combine individual elements and add it to your regular intake, or customize it based on your body’s needs. Many athletes, for instance, take energy boosters, while artists and advertising professionals go for supplements that release their creative juices.

Medicines and supplements classify as nootropics only if they improve the person’s overall mental capability and health after a long period. While some medications boost the mind for a short period, they are not classified as nootropics.

How Do Nootropics Work?

Basically, nootropics influence the level of neurotransmitters in the brain. These are the brain’s communication systems; they allow the brain to communicate with itself better. Many medicines also function as vasodilators, elements that expand the blood vessels and boost oxygen flow to the brain. When the brain lacks oxygen, the lapse of concentration (and eventually memory) begins. Enhancing oxygen flow to the brain, therefore, strengthens focus and memory.

On top of increasing memory, focus and mental clarity, the best nootropics create positive mood changes, reduce stress or anxiety, enhance neuroplasticity and metabolism, and improve reaction and motivation. The effect depends on the individual and type of nootropic.

It is important to note that nootropics work only after prolonged use; it doesn’t make a genius overnight. Nootropic drugs result in subtle changes that are noticeable over time. That is why nootropic intake has become a sort of cult following or “addiction,” wherein followers stick to their regimen and introduce small doses to their diet.

What Is Microdosing?

In a nutshell, micro-dosing is a sort of human experimentation, where very small doses of a drug are administered to the human body to study its behavior and effects. The doses are too small to produce any major results but are enough to effect cellular responses that are visible in a lab study.

Microdosing as an experiment has its roots on a 1960s study by Dr. James Fadiman, who looked into the mind-boosting effects of psychedelic drugs, such as LSD and psilocybin or magic mushrooms. During his research, he gave mathematicians, architects, and scientists small doses of LSD and Mescaline, a hallucinogen, to see if these affected their problem-solving skills. The study stopped when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned further research on LSD.

Recently, Dr. Fadiman continued his research and published the manual “The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide,” for conducting a therapeutic and safe psychedelic drug experience. He collected testimonies from people around the world who experimented with “psychedelic microdosing” to treat conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety disorders.

However, the idea of microdosing really came from the Swiss chemist who discovered LSD, Dr. Albert Hoffman. He had been microdosing for the last 20 years of his life, and he lived to the age of 102. According to a Huffington Post article, at 100 years old, he was still conducting two-hour lectures.

What happens in microdosing is that an individual consumes 1/10th to 1/5th of a normal dose regularly. In the case of Dr. Fadiman’s experiments, he recommended dosing once every three days, preferably in the morning. While the dose was not enough to make the participants “high,” many of them experienced improvements in productivity, focus, mood and creativity. Others felt a reduction in tension headaches and feelings of depression.

Tech Titans and Their Top Nootropic Picks

Technopreneur Dave Asprey, founder of Bulletproof 360, Inc. and author of New York Times bestseller “The Bulletproof Diet,” recently told CNN that his foray into nootropics is worth any possible future side effects. He takes about 15 nootropics supplements per day and credits his significant mental improvement to the smart drug Piracetam. He says he used to experience “brain fog” but it stopped when he started taking his nootropic pills. He has started selling his favorite nootropic supplements and confirmed that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and decision-makers are among his biggest customers.

Entrepreneur and public speaker Tim Ferriss, an angel investor to startup companies such as Shopify, StumbleUpon, Trippy, and Uber, has also been microdosing on a number of nootropic stacks (combinations of various nootropic supplements). He introduced a TV series wherein he attempted to learn certain skills, normally acquired over many years, within one week. He also went into audiobook publishing, writing, TV production, and startup ventures.

Another venture capitalist, Andreessen Horowitz, popular for his contributions to AirBnb and Facebook, has invested in Nootrobox, a smart drug subscription company. Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Google’s Page have also admitted to investing in research for life-extending practices and nutraceuticals, which begs the question: are they, in fact, putting their money on brain-hacking pills that only have longer life as a side effect?

Even Tesla Motors and PayPal founder and serial entrepreneur, Elon Musk, is being suspected of taking nootropics. No confirmation from him, but it makes you wonder.

Other nootropic stacks include: “Rise” for a morning kickstart, “Sprint” for a brain jolt, “Go Cubes” for an alertness boost, yerba mate and L-theanine as alternatives to ADHD drugs and coffee, and Lion’s Mane mushroom and Brahmi as natural health supplements. Different nootropic categories may be hard to buy in one store, so most buyers get their stash from online channels. Health food shops may also carry the substances.

Knowing that these drugs exist and that their biggest buyers are in Silicon Valley, it’s hard not to believe that IT bigwigs have moved from hacking motherboards and software programs to their own brains. With all the stunning innovations floating around, who knows what the next “nanotechnology” might be and how many micro-doses it took for it to be developed.

Micaela Pimentel

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