Smart Drugs: Biohacking, Nootropics - what is this?
Huffington Post View
Here Come the Smart Drugs: Biohacking, Nootropics and the Urge to Excel
Move over, Adderall, there are some new substances in town.
By Bobby Azarian / Huffington Post April 20, 2015
If you haven't heard of the term "biohacking", you may already be being outcompeted by those who have. A biohacker has generally been defined as someone who aims to gain control over their own biology. Many biohackers are now choosing to take brain enhancing substances -- or "nootropics" -- that supposedly allow you to tailor your brain to fit your needs, rather than letting your brain control you. In fact, so many tech gurus and entrepreneurs swear by smart drugs that it prompted CNN to run the story "Are Smart Drugs Driving Silicon Valley?"
Some of us with an unrelenting hunger for success have tried cognitive-enhancing prescription stimulants, such as Adderall and Ritalin, in order to pull work-filled all-nighters while the competition sleeps. While these drugs undoubtedly boost focus for long stretches of hours, this state is always and without a doubt followed by a crash -- a down period characterized by mental sluggishness, anxiety, mild depression, and a general feeling of being cracked out.
Due to this crash, along with some scary side effects and the strong potential for addiction, many have chosen to opt for natural cognitive-enhancing alternatives. Natural nootropics are brain supplements that contain organic ingredients that allegedly elevate mental function by improving attention, memory, mood, and motivation through increasing neurotransmitter levels. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that allow the brain's neurons to communicate with each other through electrical signals, and the optimal balance of transmitters is required for healthy brain function. Nootropics are thought to restore and maintain this balance without the harmful side effects, and they are already causing a feeding-frenzy amongst investors who are looking to start companies before the wave crests.
One such company is the Silicon Valley-based startup known as Nootrobox, which offers a subscription service that will deliver brain supplements to your door each month. With two distinct nootropic formulas, Nootrobox offers options that are said to allow you to customize your brain states to suit particular tasks. This is a progression from the one-size-fits-all approach taken by many nootropics companies in the past, and it is likely that we will continue to see more products that target very specific cognitive functions. While some would be quick to point out that nootropic users could merely be experiencing placebo effects, well-established ingredients like caffeine, and L-theanine -- an amino acid that research has shown to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine -- make it hard to argue the efficacy of Nootrobox's nootropics. But it is definitely important to approach nootropic products with a skeptical eye, as many ingredients that are being used today have hardly any empirical evidence from credible peer-reviewed journals to support their effectiveness.
Nootrobox recently ran a successful Indiegogo campaign named "Declaring War On Adderall" to raise money for their new "Sprint" formula, which is supposed to be a safe, cheap, and legal alternative to one of the most abused drugs on Ivy League campuses. It will certainly be interesting to see whether nootropics will ever become mainstream enough to cause a measurable decline in the use of illegal uppers at these competitive schools.
Of course, if we believed that a pill really could enhance mental performance, we would expect there to be some really successful pill-popping people out there. Although these smart drugs have yet to blow up in general society, some noteworthy public advocates of nootropics who use them religiously are:
• Tim Ferris - entrepreneur, author, and public speaker
• Dave Asprey - entrepreneur, board chairman of the Silicon Valley Health Institute
• Joe Rogan - popular podcast host, comedian, and mixed martial artist
• Ray Kurzweil - scientist, inventor, and Google's Director of Engineering
Ray Kurzweil uses nootropics not just to enhance cognition, but also to protect and preserve the health of his brain. With 20 honorary PhDs, a host of game-changing inventions, and five national best-selling books, he is arguably the most productive man in the world. The "ultimate thinking machine" and "the restless genius", as described by Forbes and The Wall Street Journal, takes a daily regimen of over 100 supplements -- a good portion that are devoted to cognitive enhancement and brain health. The fact that a scientist of his caliber is an open advocate for nootropics lends to their credibility.
Podcast host Joe Rogan, an avid nootropic enthusiast, says he's often experienced super vivid and trippy lucid dreams when taking them before bed. While this may not be the first goal for someone looking to optimize their mental performance, being able to explore exotic states of consciousness would be a pretty awesome bonus.
Hacking your biology and brain by tracking its activity -- through things like wristbands and smartphone apps -- and using that information to devise an appropriate nootropic routine could soon be commonplace for entrepreneurs, computer programmers, college students, and competitive athletes seeking the highest success. And why wouldn't it? Being able to focus longer, access memory more easily, speak more fluently, and execute daily tasks with ease are qualities that virtually everyone could benefit from.
The folks at Nootrobox say they believe that nootropics will be "widely available in 7-11s, classrooms, and workplaces within a few years". If they do prove to have the same cognitive enhancing effects as stimulants but without all the negatives, then I sure hope they are right.
Future Medical Technology 500 View
Pros and Cons of Biohacking
Feb 23 2015
Biohacking is the term used in conjunction with your biological process and the integration of hacker principles. If you think of biology as a computer, and the way a hacker can infiltrate the system to make it work the way they want it to, biohacking can be easier to understand. The process of biohacking can involve a distinct combination of medical, nutritional and electronic methods to make the body function exactly as you want. Typically, those who engage in biohacking support the theory of “Transhumanism”, which states that fundamental altering of the human condition is possible through technology, which leads to a more advanced specimen of humans.
Benefits of Biohacking
For those who struggle with mental health disabilities, research suggests that biohacking can have a great impact on treatment. One of the goals of many biohackers is to boost serotonin and dopamine, which are the common neurotransmitters that increase good feelings. Biohacking can increase long term memory and productivity, and is said to have positive effects for both the mind and body.
In a scientific term, biohacking further advances the understanding of the body and its processes, with very little input from the medical community. Many biohackers feel that they can break free from the bars of traditional science and medicine, and make great progression toward being in charge of our own biology.
Many biohackers focus on cognitive health, balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, a positive productive mindset, and quick results. In theory, any progress toward improvement of the human mind and body can only help further a better population.
Disadvantage of Biohacking
The biggest issue many take with the idea of biohacking deals with the ethics involved. Because the field of biohacking is unregulated, many wonder if biohackers have the potential to create carcinogenic and pathologically detrimental organisms, either intentionally or unintentionally. The field has spawned a new discussion of biosecurity, which seeks to discover and manage the risks of biohacking to society. A specific code of ethics was created in 2011, by DIYbio for which biohackers should adhere, however there is no distinct rule requiring them to do so.
Additionally, biohacking is a relatively new theory, and while biohackers are quick to claim positive long term benefits, the longevity of the methods and techniques has yet to be truly tested. Biohacking is generally a free-for-all in terms of who can become a biohacker and what they can do with it.
Why it’s important
Biohacking can change the future of how we deal with our bodies. It’s an important new science which needs to be studied and have close attention by the public. In a regulated environment, biohacking can give humans a new perspective on their biology and really made tremendous advances in treating several conditions, like mental health and addiction. However, it’s not something that should be taken lightly, because the risks are real. Here’s to seeing what biohacking has to bring in the near future!
Image by AMAZONAWS