Lessons in Cognitive Enhancement

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a few friends of mine are vaguely aware that I’ve developed an interest in nootropics over the last 2 years.

This was bred mainly from realising that the amount of time I wanted to work in a day could be ‘optimised’ better- in some cases longer days, in some cases more relaxed when I was working..

It then stemmed into obsessive research regarding neuroscience, sleep, diet, fasting and general optimisation.

Has it worked for me? sure.

In the last year, I’ve achieved :

– a first in my degree,
– won an award for musicianship,
– started a band which has accrued 7000 video plays despite being visible for only 2 months, supporting one of the leading hip-hop artists in Scotland in our 2nd show,
– created 3 solo EP’s worth of music,
– made enough artwork to exhibit 20 paintings,
– learnt a variety of new skills; including sound direction for film, scientific research & data collection for my dissertation on hearing loss, sign painting,
– began self-employment with my first few invoices & commissions
– started on a long journey in calisthenics – going from a complete weakling who couldn’t do a single pull up to now being able to do 10 pull ups on command.

If this looks like an average year to you, then congratulations – you’re already way more productive than I am at baseline.

You’ll see from this guide that if you’re careful about this, but you want to improve cognitive function, theres not really any way that it can’t improve your life. but its not been without hiccups. I’ve wasted a lot of money and got confused about what was working and what wasn’t. Its a wormhole, but you don’t have to make the mistakes I did. Thats why I’ve made this post.

 
Whilst I haven’t directly applied this to gaming (mostly music and art) I am still in a position to advise on it. Having done the melee thing for long enough I can safely say that drinking coffee all day or (god forbid) red bull/ irn bru is not an effective way to get through the long slog of a tournament, or rather, there are far better options. Particularly the lull between pools and bracket, or first half of bracket and top 8, can be quite difficult for people. Had I known about nootropics when I did play melee, I have no doubt I would have performed far better.
 
disclaimer: I would stay well away from all the racetam’s – you can’t get them legally in the UK and they are not to be fucked with. They were created and prescribed for people with alzheimers. These people have low levels of choline and dopamine active in their brain. If you have healthy levels of each, you risk flooding your brain and damaging the receptors. Despite the fact they are in every US-made nootropics list, there are more reports of it going wrong for people than right. Do not even bother with this.

Brief Intro //

Nootropic means cognitive enhancer. This can mean short-term, easily perceivable cognitive enhancement (ie Adderall) or long-term, sub-perceptual cognitive enhancement (ie Omega 3’s, CDP Choline, Lions Mane mushroom).

When we are talking about nootropics, we ARE effectively talking about drugs – but thats a complicated discussion. As Tim Ferriss says ‘a drug is a drug is a drug’. If you take Garlic supplements you are taking a drug. Ginseng is perfectly natural. But to dose it regularly is to make it a drug. Weed is natural and is a drug, etc.. So yes, these are drugs… but most are nowhere near as damaging or perceivable as alcohol, weed, MDMA etc.. and most are found in food sources or synthesised from rare exotic sources. Would you rather eat ginseng or acai berries authentically? Fair enough – enjoy importing all your ingredients for thousands of pounds.

Are this Doping ? //

The only cases in which nootropic use may be up for debate as ‘doping’ is with potent stimulants such as Modafinil, Adderall, Ritalin, Cocaine (I would seriously doubt the efficacy of the last one there though). So if you want to feel like an honourable competitor, just don’t use those.

[Aside: There is a famous story regarding a group of Chinese runners who broke 2 world records and won multiple events at the olympics in 1993. With a few eyebrows raised, an investigation into their strategy was launched, to find that the only enhancement they used was a herbal blend every morning, of which the main ingredient was Cordyceps mushroom  This was of course considered perfectly fine. We are yet to find a herb that we can consider cheating]

misconceptions //

nootropics are not just stimulants. Most stimulants have been chemically engineered to treat people with fatigue. We will not really talk about those. we are looking for sustainable changes.

Real nootropics can actually be used to prevent degeneration of your brain, or enhance receptivity in previously dormant parts of your brain, or balance hormones in order to optimise your output.

Nootropics are to be treated like diet – there is no one-size-fits-all. There is no ‘limitless’ pill. Some people may benefit from a high-fat diet and others a high-carb. With nootropics its the same – some may benefit from an energising nootropic whilst others benefit from a relaxing one.

This is because everyone has a different hormonal make-up. Most obvious consideration is people who drink a lot of caffeine – which is itself considered a nootropic. Quite often, coffee drinkers such as myself may find themselves slow if they didn’t drink caffeine.

Do you know anybody who is already too alert/ anxious that caffeine doesn’t work for them? They are probably naturally more balanced when it comes to the adrenal hormones (norepinephrine, epinephrine, adrenaline, noradrenaline). In my case and many others, we are synthesising an adrenal response to kickstart motion in the body and brain. More on dosing caffeine later.

Precursors //

There are 3 things you need to start tracking before you bother tracking the use of nootropics. They might seem obvious, which really only serves to show you that you need to take them seriously if you want to be in a high performance bracket.

You can skip this bit if you think you have these under control.

Sleep, Exercise & Diet.

SLEEP //

This is by far thee most important thing in your life. A very clear compounding and dangerous effect will happen if you don’t get enough sleep, yet try to prolong wakefulness. You drink more coffee than you would have needed to had you slept properly, you smoke more cigarettes than you would have needed to (nicotine is a stimulant), you consume more sugar. This takes MORE tax on the body, despite the fact the body has LESS to use. This is the basis of an unhealthy lifestyle. It tends to start with a poor sleep regime.

The main thing to know is sleep is the main regenerative process of the brain and body. you need to take it extremely seriously if you are looking to max out either of those things.

If you have exercised hard, your body can’t repair magnesium levels, regenerate proteins properly, testosterone or growth hormone, unless you sleep properly.

If you have expounded the brain on some fierce reading, music or gaming, your brain can’t repair choline levels, internalise memories, produce serotonin/ melatonin naturally, etc. etc.

IMPORTANT – the most obvious mistake I see when I speak to a lot of people about supplementation/ nootropics is they think alcohol or weed before bed is a good idea. this is explained in detail in the podcast below. However in simplest terms, the effect you are speaking of is sedation. You are passing out from alcohol or weed, not obtaining a proper sleep. This is not a good place to be – you want sleep to be accessed as naturally as possible.

The most dangerous part of using alcohol or weed to sleep is you are very likely to miss out on deep sleep- REM, the most important regenerative part of the process. This will inevitably lead to perceivable brain fog, but long term can cause degeneration of the brain and even alzheimers…

If I do end up drinking or smoking one night, I give myself a 2 hour window before I sleep in which I stop drinking or smoking and switch to water and herbal tea. If Im nightcapping because this isn’t an option, I expect to pay for this mistake for a week. Thats how important sleep is. Its so important in fact that, if you want to smoke weed, you’d be far better advised to smoke during the day so that it doesn’t impact your sleep.

Which herbal teas are the best for sleep?

Obviously, 0 caffeine is your starting point.

Camomile, lavender, valerian root, reishi mushroom, turmeric, ginger, ginseng and mint are the ones I’ve tried and had good results with.

camomile is most easily available and very effective. It not only improves GABA receptivity but also acts on benzodiazepine receptors – so is almost like a very weak valium. Make sure you keep a lid on the mug when it brews and brew it for at least 6 minutes. Camomile releases essential oils that you want to keep in the drink. They’ll knock you right out.

valerian root is the strongest herb for sleep that I’ve found. I consider this herb a staple. Be careful with the dosing though as its so strong you may oversleep or wake up foggy. Dr Stuarts is the best brand for this. Pukka also do a Night Time blend which you can find in most supermarkets and is a good starting point, arguably better balanced too.

reishi mushroom and ginseng are unique in sleep remedies in that they will most likely allow you to wake up feeling rejuvenated. Taken alone they might actually cause you to stay awake, so stack them with other tea bags (yes, put more than 1 tea bag in your mug). They are major hacks for the morning though.

mint and turmeric are your pathway advisors – they help reduce inflammation so the other herbs can work quicker and more effectively.

The real science of sleep and its importance is divulged in this podcast – even 30 minutes to an hour of listening- and have your mind blown on how important this is.

Do not fux with the sleep. This shit is sacred.

EXERCISE //

Your body wants to move and its pretty easy to get depressed if you don’t take this seriously.

Most people see exercise as something you do for vanity or to lose weight. However one of the most useful aspects of exercise is the impact it has on your brain.

In order to consider exercise for cognition, the good news is you don’t have to exercise as regularly as a personal trainer, athlete or fitness fanatic. You only need to exercise about 30 minutes a week to see a massive difference in your cognition.

This is unequivocally thee best way to kickstart uptake of adrenal hormones which will aid you in feeling alert, reactive and responsive when you are performing. If exercise is not enjoyable for you, or it does not come naturally, you want the minimum effective dose :

Intense cardio such as sprints are the best for hormone regulation and uptake of norepinephrine. If you can sprint for 1 minute straight, great. Do that 3 times with ample rest in between. If you can only sprint for 20 seconds, do that instead and build it up. Your starting point isn’t very important here. Its about you vs you – your own threshold.

Resistance training such as planks, holding on to a bar for as long as possible, L-sits, push ups and pull ups, general simple calisthenics workouts, are amazing for improving blood circulation and heart rate.

The main takeaway I can offer here is – do a little, but when you’re doing it, push yourself. You’ll know if/when you didn’t. Short but aggressive workouts can go a long way, and they minimise the likelihood of injury or fatigue that you’ll get from deciding that jogging is going to sort you out. Also, because you are aiming for cognitive gains, any physical gains can be seen as a bonus- not the end goal!

Read the 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss for more hacks on maximising exercise efficiency.

DIET //

This is too big a topic to undertake here. Theres too many differences in diet. I’ll just list some simple things for consideration:

Track your calories (even roughly)

Drink plenty of water

Eat whole foods – Stews, soups, and salads are easy to make. Cooking vegetables from raw is significantly better than your ready meal.

Stop careless sugar consumption – Refined sugar, which is sugar consumed along with 0 fibre, is the surest way to gain weight quickly, cause blood sugar spikes and crashes, and harm your gut flora and mitochondria. You have to reduce this. If its a particularly bad habit for you, opt for healthier alternatives such as honey or fruit. A cool trick is to swap your love of sweet for bitterness. In chinese medicine, bitterness is viewed as a sign of a herbs efficacy or potency. You can learn to love bitterness and this will pay off in cleansing, probiotic (aiding gut bacteria) and willpower.

Observe your body type – ectomorphs for example(tall and thin) tend to be able to take a high carb diet better, endomorphs may prefer something more along a fat based timeline.

Avoid processed carbs (non wholegrain breads, biscuits, soy bullshit snacks, processed meats, chocolate bars)

Avoid trans fats

Eat less fried food – especially double dipped pakora or chips from your local takeaway. This can be very damaging on the mitochondria in the brain.

Make sure you eat a lot of healthy fats. Fat is an essential transporter of vitamins and minerals in your body and brain. Do not skimp on fats, just be smart about them. Fat is also a very useful way of consuming a high density of calories in a low volume of food. My personal favourite for fat consumption is almond butter.

Also if you are overweight, this does not mean you should avoid healthy fats. In fact in a lot of cases, dense portions of healthy fats could help you curb your appetite.

[In one study of caloric restriction (1000 calories each) 3 groups were made – 1000 calories of carbs, 1000 calories of fat, 1000 calories of protein. The fats group lost the most weight, and the carbs group, GAINED weight – despite only eating 1000 carbs a day. ]

Macadamia nuts, almonds, coconut oil, avocado are big wins. The only animal fat that has good results in this category that ive enjoyed is grass-fed butter or ghee (a la Bulletproof Coffee), which is high in vitamins A, E and D. you might find some studies supporting eating beef fat or something – thats your choice to undertake, I personally avoid it as farm-fed animals are pumped full of synthetic hormones and the fatty bit takes the worst of those.

The only risk with a high fat diet is it may cause digestive difficulties. Be cautious of this and regulate with better hydration, prebiotic edibles such as asparagus, apples, broccoli, and probiotic supplementation.

Multivitamin? //

Taking a multivitamin is a good idea. Just do it with a meal to guarantee absorption. Do not take a multivitamin and then drink a fucking cup of coffee. You’ll have just wasted money. leave at least half an hour to an hour between those 2 things.

Everyones body reacts differently and so its impossible to gauge what foods you may want to keep in your diet. Just be conscious.

For me personally, I see big dividends from blueberries, bananas, avocados, broccoli, kale, rice, oats, lentils, sweet potatoes, almonds, and lean cuts of chicken and fish. However, I’ve had extremely healthy people tell me that they noticed a marked improvement from drinking more dairy milk. I personally hate dairy milk, but thats a non-sequitur. Different bodies.

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