Nootropics have received a lot of attention in recent years. In case you haven’t heard the term, it basically refers to drugs that sharpen mental function.
If you’re wise, the idea of regularly using such substances probably strikes you as a bad idea. Normally any drug with a substantial benefit comes at a cost—some kind of detrimental impact on health or quality of life.
However, I’ve found it’s possible to elicit a nootropic effect daily with no noticeable downsides.
- Nootropic Definition
- My Nootropic Experience
- The Nootropic Effect of Fasting
- Plus Black Coffee
- Plus… Nicotine?
- Side Perks
Nootropics—also called smart drugs and cognitive enhancers—are drugs, supplements, or other substances that improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals.
My Nootropic Experience
The category is wide, and includes very common and widely used things like caffeine, but also more extreme stimulants such as amphetamine.
I’ve had little experience with exotic nootropics, the most pronounced effect being via ADHD medication at higher-than-prescription doses (obviously hypothetical because taking controlled drugs without a prescription is illegal, and I abide by the law to a T just like you, my fellow upstanding citizen).
Even those comparatively tame explorations were very vivid, and the mind-state achieved was remarkable.
But as alluded to earlier, there was a definite physiological cost, which came in the form of a bad headache and subsequent fatigue.
The Nootropic Effect of Fasting
It would be pretty sweet to elicit a nootropic effect without the harsh side effects, wouldn’t it?
Recently it occurred to me that most of my hours are lived under exactly that. Mostly it’s a coincidental benefit of intermittent fasting.
I originally employed fasting as a means to stay lean while being able to eat plenty of the most delicious food the world has to offer (less frequent eating means bigger, higher calorie meals, which in turn provides huge flexibility in food choice).
As both a formerly obese foodie and a physique enthusiast, being able to indulge while staying lean feels miraculous enough, but I’ve also fallen in love with the mind-state of fasting. I’d describe it as a kind of productive clarity.
There’s no mystery about why it happens, fasting simply provokes higher catecholamine production (catecholamines are basically natural stimulants—the most well-known being adrenalin).
It’s a funny thing. The normal thinking is that productivity and a focussed mind hinge on eating (for instance, the myth of the importance of breakfast), but I find the exact opposite now. Eating in the early part of the day makes me feel sluggish.
There is a definite adaptation period with intermittent fasting. If you jump straight into skipping a lot of your normal meals, you’ll likely feel shaky and horrible. But if you extend out the time during the day that you don’t eat after waking, you might surprise yourself.
Sometimes I realize at about 6 PM I haven’t eaten all day, but I still feel great. Your body can fuel itself just fine on stored fat and carbohydrate for a long time.
Plus Black Coffee
The nootropic effect of fasting is salient by itself, but add caffeine to the mix and there’s spectacular synergy: a heady marriage of energy, mental clarity, and focus.
I make no special effort to take caffeine, I get it through one of my other favorite things: black coffee. It’s very low in calories, so doesn’t interfere with fasting.
I drink about five strong cups per day, but how much you should have will depend on your caffeine tolerance and physiology. Some experimentation will be required.
I notice that when I’m tired I can’t handle as much, and going overboard makes me feel too edgy and jittery.
The icing on this cake is an optional bonus that veers into more controversial territory.
Fasting and black coffee together are an excellent nootropic. But fasting, black coffee, and nicotine is better still.
Before you recoil in horror, I’m not recommending smoking—although we automatically associate it with nicotine, they’re not the same thing. I personally like nicotine lozenges.
While the pathological effect of smoking is stark, nicotine in and of itself seems to pose little risk. From a Cancer Research UK report:
The accepted medical position is that while nicotine is highly addictive and comparable to drugs such as heroin or cocaine, it poses little health risks except in certain vulnerable groups.
So it’s clearly addictive (as is caffeine), but seems not to be especially detrimental to health based on current science.
I’m not bothered by the addiction aspect. This from examine.com:
The speed at which nicotine reaches the brain and the overall concentration of nicotine that reaches the brain are predictors of the addicting potential of nicotine, with high doses and fast absorption (cigarettes) being more addictive than slower release forms (gum, patches)
I’ve stopped taking it cold turkey, and aside from a bit of a headache I’m fine after a few days, pretty similar to what happens when I stop caffeine.
Possible Health Benefits?
Casting even further doubt on our knee-jerk reaction of concern about nicotine are these notes from the Wikipedia nicotine page:
- “… there is evidence that nicotine itself has the potential to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease.”
- “… animal research suggests there is potential benefit from nicotine in Parkinson’s disease.”
- “There is tentative evidence that nicotinamides may improve depression.”
I don’t think we can definitely say nicotine use is risk free, but tentatively at least it seems fairly safe, and is certainly a lot safer than smoking.
As scientific literature stands, you’d have to say there’s probably a slight gamble involved, and anyone’s decision to try it or not depends on their level of risk tolerance. For me its cognitive and mood benefits are worth it.
I think the minimum effective dose concept is a good one here. As such, I take the lowest dose lozenges, which are 1 mg. I’ve had higher, but the effect is too strong and becomes more of an intrusive distraction than a mental enhancement (4 mg nicotine gum was way too much).
Throughout the day, I basically have the lozenges as and when needed, and normally average about 10 in total.
Again what’s right for you might vary.
My brand of choice
I’d stop short of recommending nicotine as such, but if you decide to try it, this is what I do.
Both caffeine and nicotine have fat-burning effects. Taking them won’t get you a six-pack, but every little bit helps for body composition, so it’s a nice extra.
I also like the slow-dissolving nicotine lozenges during my fast, simply for the taste. (In a similar vein, see my Forevermints review.)
This whole nootropic aspect of my lifestyle was complete serendipity—I never sought it out. But it’s an appreciated side-benefit.
Of course we’re all different, and your results may vary. But if the idea of a daily nootropic without the extreme side effects of strong drugs appeals to you, fasting, black coffee, and nicotine might be worth trying. For me it’s the perfect nootropic.
Thanks so much for reading.
If you enjoyed this, check out Intermittent Fasting, Miracle Diet for the Fit Foodie, and you might also like my fat loss or muscle building sections.
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