A topic I’m asked about often is nootropics. I’ve discussed nootropics on the Unbeatable Mind Podcast with awesome folks like Ben Greenfield and Mike Bledsoe. But most of the questions I get stem from an interview I did with Daniel Schmachtenberger, founder of the Emergence Project and a member of the Neurohacker Collective. The Neurohacker Collective has done a significant amount of research on enhancing physical and cognitive performance and has developed the nootropic, Qualia.
I’ve been using Qualia for a while now and I’m definitely experiencing some positive benefits from it. I’m not really big on supplementation. Most people know that I don’t like a lot of gadgets and I don’t like to have to take a lot of things because they run out and then you have to worry about them. You have to go buy another set or whatever, and it’s expensive. But if there’s one thing that I won’t do without now, it’s Qualia. I can let my fish-oil run out, and I can let my multivitamins run out, but I don’t want to let the Qualia run out. That’s extraordinary for me to kind of get to that point where “Wow. This is cool.” So, I wanted to put that out there, that I do endorse this product. I think it’s fantastic.
That all said, I want to share some common questions about nootropics and Daniel’s responses (excerpted from our Unbeatable Mind Podcast episode):
What is the difference between a smart drug and nootropic?
Daniel: Nootropic generally means something that increases some aspect of cognitive function beyond someone’s normal baseline without negative side-effect. Which is why it’s kind of this magically wonderful term, to the degree we can achieve it. Smart drug typically means some pharmaceutical that was for narcolepsy of ADD or some other purpose, that’s then being used for off-label purposes. And it can increase some aspect of cognitive function, but it’s probably going to have side-effects.
Are all nootropics a naturally occurring substance?
Daniel: Nootropics can be chemicals or naturally occurring substances. We’re not so much focused here on whether we extracted it from a plant or whether we synthesized it. We’re focused on what is the actual effect that it has on our physiology.
Does Qualia have both synthetic and natural ingredients?
Daniel: It does. In general, we’re oriented toward naturally derived things, because we have a whole evolutionary history with them. There’s a lot of synergistic compounds that are there. But there are times where there are synthetic compounds that we’ve developed that have really wonderful properties that are very inter-commensurate with human biology and don’t have any indication of meaningful side-effects, and actually, have a lot of neural protection positive kind of up-regulation.
The primary family of chemicals that we think about when we are thinking about nootropics are the Racetams. Piracetam was the first one. Then there are many other Racetams. And they primarily up-regulate the uptake of acetylcholine. They do a number of things, but the up-regulation of the NMDA receptor sites, uptake of acetylcholine in the post-synaptic neuron, that’s their primary thing. And then Ampakines, primarily up-regulate glutamate uptake…these are basically categories of chemicals that increase some aspect of neurotransmission. We’ve got, on some of these, 50 years of significant data showing that they’re extremely well tolerated and that in addition to actually up-regulating some aspects of human experience that are very meaningful, they’ve actually got physiologic benefits as well. Neuro-protective against oxidative damage in the brain, against glutamate excitotoxicity, against different things like that.
Again, we are technologists. We embrace technology. We just want to see the right use of it. There are synthetic chemicals that when used rightly can be beneficial. Our idea is that there is nothing not natural. If it exists in the universe it is part of the whole universe. And nature is the whole thing. So, what we’re interested in is understanding what nature’s doing well enough that any interventions we have are aligned with its homeostatic capability rather than not.
Can you share an example to help people understand how a nootropic is working on the brain?
Daniel: If a bodybuilder was just taking creatine without working out, they’re not going to get increased muscle growth. But if they are working out enough, their dietary intake of those nutrients is actually the limiting factor. And then they increase the bandwidth of the rate limiting factor, then the whole system can move further forward. So, it’s a synergy between how much stimulus is happening to the muscle and how much nutrients are available to repair it. And the detox capability, and the sleep, and the hormones that are involved in metabolism, catabolism, anabolism, right? So, it’s a right synergy of those things coming together, and saying, “Where are the limiting factors in being able to up-regulate those?” So that’s true for muscle development, it’s true for cognitive ability, it’s true for meditation, it’s true for a lot of things.
If someone were to take nootropics that say, were going to increase some aspect of neurochemical function, but then not actually practice using their minds in any disciplined kind of ways, or for any meaningful activity, you’re going to get a limited effect. Anyone can notice they can take caffeine or Adderall, and have an effect. They can similarly not take anything and focus, and study more, learn more, meditate more and have an effect. But if you combine those things you can have meaningful synergies of effects.
There is so much more to be said about nootropics, but for the sake of keeping this post readable, I’m going to cut if off here. If you want to learn more, listen to my interview with Daniel on the Unbeatable Mind Podcast. Daniel is insanely smart and just a wealth of information. If you’d like to learn more about Qualia, visit the Neurohacker Collective website.
Until next time, keep training physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Put in the deep work and continue to evolve!