Cognitive Enhancement

The struggle to find a drug that makes you so fast that you save more time by taking it than you lost by researching it

August 7, 2017 — March 11, 2024

faster pussycat
Figure 1

Medication for brain performance enhancement. Anecdotally common in my highly competitive field, and amongst dotcom types. Tweaking brains with ‘smart drugs’ to get ahead in Silicon Valley is notorious. Also my brief contact with finance types leads me to believe it is common there. I am sure it is in many industries besides.

My advice on this is mostly worthless, as I know nothing of pharmacology etc. But even if I did, I would not endorse the taking of performance enhancing drugs without professional medical and legal advice regarding the impacts upon your own health and compliance with the local governmental regime and its positioning/branding regarding regulation of bodily autonomy.

1 Assessing effectiveness of


Figure 2

DIY? “Neurohacker toolbox”.

Aella, Are you just pushing the “insight” button? on taking LSD for the (feeling of?) insight.

2 Mechanisms

Scott Alexander speculates on Cognitive enhancers: mechanisms and tradeoffs. Relates to Gwern’s Drug Heuristics.

3 Hallucinogens

Figure 3: SMBC on uppers

4 Modafinil

Figure 4: Thanks oglaf

In practice, many nerds seem to take modafinil plus some other things. Reports are generally positive, though I have heard reports of undesired side effects such as suddenly liking house music.

A profusion of sites with names like Nootropics Depot,, and and presumably suggest that taking Modafinil without prescription is pretty common. I imagine it is a kind of ‘viagra for the brain’ market niche that is filled by these suppliers. I not certain how legal this drug is, nor how safe, nor how effective.

See also:


Is ISRIB any good?

6 Zembrin

Some people like Zembrin.

7 Creatine

8 Caffeine

9 Choline stuff

Cholinergic systems etc. I know little about this. Alpha-GPC seems popular.

10 Meta

Review of write-ups

My (Elizabeth’s) tentative conclusion is that it would take tens of hours to beat an Examine general write-up, but they are not complete in either their list of topics nor their investigation into individual topics. If a particular effect is important to you, you will still need to do your own research.

Sam Atis, in More notes on ADHD, connects ADHD medication to nootropics and finds no meaningful differentiation between medicalisation of a disease and cognitive enhancement.

Trying to eat something that tastes gross? Amino Acid Flavourings Powder Australia is a generic flavouring which has essentially no nutrients in, so it will interfere minimally with any dietary regimes.

11 Incoming

12 References

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Avgerinos, Spyrou, Bougioukas, et al. 2018. Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Cognitive Function of Healthy Individuals: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Experimental Gerontology.
Chen, Yang, Zhou, et al. 2017. L-carnitine for cognitive enhancement in people without cognitive impairment.” The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
Chico, and Kugler. 2021. Cerebrovascular Development: Mechanisms and Experimental Approaches.” Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences.
Doyle, and Csete. 2011. Architecture, Constraints, and Behavior.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Frank, Patel, Lopez, et al. 2021. Alpha-GPC Research Analysis.”
Kelley, Feltman, Nwala, et al. 2019. A Systematic Review of Cognitive Enhancement Interventions for Use in Military Operations.”
Lee, Choi, Chang, et al. 2021. Association of L-α Glycerylphosphorylcholine With Subsequent Stroke Risk After 10 Years.” JAMA network open.
Lopez, Govoni, Battaini, et al. 1991. Effect of a new cognition enhancer, alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine, on scopolamine-induced amnesia and brain acetylcholine.” Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior.
Momi, Neri, Coiro, et al. 2020. Cognitive Enhancement via Network-Targeted Cortico-Cortical Associative Brain Stimulation.” Cerebral Cortex.
Moran, Campo, Symmonds, et al. 2013. Free Energy, Precision and Learning: The Role of Cholinergic Neuromodulation.” The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience.
Pepeu, and Spignoli. 1989. Nootropic drugs and brain cholinergic mechanisms.” Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry.
Protzko. 2017. Raising IQ Among School-Aged Children: Five Meta-Analyses and a Review of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Developmental Review.
Rae, and Bröer. 2015. Creatine as a Booster for Human Brain Function. How Might It Work? Neurochemistry International.
Sakellaris, Nasis, Kotsiou, et al. 2008. Prevention of Traumatic Headache, Dizziness and Fatigue with Creatine Administration. A Pilot Study.” Acta Paediatrica (Oslo, Norway : 1992).
Sandberg, and Savulescu. 2011. The Social and Economic Impacts of Cognitive Enhancement.” In Enhancing Human Capacities.
Schindler. 1989. Pre-clinical evaluation of cognition enhancing drugs.” Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry.
Smith. 2005. Effects of Repeated Doses of Caffeine on Mood and Performance of Alert and Fatigued Volunteers.” Journal of Psychopharmacology.
Stough, Camfield, Kure, et al. 2011. Improving General Intelligence with a Nutrient-Based Pharmacological Intervention.” Intelligence.
Vossel, Bauer, Mathys, et al. 2014. Cholinergic Stimulation Enhances Bayesian Belief Updating in the Deployment of Spatial Attention.” The Journal of Neuroscience.