It’s 3 p.m., and I am crushing my e-mail inbox. At this time of day, I’m typically struggling to stave off the post-lunch slowdown by downing another cup of coffee or two.
But today, message after message is flying off my fingertips effortlessly—work e-mail, personal e-mail, digital errands I’d been meaning to run for months. I’m in the zone, as they say, and for this burst of late afternoon productivity, I might have nootropics to thank.
Nootropics—the name given to a broad class of so-called “cognitive-enhancing” drugs—are all the rage in Silicon Valley these days. Programmers like nootropics because they’re said to increase productivity and sharpen focus without the intensity or side effects of a prescription drug like Adderall or modafinil.
Some users mix their own nootropics using big bins of powders, purchased off the Internet or in supplement stores. And some take pre-made “stacks” that are designed to produce specific effects.
Nootropics aren’t new—the word was coined in 1972 by a Romanian doctor, Corneliu E. Giurgea—but the Silicon Valley-led body-hacking movement, epitomized by food replacements like Soylent and specialized supplements like Bulletproof Coffee, seems to have given them new life.
There are dozens of online forums, including an active subreddit, where nootropics users gather to exchange stack recipes and discuss the effects of various combinations of compounds. And although their “brain-enhancing” effects are still generally unproven, nootropics proponents point to clinical studies showing that certain compounds can increase short-term memory, reduce reaction time, and improve spatial awareness.
The nootropics I’m taking are called RISE, and they’re made by a company called Nootrobox, which was started by Geoffrey Woo, a young Stanford computer science graduate. There’s no one common ingredient in nootropics; what unites them is the intent to improve brain performance.
The RISE stack, which costs $29 plus shipping for 30 pills, contains 350 mg of bacopa monnieri powder (an herb that is commonly used medicinally in South Asia), 100 mg of L-theanine (an amino acid found in green tea), and 50 mg of caffeine (about the amount in a can of Diet Coke).
Like most nootropics, the RISE stack itself isn’t FDA-approved for use as a cognitive enhancer, but Nootrobox says that the compounds within it are approved as dietary supplements. “We use the precise ingredients at the right dosages and the right ratios as supported by double-blind, peer-reviewed clinicals,” Nootrobox’s site claims.
Woo understands that when selling brain drugs, skepticism comes with the territory. “The typical first reaction is, this is bullshit, you guys are snake-oil salesmen,” he says. “We’re not medical doctors nor biochemistry experts, but we are experts in building teams and building products. Like how Elon Musk attacks rockets and electric cars from ‘first principles,’ we see ourselves as applying Silicon Valley aesthetics and operational know-how to the murky world of nootropics.”
Read More: Here