Smart Drugs & Nootropics

Mentalcodex | Julfi
6 min readJan 28, 2021

The mad drive for productivity

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Since childhood, my parents and my surroundings never stopped telling me that taking drugs is bad. Guess what? It worked! I never tried drugs. I mean, I never tried drugs in the trendy sense of the term — as seen on TV and in newspapers. Because, in fact, I am, and we mostly are all junkies.

We are all junkies

The coffee you take to wake you up, the abusive quantity of sugar you put into your dessert, and the weekly dose of alcohol you need to relax yourself, they are all drugs. They are substances that cause a change in your organism’s physiology or psychology when consumed. It is the Wikipedia definition of drugs.

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There is a pretty massive but uncertain line between the good drugs and the bad ones. Anything used in abundance isn’t good in itself. In this sense, all drugs are dangerous. However, there is a difference between the additional sugar cube you put in your tea and an extra Methamphetamine syringe you put in your arm in the shadow of a disused church. The line was mainly drawn in the last century, leaving little room for hindsight.

At the beginning of the nineteen-fifties, psychedelics were used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including alcoholism and end-of-life anxiety. At that time, LSD was seriously studied as a therapeutic compound, and the results were quite encouraging. But with the arrival of the drug war in the 1960s, they found themselves left out. The political and cultural baggage it carries completely stops researchers, and until newly almost nothing has been published.

LSD is one example of a drug that I wouldn’t even have wanted to hear about it some months ago because of the strong negative connotation it carries. However, after reading a few articles on the subject (The Trip Treatment), I’m now more eager to learn more without prejudices. I am curious to know other substances that presumably have benefits over the human brain. Hence my growing interest that I would like to share about “smart drugs” or nootropics.

Are “smart drugs” really smart?

When I tell people that I take “smart drugs,” I am always confronted with the same type of attitude. A reaction of incomprehension against a backdrop of concern, and it’s even worse when I try to articulate why I take them. To be more alert, more focused, to improve my memory, be more productive, happier. I think it’s too beautiful for most people to be true, or at least healthy. Added to that that I talked about “drugs”, and I guess some of them see me as one of those weird people high 24 hours a day.

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To be honest, it’s a good thing that they stay skeptical. You should be skeptical of someone telling you that he takes magic pills to unleash the full potential of his brain. Unlike in limitless (the movie), there are no pills that can perform that. The search for limitless pills is common in the nootropics community but remains vain, in my opinion.

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As I wrote above, there is not so much research done in the field for the reasons you know. Even if there is evidence that some tributaries consume herbs having nootropic effects, we are still groping. Each person can react differently depending on their amount of sleep, the meal they’ve had, or simply the way their brain is wired.

What Mike, the owner, editor, and primary writer at Nootropics Zone, a popular nootropics blog say in this interview is quite true:

“Everyone’s brains are wired differently. Not all nootropics work the same for all people.”

Taking nootropics is a double-edged sword. When it works, it can make you more productive, happier, more alert, and can help you build better habits. When they don’t work, they can keep you up all night, make you tired, give you a headache, or even cause a potentially dangerous overdose.

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The wrong way to approach nootropics

Humans are naturally in search of shortcuts. We desperately want to ease the way we live, and that’s a fabulous thing. Unlike all the species that live on this earth, human beings have been able to shape their environment. Thanks to this particularity, we don’t need to make fire for warmth or light, we no longer need to move to the village square to get drinking water, and access to food is quite simple. We live today a better life that Louis XIV in the 17e century.

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However, this unreasoned search can sometimes lead to downsides that we would never have suspected. For the sake of traveling faster, we emit more CO2 than necessary in the atmosphere. For the sake of having cheaper clothes, we finance modern slavery, and I could go on like this for a long time. In the book “Libérez votre cerveau”, the author explains that we know nothing about the human brain. For him, the simple fact that we can’t reproduce our brain should be a sufficient warning for us not to tinker with it. Yes, science often moves forward at the cost of human lives, but isn’t there a better way to do this?

Approaching nootropics because you need to be more productive seems to reveal a much deeper and more worrying problem. Sometimes I feel like humanity act with our brains like a child trying to put the square shape in the round hole.

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Right now, we’re pushing it. That’s fine. It works. For how long is the real question.

Mindful productivity outweighs mindless productivity

Excerpt from the article: Demystifying the World of Nootropics

In a 2014 study, Kimberly Urban, a scientist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, found that the use of Ritalin in teens could permanently make the brain “artificially more rigid,” rendering it harder to switch focus between tasks and solve problems creatively — essentially doing the opposite of what nootropics enthusiasts are after.

Ritalin is one of the most used nootropics today. Apparently, there is some obscure side to using it for an extended period. I’m not an expert, and maybe it’s true — I am not in a position to judge. What I think should change is the purpose of its usage.

More and more children use this kind of substance in such a way that one could practically describe it as “academic doping”. They take smart drugs without thinking about potential side effects, the right dosage, their sleep, or the optimal hour of ingestion.

You don’t want productivity unless you don’t care about consistency — which would be a big mistake. What you want is mindful productivity. I’m sure that we don’t use our bodies and our mind at their maximum potential. Meditation, sleep, food, exercise, and nootropics are some tools that I believe make me a better human (physiologically speaking). It would be foolish not to experiment with them, it would be even more so without a broader view on their effects. That’s why I share with you my concerns.

“Science without conscience is only ruin of the soul” — François Rabelais.

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I’m now ready to share with you the bright side of nootropics, the good practices I gather, and the expertise of some big names in the nootropics community. See you in the next article ;)



Mentalcodex | Julfi

Power dynamics expert. I share essays and historical case studies about Human nature and its relationship with power.