Smart Drugs Do Not Make Me Smart

I thought I would try a nootropic, or “smart drug,” to see how it would work for me. I really like the podcast Smart Drug Smarts, by Jesse Lawler. It is well produced, informative and entertaining. Jesse is great, however, he does not shy away from pitching his products as in each episode he encourages you to buy his nootropic, Nexus.

Smart Drugs Do Not Make Me Smart

Nexus ingredients include Aniracetam, CDP Choline, Phosphatidylserine, and Pycnogenol®. On the website the product claims to “enhance cognition, beat stress, and sharpen concentration.” It goes on to claim that it created with fast thinking and neuroprotectivity in mind. The capsules are not cheap. At $1.00 a capsule and a recommended daily dose of 2 capsules, you are in for $60 a month, or $55 if you subscribe. At that cost, it had better work.

My Question

Would Nexus improve my cognitive performance?

What I Did

I tested myself using eight cognitive tests in the Quantified-Mind app after either taking Nexus or not. I then compared scores of the group of tests where I took Nexus to the scores where I did not take Nexus to see if the smart drug improved my test scores.

How I Did It

I created a spreadsheet column of randomly assigned numbers between o and 1. Each day in the afternoon I checked the next number in the column. It if was 1, I took two caplets of Nexus. If it was 0, I did not take Nexus. Thirty minutes after I took the capsule (or not), I would open the Quantified-Mind app and take eight tests. Those tests took approximately 15 minutes. They ranged from memory tests like dual-n-back to attention and reaction tests. I took down each test score for all eight tests and put them in the spreadsheet. After 19 tests, I compared the averages in the two groups and did a student’s TTest to see if the differences in readings were significant.

What I Learned

Smart drugs do not make me smart. Of the eight tests I took during each session, there was no significant difference in the readings between if I had taken Nexus or I had not. Here are my scores:

Smart Drugs Do Not Make Me Smart

You can see that none of the tests had a statistically significant difference. If there was, the TTest P value would have been less than .05. You can argue that the sample size was too small. If we discard the TTest and just look at the averages, my scores seemed to go down in all but two of the categories.

Of interest is that on one test I seemed to do better – Attentional Focus. On that test you stare at two lines and tap a key when one gets longer. It can be difficult to maintain staring at the lines and the Nexus seemed to improve my averages there. On all the others, where I had some cognitive task to perform, my scores seemed to be degraded.

So I guess if I had an important report to write and I took Nexus I would stay focussed on the keyboard and keep typing, but the words that came out might not make as much sense.

One of the things I learned from Smart Drug Smarts podcast is that a test of one brain…is a test of one brain. The mixture found in Nexus might work for you. And I will continue being a fan of Jesse and his podcast. It is intelligent, fun, and informative. I just won’t buy his nootropics because they don’t work for me.

One thing I did learn in several sessions I had to throw out is that a lack of sleep trashes cognitive performance. On those days that I had had a poor night sleep the night before my scores were awful. I threw out those sessions, and I learned that sleep trumps nootropics with respect to performance. So in the future if I get a good nights sleep, and have an inexpensive cup of coffee in the morning my brain will be in good enough shape to handle that work report without having to resort to smart drugs.

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2 thoughts on “Smart Drugs Do Not Make Me Smart

  1. Love your post – I found something similar when trying out ‘trubrain’ with Quantified Mind. There may have been an impact but not noticeable. What I *did* notice however was I was waking up really groggy & feeling bad in the morning, so I only ran the experiment for a week.

    Some concerns on my own experiences though:
    – how long does it take for the impact of neurotropics to work?
    – is it important to take them for several days in a row? Trubrain instructions seem to say it is – that I wouldn’t have experienced any impact immediately
    – different brain chemistry. Trubrain is targeted at the ‘average’ brain, with the average diet. I take a very different diet & maybe I would need to change the ratio of ingredients. Talking to the guys at ‘neurotechx’ were making some recommendations here.
    – What are the knock on impacts of sleep? Maybe it only works when we’ve had a good nights sleep?

    In general, my own experience with Quantified Mind however is that nothing beats a good diet & a good nights sleep. And sleep debt & credit has a huge impact.
    – Brain function can stay good even after a severe lack of sleep one night if I’ve been sleeping good for several nights before.
    – A few bad nights sleep will take a couple of nights of good sleep for my brain function to be restored.
    – Lactose by far has the biggest negative impact on my brain function. Blog post to follow on this.

    1. Justin, thanks. Enjoyed your presentation at QSEU15. Your coverage of Quantified-Mind got me started on it. I wrote to Axon Labs to clarify the length of time it takes for Nexus to take effect and didn’t hear back though I imagine they are busy folks. The web materials imply an immediate effect. I agree that sleep probably overrides most stimulants to include coffee. Interesting your experience with lactose.

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