Smart drugs: All-natural brain enhancers made by mother nature

Can nicotine keep Alzheimer's at bay? Dave Asprey explains how natural drugs can create super humans.

DAVE ASPREY: Since this is Big Think, let's talk about the things that help you think big. And you might think, oh, great, this is going to be a Tony Robbins discussion. No. This is a discussion around nootropics, or what's known as smart drugs. I have been using smart drugs for more than 20 years, both the pharmaceutical side and the natural side, where you have lots of plant compounds. I've even formulated some for my company, where it puts together things -- oh, look, there's studies on rosemary. There's studies for this extract of seaweed -- good studies that show that these are increasing your ability to get things in and out of your memory, or making your brain work better.

And it turns out Mother Nature apparently wants us to be higher performance, because she makes a couple of really potent smart drugs, and you might even have used one or both of them. The most commonly consumed cognitive enhancing substance on the planet is coffee. Now, yeah, Bulletproof coffee -- I probably have a bias for saying that -- nut no, seriously, 90% of people drink coffee, and caffeine is a very well-studied performance enhancer, at least over the short period. You can't drink coffee for three days straight and expect to perform well at the end. But could we go deeper than that? And by the way, coffee itself, at this point, I feel comfortable saying it's an anti-aging substance, given the preponderance of studies. All of the big four killers and things like that, they seem to get better. So you have a cognitive enhancer that looks like it's beneficial in many different aspects. I'm all-in on that one.

But what about nicotine? Well, is that a cognitive enhancer? It turns out that nicotine actually, since 1988, has been studied and shown to be an anti-Alzheimer's agent. What? I actually interviewed a guy -- I call him Dr. Nicotine -- his name's Andrew Newhouse -- on Bulletproof Radio. And he's the guy who wrote the first paper in 1988 at Vanderbilt University, and has been studying nicotine ever since. Smoking is bad for you. Chewing tobacco is bad for you. Vaping is bad for you. However, a little bit -- we're talking micro-dosing -- of oral nicotine is a potent cognitive enhancer. You feel one milligram, which is about 5% to 10% of a cigarette's worth; you feel it a lot. And so I will tell you, Super Human was written with the aid of both coffee and nicotine. However, the recommendations in Super Human for nicotine are, you don't want to be using a lot of nicotine, because a lot of nicotine isn't good for you. And smoking is never good for you. To say tobacco and nicotine are the same thing is not a good idea. So I tell people, look, if you're over 40, one milligram a day might be a good idea, because it enhances mitochondrial function, and because we don't want to get Alzheimer's as we age. And maybe over 50, you want two milligrams a day, so just a little bit. But trust me. You'll like that one milligram a day, because it feels good. In fact, nicotine can improve typing speed by up to 15% in healthy people. That's a lot, especially if you're writing a book like Super Human. I typed faster. Not really. I dictated a lot of it.

But what are some of the other things you can do? One of my favorite drugs that I write about is called aniracetam. And it is a pharmaceutical substance. It's spelled A-N-I-R-A-C-E-T-A-M. It's been around for about 50 years, and it was pioneered in Russia. This is something that's neuro-protective, and it enhances the ability to get things in and out of your memory. They call it memory I/O. So when I'm sitting here, talking, saying, what was the name of that study, how do you think I do that? Well, I did do the research. But I also use cognitive enhancers in order to make my brain work better. Because you know what? It feels really good to have a brain that works, especially as you age. And it's entirely possible to do this just from food. But there's another level that you get when your diet's dialed in, when your sleep is dialed in. It's OK to then add the plant-based, naturally occurring cognitive enhancers. And if you still wanted more, look at the pharmaceuticals that have a very high upside, and maybe no downside or very small downside, and to decide if they're part of the equation for you.

  • Nootropics are colloquially known as 'smart drugs' – substances that increase cognitive function in healthy people. The word nootropic is a combination of two Greek words, noos meaning 'mind' and tropein meaning 'towards'.
  • Dave Asprey discusses two naturally occurring smart drugs: Caffeine and nicotine. The latter might be a surprise, but while smoking, chewing tobacco and vaping have negative health consequences, there's evidence to suggest microdosing one milligram of nicotine, about 5% to 10% of a cigarette's worth, may protect against Alzheimer's.
  • Beyond naturally occurring smart drugs, Asprey discusses aniracetam, a pharmaceutical cognitive enhancer pioneered in Russia that may improve memory input and recall.



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