One of the differentiators at Nootropedia has always been the insistence on combining scientific data from research across the globe with anecdotal reports from people “in the field” having their own experiences.
When the Reddit nootropics subreddit (currently over 150,000 people strong) organized a nootropics survey in 2017, the results were incredibly informative. It was a fascinating combination of scientific data (or at least analysis) and anecdotal information all in one.
What we managed to learn from this data set is pretty informative and we have decided to breakdown some of the most valuable information.
Nootropic Survey: Skewing Data
Before we dive into the data too deeply, it is important to note the way this nootropic survey was conducted so as to get a clearer picture of the validity of results.
For one thing, the survey only included 380 participants and 91.07% of them were male. The fact so many are male is not surprising; after all, we do know there are differences between male and female brains and especially their risk tolerances for increased performance.
What does skew the results is the self-selecting process. Anyone who was already on the subreddit is an outlier (in terms of their heavy interest in nootropics). Further, whomever took the time to complete the survey is even more of an outlier.
Also interesting is the fact that 50% of the participants were from the United States. Was this because more people who take nootropics are in the USA or because the demeanor and priorities of Americans (often considered more driven for material wealth) brings them to nootropics in higher numbers? Hard to tell, but worth noting from a psychological perspective nonetheless.
Don't Be Like Them
A hidden gem within the data set focuses on personality scores. The majority of personality scoring systems focus on 5 specific traits:
Generally speaking, men are less agreeable and conscientious, but the results from the survey were extreme. Not only was extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness LOW for the sample set, but neuroticism was HIGH as well.
Boiled down, this suggests the nootropics users generally did not have a large, social friend group, were not very agreeable or “nice” to spend time with, and were neurotic (prone to anxiety, mood swings etc).
Thus, when we see the data on all the various nootropics (particularly experimental ones) that survey users were consuming, it's worth taking with a grain of salt.
Nootropics and Effects
The use of certain nootropics and their perceived effects is perhaps the most interesting data from the survey. The survey asked questions about many compounds and focused on a few specific features:
We'll start from the top.
There are some familiar characters within the pleasantness category, which are prescription drugs (in some parts of the world) and have powerful effects. Unsurprisingly, things like tianeptine and phenibut made it to the top of the “pleasantness” list.
Both of these should be taken with precaution and especially phenibut due to the addiction potential. What was more interesting was the fact that the #1 pleasant nootropic was microdosing LSD.
The legal implications of microdosing LSD aside, this is a relatively safe compound to be using for the subjective “pleasant” feeling.
Ironically, a microdose is supposed to be sub-perceptual so either the participants in this survey were taking a higher dose than Dr. James Fadiman recommends for microdosing or there is so much hype about microdosing that the belief of an impact is creating a strong placebo (still a good thing!)
Another surprising item to find on the pleasantness scale was CBD oil, which is ranked #4 just under phenibut and vastly safer than the latter.
As far as unpleasant nootropics are concerned Huperzine A and Doepezil were neutral and only three came in as unpleasant: guanfacine, DMHA, and L-Deprenyl.
Perhaps this is a good sign that experimentation is the common source of anguish…
Unsurprisingly, the king of reducing anxiety is phenibut, though this is something that we have discussed on many occasions as being highly problematic for creating dependence and tolerance builds up quickly.
The good news is that shortly after phenibut came kava, which was slightly above CBD oil and a litany of synthetic options (tianeptine, selank among them).
It is unsurprising (but worth noting) that many of the nootropics that had no effect or increased anxiety were stimulatory in nature. Increasing the fight or flight systems in our brain are useful for getting things done, but not always our sense of wellbeing.
The list that could increase anxiety is familiar (in order):
The furthest one down the line that I consume is caffeine and even then I try not to do so more than 2 or 3 times per week. Consider that MOST people are drinking caffeine daily (sometimes multiple times per day). A worthwhile reminder…
For concentration and focus, the number one tool is Adderall. As an amphetamine that dumps copious amounts of dopamine into the brain, this is unsurprising. Number two is methylphenidate and number three is armodafinil. All major culprits of high stress and anxiety as mentioned above.
The interesting outlier is oxiracetam, which supposedly boosts focus more than semax or nicotine. It ranks 9th behind some of the most powerful stimulants you'll find.
The data related to memory provides some questionable results. Phenylpiracetam is a favorite, bacopa (ranked 4th) is well studied, and PRL-8-53 has theoretical benefits for memory, but Adderall does not seem like a valuable tool for memory formation or learning.
Either way, it has ranked third in the survey and I wonder whether some subjective data problems are occurring when people feel hyped and energized on Adderall not realizing they have diminished memory (or cognition) rather than enhanced. There are plenty of studies suggesting this is common.
Little in this data set was interesting minus the fact that many people believed bacopa monnieri (a well studied and researched memory enhancer) was the second worst culprit in reducing motivation (behind melatonin for obvious reasons).
The data provided lots of information, some confirmed, some reminders, and some new ways of thinking. To make it easier for you, and provide you with some actionable tools, here are some of the major takeaways:
- Oxiracetam may be a potent focus enhancer comparable (or slightly less) to phenylpiracetam in efficacy. This could be an interesting tool to cycle into a weekly regimen.
- Kava is the best nootropic bet for anxiety relief when considering efficacy AND safety
- CBD oil has a cornucopia of benefits and is an “easy win” for supplementation purposes
- The more experimental a drug, the less likely it is of being useful or helpful
- A good reminder that drugs that improve focus ALWAYS come at a cost (usually anxiety or stress)