Silicon Valley’s Eating Up Super Ritalin. I Got the Best of It. – Dan McCarthy

Nootropics, the new staple “brain enhancers” in Silicon Valley that purport to increase productivity and perception, exist in an unregulated legal gray area in the U.S. In Colombia, you can pick up even the shadiest kinds over the counter. I did just that.

In the months before a recent trip to Colombia, off to visit an expat friend living there, I had been hearing about nootropics. Or “smart drugs,” as they’re referred to. Brain enhancers. Mental magic.

Depending on which site you’ve read that’s proclaimed them the new “It” drug for bio-hackers of every stripe, all roads lead to the same place. Namely, there is a blossoming cottage industry of wholly non-FDA-approved pills and powders that everyone from Wall Street titans to Silicon Valley geniuses have been using to augment their lives.

The promise? They’ll increase concentration, memory, attention span, combat sleep fatigue, and—in some cases—flat out change the way our brains work. Not in a fantastical sense, like in the way the miracle pill in the film Limitless allows Bradley Cooper’s character to achieve riches and glory. More like added grease for one’s cognitive gears—a synaptic lubricant that normally healthy people are taking to operate at optimal levels of clarity, stamina, and focus.

It’s Ritalin without the jitters.

Which isn’t to say, ironically, nootropics are not a bit confusing to the average person, Flintstone vitamin popper, or even general fan of recreational drugs. Some are legal, some aren’t. Some are made from food substances and purified compounds (and are vegan). Others are a classified as Schedule IV drugs that require you to be a DEA agent to bring across the border. And some research and data is based on rodent studies. So there’s that, too.

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