The Smart Drug You're Already on and How You Can Upgrade

There was a time when I woke up naturally, having slept plenty and felt rejuvenated.  My body was alive and my mind felt sharp. I was young and had limited responsibilities. I had the focus of a laser beam and carried out necessary tasks with ease. I attacked the day with vigor and had the mental stamina to stay awake and productive until midnight.  It was glorious.  It's also only a memory.  

I had children.  Two of them.  And they broke me. 

They have stolen leisure and among other things, the ability to eat meals at their intended temperature. My life with children takes constant effort and frankly, I don't always feel up to the task. My natural level of continuous vigilance lasts somewhere between 1-4 hours depending on the intensity of the task, but my day is 14-18 hours long. 

So how does one power through 14-18 hour days with clarity and avoid distractions that derail one's progress? Smart drugs may be the answer. In fact, most of you are probably already on a powerful smart drug and you may not even know it. 


There are many things I want to do during the course of my day, but the one thing I have to do every morning is have my coffee. Coffee upregulates a protein called Nrf2 which is responsible for the regulation of antioxidants and protects against oxidative damage caused by inflammation. Coffee also contains caffeine, the smart drug no one knew they were on. Alone, caffeine has positive effects on wakefulness, concentration and mood. To get extra benefit, pair it with the amino acid, L-theanine which is naturally found in green tea. They work synergistically and can further enhance alertness, attention and task-switching. L-theanine can also create an inhibitory effect in the brain to combat jitteriness, and sleeplessness. 

Mastered your coffee intake? Maybe it's time to upgrade.

Smart Drug Upgrades: Nootropics 

Smart Drugs can be broken down into two basic categories: Cognitive Enhancers and Nootropics. There's a lot of information available on nootropics and cognitive enhancers. Like anything of any interest, it can be controversial and you'll find mixed data and the need for more research. This lag in documented research leaves a big open space for self-experimentation. Before you order a slew of capsules online, safety first. 

A nootropic can be considered a cognitive enhancer, but the reverse is not necessarily true. Some cognitive enhancers have the potential for addiction, tolerance, and negative side effects. In order to qualify as a nootropic, a compound needs to meet some pretty rigid criteria: 

  • it must provide memory enhancement
  • increased efficacy of neuronal firing
  • improved brain function particularly under disruptive conditions
  • offer neuroprotective qualities
  • be non-toxic with few-no side effects.

This generally means, nootropics are considered to be extremely safe for personal use. 


Piracetam was first manufactured in 1964 by a chemist in Belgium. It's essentially the father of all the other racetams and as a group, they have been utilized for the purpose of enhancing focus, retention, memory formation, creativity and neuronal recruitment. They all work a little differently and have different uses and half-lives. The mechanism of action is still relatively unknown, but the racetams are considered to be some of the safest compounds for cognitive enhancement available. These compounds can be taken alone or in a "stack" meaning you've combined a racetam with other compounds, like amino acids or certain botanicals in an effort to synergistically enhance the effects of them all.


Pyrroloquinoline quinone is a cofactor that potentially confers protective qualities to the brain and the heart. It primarily performs its function on mitochondria, an abundant organelle found in most cells and among other things, they are primarily responsible for energy production. PQQ works by activating cell signaling pathways directly involved in cellular energy metabolism, development, and function. Not only does it protect mitochondria from oxidative damage, but it also promotes spontaneous generation of mitochondria. 

Cognitive Enhancers that are not Nootropics

If you already on rotating stacks and manipulating your daily nootropic regimen, but still feeling the need for extra oomph, you're entering the "caution-required-zone" and leaving the safety of nootropics behind. Increasing the risk can mean increasing the reward, but you have to be sure you're playing with a full deck. See a knowledgeable physician for a thorough health assessment. The following compounds should not be experimented with unless you are in truly excellent health as confirmed with recent blood tests and physical exams. 


Not just for smokers anymore. If you're tired, nicotine will make you more alert.  If you're anxious, nicotine will calm you down. There is no other drug that performs in such a disparate way and it has a fascinating impact on behavior. It can improve selective and sustained attention and also decreases distraction. Further, it can increase pre-attentional processing which is a subconscious ability to detect new information.

Cigarettes, however, still remain dangerous and cancer-causing. Luckily, the aggressive surge to quit smoking has inspired a new class of products—the nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs). These products deliver a consistent and metered dose of isolated nicotine. When choosing this drug for cognitive enhancement, low dose nicotine can be quite useful. 

Remember, nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs in the world and certainly not without it's side effects, particularly for those with certain conditions or predispositions. Be sure you understand the risks, before you attempt to get the benefits. 


Modafinil is a pharmaceutical that requires a prescription from a physician. As of 2012, modafinil is the only approved "go drug" utilized by the Air Force to keep pilots alert. It is considered a wakefulness-promoting agent (eugeroic), but is not a direct stimulant like adderall or methylphenidate.  This distinction is important since it makes modafinil much less addictive and carries less potential for side effects and abuse.

It's prescribed for fatigue associated with severe sleep apnea or for individuals who have Shift Work Disorder (SWD). SWD is a term applied to individuals who are fatigued or have difficulty with staying awake due to unnatural schedules, particularly those that compete with circadian rhythm. Modafinil is a weak dopamine reuptake inhibitor and has positive effects on sustained energy, mood, learning and working memory.

It won't increase your IQ, but—if you have SWD—it can certainly make you more productive and less distracted when you're on it. Modafinil does confer the risk of a potentially dangerous, albeit rare, rash. If you're sensitive to NSAIDs, you may be sensitive to this drug. 

Sum It Up

For the right people, smart drugs may be the answer to boosting cognitive performance. When used judiciously by informed individuals, I think they are wonderful tools. This is a (very) brief overview of cognitive enhancers. Before you begin, see a qualified physician who can confirm your health and help you navigate this world. Nothing can change for the better if you're still battling poor metabolic function and dietary sabotage.

Get it together. Get smart. Get healthy. Then get smarter.