12 votes

Nootropics and scams - Exposing fake reviews with Python

25 comments

  1. [25]
    patience_limited
    Link
    Apologies for the domain crossover between ~health and ~comp, but this is a significant effort to carve through a mountain of bullsh*t. I recently took a long trip down the rabbit hole of...

    Apologies for the domain crossover between ~health and ~comp, but this is a significant effort to carve through a mountain of bullsh*t.

    I recently took a long trip down the rabbit hole of nootropics; it's been a few years since I last updated my priors. Over and over, Thesis kept populating my searches for current data and products, in a way that certainly didn't seem organic. I poked further into the company, finding suspicious corporate cutouts (OUTLIERS INC. is the company listed in the privacy policy and sales agreement), no employed scientists (unless you count naturopaths), no U.S./Canada/EU manufacturing information or jobs, etc. They're hiring for weird social marketing job titles like "Conversion Rate Optimization Manager", as well as actors/influencers to promote the product. So it wasn't too surprising that their reviews (and likely their internal "research") turn out to be faker than fake.

    It's just highly questionable whether Thesis' stacks are reliable, worth $79 USD per month, and whether they should receive any reward at all for scammy behavior, even if there's a semblance of consensus that the products "work".

    All that being said, there are certainly some ingredients that have established effects - positive, placebo, neutral, negative, and nocebo. Anecdata is the rule on all the fora which discuss nootropics. It's hard to guess what to try next when most supplements either have unblinded sample sizes of 1, or are controlled substances/analogues. Microdosing psychedelics has an increasing amount of reliable data for mood disorders, but not for general cognitive improvements. I've been very slowly tapering off a decades-long nicotine dependence, and could really stand some energy, focus, and motivation improvement. Amphetamines and related stimulants are right off the list for me for obvious reasons. Tianeptine helped, but tolerance is a known problem and I'm not doing that again.

    So, once again, I'm asking for more anecdata - favorite nootropics, and why?

    3 votes
    1. [7]
      Merry
      Link Parent
      I took nootropics back in college so I can give some feedback on some: Caffeine plus L-Theanine is a good combo when you need energy but feeling down Piracetam plus Alpha-GPC, I remember being...

      I took nootropics back in college so I can give some feedback on some:

      • Caffeine plus L-Theanine is a good combo when you need energy but feeling down

      • Piracetam plus Alpha-GPC, I remember being okay but kind of a PIA to take all the time

      • Noopept - this one I could actually discern something happening and feeling a bit sharper. But it tasted like poison and I think the side effects of irritability and headaches were too much.

      • Modafinil - good for when I needed to stay awake. Tasted like butt too.


      I don't take nootropics anymore and I don't think I would necessarily advise it. I was drinking and smoking pot at the time I was taking these things and honestly, after not drinking for over 5 years and quitting smoking pot, my mind has never been clearer and sharper than it is today.

      Good exercise, good diet, and abstaining from mind altering substances are the best nootropics out there.

      6 votes
      1. [6]
        patience_limited
        Link Parent
        There doesn't seem to be much in the way of new research or materials with well-established safety profiles out there. Effective focus-enhancers, like the ones you mention, are still all...

        There doesn't seem to be much in the way of new research or materials with well-established safety profiles out there. Effective focus-enhancers, like the ones you mention, are still all stimulants that have pharmacological activities too close to amphetamines for my comfort.

        3 votes
        1. [5]
          inwardpath
          Link Parent
          Yeah, a lot of nootropics are still too new to really have had a long, conclusive profile of safety. I still think I might have caused myself harm many years ago from taking Piracetam just a few...

          Yeah, a lot of nootropics are still too new to really have had a long, conclusive profile of safety.

          I still think I might have caused myself harm many years ago from taking Piracetam just a few times (there was some wild energy drink company around here that actually put it in their drinks....). Scary.

          1 vote
          1. [4]
            patience_limited
            Link Parent
            Sorry to hear piracetam was a bad fit for you; I've been digging into noopept, which is structurally related to the racetam family. It's much more potent, but very short-lived, so I think it may...

            Sorry to hear piracetam was a bad fit for you; I've been digging into noopept, which is structurally related to the racetam family. It's much more potent, but very short-lived, so I think it may have a better safety profile. Noopept is still being researched as an Alzheimer's drug in the U.S., and it might help with inflammatory brain fog.

            It's all a bit of a crapshoot - as I said, I'm not in dire need of nootropic effects on a day-to-day basis. But I've got a crazy, intricate work project coming up that would be taxing under the best conditions, so I want an extra edge available.

            1. [3]
              inwardpath
              Link Parent
              Yeah, introduction of piracetam (along with caffeine) in a combined drink form was the only change in diet I could detect- but I started getting heart palpitations / very strong beating in the...

              Yeah, introduction of piracetam (along with caffeine) in a combined drink form was the only change in diet I could detect- but I started getting heart palpitations / very strong beating in the heart that took a very long time to go away (no other symptoms). I still feel like it might have permanently done something. I'm very doctor-avoidant (to my detriment, I'm sure) otherwise I might have checked it out- but it never reached an emergency level.

              I can't ever be for sure that it was the cause, as I have many other factors and behaviors that could have been involved, but it was something that seemed specifically timed to where it's at least plausible.

              Mentally and physically prior to that, it felt amazing. Incredible clarity of thinking, vividness of everything around me, felt like my thoughts could just flow easier, without being hypervigilant or jittery. It was a very pleasant feeling.

              I stick to coffee, tea, and more tame energy drinks these days

              1 vote
              1. [2]
                patience_limited
                Link Parent
                Ugh, sorry to hear that. People have wildly varying susceptibilities to stimulant effects. Spouse gets palpitations from theobromine in chocolate, and it's as terrifying as a full-blown panic...

                Ugh, sorry to hear that. People have wildly varying susceptibilities to stimulant effects. Spouse gets palpitations from theobromine in chocolate, and it's as terrifying as a full-blown panic attack.

                As I said, it's a crapshoot whether you're going to be the one with the scary side-effect no one's bothered to document before. Everything I've seen about how racetams work gives me pause; messing with acetylcholine and glutamate receptors in poorly understood ways just seems like a recipe for havoc. I'm already screwed up enough from the similar effects of nicotine.

                1 vote
                1. inwardpath
                  Link Parent
                  Yeah it sounds like I should have stayed away from the racetams, but I was not cautious enough about putting unstudied things into my body. I fell into a fascination with nootropics for a while...

                  Yeah it sounds like I should have stayed away from the racetams, but I was not cautious enough about putting unstudied things into my body. I fell into a fascination with nootropics for a while but thankfully kept myself from buying most of them. They became a trend for a while and I was susceptible. These days I will research every ingredient on a food/drink/supplement label before I even remotely think about using it.

                  Yohimbine is another stimulant I have to avoid like the plague. I think it's pretty potent regardless, but it seems a number of people don't have an issue when they take it. I immediately get hypervigilant, hyper-paranoid, and feel like my entire body is working at multiple times its normal speed (in a bad way). It was a low dose and very scary- never again for me. It reminded me way too much of panic attacks (which I've had but thankfully super rarely).

                  I stick to caffeine these days. Coffee, tea, energy drinks, or energy mixes. Some 'pre-workouts' too as long as I have no noticeable side effects and all in moderation. I watch my caffeine intake closely and approach it responsibly.

                  2 votes
    2. [7]
      wervenyt
      Link Parent
      At this point, I only delve into nootropics spaces for idle entertainment. So many of the people have such deeply flawed conceptions of neurology and psychopharmacology that it's like watching...

      At this point, I only delve into nootropics spaces for idle entertainment. So many of the people have such deeply flawed conceptions of neurology and psychopharmacology that it's like watching people with double vision solve slide puzzles. As for my own experience:

      • n-acetylcysteine (NAC) seems to help me with paranoia and hypervigilance, as well as general anxiety and obsession. That means that it can keep stimulants like caffeine on the "straight and narrow", and helps me maintain focus and motivation by itself without actually being stimulating. It cuts down compulsions a lot, which I've noticed in the contexts of trichitillomania-type behavior and drug dosing.

      • Black seed oil may be snake oil. It might be olive oil. It smells like oregano and turpentine, it burns, helps wound healing, and is blessed as per the Qur'an. It's stimulating similarly to ultra low doses of opioids, and similarly mood lifting, but based on my long term experience and another friend's, develops no dependency or significant tolerance beyond the mood lift. It's definitely anticholinergic, and it seems to drop blood glucose levels acutely. Neither of those traits are generally 'good' for nootropic use, but the stuff basically evaporates away mental fatigue, and any fogginess is minimal. I haven't used it in a long time due to concerns over possible liver stress with chronic use, but that's just a hunch of my own, not borne out of research. Plus, the foundational text of Islam claims it cures all ills...

      Both those substances are heavily researched and seem relatively safe for short term use. They're no nicotine, certainly no tianeptine, not even a racetam, but the ways they stabilize mood and assist in productivity are reliable, non habit forming, and sustainable.

      3 votes
      1. [6]
        patience_limited
        Link Parent
        I hear you about "idle entertainment". If it's an herb or a nutriceutical, someone's made nootropics claims about it. I was greatly amused to find that a couple of the nutriceuticals (e.g....

        I hear you about "idle entertainment". If it's an herb or a nutriceutical, someone's made nootropics claims about it. I was greatly amused to find that a couple of the nutriceuticals (e.g. ashwaganda, resveratrol, DHA) that I'm already using for arthritis (more-or-less good evidence as anti-inflammatory/adaptogenic) are also on the Big List of Nootropics.

        It's disappointing to see tianeptine is already illegal where I am, and likely to be scheduled nationally due to opioid receptor activity at dosages of recreational abuse. It's a decent, relatively safe and effective anti-depressant/anxiolytic when used in the prescribing dosage range.

        3 votes
        1. [5]
          wervenyt
          Link Parent
          Yeah, like Merry said, the best nootropics stack is a healthy diet, exercise, and a full night's rest. It makes sense that supplements known to be beneficial for anything as far-reaching as...

          Yeah, like Merry said, the best nootropics stack is a healthy diet, exercise, and a full night's rest. It makes sense that supplements known to be beneficial for anything as far-reaching as arthritis would also help cognition, at least in certain ways for certain people.

          I've never experimented with tianeptine, given some of the horror stories. I'd believe it's helpful at controlled doses, but it seems like it has some real potential for harm, comparable to any "hard" drug around. Hopefully more studies are done on its responsible applications, and it's not just shelved.

          2 votes
          1. [4]
            patience_limited
            Link Parent
            I agree that good diet, exercise, and sleep hygiene are the best "first-line" therapy for cognitive health, but they're not always available to everyone. Shift work, sleep problems, economic...

            I agree that good diet, exercise, and sleep hygiene are the best "first-line" therapy for cognitive health, but they're not always available to everyone.

            Shift work, sleep problems, economic stress, depression, travel, work/school overload, inadequate access to mental/cognitive health services, etc. are facts of life for a great many people. It's not just wealthy overachievers who need a little extra help from time to time, though I'll admit I don't need nootropics as much as I want the feeling of mental sharpness. [I'm not going to unleash my pet rant about self-exploitation, brought to you by brainwashing in the Church of Workism and Late-Stage Capitalism...]

            Take it as given that substance use should be as short-duration as possible, in the hope that nootropic supplementation can be a bridge to fixing the life circumstances causing cognitive stress.

            I gave tianeptine a try after failing with most of the U.S.-available antidepressant pharmacopeia. I went by the recommended European dosing regimen for Stablon, 12.5 mg twice a day, and had moderate success with far fewer side effects than otherwise possible. After six months or so, I stopped using it in a two-week cross-taper with a new SSRI and didn't have any discontinuation issues. I'm not recommending tianeptine as a nootropic or for any other purpose; it worked for treatment-resistant depression on a sample size of one, pending the availability of a newer U.S.-approved SSRI.

            The horror stories seem to be from recreational users starting at 100 mg and cranking upwards to chase an opiate high, or prior opiate users trying to substitute.

            1 vote
            1. [3]
              wervenyt
              Link Parent
              Sorry if I misread this, but I get the sense that you read my comment as one with a lot more judgment implied than I intended. I only brought up the "sleep, diet, exercise" stuff to say "yes, it...

              Sorry if I misread this, but I get the sense that you read my comment as one with a lot more judgment implied than I intended. I only brought up the "sleep, diet, exercise" stuff to say "yes, it does make sense that something good for an autoimmune condition would be beneficial for mental health". Likewise, I implicitly trusted that you, as someone who clearly recognizes the flaws in the state of nootropics discourse, were not an abuser of tianeptine. Obviously, if tianeptine helped you, then I'm sorry it's being pulled. I'm simply concerned for the many others who are less diligent, who don't even own scales, who don't know the difference between not being depressed and being high, who definitely exist. I'm sorry if I seemed to sideline the harm done by the dreadfully slow pace and seeming incompetence of regulations around psych drugs.

              I suffer from debilitating mental health issues, struggle to find any institutional support with them, earlier gave you my sincere thoughts on nootropics which I've utilized, and don't appreciate the implication that I am assuming that the only people who would use these substances are biohacking big tech employees.

              1 vote
              1. [2]
                patience_limited
                (edited )
                Link Parent
                My apologies for implying that you were asserting a negative judgment! I crammed in a preemptive response to the common, dismissive "just fix your lifestyle" argument about health that I've seen...

                My apologies for implying that you were asserting a negative judgment!

                I crammed in a preemptive response to the common, dismissive "just fix your lifestyle" argument about health that I've seen on Tildes and elsewhere. You (and u/Merry) didn't explicitly assert this, and I meant no disrespect to your experiences.

                I'm grateful for the mention of black seed oil; it looks interesting for the anti-inflammatory properties alone. I might give it a try, though I'd have to stop using olive leaf extract since there seems to be quite a bit of overlap with oleuropein activity.

                I'm very sorry that you've had to cope with the dire state of mental health treatment, and wish you well in your journey. It's unfortunate the options for treatment are so poorly researched and supported that we're having to experiment on ourselves.

                2 votes
                1. wervenyt
                  Link Parent
                  I appreciate the apology. Been on your side of this exchange before, too.

                  I appreciate the apology. Been on your side of this exchange before, too.

                  1 vote
    3. [3]
      post_below
      Link Parent
      You mentioned you don't want stimulants, do you mean all stimulants? I ask because if you're after energy, focus and motivation, you want a stimulant. Piracetams offer what you're after, with...

      You mentioned you don't want stimulants, do you mean all stimulants? I ask because if you're after energy, focus and motivation, you want a stimulant.

      Piracetams offer what you're after, with phenylpiracetam being arguably the best option. There is a lot of research in this area but it's still a situation where you want to educate yourself and tread carefully.

      Alternatively, try a bioavailable form of choline (Citicoline, Choline Bitartrate).

      It will likely only have a noticeable effect if you need it, in which case you'll notice significantly more focus and mental energy.

      The primary reason being that it provides the key ingredient for acetylcholine, a multipurpose neurotransmitter associated with focus and memory. Upregulating acetlycholine is thought to be the main reason for the effects of piracetams btw.

      Interestingly, when the brain is low on acetylcholine it will break down it's own structures in order to get more. Eggs are a good dietary source of choline.

      You could also try a supplement that has large doses of phenylalinine and tyrosine. Both are common amino acids and are precursors to the catecholamine group of neuotransmitters, which includes dopamine. Large does (500mg and up) stimulate the production and release of catecholamines pretty dramatically, especially in conjunction with caffeine. This provides a strong feeling of energy and well being. Tolerance develops quickly, however. One upside is a wealth of studies showing safety.

      Be sure the supplement includes, at a minimum, B6 and vitamin C as cofactors. Look for recommended doses that include over a gram of phenylalinine and tyrosine.

      2 votes
      1. [2]
        patience_limited
        Link Parent
        Thank you very much for the recommendations. Turns out I'm putting nootropic supplementation experiments on hold until I get iron-deficiency anemia under control. The doc thinks the anemia is...

        Thank you very much for the recommendations.

        Turns out I'm putting nootropic supplementation experiments on hold until I get iron-deficiency anemia under control. The doc thinks the anemia is serious enough to account for the current fatigue and difficulty focusing, and iron supplements may fix things. The moral of this story is, get your health checked before you go down the supplement rabbit hole.

        1 vote
        1. post_below
          Link Parent
          Indeed, especially since anemia turned up. I hope that solves your issues! Incidentally, eggs are a good source of iron too :)

          Indeed, especially since anemia turned up. I hope that solves your issues!

          Incidentally, eggs are a good source of iron too :)

          1 vote
    4. [7]
      knocklessmonster
      Link Parent
      You said no stimulants, but I don't think caffeine can be beat both in terms of known effects and ease of dosage if you don't treat coffee as your only source and are trying to get more pep in...

      You said no stimulants, but I don't think caffeine can be beat both in terms of known effects and ease of dosage if you don't treat coffee as your only source and are trying to get more pep in your step and mental clarity. Caffeine's bad reputation is earned by a long tradition of slamming coffee and/or energy drinks for a buzz, I think, but my brother and I have been able to manage dosages that can keep us going for a full 24 hours with no problems, and able to sleep a few hours after we don't need to stay awake (that's an unfortunate side effect that can probably be mitigated by dosage timing).

      The major recommendation I have is to experiment with sources of caffeine. Chinese gong fu or grandpa style (my preferred) tea are great for getting a dose that'll get you up, but not crash, and tea can be had for pretty cheap from places like Yunnan Sourcing. As a solo drinker you'll be spreading 3-6g of tea out over an hour or two which by my understanding, combined with the lower caffeine content, will give you a more level peak. I guess you could do the same with other tea formats as well, but I tend to find the experience feels closer to coffee when I drink long-steeping tea.

      I also drink yerba mate in a traditional-adjacent manner, putting something like 15-25g of leaf with 500ml of cold water in a bottle with a filter (I made one out of a tea steeping canister) for a portable terere, or in a mate with a bombilla for a more traditional experience. With both of these you can adjust the dosage via larger gram counts, and find what works best. There's still the anxiety effects of caffeine if I overdo it, but that is largely dependent on the individual and the dosage. A 6-8oz coffee cup, bag of yerba mate, bottle of water and bombilla are the minimal equipment you'll need.

      I actually just found this paper that examines the effects of caffeine and theobromine in conjunction with other chemicals, which also seems to suggest it's going to be caffeine load, rather than anything else in the plants I mentioned, that will affect your response.

      I guess my point is if you treat caffeine like a drug you can do a lot with it, and it doesn't have to be getting zonked on pills, energy drinks, or cups of coffee. I did find favorable results, even with regards to caffeine, when I was experimenting with a stack of 5-HTP and L-Tyrosine, IIRC, but figured I'm better off not playing with hormone precursors for mood regulation.

      1 vote
      1. [6]
        patience_limited
        Link Parent
        I'm not knocking all stimulants, and I'm a fairly heavy hitter where caffeine is concerned, about one liter of strong coffee in the morning hours per day. Unfortunately, that means near-toxic...

        I'm not knocking all stimulants, and I'm a fairly heavy hitter where caffeine is concerned, about one liter of strong coffee in the morning hours per day.
        Unfortunately, that means near-toxic doses if I want a more noticeable effect, and any caffeine after noon or so interferes badly with sleep.

        That's a nifty and interesting paper - definitely going to experiment further. Is L-theanine available as a straight supplement? I could try putting green tea extract pills back in the mix. Most caffeinated teas just aren't to my taste, and the tannins aggravate dry mouth and mouth sores.

        Yerba mate has some other alkaloids that seem to smooth out the rough edges on the caffeine, so I may try that again. I've tested out kava to moderate caffeine jitters, but kava can have nasty hepatotoxicity and tolerance is a known problem.

        Theobromine and phenethylamine in chocolate... I don't need the sugar and fat, but 30 - 50 grams of 70+% dark chocolate will definitely put a brighter shine on my day. Throwing some extra cocoa in with the morning coffee sounds beneficial.

        2 votes
        1. [5]
          inwardpath
          Link Parent
          L-Theanine (at least in the states) is widely available and has a pretty sound safety profile. In pretty rare cases it can have mild side effects (I've found that there's a chance of a headache if...

          L-Theanine (at least in the states) is widely available and has a pretty sound safety profile. In pretty rare cases it can have mild side effects (I've found that there's a chance of a headache if I take it with caffeine, which sucks because it's otherwise a great combo).

          Instead of increasing your coffee 'dose' to get noticeable effects, what about fluctuating your caffeine intake to try and lower (or at least make less consistent) your tolerance level? I find if I go lighter on caffeine (but still intake enough to avoid withdrawal) for a couple of days, then when I up it again, the effect is very pronounced.

          1 vote
          1. [4]
            patience_limited
            Link Parent
            I did my homework and L-theanine is actually cheaper than green tea extract. I'd rather get the whole panoply of catechins and CGAs in the extract, though. The paper /u/knocklessmonster linked is...

            I did my homework and L-theanine is actually cheaper than green tea extract. I'd rather get the whole panoply of catechins and CGAs in the extract, though. The paper /u/knocklessmonster linked is persuasive on L-theanine plus CGA's plus caffeine for cognitive effects, and I've used the extract before for anti-inflammatory epigallocatechin.

            I've tried the roller-coaster of cutting back coffee just to take advantage of intermittent spikes, and I hate it. Noticeable cognitive boosts with any dramatic change in caffeine intake (like, from one cup to two cups of coffee in a day) come at the expense of nausea, headache, tremors, restlessness, insomnia, and a nasty mood crash. I'd rather keep on at my current level of tolerance and add something other than caffeine on top.

            1 vote
            1. [3]
              inwardpath
              Link Parent
              I'd say be careful with green tea extract possibly in terms of dosage, though. There's at least this one article mentioning multiple examples of acute liver issues associated with it:...

              I'd say be careful with green tea extract possibly in terms of dosage, though. There's at least this one article mentioning multiple examples of acute liver issues associated with it:

              https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547925/

              2 votes
              1. [2]
                patience_limited
                Link Parent
                Thank you for the warning; I was aware of this, and I'm trying to be cautious about the supplementation equivalent of polypharmacy. I've already got a substantial polyphenol intake (both...

                Thank you for the warning; I was aware of this, and I'm trying to be cautious about the supplementation equivalent of polypharmacy. I've already got a substantial polyphenol intake (both supplement and dietary) for inflammation control, on top of the prescription meds. I'd stopped green tea extract previously in favor of olive leaf extract, to avoid overlapping pharmacological mechanisms and extra caffeine in the nighttime dose. But green tea extract seemed to have positive effects on anxiety and focus, as well as the joint pain, while I was taking it.

                1 vote
                1. inwardpath
                  Link Parent
                  Maybe OLE+L-Theanine would give you the best of both worlds (potentially?) I suppose it depends on what components of Green Tea Extract had the focus/anti-anxiolytic effects

                  Maybe OLE+L-Theanine would give you the best of both worlds (potentially?) I suppose it depends on what components of Green Tea Extract had the focus/anti-anxiolytic effects

                  1 vote