Let's take some simple "smart drug", for example. How hard would it
be to find a dozen people, give them some simple cognitive skill
tests, then give half the drug and half a placebo, give the tests
again, and print all the numbers? We could do it in a few hours at a
party, and repeat the ones that showed promise to get better sample
size. The fact that numbers like these are never printed makes me
suspicious of the whole supplement industry.>
There are several problems with this:
First, most supplements (according to the claims) take time to produce
an effect. It's not like you can take a capsule and immediately see a
I have found that most 'nootropics' appear to act more as 'mood
enhancers' or stimulants rather than improving some simple and
measurable cognitive skill. But, then, that's something that's
subjectively observable and I'm some objective measurement like how
fast I can read or how well I might score on some coordination test.
How do you measure a 'rapture effect' without doing something
impractical like measuring the level of endorphins in the brain?
There's also an issue of tolerances. Some of these substances have a
very apparent effect the first few times they are used, but then as
the body (or mind) becomes used to them the effect is either
attenuated or taken for granted and not as consciously noticeable.
There are some ways to experiment on your own, maintaining a healthy
level of skepticism until you see some noticeable effect that is new
in your experience and 'appears' to be causally associated with the
substance being used.
For example, I tried ginkgo billoba (reputed to be a powerful
antioxidant herb) never expecting to notice any effect from it - I
just assumed that if it worked it might improve 'brain circulation',
whatever that meant. Usually I just took a capsule in the morning
along with my other vitamins. On occasion though, I would take one
before bed time. I was surprised to notice that my dreams, on these
occasions, would be alot more 'narrative', that is, rather than a
'typical' impressionist dream of people and places and feelings, it
seemed like someone was reading a story to me. Even when I noticed
this and 'said to myself' (still asleep), that this story was
ridiculous, the narrattion continued as if it were a TV program that I
could not turn off. This was something that I had rarely noticed
before even though I make an attempt to remember my dreams every
night. As a 'control' I would then try to observe this effect on
other nights with and without the ginkgo. Also as a control, this was
before I had read any details or annecdotes about ginkgo billoba other
that it was supposed to be an antioxidant.
Also, it's hard to distinguish the primary mental changes of a
biochemical effect from the secondary changes produced by increased
mental exercise or concentration. For example, an athlete might take
some sort of stimulant that inspires them to do more exercise but it
is most likely the exercise itself that results in measurable
increases in muscle mass or coordination.
How would you measure the improvements in your life from zen