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Practical Nootropics; Political Brainhacking

So, this is a first! The following post is about nootropics, a transhumanist tool that I find very appealing. What’s new is that the post is sponsored by Modup is a vendor that sells modafinil online.

Native advertising has been on my radar for years, but I’ve never written a sponsored post before. Modup’s only request was that I link to the website, so I had complete creative freedom. I decided to explain why I think brainhacking is important. My perspective is an outgrowth of the cyberpunk paradigm that I chronicled for Ribbonfarm last year.

However! Before I get into all of that, the next section provides basic context for readers who aren’t familiar with nootropics or modafinil. Otherwise, scroll down to “In Favor of Manipulating the Wetware” and start there.

A Brief Introduction to Nootropics

A single modafinil tablet in a blister pack. Photo by Geoff Greer.
A single modafinil tablet in a blister pack. Photo by Geoff Greer.

Wikipedia describes nootropics as “drugs, supplements, or other substances that improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals.” Caffeine is by far the most widely used nootropic, although it’s doubtful that the average caffeine user thinks of it that way.

A more typical example of a “smart drug” is modafinil, the product that Modup sells. Fans of modafinil describe the effects that you’d expect from super-charged caffeine — boosted alertness, concentration, and general mental acuity. Modafinil’s official purpose is to treat narcolepsy and other sleep disorders. As a cognitive enhancer, the drug is very popular, perhaps the best-known nootropic that isn’t a mainstream product.

Modafinil is supposed to be prescription-only in the United States, but it’s one of those illegal things that rarely prompt punishment, like driving five miles over the speed limit. Plenty of Americans purchase and use modafinil on a regular basis without any issues. Nevertheless, I am not a lawyer, so don’t interpret the previous two sentences as legal advice.

Whenever you’re buying nootropics online — even the legal ones — you should search for reviews and conduct due diligence. For example, the /r/modup subreddit has reviews from the past few months. Here’s a 2015 blog post including a Modup review, a more thorough 2016 review, and lastly a 2017 blog post. Feel free to Google for more.

And now, our feature presentation…

In Favor of Manipulating the Wetware

Some people hate the idea of using drugs to alter their mental state. It seems unnatural and aberrant, or they worry that they won’t be themselves anymore.

I’m not one of those people. I love being able to tailor how I feel — that’s what my daily antidepressants do, and I owe my life to those pills. Being able to tweak my mindset more easily, in more ways, would be wonderful.

When I’m irritable, the usual culprit is hunger, and eating fixes the problem. In an ideal world, that’s how I would manage every part of my cognitive life. Feeling scatterbrained despite a tight deadline? Pop some focus pills, that’ll do that trick!

I am not actually this cool. Photo by MeTaVoLuT1oN PsY-ph0toNiCs (yes, like the Spongebob meme).
Detail from a photo by MeTaVoLuT1oN PsY-ph0toNiCs.

The level of control that I want isn’t available in real life. Neither is the degree of instant gratification — at least not yet! In the meantime, while we wait for someone to invent an omnipotent neuroscience AI or whatever it is that keeps Elon Musk up at night, nootropics are the next best thing.

The usual approach is to devise a nootropics “stack” (combination of substances) that meshes well with your personal biochemistry. The goal is to augment your existing cognitive abilities and make it easier to reach the “flow” state of optimal productivity. In principle, it’s exactly like drinking a couple of beers in order to hit the Ballmer Peak — but hopefully minus the downsides of alcohol.

To me, the most alluring aspect of nootropics is having more power over how I experience and interact with the world. But I try not to fool myself by exaggerating what’s possible. No pill in the world will double my IQ, reprogram all my bad habits, and dispose of pesky emotional baggage.

So far I haven’t assembled a nootropics stack that works for me. I know that if I do, the best-case scenario looks like temporary periods of incremental improvement. I can imagine being a smidgen better at everything, just a little bit sharper and extra motivated. That would be a fantastic result, well worth pursuing! But I admit that it lacks Hollywood drama.

I should also note that simple lifestyle basics are the most reliable and effective self-improvement regimes. It’s wise to prioritize eating a balanced diet, sleeping as much as you need to, and exercising regularly. (For what it’s worth, the /r/Nootropics FAQ backs me up on that. But no, I am not great at practicing what I preach.)

Artwork by Rodolphe Bessey
Artwork by Rodolphe Bessey.

Although I try to maintain reasonable expectations, I still find the world of nootropics exhilarating. It feels like the future is extending a helping hand to the present. Accordingly, I love the gritty sci-fi glamour of “brainhacking,” an occasional synonym. “Nootropics” is anodyne, even clinical — the sound is corporate. It could easily be a brand name. Whereas “brainhacking” elevates the mundanity of drinking coffee in the morning or worrying about micronutrients.

On top of that, I appreciate the linguistic nod to the cypherpunks who unleashed everything. The nootropics ecosystem couldn’t function in the analog world.

Because of the internet, curious consumers can dig through endless information, ranging from hard research to rigorous blog posts to trip reports to hundreds of casual anecdotes. On the supply side, vendors are able to aggregate consumers from all over the globe, instead of having to rely on the limited market in a particular city or town.

Most importantly, the internet obviates the need to ask medical gatekeepers for permission. I may not be a full-on libertarian or a crypto-anarchist, but I have enough of a rebellious streak to resent a nanny state built to perpetuate regulatory capture.

Using nootropics is a potent expression of personal agency, both micro and macro. Brainhacking means exercising your rights to self-determination and free association.

Thank you to for sponsoring this blog post! Please consider Modup if you’re looking to buy modafinil online. Paying with bitcoin gets you a hefty 33% discount. (That’s 13% more than the vendor I used recently!)

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