Nootropics: Protect Yourself from Snake Oil

Nootropics: Protect Yourself from Snake Oil

The world of Nootropics is rapidly expanding, as is the prevalence of individuals using and discussing nootropic use. For beginner bodyhackers who were looking into the possibility of cognitive enhancement through research drugs ten years ago, the question was, “Does this stuff really work?”

Today there are ever-growing amounts of data behind the effectiveness and safety of individual drugs like Piracetam and Choline, which have been utilized in research addressing everything from severe chronic neurological disorders to insomnia or anxiety. However, with research and product circulation increasing, there are new names and compounds that claim to target specific effects all the time. The question today’s nootropic novice encounters at the outset is, instead, “How can I avoid substances and products that don’t work?”

Fortunately, as with many other enthusiast communities, there is support.


The first thing most people on nootropic discussion groups will tell you is that you can find a lot of answers in scientific research studies. This can be as easy as typing “L-Theanine efficacy study” or “effectiveness of Alpha GDP research” into Google. However, reading and understanding research can be difficult if you haven’t had much exposure to it before, and is dense enough a topic to merit it’s own article. Couple with that the fact that even if you can read a research paper, you still probably don’t know as much about the human brain at the outset as is necessary to understand the more complex explanations for interactions at a neurotransmitter level.

This isn’t to dissuade anyone from learning more through scientific research about the brain, or drugs that act on the workings of the brain. Rather, this writer takes a conservative view of the expected investment the average person is willing to put in before trying out a nootropic substance. It can be frustrating to read that Huperzine A increases memory functionality, but you need to be able to read several research papers first before knowing more about whether it is a useful or wise choice to try it.

So what are some steps to get you started faster?

Ask Questions

Because of the DIY nature of cognitive augmentation through nootropics, there are many forum and discussion groups online for people to ask questions. In general, though, the wealth of information you can find on the reddit forum for nootropics is often adequate for addressing most questions.

Longecity is another site with a robust discussion forum on nootropics, though their primary focus is on the question of human immortality through scientific and technological advances.

Quick and Easy

Let’s be honest, you were probably just skimming to get here anyway. Below are several information “middleman” websites that parse various forms of data (statistical research, anecdotal evidence, etc) to help end-users get the answers they want faster. is a site that provides independent analysis using metadata from dozens to hundreds of studies on a compound, sometimes alongside anecdotal reviews of the compound and its effects. looks at products, rather than specific nootropics themselves, and rates them based on effectiveness, purity, and safety. They branch beyond nootropics and cover many types of supplement products.

The people over at, have created an easy-to-read graphic with bubbles representing various supplements, situated relative to the current research supporting their use. They are currently in the process of revising it to match the most recent research, head over to their main site for more information.



Sean is a mental health counselor in the Austin area who posts blogs on topics such as bodyhacking through cognitive and behavior modification, meditation, descriptive living through writing, and nutritional supplements. He is an advocate for openly exploring new technologies as a route toward greater mental, emotional, and physical balance in our daily lives. He shares all of this and more at his website

Sean Sparks

  • Ann Bradley

    November 28, 2015 at 11:37 pm Reply

    Actually there was plenty of data 25+ years ago. It was ignored by many, but that didn’t mean it dematerialized. Look up Ward Dean, MD and “Smart Drugs and Nutrients: How to Improve Your Memory and Increase Your Intelligence Using the Latest Discoveries in Neuroscience” on amazon. There as Cognitive Enhancement Research Institute of Menlo Park, CA with Steve Fowkes at the head. (all newsletters archived). Both people are still active. If you want to research something, take the topic and google it with the name of one of these or (others). You can then be sure you are getting science backed intelligent information.

    I think the conversations then were sophisticated because the people interested had to take the time to search out the books and people. The terrible phrase snake oil wasn’t used. People were intellectually curious Snake oil is a phrase used by the media to damn something without having to research it.

    The search engine http://www.greenmedinfo. com is a great research engine with a terrible name. Also, today’s novice has the body of knowledge from the field of genetics that more than ever shows the immense variability of our biological terrains and the means to explore it. A/B, A/B testing on ourselves has never been so easy. But none of this is new and the efficacy data of the past should be explored not ignored.

  • Harris

    December 8, 2015 at 5:57 pm Reply

    Test them out for yourself 😉 .

    Have used some in the past, they “work” (although idk how much of it is placebo effect). The improvement is there, but it’s not that huge, at least not in the long run.

    You should research whether your body gets used to the drugs or not, if it does it’s useless to buy them.

    I think they can potentially give you a small edge, but i’m not sure if it’s the best investment in the world. Depends on which stakes you play, if you play micro stakes, your money is better spent on something else, like private coachings etc.

    If you can afford them easily without even thinking about it, go for it, test it and see how it works for you 😉 .

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