An actionable guide to starting and maintaining long-term nootropic use for cognitive performance and happiness

David Rönnlid
Sep 4 · 8 min read
Photo by geralt via Pixabay

I’ve been using nootropics for more than a year to enhance my cognitive performance and boost my happiness. I’m currently happier than ever before and I’ve never been as sharp cognitively as I am today.

The engine that is your brain has the potential for memory recall, memory storage, visualization, well-being, calm, energy, and motivation which — up until now — might have seemed supernatural to you.

If you’re conditioned by your self-talk or the actions of other people to believe you’re bad at something, know this: you may or may not be bad at that thing. What matters is that you can become good at it.

One way to enhance your learning of any skill or subject is through the use of nootropics. In the hunt for the cornucopia of benefits of nootropics, many things can go wrong.

To use neuroenhancers in a productive manner, you want to use them safely. A system for how to use nootropics can come in handy when filtering which nootropics to use when.

In this article, I will share my own system for using and tracking nootropics so that I can clearly understand their effects on me. My system is based on four principles that I’ll expand on so that you can use them, too:

  • Contextualize: understand exactly why you want to use nootropics.
  • Understand every compound individually before using it.
  • Choose your nootropics for daily and context-dependent use.
  • Evolve your system to make your nootropic use better over time

Contextualize: Understand Exactly Why You Want to Use Nootropics

What is the goal of your nootropic use? Why do you think you need them?

Here’s an example of the aspects of states of mind that I track to determine if a nootropic is doing well for me:

All screenshots by the author.

We humans have many of our priorities in common when it comes to what we want our brains to do. I have quite a few parameters that I want to optimize over the long term. Some people may not value memory though. I know a lot of people who care much more about their mood than cognitive performance.

I’m not going to tell you why you should use nootropics, that’s for you to figure out. It depends on your life situation and your goals.

If you have a specific problem, you may want to start understanding it and potential solutions on a deeper level. For example: if you’re suffering from ADHD and have come to the conclusion that Vyvanse is not for you, but want to boost your attention, CDP-Choline and fish oil may be.

Take some time to define the results you want to see. Write them down in an organized way to use as a reference in evaluating your possible solutions.

A single nootropic or a stack—several nootropics combined—may be the best way to meet your individual goal. Having this list to refer to will help you notice opportunities for synergistic effects by stacking or choosing something with dual purpose.

How do you know which compounds will work? That’s next.

Understand Every Compound Individually

Assuming you’ve already defined what you’re looking to achieve with your nootropic use, it’s time to start digging into the science.

If I’m looking for a specific effect to solve a problem in my life, or to create the brain I want over the long term, I google “Nootropics for effect”. This often returns some article with a list of compounds that can help me achieve my goal. I make sure to scout several articles and see which compounds are most commonly mentioned, and why they’re considered effective for my problem.

I then isolate the compounds that I believe to have the best potential for solving my problems with the fewest side-effects. The more time you spend researching alternatives, the more confidence you can have that you’re starting your nootropic journey on the right path.

I start my examination of the effects of a compound by typing the name of it into the search bar on Google, examine, and selfhacked. I then try to get a good view of the effects to understand how to use it well. I spend most of my time researching the effects of a nootropic compound looking out for risks, side-effects and how to mitigate them.

In order to further learn how to understand how to use a compound, I suggest that you follow my Principles of Safe Nootropic Use.

In order to use a compound well, you need to understand when to take it and how you should take it.

The answers to these questions — when and how — should be based on your goals of nootropic use, and the science of the individual compound.

Let’s take a look at how I decide when I consume a nootropic compound.

Choose Your Nootropics for Daily and Context-Dependent Use

Some nootropics have their effects over a long time of continuous use. Other substances should be used to solve specific problems in your life, in a specific context.

Nootropics that you use every day should not have a big effect on you the first day you try them. They are supposed to work over the long term.

Bacopa Monnieri (BM) is an example of a nootropic compound that gives you the greatest benefit if you use it over time. A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial showed a positive effect of BM in healthy elderly volunteers on cognitive processes such as attention and working memory.

Fish oil also gives you the most if you use it over time. One of the many cognitive processes which fish oil improves is working memory.

My current daily nootropic stack

Upon wake-up:

  • Omega 3. 3000mg (DHA+EPA 350mg) [1][2]
  • Probiotic. 10 billion Lactobacillus Plantarum 299v [1][2]
  • Cocoa powder. 1tsp [1][2]
  • Creatine Monohydrate 5000mg [1][2]
  • Bacopa Monnieri 320mg [1][2]
  • Caffeine 40–200mg (From Green Tea Extract, Green Tea, Coffee or Guarana) [1][2]
  • Smoothie with as much brain-food as possible (Blueberries, spinach, broccoli, etc.)

Before bed:

  • Turmeric with piperine. 2g with 30mg [1][2]
  • ZMA. 1 pill [1][2][3]
  • Rooibos Tea [1][2]
  • Ashwagandha .75ml tincture [1][2]
  • Glycine 9g [1][2]

The thinking process behind this daily stack is that I want to boost the probability of achieving my goals of nootropic use.

The morning compounds work mainly via increasing energy without anxiousness. The evening ones work mainly by calming the mind and reducing inflammation to aid recovery from the stressors of the day.

The other goals of nootropic use that I have, such as memory and attention, are promoted over the long term as a result of constant high energy and low anxiousness backed up by a close to perfect night’s sleep.

Non-daily or context-specific use

The other way of using nootropics is to use specific compounds in particular contexts. If you have a problem or want to boost your performance at a specific task, there is probably a nootropic to help you do that.

The risk profile and potential rewards of these nootropics vary widely. Some, like Tianepeptine or Phenibut, I would only feel comfortable using a couple of times per month.

I think less is often more when using nootropics. Let’s say you’re looking to improve your mood because you ended up seemingly randomly having one of those bad days. You may use Tianepeptine Sodium successfully at a 15mg dose. Try 10mg next time. You want to help yourself by using as little as possible, to avoid unnecessarily increasing the risk for side-effects. If you get the effect you’re looking for at a lower dose of a problem-solving substance, don’t use a higher dose.

There are lots of problems that nootropics can solve. Examples are brain fog, anxiousness, and forgetting.

Evolve Your System to Make Your Nootropic Use Better Over Time

The only way to objectively evaluate the effect of your nootropic use is to track it. Over time, you’ll learn what works best for you in specific situations, whether they are daily or contextual use.

Here is how I keep a log on which nootropics work well for particular unwanted states of mind.

I keep a log of my experiences and learnings on specific compounds too:

The individual compound documents are there to help me understand if I should use the nootropic in question in one of my two daily stacks or in a certain situation.

This system should be updated, so that you can evolve which nootropics you use in which doses at what times over time.

A system generally tends to evolve as a result of two events happening to its parts: stress and rest.

Here’s an allegory to show what I mean by “evolve”: all the zebras on an imaginary island are exposed to a risk for lion attacks. The zebras that don’t die, and the ones that are fast and strong enough to avoid lions will reproduce. The average zebra will be faster and stronger in a few generations because of the stressor that is being applied to the species as a whole. It’s the classic concept of natural selection by Charles Darwin. The species is anti-fragile—evolves—at the expense of some individual animals.

In the same way, you want your nootropic use to evolve over time. If you try 10 different compounds over the course of two months, you want to select only the fittest for continued use. Be the lion to the zebras of nootropics.

Catch (through tracking) and kill the use of the ones with side-effects and few rewards. Keep the strong ones in your rotation.

Beware that unknown biochemical mechanisms can result in long term problems that cannot be noticed through listening to your body and mind in the short term. Do your own research.

The point is that I’m never satisfied with how I consume nootropics; my use can always be better. I constantly change my system upon feedback from reality (experimentation) to make it better.

The brain is extremely complex and no plan that I could make today would give me better results than a system that evolves over time upon feedback from real events.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Thanks to Terrie Schweitzer

David Rönnlid

Written by

Experience engineer. Biohacking happiness and cognitive performance. 🤩🧠 Learn more about me here:

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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