Silicon Valley’s Strange ‘Smart Drugs’ Trend

Trying to live ‘Limitless’ in real life can have unforeseen health hazards.

There’s a questionable trend brewing in Silicon Valley, as Sara Solovitch writes for the Washington Post: Adopting unique, and perhaps scientifically unsound, methods to try to boost brain power.

From pills to cold-water plunges, tech-savvy west coasters like George Burke — the co-founder of a food service geared towards athletic types — are testing the waters beyond conventional brain boosters like sleep and exercise in an attempt to literally outsmart their competition.

Burke, for instance, takes “cognition-enhancing drugs known as nootropics,” Solovitch writes, in hopes of improving a variety of brain-based functions like memory, creativity and motivation. This class of substances gets its name from a combination of the Greek words for “mind” and “bending,” and can range from familiar substances like caffeine to prescription drugs like Ritalin or Adderall.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, tells Solovitch that the “brain hacking” trend makes sense in part because our society values mental speed and agility. And in a place like Silicon Valley that’s driven by innovation, it’s not so surprising that people are turning to unorthodox methods to try and outperform a very competitive field.

“Who doesn’t want to maximize their cognitive ability? Who doesn’t want to maximize their muscle mass?” Doraiswamy asked. But Doraiswamy, “who led several trials of cognitive enhancers at Duke University Health System” as Solovitch writes, underscores that it’s best to approach these tactics with a healthy dose of skepticism: “There’s a sizable demand, but the hype around efficacy far exceeds available evidence,” he says, noting that among Silicon Valley’s young go-getters, “it’s a zero-sum game. That’s because when you up one circuit in the brain, you’re probably impairing another system.”

If you want to improve your work performance, you’re likely better off sticking with tried-and-true brain boosters like getting good sleep, eating well and moving regularly.

Read more about the trend here.