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Use of drugs by people seeking to boost mental performance is rising worldwide (nature.com)
62 points by dvcrn 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 56 comments

> Results: Modafinil improved performance on tests of higher cognitive function; participants in the modafinil group worked more efficiently when solving working memory ... and planning ... problems, were less-impulsive decision makers ... , and were more able to flexibly redirect their attention ... . In contrast, no improvement was seen in tests of clinical psychomotor performance.

> Conclusions: Our results suggest that fatigued doctors might benefit from pharmacological enhancement in situations that require efficient information processing, flexible thinking, and decision making under time pressure. However, no improvement is likely to be seen in the performance of basic procedural tasks.

Sugden et al. (2012) Effect of Pharmacological Enhancement on the Cognitive and Clinical Psychomotor Performance of Sleep-Deprived Doctors. Ann Surg 255:222–227.


Without reading the paper this seems somewhat similar to my experience with modafinil. When fatigued or sleep deprived it can bring me back baseline but not much more.

Best mind boosters :

1. Never, ever, sacrifice good sleep.

2. Eat well, or at least don`t eat junk and too many carbs throughout the day (will get sleepy at least)

3. Exercise in moderation. Bonus points for working after exercise while the mind is boosted with happy chemicals.

4. Reduce stress, cognitive load with dumb stuff (news, gossip, things we can not influence) and give less *ucks in general about random things in life.

Those are all important but for me and people like me it's just impossible to focus for extended period, let alone achieve any kind of flow or enjoying the work without stimulants. Another bonus is that they help me to regulate my sleeping schedule (since I start taking them in the morning I never feel sleepiness during the day which was overwhelming and hard to combat my whole life before stimulants) and with that comes more time for exercise, less stress and more motivation for healthy eating.

I was on a straight way to being a homeless depressed bum before I discovered Modafinil and Ritalin in my 30s. Today I am self-made millionaire, in happy relationship and with positive outlook on my life. I am thankful every time I pop a white little pill in the morning.

Do you have a blog? I would be interested in hearing more of your story.

Do you take those legally?

No blog, maybe in a few years. Where I live it's hard to get ADHD meds legally so I buy them on black market. The whole ADHD diagnosis thing is a sham anyway, a nice article about it:


I made a few visits to psychiatrists in the past. They always came up with some new disorder (every single one with a different one) and suggested some unproven time consuming therapy. I don't need their moralizing attitude nor do I need them to use me as a subject in a therapy group.

You have bigger chances of hurting yourself by getting a few drinks in the evening than by experimenting a for a few weeks with stimulants. If you feel they help you then you at least know the problem is in your brain chemistry and not in attitude/organization skills/fears or other bs I have heard throughout the years.

These are the things that civic support should encourage by making market supply abundant.

Re 1: Actual building codes that isolate the noise of neighbors (even in minimum code apartments).

Re 2: Figure out some incentive (not punishment) that makes the actually healthy foods more cost effective than the fast / junk foods.

Re 3: Encourage walkable + transit urban design and over-supply urban areas to keep the rents slightly less expensive than even middle of nowhere costs.

Re 4: Sorry, evolving the species is going to take more time, we can only keep pushing.

#2 is alowly getting there where I'm living in denmark. Not sure if it's a funtion entirely of the regulatory environment but perhaps also luck of geography but the cheapest things (vegetables, pasta, rice) mean that for the price of a chocolate bar you can make several healthy meals.

For the most part, people do cook these basic foods, usually with some meat thrown in where they can (The crowd I associate with aren't the wealthiest)

#3 I experienced this a lot growning up in a city that was deliberately designed like this and built up from farmland in the 70s in the UK. I feel like the design has been so successful (popping up an entire city from nothing in 50 years) that other countries should really consider also investing in creating new properly designed cities as a response to the idea 'the big cities were designed badly when first built and now we're stuck with them'

1. doesn't do much in summer when you keep your windows open. The problem is the neighbours, but it starts with yourself. Be a good citizen and don't make noise past 8 PM if the next day is a workday (sun/mon/tue/wed/thu with being more lenient on fri/sat), it is that simple.

All top things.


When I was slightly younger (I'm 29 right now), I must have tried most nootropics imaginable, including microdosing LSD (slightly pleasant) and modafinil (worthless). I was looking for that "magic bullet" that would make me more focused and productive.

Nothing really worked.

What did work was waking up early and working out regularly. I sleep by 11 and wake up by 6. I get at least two hours of work in before hitting the gym for 45-60 minutes.

I manage to get far, far more work done than any Nootropic I ever tried.

I tried lots of nootropics as a young adult too, with no effect as well.

Coffee doesn't help me focus by itself, quite the opposite actually. I wish it did because I LOVE coffee. I don't know what's wrong with me, since plenty of other people I know can use it to focus, while I just end up feeling inpatient and restless.

I got my first prescription for adderall in 2013. I was started at 30 mg XR and 20 IR, which is kind of ridiculous. I'm still amazed that this is considered a low-average dosage for lots of Americans. I took those a few times only, dumped my pills, then over the next few months worked my way down to 10 XR/5 IR, which I've been at ever since.

I know I'm reducing my lifespan by using them, but it's a deal with the devil that's ultimately worth it for me. I'll take ~5 less years of living as a geriatric in exchange for being able to better provide for a family.

Caffeine + l-theanine is the way to go if you feel "inpatient and restless" on coffee alone!

You could start with an even split then adjust the ratio depending on how you feel.

I've never tried l-theanine at all, so I'll try this. Thanks!

> I'll take ~5 less years of living as a geriatric in exchange for being able to better provide for a family.

Depending on the side-effects you may well end up losing 5 healthy years. Ie, become a geriatric 5 years earlier, effectively spending the exact same amount of time as one.

> I know I'm reducing my lifespan by using them, ...

You are? That's something I've not heard about before. Methamphetamine is neurotoxic, but not dextroamphetamine, which is what Adderall is.

> I'll take ~5 less years of living as a geriatric in exchange for being able to better provide for a family.

Kind of a tradeoff you won't expect to be made in 1st world countries...

Honestly sounds like a net positive to me. Trade some pant-shitting for some ass-kicking.

> US respondents reported the highest rate of use: in 2017, nearly 30% said they had used drugs for PCE

30%?! That seems incredibly high to me.

> based on the Global Drug Survey — an annual, anonymous online questionnaire about drug use worldwide.

Oh. So total junk. Got it.

It's not junk, it's just that they've poorly clarified the numbers.

The GDS is a trove of knowledge about drug use habits around the world, however everyone who takes the survey is a drug user. So 30% of people using illicit drugs in the USA are using them for performance enhancement. The other 70% are using them recreationally.

The survey's findings need to be taken in further context though. The people who take the GDS tend to be higher educated and wealthier, due to the channels that the survey is shared on, and because it's an online survey you're probably not getting many homeless heroin addicts filling the survey.

Probably the most interesting and reliable data to come from the survey is actually pricing.

> So 30% of people using illicit drugs in the USA are using them for performance enhancement. The other 70% are using them recreationally.

Is it not possible for 30% to use them for performance enhancement and for 90% to use them for recreation?

I am not familiar with the survey design.

You're correct, I didn't interpret the numbers right either. I don't think the survey asked if they used them exclusively.

I find it quite likely that most people using drugs for performance are probably also using them recreationally.

Oh that's very frustrating -- the article linked does not discuss that the survey is of drug users, it just says "of people" which seemed to imply that 30% of the population was using drugs for this purpose, which seems plainly ridiculous. And then it's a self selecting, anonymous survey, which makes it quite unreliable.

> In a survey of tens of thousands of people

I would have much preferred "tens of thousands of self-reported drug users..."

I would suspect that some people use drugs both recreational and for performance.

Yeah, that's very common among my friend group.

I highly recommend reading gwern[1] if one is interested in the current state of what nootropics are being used/considered significant. It is anecdotal, but also includes many references to literature to those more inclined.

[1] https://www.gwern.net/Nootropics

These drugs seem to rise with the stakes. It really used to not matter very much how you did in high school. Then it became necessary to get a college degree, more competition for less slots.

It's unfortunate. Makes me sad for my children. Thankfully we have the means where we don't have to double-down on their education in order to provide for ourselves later in life.

Accelerating wealth disparity will do that to a society.

Unfortunately yeah. When the stakes are so high for people to break out of systemic poverty, people will resort to whatever they can in order to get ahead and find success. This can range from cheating on school tests or hiring quizzes to actively taking drugs to improve mental performance at other risks to your body or mental well-being.

Then it became necessary to get a college degree, more competition for less slots

Doesn't this heavily depend on the sector/region/country? Just 'more competition for less slots' sounds overly general. But if it's actually happening I'd be interesting in finding out why? More people? Less slots due to economic causes? Likewise for the necessity of a degree. Why is that, is it the result of automation or so? Do you have numbers to back this up?

In Denmark it’s virtually impossible to get a job without a degree. It doesn’t have to be a university degree for all jobs, but for a wide range it does.

Programmers could get hired from the street with next to no education 25 years ago, today the need at least a bachelors for quite a lot of the jobs.

There are less people but automation and digitization has removed a lot of jobs that where previously filled with unskilled labour, and we’re rapidly eating into even semi-skilled labour.

Finance is a good example, you used to have economics and accountants with various secretary functions below them. Thanks to automation and digitization you only really need the economics today, well, and a robot process automation programmer - but that could easily be one of the economics. Accounts are still somewhat needed, though you only really need about a third compared to before you automated and you only really need them because it’s impossible to hire enough analytics to run your ML.

You can apply this stuff to almost every sector too. Secretary functions are rapidly becoming completely unnecessary and so are junior positions.

An analogy I usually use is the assembly line. If you peeled into a factory hall 150 years ago it was full of people, today it’s full of machines. If you look into an office 100 years ago, it was full of people using typewriters and filing forms, an office is still largely like that, but in 50 years it’ll be like the factory.

My department works with digitization. Before the summer vacation we automated a filing process in which 35.000 forms were sorted and filed into different cases each month by 5 people, now automation does it all and we didn’t even need any business knowledge from those 5 people because they were really just following a todo list for each form.

I was prescribed Ritalin in varsity. What a mess. Sure it would help you concentrate for really long hours, but the juice really wasn't worth the squeeze for me. It absolutely ruined my mood and at exam time I actually found myself over stressed, exhausted and not doing terribly well.

I stopped using it pretty soon after that and found a methodology for studying that suited me personally. Not always easy though.

"...the juice really wasn't worth the squeeze for me"

^^ Awesome phrase I've never heard before and can apply to so many situations. This one's going into my lexicon - thank you!

I presume you were unhappy with the emotional blunting/zombie feeling/residual stimulation of Ritalin.

I've used a combination of 4f-mph + ipph (which is not perfect because 4f-mph has a much, much longer half life) and it lead me to believe that playing with the ratios of stereoisomers of methylpheniate and adding other derivatives (like isopropylphenidate) to change the dopamine/norepinephrine reuptake inhibition would make a much better drug in my case.

The calm and deep focus + the lack of any side effects was amazing; I'm not using anymore because 4f-mph has very little long-term human studies + I'm a parent now and the thought of police tearning down my door because I've ordere 1 gram of a chemical over the internet is not very peasant.

But I do wish for a future where personalized drugs and therapies were a thing instead of demonizing drugs.

I took Ritalin for a few years, then stopped about five years back. I've found that for straight programming work, pomodoro works about as well for staying focused and making incremental progress on projects.

I'm considering Ritalin and would very much like to hear more about your new study methods.

Stims to perk up? How strange...

sips coffee

I've always wondered what percentage of people use coffee for stimulation, and what percentage use it simply to induce the first bowel movement

Actually, I always feel more awake after bowel movements :)

I suspect that's been selected for quite strongly.

Ritalin is nothing new and it’s hardly a smart drug, it’s a stimulant, not much difference between it and amphetamine (marketed under various names like Adderal)

It is a productivity drug and it gives momentum which translates into flow and if you've ever been in flow then you know you're smarter while in it

Ritalin is just a stimulant, whether or not it increases productivity depends on the individual. Getting into a state of flow certainly does not require any chemicals.

It does work for a while but after using it for a long time the effects start diminishing and side effects get worse. Sometimes it paradoxically caused me to feel incredibly tired, moody and not want to see people. I’m glad I don’t take stimulants anymore.

I think that philosophically I'm against taking drugs to make me work harder, I don't live to work. I save the party for the weekend, there's something anti-hedonistic about getting off your bean on dextroamphetamine or modafinal for work. I've had my fair share of hard mornings, but I've never had the desire to take substances to help me through the Monday slump.

I'm also medically against it, because it's how habits form. There are a lot of people who have become addicted to methamphetamine because they started using to be able to work harder for longer (apparently it's a problem in industries like meatworks, where workers are paid piece rates per animal).

I've tried a lot of substances to help me better focus and I'm sure drugs are not the single solution and I'm still tunning my approach.

Some substance/combinations have had a dramatic effect on my ability to focus, unfortunately they are not perfect/and or I'm unable to find some.

I'm not using drugs to "work harder", it's just that I'm unable to work for weeks at a time without chemical help (I'm chewing some nicotine gum as I'm typing).

I think that being "medically against it" is doing a tremendous amount of harm to millions of people throuout the world (in my country you can't bediagnosed with ADHD as an adult for example), just as being to lax about it.

Using ritalin or dexy because it is prescribed for ADHD is fine, just as it's fine to take antibiotics or antidepressants if they've been prescribed for you to be able to function normally.

That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about people who use methamphetamine to work longer shifts, or modafinil to get that mental edge over their colleagues so they can get that promotion and a pay rise. I believe that (with the exception of prescribed drugs) you should never take drugs because you feel you need to. You should only ever take drugs because you want to. Dropping a cap of MDMA or drinking a bottle of wine because you've had a shit week is a sure fire way to develop a habit, I know this from experience.

That seems like a rather arbitrary distinction considering that diagnosing mental disorders still involves many false positives and false negatives.

The distinction between work and play is subtle. Depending on my mood, casual conversation is harder work than data analysis. Or fixing some broken thing.

I just take a 100mg caffeine and 300mg L-Theanine stack per day, which is safe and works extremely well for me. Highly recommend you read this[0] before trying stuffs out.

[0]: https://www.reddit.com/r/nootropics/wiki/faq

Why are drugs so in common these days? I think everyone is able to reach their goals with other methods as well. Train your brain, get enough sleep and try meditation for example. You just need the right plan and the ability to really do it instead of procrastination.

It's an order of magnitude simpler to pop a pill than execute a plan that requires discipline and planning.

I don't think that they are, I think that there's just less stigma around talking about drugs these days. Ritalin has been used for cognitive performance for decades.

That's not to say it's a good thing, but it has always been there.

Think about it like professional sports. You're in a bike race, and you're preparing perfectly, but others around you on drugs are blowing by you.

I would rather resign myself to a life of mediocrity than feel compelled to take drugs just to be able to work.

The same reason for why people drive to work, instead of taking a bus. It's faster and easier to pop a pill.

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