A Crash Course in Nootropics

“Everyone has to start with a few rounds of experimentation. One has to see which compounds THEY respond best to. The first places to start are Racetams, choline sources, amino acids, and perhaps Modafinil. “

Written By Sterling Sweeney: Published Jan 6th, 2020 | Updated Jan 6th, 2020.

Sterling Sweeney is a growth hacker and the driving force behind Humanic a quantified self platform. Today, he sits down with Ryan Ballow, the founder of Cortex Labs, to talk about Nootropics. 

8 Minute Read

“Meditation changed my brain profoundly in a short period of time and that posed the question: what else can do this?”

Today Humanic has the opportunity to sit down and chat with Ryan Ballow, the founder of Cortext Labs, to talk in detail about Nootropics (also known as “smart drugs”). Let’s jump in!

First of all, thank you for joining us today Ryan to talk about your experience in the nootropic space. Help us kick this interview off by telling us a little bit more about what nootropics are and how you got involved in this niche.

Pleasure to be with you! Well – I got into the space after many years of experimentation on my own with nootropics. Oddly – but perhaps fittingly, it was meditation that I first got into. It changed my brain profoundly in a short period of time and that posed the question: what else can do this? Are there herbs or nutraceuticals that can mimic this state or more?

That provoked about 5 years of experimentation with nootropics. I’ve been an entrepreneur most of my adult life, so around that time the bug came to build a company around it, get involved in nootropics forums, and explore it all further.

You also developed a product called Cortex. Can you tell us a little bit more about why you decided to develop Cortex? What does it do differently than other nootropics on the market?

Well, Cortex was a stack I was taking by myself to run my previous company 18 hours a day. I built a technology repair company and literally didn’t leave the place for most of the day. I went home and slept, and came right back. To sustain through all of that, which was tech work, sales, and admin, I needed a functional stack. The Cortex stack was it. It was (besides Modafinil), the only stack that allowed me to function pretty awesomely for most of the day.

As I mentioned earlier, I then got the bug to make it a commercial product. Got a manufacturing lab involved, made the first investment, and the rest was history. What sets it apart is that it’s a very minimal, but highly effective combination of chemicals. Uridine and CDP Choline work together to foster new neuron creation, optimize dopamine receptors, and enhance cholinergic signaling. All useful things in terms of performance. Whereas most other stacks combine the usual suspects (lots of known nootropics) in arbitrary doses (usually way too high) in a stack that’s sort of.. just thrown together.

Currently, what do you see as the most interesting new developments in the nootropic space?

Two things. Nootropics consulting, which was unheard of before Cortex Labs started doing it. It’s a service that helps people formulate stacks that they actually respond well to. Beyond that, there is a company I’ve been in correspondence with that is trying to develop dissolvable strips that contain doses of nootropics. You literally pop the thing under your tongue, it dissolves, and you experience nootropic benefits. This is very early R&D, but I’m confident it’ll come to market.

Though experimentation with various doses is best for most people, if careful thought and rigorous experimentation (or better yet beta testing) is done with pre-made formulas, they can be the best and most convenient options for nootropics users.

For many who have interest, but have not yet entered into the nootropic space, they might not know where to start. So let’s take a look at a couple of hypothetical use-case examples. Let’s imagine we have an entrepreneur who has an interest in focus, motivation, clarity and verbal fluidity. What nootropics or nootropic stack would you suggest they start exploring?

Well – everyone has to start with a few rounds of experimentation. One has to see which compounds THEY respond best to. The first places to start are Racetams, choline sources, amino acids, and perhaps Modafinil. Pick 2 racetams, pick a choline source, throw some amino acids/wakefulness promoting chemicals in there and have at it. Modafinil should be experimented with by itself. These suggestions would look something like this:

Stack 1: 500MG Oxiracetam/85MG Citicoline/200MG ALCAR
Stack 2: 2G Piracetam/100MG Alpha GPC/200MG L-Theanine
Stack 3: 500MG ALCAR/200MG L-Tyrosine/100MG Theacrine/250MG L-Theanine
Stack 4: 100MG Modafinil on its own.

Once one tries simple stacks like this, they get an idea of what they respond well to, what their brain needs, and how to maneuver forward with modifying doses to dial the effects in (if they’re not already good).

Let’s imagine we have someone who’s main goals revolves around some physical activity or accomplishment. What nootropics would you suggest they start to examine?

Firstly – definitely Phenylpiracetam. Banned in Olympic sports because of it’s performance enhancing benefits, it fits the bill perfectly. By hyper enhancing cholinergic muscle function, it boosts physical performance literally second to none. Additionally, I would have them experiment with 300-500MG of ALCAR with 100MG or so of Theacrine. Those two are primarily energy inducing compounds, that work great for most people.

Lastly, let’s talk about improved mood as a hypothetical example. What nootropics would you suggest someone explore if they are interested in mood enhancement?

Well that’s quite simple. With mood, you’re talking about 3 things: Dopamine, GABA, and Serotonin. So a combination of the following would work well:

100MG Uridine monophosphate
50MG L-Theanine
40MG CDP Choline
500MG Rhodiola Rosea

That would cover all bases for an outcome like elevating mood. But there are plenty more. Low dose Aswhagandha with medium dose Aniracetam together work well for this, for example. And there’s a lot more.

What considerations need to be taken into account when people have multiple goals? Building off the examples above, let’s imagine that those were not three different individuals, but the same individual with 3 different goals (i.e. increased productivity, increased physical performance AND mood enhancement). How does stacking change in this situation and what things do smart drug users need to be careful of?

Quite simply: the person would take physical performance enhancing compounds in close proximity to their workouts, and nootropics that foster mental performance and mood around the time they sit down to work. But there’s a lot of overlap. One could take 100MG Phenylpiracetam/100MG Citicoline/100MG Uridine/B complex and achieve all of these things (if they responded well to those chemicals, which not all people do).

Now that we’ve talked about these hypothetical examples, in your experience what are the three most popular goals for nootropics users (in the order of their popularity)?

Verbal Fluency

Then sits mood elevation, then working memory.

What are the three biggest mistakes newbies make when entering into the world of nootropics?

Great question. The first is dosing too high on things. Most people are operating from the logic that if the study suggests 500MG of one compound or another, it will apply to them. But lots of studies on nootropics involve people with dementia or early Alzheimer’s. That’s actually where nootropics came from… the neuro-degeneration field.

ALWAYS START LOW – then work your way up from there. Lots of compounds have long half lives (stay active in your system for a long time), so high doses aren’t needed or even helpful.

Secondly, not weighing everything out. With nootropics, you need to be almost painstakingly surgical. So people that buy pre-made capsules of popular racetams for example, can only take them in the milligram quantities put in the capsule. Whereas, if they bought bulk powder, got a scale, capsules, and a capsule maker, they could experiment with lower/higher doses and different combinations, which invariably get people better results.

Lastly I’d say, people make the mistake of taking nootropics too frequently. The brain is a sensitive instrument, and heavy modifications to neurotransmitters very consistently is not always the answer. In fact it rarely is. People will take the same stack for 3 weeks straight, have amazing results, but then suddenly the stack stops performing. In reality, what they’ve done is activated a homeostasis mechanism in the brain, which is preventing the chemicals from doing their job. The remedy to this is to cycle appropriate. Switch between stacks. Don’t take the same stack for more than 3 days, take 1-3 days off a week from everything, and when starting up again, try a completely different combination of things.

Not cycling appropriately is a first class ticket to either side effects or tolerance, and usually by that point, it’s too late; one has to then cycle off of whatever they were administering, for a considerable period of time, to get things back in order.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with Humanic’s blog audience today Ryan. To our blog readers, if you’d like to learn more about Ryan and Nootropics in general, you can head over to his website here.


Compete with yesterday’s version of yourself.

Are you the best version of yourself you can possibly be? If not, wouldn’t trying something new be worth a try?

Written By Sterling Sweeney: Published Jan 6th, 2020 | Updated Jan 6th, 2020.

Sterling Sweeney is a growth hacker and the driving force behind Humanic, a quantified self platform So, if you’re kinda into things like personal growth, transformation and reaching your goals, then be sure to check out our homepage. 

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