The Danger Of Smart Drugs & The Rise Of Photobiomodulation As A Brain-Boosting Nootropic.

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Everyone understands that the brain is the command center of all our functions. We are truly dead only when the brain is dead. We are at our peak when our brain is at its peak. At the elite level of sports performance, the difference between winning and losing depends on the mental state.

Needless to say, success or failure in life is largely contingent upon the quality of one's cognitive or mental state. Hence the value of being able to improve brain health and performance, which explains the growing interest in the tools to do this, especially so-called “nootropics”.

So, we experiment with brain exercises, meditation and mindfulness, natural substances such as magic mushrooms and ayahuasca, synthetics such as Modafinil/Provigil, Piracetam/Racetams, along with ADHD medications such as Adderall and Ritalin, many of which I discuss in this article on smart drugs vs. nootropics.

Admittedly, there are reliable cases of these chemical substances helping to enhance mental performance (although controlled empirical studies have questioned these on larger controlled studies. See studies here, here & here). However, all of them have some reported forms of side effects, many quite serious if consumption is not controlled. Shockingly, I've heard some prominent biohackers in the industry go on record to say that they would continue to use Modafinil/Provigil even if it shortens lifespan. The recent float tank death of extreme biohacker and self-injector Aaron Traywick provides caution for the need to be aware of the limits of our physical tolerance to process substances.

So are there ways to stimulate the brain without synthetic chemicals, injections, IVs or smart drugs? You bet. You're about to discover one of my favorite such methods – photobiomodulation therapy for the head, which I discussed in this podcast with Dr. Lew Lim and visit in detail here. 

Brain-Boosting Alternatives To Smart Drugs

Neuroscience has long understood that most brain functions are a combination of chemical and electrical processes. As I alluded to above, changing the brain chemistry with stimulants can be effective, but the risks are potentially high. Safer options may instead involve influencing the electrical processes of the brain.

For example, you could do this by inducing low energy electrical and magnetic stimulations such as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) – two groups of well-researched non-invasive brain stimulation methods that I discuss in this podcast.

All of these are promising in their own ways and have been shown in research to have brain enhancement qualities. However, the science and reproducibility of the electrical-based stimulation methods have also been questioned.

In the world of brain enhancement discussion, photobiomodulation therapy (PBM), also known as low-level light therapy (LLLT) has attracted little attention but is quickly becoming a popular topic, particularly with the type of cognition-enhancing “laser light helmets” and full-body light panels I discuss on the podcast “Shining Laser Lights On Your Balls & Beyond: Photobiomodulation 101 – How To Use Near Infrared & Red Light For Collagen, Thyroid, Muscle, Skin & More.

From a technical standpoint, PBM involves delivering light to the cells (including neurons) to modulate specific tissue functions. The cellular mechanisms of PBM have been well researched. Animal studies have shown cognitive improvements and recovery from brain insults of various kinds, including traumatic brain injury (TBI) and concussion. Most of the human studies have not been well controlled and to many serious scientists, have not shown sufficient reasons to be headlined or taken very seriously.

However, this is starting to change with a host of newer studies that you'll find linked in this article, and PBM is building its cache of merits to be recognized as a novel method to enhance brain functions, almost as a new kind of technological “nootropic.”

How Photobiomodulation Therapy Works To Enhance Cognitive Function

There are a few factors that support head-worn devices like this Vielight PBM unit for brain enhancement:

  • Its fundamental mechanisms of action based on photons modifying mitochondrial functions have largely been borne out in outcomes as expected. Mitochondria health is increasingly recognized as fundamental in medicine, and PBM, specifically on the head or nasal regions, is a very potent way to deliver this light in a targeted fashion to neural tissue.
  • A photon of light is non-chemical, non-synthetic and non-mechanical. When activating the mitochondria in small doses, it modulates tissues without major side effects. The life-harnessing activity and interplay between mitochondria and light appear to be a legacy from early life on earth that started with photosynthesis. The effects of transcranial PBM have been found to be systemic and generally agnostic in treating the different types of brain insults, meaning no matter the brain issue, there appears to be a positive effect.
  • Emerging evidence are presenting the effect of PBM on the electrophysiology potential of the brain, as well as enhanced blood perfusion, filling some of the earlier gaps in the understanding and validation of brain PBM mechanisms.

photobiomodulation therapy

Investigations into the enhancement of normal human brains with PBM are relatively recent, which is why I wanted to publish this article since there is now a host of good, new research.

In summary, PBM appears to have a positive effect on both diseased and healthy brains. This now leaves us to determine what else may be possible with PBM!

Profound Brain Modulation Observed with Selective Pulses Of Light!

Vielight and its collaborators are finding that by invoking a specific pulse rate at 810 nm wavelength, they can significantly influence brain oscillations. In one recent study, inducing a gamma pulse rate at 40 Hz using the Gamma model of the Vielight can consistently and significantly increase the power spectrum and connectivity the higher oscillations of gamma, beta and alpha; and reduce the power spectrum of theta and delta.

To put it simply, the higher oscillations are called when the brain needs to perform a task, calling for contributions from multiple brain areas.

The slower waves of theta and delta are called when one when one sleeps. The effect of induced 40 Hz is presented in the diagram below (the best way I can describe this is that after wearing the Vielight Gamma unit on your head for as little as 5 minutes, you enter what can best be described as a meditative state of calm).

What does all this mean?

The process of photobiomodulation therapy delivered to the head via a head-worn device makes the brain more alert, have better focus, process information better and reduces the tendency of dozing off – outcomes that synthetic nootropics seek. But in the case of PBM, these outcomes are more reliable, non-dependent on nutrition supplementation and seem to be more significant, without the negative side effects.

As discussed, the delivery of NIR can improve reaction time and improved performance. Higher power in the beta and gamma ranges have been associated with memory and mental performance, although it could be temporary.

High-level meditators also present persistent gamma at high power. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that entrainment with gamma frequency pulses can modulate the brain for high-performing mental states in mindfulness. This opens the door for experiments on the effect of varying different pulse induction of light into the brains of high-level meditators. The company Vielight has produced prototypes that enable such experiments. While the experiments are ongoing, they are already observing some profound revelations on what is possible. Dr. Sanjay Manchanda reveals in one compelling presentation what he has been observing in these experiments.

There is of course also great potential for cognitive enhancement with PBM. Recent experiments with inducing 40 Hz pulse into the brain at the University of New Mexico have produced significant real-time enhanced cognitive performance. The performance was repeated and at the time of writing, the investigation is being repeated under robust controlled conditions. Compared to other methods of brain stimulation, PBM with the Vielight device has demonstrated far more enhancement without any side effect. This was also mentioned in the Sanjay presentation.


Data from various experiments with photobiomodulation therapy are coming in rapidly, repeatedly touting the potential of PBM as a simple nootropic tool that is rising in prominence. This modality may just be the answer that biohackers have been searching for as a technological alternative to smart drugs and nootropics. The use of light to stimulate the brain is effective, significant and without the worries of major side effects.

However, there is much to be discovered.

Because the brain seems to respond to PBM delivered in specific ways, it is possible that in the future we may be able to personalize PBM parameters that meet specific desires in mental performance. The gates are just opening to realizing what is possible with PBM. It is exciting, so watch this space!

In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more about Vielight, you can click here to check out the Alpha model (10Hz frequencies good for relaxation/stress/alertness) and the Gamma model (40Hz frequency good for meditation state/TBI/concussion/Alzheimer's/dementia). Use code: GREENFIELD at checkout to get 10% off your purchase.  I personally own both an Alpha and a Gamma and use them both about two times per week. More is not better, and you only need to use them about every 48 hours to get the lasting effects discussed in this article.)

Do you have questions, thoughts or feedback for me about the Vielight, photobiomodulation therapy or more? Leave your comments below and I will reply!

Ask Ben a Podcast Question

31 thoughts on “The Danger Of Smart Drugs & The Rise Of Photobiomodulation As A Brain-Boosting Nootropic.

  1. Tommy says:

    Hey Ben (love your work mate) I’m not sure if you’ve touch on this but I suffered trauma to the back of my head and lost my sense of smell – over a number of years it mostly came back but then I developed Achalasia type 2 (not sure if it is related). I’m not sure if any of these devices would simulate any repair but I’m keen to give them a try. If there a model you would recommend? Thanks so much for all you do.

  2. Joan says:

    Hi Ben, do you use both Vielight and PEMF on the same day?

  3. Luke Hatherton says:

    I went to Vielight’s website and they have a gamma/alpha headset for $2,400. This is very good – the best neurofeedback is FAR more expensive, absurdly so – but Vielight does not yet carry a headset that can take gamma beyond 40hz, up to the 80, 120, 200, and 200+hz they have been researching for not just powerful states of awareness but even, possibly, states of enlightenment.

    It’s been almost a year since they presented this research, I don’t know why they don’t have such a model yet. I’m not going to spend this kind of money on one headset if a much better one is coming along. Just give us an estimate of WHEN.

    1. Angel says:

      How can I find those devices that you say are better and more expensive? You pass me the url?

  4. Gabrielle says:

    Hello. I am curious if this would help with MS? I understand I have an auto immune problem but it is also very much a brain problem. I have been eating to fuel healthy mitochondria but perhaps this would be a great boost for them? I assume it would be the same therapy for Parkinson’s/Alzheimer’s?

  5. Alex says:

    Hey Ben

    Great article. I’ve recently built a light helmet for my dad who is suffering from parkinsons.

    There is an article about a guy making one at home and using it 20min per day on 610nm, and 20min on 810nm, no mention of frequency.

    He saw great results from this, I’m hoping to replicate that.

    Have you any thoughts on this?

    Total cost was $160 AUD vs $2k + for the vialight.



    1. Luke Hatherton says:

      Where did you find this helmet? Thanks..

    2. vladimir says:

      Hey Alex, can you share the contact of the person who made it? Thanks

  6. TP Lim says:

    Thank you. Looking forward to receiving the book.

  7. Paulk says:

    Not sure about newer Racetams like Modafinil/Provigil, but Piracetam, noopept and the other older Racetams are amoung the safest supplements available…. You could take 5x’s the recommended dose of noopept or Piracetam, with enough Choline and possibly sleep less that night, but you would have a productive night, I’m sure – Don’t try 5x’s recommended dose with aspirin or ibuprofen. See what I mean

    1. Nick says:

      Racetams are a classic case where more =/= better. A lot of people (myself included) did best on low-dose noopept. Sure, the LD50 is far greater than most medications. That does not imply long-term safety though.

  8. Justin says:

    So this is different than benefits from joovv? I can’t keep track…help.

    1. yes, as it’s pulsing at specific frequencies which the brain’s waves can entrain with… and has been shown to aid in brain cleansing… and the regions are specifically chosen to stimulate the default mode network. So JOOV is large light full body… VieLight is targeted and stimulation specific via the flicker of the light.

      1. ROBERT JOOST says:

        Thanks for that short explanation. I got the JOOVV. I’d get this Vielight device but over $1700 is way too much right now.
        I wonder if keeping the top of my head near the JOOV for several minutes would help a little.

  9. Paulk says:

    The Racetam noopept with Choline is very safe.

  10. Victor Braun says:

    I think just getting more sunlight would impart most of the benefits, from a non-injured brain point of view.

  11. trevor truax says:

    Good timing Ben!

    After several TBIs over the years I’ve noticed something changing memory wise and a rise in anxiety. I just had thorough brain mapping through the NTL group and the left hemisphere is about 70% off line:( leaving other areas to compensate causing smoke to come out of my ears regularly ;)

    I’ve been prescribed several months of correctional biofeedback. Question is would this (vielite) be a viable adjunct to therapy?

    I’m also in recovery (15yrs) from serious substance abuse (Khalil Rafati level stuff).

    Totally appreciate your work brother! Blessings, Trevor

    1. Andy Farrow says:

      Hi Trevor
      Have you heard of Pine Bark Extract? There are several variants of this botanical but there is one specific called Pinus Radiata. It is currently being studied as a treatment for TBI along with high dosages of DHA. The combination has had some very encouraging results to date and is something that we are looking at closely. We are based in the UK and the rise of TBI in rugby players is alarming to say the least and we will begin trials with this shortly. It would be worth you checking this out.

      1. melissa kubala says:

        I see a product called Enzo That has this exact formulation of Pinebark extract and fish oil. But, it looks like the daily dose of the combined DHA and EPA is only 1000 mg which is really not what I would consider high dose. Not for Trumatic brain injury. I wondered what dose you had been looking at in the studies you have seen so far?

    2. Paul k says:

      Racetams like Piracetam and Noopept are very safe and especially noopept rebuilds neural connections. I have proven this is true for myself, now being able to memorize all my credit card info(1 card front and back, after not being able to do so for 3years… I am 57 now
      Non addicting also – so times I forget to take it(not often, but it happens)

  12. MaryBeth says:

    Ben do you have thoughts on how these modalities can help people who have experienced trauma? Also what about tools like the Neuroptimize system?

    1. “Trauma” comes in various forms. If you are referring to PTSD, I understand that Vielight has successful results including a good number of war veterans, with quick positive results. They had mentioned that they are considering a clinical study on developmental trauma.

    2. Paul K says:

      Ashwagandha and holotropic breathwork is Avery good approach to trama release

  13. Tim Lowe says:

    Damn it Ben…I can’t decide between the two models (10Hz or 40Hz). I want both relaxation/stress reduction/alertness and I want to experience a deeper more prolonged meditation state (sadly the “alpha” stuff puts me to sleep or makes me less “mindful”). Help! :)

    1. Long term meditators like myself enjoy quick altered state with the 40 Hz (Gamma). If you view the link to Sanjay’s video, you’ll see Vielight R&D with the meditation community on higher frequencies for more profound experience –

      1. yes Ben, those epic 100Hz -> 200Hz sessions sound AMAZING!! Still need to get the Gamma, for myself and with my clients. Cheers for leading the way brother!

        1. Luke says:

          How has it affected you? Thinking of making a purchase, but also thinking of waiting until the 200hz model comes out (assuming they are working on one – they didn’t answer my email query).

  14. Gayle says:

    Hi Ben

    Would any of these devices (which one)that would help someone with early Parkinson’s ? And which device would assist in study?

    1. Australian researchers are using the Vielight Gamma for Parkinson’s for a major clinical trial. Dr. Lew Lim had informed me that this model was recommended in the same way that it was for Alzheimer’s (their pivotal study is soon underway) because it activates a type of brain cells (microglia) that helps to clear a type of unwanted protein plaque associated with the disease.

    2. Joseph Perser says:

      Huperzine A and l tyrosine for Parkinson’s disease.

      1. Dave says:

        Post concussion syndrome and my doc recommended 2 a day sessions, once with gamma during the day and once with alpha in the evening. Bad advice. Only one a day recommended so every other day per unit. I did at the same time with nasal unit red light and XPlus. What happens if too much? Any recommendations? It definitely made things worse so be careful. Thanks

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