May 31, 2018
Podcast from: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/curing-blindness-and-alzheimers-growing-new-brain-cells-fabricating-the-most-powerful-nootropics/
[00:00] Introduction/Four Sigmatic Mushroom Lemonade
[05:32] Dr. Andrew Huberman
[08:16] Andrew's Work with Wim Hof
[17:27] Is Wim Hof Pure Breathwork
[20:49] What Andrew And His Lab Do
[37:12] “The Brain Isn't Supposed To Make You Happy All The Time”
[43:35] Does Andrew Use Any Nootropics
[46:17] Nootropics in The Academia
[52:33] The Side Effects of Synthetic Smart Drugs
[1:00:44] Would Nootropics Be Counted as A PED?
[1:11:18] Qualia Mind
[1:23:50] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey. What's up? It's Ben Greenfield. If my audio sounds a little funny today, it's because for some reason my stereo mixer kicked the can. I arrived home after a long trip to find it literally dead, just beat to pieces. Wouldn't turn on. I suspect it's probably because my children were attempting to record something inside of my home recording studio. That's likely the case. But either way, I'm still going to get this message out to before we hop into a really mind blowing podcast with this Dr. Andrew Huberman. The guy's working on curing blindness, knows a host of details about Alzheimer's, dementia, smart drugs, and nootropics. Fascinating gentlemen who I had the pleasure to speak with today. The show notes as well are going to be fascinating for you. I'm going to leave you with bated breath, but I'll give you the URL for the show notes during today's episode.
Something I tried last night that I found to be quite interesting, it was a charcoal and chaga lemonade, a charcoal and chaga lemonade. So charcoal is, of course, known as something you might take if you get food poisoning, but it's also a popular ingredient that you'd buy at any of these juice bars. These newfangled fancy juice bars will often have this black beverage, and that's charcoal. And a lot of times you'll see it blended with lemon to enhance the effects of the charcoal with the additional vitamin C. And then, in this case, the chaga that I mentioned is of course amazing for the immune function and gut well-being, and it's also extremely rich in antioxidants. Now they market these drinks as hangover drinks, as detox remedies, et cetera, but the fact is you could hop on your bicycle or get in your car, and go hunt down a juice bar, and pay $16 for this tiny little four ounce bottle of juice that's disturbingly small. Or you can make this stuff yourself at home, which is what I did last night.
Four Sigmatic Mushrooms, one of my favorite companies in the world, they've come out with this brand new charcoal, lemon, chaga detoxification drink that you can just have whenever, whether you're hung over or you want a daily detox. It's made by Four Sigmatic, along with all the other fantastic mushroom blends. And you can get a big fat 15% discount on it over at foursigmatic.com/bengreenfield, that's foursigmatic.com/bengreenfield. And did I mention you should try the mushroom lemonade with the charcoal and the chaga? Just sayin'.
This podcast is also brought to by, in my opinion, the best way to lose fat that exists if you're going to take something. It's called Lean. Lean. For the past five years, I've taken two capsules of this every night before I do my evening carbohydrate re-feed to get my glycogen levels restored for the next day of exercise, and it is primarily comprised of bitter melon extract which, as a bonus, also acts, as the name would imply, a bitter, or a digestif to help one digest a meal. But it also enhances your first phase insulin response after a meal so you're better able to deal with any glucose rises from a meal, whether that be a high protein meal or a high carbohydrate meal. In addition, it has rock lotus extract in it. And because I like to have me a cocktail or a glass of wine in the evenings as well, this is a fantastic liver tonic. And that's the only two ingredients in this stuff. It's called Lean, made by Kion, my company. I formulate this stuff rock lotus extract with bitter melon, and it is one of the best ways to kind of have your cake and eat it too every night. Stay lean, enhance digestion, lower blood glucose, the list of benefits for this stuff goes on, and on, and on. But you get a big ol' discount on this as well if you go to getkion.com, that's K-I-O-N, getkion.com. And the specific supplement that you would want to look for over there that I just told you about is called Lean.
Ben: Hey, folks. It's Ben Greenfield. And it is my pleasure to introduce you to Dr. Andrew Huberman, a recent acquaintance of mine and a pretty well-decorated man in the realm of science. He is a world-renowned Stanford neuroscience professor and director of what is called Huberman Labs at Stanford. His accomplishments are incredibly impressive, considering he's barely over 40 years old and, sorry Andrew, to have to spill your age right off the bat, but amazingly you have accomplished a lot for your age. Scientific American has covered his breakthroughs towards curing human blindness and Alzheimer's. Rolling Stone has interviewed him to better understand the power of fear, that was a fascinating article. Discover Magazine recently covered Andrew's work with the legendary Wim Hof, the Iceman, which led to research to determine how what Wim Hof even do is possible. We'll talk about that on today's show.
Andrew has made a ton of breakthrough contributions to the field of brain development and brain plasticity, neural regeneration and repair, and is quite studied in the realm of nootropics as well, which is how I met him. The good folks over at this company called Neurohacker Collective, they make one of the only nootropics that I use, they introduced me to Dr. Huberman, and I have been fascinated by him and his research and what I've been able to dive into in preparation for this interview. His lab recently created a state of the art virtual reality platform for probing neural mechanisms that underlie pathologic fear and anxiety. And he is just a fascinating, fascinating gentleman. So Andrew, welcome to the show.
Andrew: Thanks so much for having me and thanks so much for the generous introduction. I'm quite blessed to be alive at a time in history when there are all these amazing tools and developments, and some of those tools are making their way to the general public and I'm really looking forward to the conversation.
Ben: Yeah, me too. And let's begin with a mutual acquaintance of ours, the good old Iceman, Wim Hof. And Wim is, of course, famous for sitting for long periods of time in ice, but also injecting himself with crazy substances and then figuring out how to quell the body's inflammatory response to said substances, which I think include things like E. coli. I'm curious, tell me about the work that you did with Wim to look into the unique physiology that that cat has.
Andrew: Yeah. Wim is quite a unique character and has achieved so much, and it's really exciting to see him attain a level of stature and recognition now that, he's been at it a long time. But the story goes something like this: I'm a card carrying neuroscientist, as your listeners now know. But my entire life, I've been interested in tools that one can use, both, that sort of like what I would call “inner game tools” to adjust one state through thinking and various practices, meditation-type practices, breathwork practices, et cetera, writing, all the way to supplementation and sort of the kind of things that you would, behavioral practices. And I found out about Wim, I think I heard about him on the Ferris podcast, and I wrote an e-mail to him and just said, “Hey, I'm a neuroscientist. I run a laboratory. We mainly work on vision, but we're really interested in fear states and other types of states and I was really intrigued by your documented ability for your breathing techniques to counter the effects of E. coli as published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It's a really nice study that I had nothing to do with, but it told me, and basically that the results of the study were, E. coli makes people very sick.”
Ben: Yeah. That's the I-left-my-hamburger-out-too-long bacteria.
Andrew: Right. It gives you a fever, makes you want to puke, gives you diarrhea. But basically what they showed in the study was that subjects that are injected with E. coli but then engage in so-called Wim Hof breathing are able to counter the negative effects of E. coli Infection. That's a pretty remarkable study and results, and it's done in a very controlled way, and I was impressed by the fact that Wim was embracing science. ‘Cause a guy that can run up Everest in his shorts and can do all this stuff of diving under icebergs, that's impressive, but to me, it's really about how applicable those skills are to the general public and how they can be used to do things like counter infections. So I wrote to Wim, Wim's son wrote back, and then we arranged a phone call. And then I actually, Wim said, “Well, why don't you come out to the Pyrenees and we'll do some breathing together and I'll teach you my practice?”
So I got on a plane and flew to Spain, and we did a bunch of breathing, some mountaineering, did some pretty wild bridge sling jumps, just Wim and I, rigged those up ourselves and did those. I had a week of adventure and also got to discover the extent to which Wim Hof breathing can really adjust one's neural state so that you can get very clear thinking in high stress situations. And I was so excited by it that I decided to bring with Wim and a few of his family members out to California, completely on my own dime. I just flew them out and I arranged a sort of behind-closed-doors talk tour at some of the major tech hubs out here, major companies with no more than say 10 to 50 people in attendance where Wim could walk people through their breathing. These weren't standard workshops. It was more that we would discuss kind of the more interesting subjective effects that people were achieving.
And then I decided to extract women's protocols from him, really spend some time with him and figure out what are the protocols that he's using. How many breaths, how many holds, how long. ‘Cause Wim's kind of an artist of breath work, as you know. I like to call, he's kind of like the Bob Dylan of breath work. He does all this amazing stuff, you don't know how he does it. He's not even exactly sure how he does it. He just feels into it. So he'll just say like, “Breathe! Breathe!” Okay. That's great. But if I have someone other than Wim in my laboratory, I need to give them a distinct protocol. And so we're now testing things like Wim Hof breathing as well as other forms of breathing like box breathing and different forms of medical type hypnosis. I would say respiration more than meditation in our laboratory and looking at how that can counter high anxiety responses using virtual reality as the way to deliver high anxiety responses. And so that work is ongoing.
We have a human trial going and we're recruiting subjects actively. So I hope within the year of 2018, maybe early 2019, to be able to describe and publish the results of that study. And we're measuring everything from carbon dioxide to, in some cases we even have patients that have electrodes embedded deep within their brain, including their amygdala. So we're exposing these people to high fear scenarios, like cage exit white shark diving, and then they're doing Wim Hof breathing, and we're recording from areas of the brain like the amygdala. And not just by imaging or EEG, but really high resolution neuronal responses, as well as in people who don't have electrodes embedded in their brain of course.
And the goal is quite simple, it's to figure out what is the signature of the human fear response. Virtual reality is the best way we know how to deliver real world, like simulate to humans right now in the lab. What are the tools that people like Wim have developed to counter or buffer that fear response and maintain adaptive clear decision making? ‘Cause you don't want to be fearless to the point of making bad decisions. And then how can we export those protocols to very large populations of people, everything from school children who are experiencing anxiety from either school performance or pressure, social pressure, et cetera, to adults suffering from PTSD, anxiety, and phobia. And so Wim's work and his high adventure daredevil tendencies, I really believe leveraged through the scientific community and then back out to the general public. I'm very proud to know Wim, I'm grateful for his generosity. It's been a great adventure also. We just had a lot of fun. I got to do some wild stuff with Wim over the years, and I think we're going to look back historically and we're going to look to Wim as one of the great suppliers of protocols for adjusting state.
Ben: That's fascinating. And by the way, that was a very impressive Wim Hof “Breathe! Breathe!” impersonation that you did. Although I believe on my podcast, it was, “Breathe, mother [censored]! Breathe, mother [censored]!”
Andrew: I always joked that he gets an explicative in every third word, and that's part of his breathing protocol.
Ben: Every third word. And for those of you unfamiliar with this cat, go listen to the podcast that I did with him, which I will place into the show notes that you can access at bengreenfieldfitness.com/neurohack. But when it comes to perhaps your plans to go cage diving with great white sharks or any other fear response that you may have, or perhaps you've just eaten some raw hamburger that you suspect might be tainted with E. coli, the Wim Hof breathing protocol is essentially 30 of what are called “power breaths” in which you imagine you're blowing up a balloon. You inhale through your nose or your mouth and you exhale through your mouth in short powerful bursts with a very steady pace. I like to place my hands right around my navel when I do this with eyes closed. You can do this for around 30 times. You get a little light headed, you get a little tingly as you [intense, rapid breathing]. And then at the very, very end, you fill your lungs to maximum capacity, and then you let the air out and you hold that for as long as you possibly can until you kind of get this gasp reflex. And you can do multiple rounds of this, but it is fascinating. I think one of the more interesting things that I learned when I interviewed Wim was the guy doesn't really work out. I mean he runs marathons in the desert without any water and he'll climb mountains, as you mentioned, in his skivvies and bare feet, and he basically does yoga, this breath work, and cold exposure. It's very impressive.
Andrew: It is impressive. He's remarkably strong. He'll do, I don't recommend people do, well there are two things. One is never do Wim Hof breathing in water 'cause of the shallow water blackout possibility. But the other one's Wim is a true daredevil. I've got some photos of him doing some one-arm planche next off basic cliffs overriding a valley below. The guy basically can calm his mind to the point where he's in incredible levels of control. And he is incredibly strong. And I think he's in his early 60's now or late 50's. He's also a new father. So congratulations, Wim.
Ben: Perhaps a big part of that is just being Dutch, which I would suspect when you watch the World's Strongest Man competition. It appears to give you a hand up in life to just be from Northern Europe if you happen to want to compete in feats of extreme physical performance. The other thing about Wim Hof I was going to ask you, Andrew, was I know that you're kind of involved in all these new cutting edge nootropic formulations. Is the guy like one of these modafinil, Provigil, Adderall, smart drug kind of guys or is he just pure breathwork?
Andrew: No. Wim's more like breathwork, the banjo, and a beer.
Ben: And a beer. Yeah. I was going to say.
Andrew: And a beer every once in a while. Wim is on the intermittent fasting thing. He eats about once a day. He doesn't seem just follow any strict nutritional protocol, as far as I can tell. But he is open, what's so nice about Wim is that he's really open to a lot of discussion about different types of things. He's not dogmatic. He's kind of anti-guru, and yet he has this tremendous following. A very well-known Silicon Valley tech mogul out here said it very clearly. The great thing about Wim Hof breathing is you feel it the first time, and you feel it every time. It just kind of works the first time. You really get a shift. And I think that's what's really powerful about it. I've speculated a little bit, and at this point it's still speculation, but we'll have some data soon. I mean we are collecting data, but we'll be able to publish the data eventually that I think that that 30 power breaths as you described them probably increases adrenaline, that's probably what allows the body to counter the E. coli infection, as they showed in that study.
But of course when you're in conscious control of your breathing, you enter a state during the hold or the exhale, the long exhale, where you're very calm despite the presence of adrenaline in your system. And that's a really nice place to learn how to be so that when you get a surge of adrenaline from a life event, you maintain a clarity of thinking that most people don't have the benefit of experiencing and they become more reactive to their adrenaline surge. So while Wim isn't, as far as I know, into the whole nootropic scene, he's kind of hacked his own brain stem, if you will to be able to access some of the, probably the same categories of neurochemicals that things like nootropics help you maneuver back there.
Ben: Yeah. That's my understanding as well, that the spike in adrenaline, I forget the name of the protein, but it's linked to increased levels of an anti-inflammatory protein and then decreased levels of cytokines, which they were able to measure in the study. And I suppose rather than asking you all these questions about Wim, I should probably just have him back on the show at some point. So I'll do that. I need to reach out to Wim. I think I'll be seeing him, I believe we're speaking together at an event in Sardinia, Italy next month. So perhaps I'll sit down with him there in an ice bath. I want to also ask you a few other questions about some of the fascinating work that you do. Scientific American has actually looked into some of your breakthroughs when it comes to regrowing brain cells, specifically in rodent models, using what I believe is some form of gene manipulation and exercise for fighting against glaucoma, and spinal injury, and Alzheimer's. Can you fill me in to the research you're doing there when it comes to blindness and Alzheimer's, and specifically regrowing brain cells. We don't, that I know of, have a huge number of blind listeners or listeners with Alzheimer's. But of course anytime we delve into this category, we're talking about the potential for taking an already just fine brain and making it even better. So fill me in on what you've been doing there.
Andrew: Sure. So I've a fairly large laboratory and about half the laboratory works on these issues of neuro regeneration and plasticity. The specific goal of the study I'll describe was to try and figure out how it is that we could regenerate the neurons that connect the eye to the brain in blinding conditions like glaucoma, which are very common. There are about 70 million people worldwide with glaucoma. Sadly their vision will be impaired if they don't take steps to ameliorate that, and some of them will lose their vision no matter what. I'll just mention that these connections between the eye and the brain, we say eye to brain, but really the neural retina, it's basically a piece of your brain that was squeezed out into your eye during development. So when we say the eyes are the window to the soul, the retina is the only part of your central nervous system that's outside the skull.
Ben: That's interesting. The retina is like the anus of the gastrointestinal tract in a way then.
Andrew: I've never heard it phrased that way. But yeah, I suppose one could think about it in that way. So the connections between the retina and the brain are absolutely essential for vision. And in diseases like glaucoma and in some cases in head trauma, those connections wither. And because they are central nervous system neurons, they don't regenerate in adulthood. And so what I'll just mention in a moment, it applies to this visual pathway, but is also true of the neurons that degenerate in diseases like Alzheimer's, et cetera. So my lab was very interested in how could one possibly restore vision to people that were blind or were losing these neurons after head injury or disease like glaucoma. And essentially what we discovered could be encapsulated by the following statement, which was that the same things that got these neurons to grow and connect up properly during development were the same things that could get them to regenerate in adulthood.
So what we discovered was that if you supply a gene therapy which increases the level of something called mTOR, which stands for mammalian target of rapamycin, that the neurons which normally express a lot of mTOR during development but it goes down into adulthood, if we were to increase the levels of mTOR in those neurons in adulthood, and then lesion or damage the optic pathway, that they would regenerate, but only a little bit. But if we then added to the formulation or the treatment visual stimulation in the form of black and white bars essentially that were very effective at driving the electrical activity's retinal neurons, the retinal neurons regenerated like gangbusters. They grew their axons all the way back into the brain, which was unprecedented really. And they not only did that, but they reconnected to their targets properly such that the animals, in this case it was a mouse model, were able to see again to some extent. Not perfectly but to some extent. And on the basis of that study in animals, we now have a clinical trial in humans using virtual reality as a delivery system for the specific forms of visual stimulation.
So we've got blind patients and patients who are losing their vision. We recently had a young patient come from South America to receive a device. We customize these virtual reality headsets so that we're monitoring where the damage is, delivering the stimulation just around the damage and in a very specific way. And as far as we know, this is the first human clinical trial of the sort and we're really excited to get the results. Of course, we don't know what the results are yet. And in terms of what this means for people who don't have optic nerve damage, the same principle of what we've heard during development, “fire together, wire together”, seems to apply in adulthood, which is that the more that neurons are active the more they are going to survive and possibly regenerate and form new connections. Now this is super exciting for us because what it means is that this may also pertain to the memory system. And in healthy individuals, we're starting to see a number of studies and companies, I think I spotted a picture of you with the Halo device on recently, a company that I should just say I have no relationship to whatsoever, although I think they're based here in the Bay Area, and the work is grounded on…
Ben: Apparently, I do.
Andrew: You may. I don't have to, but it's really grounded in the idea that the stimulating neurons in adulthood, in combination with specific forms of experience, can enhance the plasticity of the pathways that carry that information. And I think it's super exciting that people are developing these technologies, that people are starting to look into the neuroscience literature and apply it. Most of that work with Halo was born out of the work done by a guy named Mike Merzenich who was at UCSF, who is now retired, who had a spectacular career of doing these kinds of studies. And so while our work has been centered on neural regeneration, I guess the points to make are that these small animal studies done on mice actually can inform human studies and clinical trials very quickly. We've moved it from the animal results to human clinical trial within one year, and that those results can be leveraged towards treatments for people suffering from blinding diseases like glaucoma and brain damage and also leverage toward making our brains better in people injured. So I think it's a very exciting time and I'm very grateful that you brought up those results and giving me the opportunity to speak about them.
Ben: That's fascinating though when you combine a growth activation stimulus like that, in your case you guys' activating the mammalian target of rapamycin signalling pathways, but theoretically this could be done via other pathways, and then visual input or some form of extremal stimuli, if that's what stimulates brain cells to grow in the first place, or what would be needed for regeneration, it makes me think a lot about the potential for myself as an n=1 trial or a whole host of our biohacking listeners doing things like consuming substances that we know can cause some form of the production of nerve growth factor or neurogenesis, such as you know a lion's mane mushroom is one that I'm aware of. There are others, alpha GPC is another. I know there's a host of ingredients in some of these some of these nootropics that you've helped to create over at Neurohacker Collective, and those could theoretically be combined with external stimuli like TDCS with this Halo Neuroscience device, or virtual reality, or some other form of stimuli, and that one-two combo could potentially cause a significant amount of neurogenesis compared to the two in isolation. Am I going too far down that path of emphasizing on brain growth?
Andrew: No. You're spot on. I mean I think that one of the more exciting, although the lesser discussed aspects of the adult plasticity literature, so this is one thing, we don't have to get into this now 'cause there's a whole world of this stuff, but the rules of plasticity during development are not necessarily the same as the rules that engage neuroplasticity in adulthood. This is something that most people don't appreciate. And in adulthood, massive plasticity can be induced by triggering the cholinergic system, the basal forebrain cholinergic system. There are a lot of different acetylcholine promoting systems in the brain. But the one in the basal forebrain, called nucleus basalis, for the aficionados out there, has been shown by Merzenich and colleagues in animal models to unleash a massive degree of cortical plasticity. So in other words, if the animal got an experience but no stimulation of acetylcholine, that experience didn't modify its neural circuitry very much. And if it got the acetylcholine increase but no specific experience, then there wasn't much plasticity. But the combination of the two led to a remarkable degree of plasticity.
Now I'm not going to say anything here that's prescriptive, because I'm not an MD and obviously you know one needs to take into account their own health issues and whatnot, but I do want to mention this, which is purely anecdotal, but fact anecdotal, which is that there's a very famous Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist who I noticed in meeting with him in his office was chewing Nicorette like it was going out of style. I'm not recommending this necessarily, but I asked him, he's a very smart and very accomplished human being, “What are you doing?” And he said, “Well I used to smoke to get my cholinergic stimulation, but now I chew Nicorette.” And I said, “Why?” And he said, “Well first,” and he claims that it helps him with attention and focus, which we know the cholinergic system is involved in. And he believes that it's involved in allowing him to learn well into his, now he's in his 70's.
So this I find incredibly interesting because there are these brain modulatory systems, or neuromodulatory systems that gate plasticity, and what you're pointing out is that it may be that we're arriving at a point in the history of neuroscience, biohacking, neurohacking, and so forth where the combination of brain machine interface, things like Halo, virtual reality, et cetera plus some small amount of chemical stimulation through safe supplementation, combined with a very specific experience could allow one to rewire very specific aspects of their neurology. And one of the areas where I think this is going to be demonstrated first is in the area of rapid language acquisition, which is a very quantifiable thing to do in a typical subject. I don't speak French. I don't know any French. But would be fun to do an n=1 experiment to see how quickly I could learn French by combining a nootropic of some sort with perhaps virtual or Halo-type electrical stimulation.
Ben: Wow. That'd be amazing. Bonjour.
Andrew: I mean people used to do this with cigarettes, right?
Ben: Oh, yeah! Absolutely!
Andrew: They used to smoke to get their focus and plasticity. But of course, you get lung cancer. So that's not a good strategy.
Ben: Yeah. My airplane hack when I've got an international flight is nicotine toothpicks or nicotine mints combined with a cup of coffee, often into which I place a little packet of lion's mane extract. So that's what I've, just through my own experimentation, found to be something that works quite well for me when I'm on an airplane flight because I can always get my hands on a cup of coffee, albeit a non-organic, mold laden cup of coffee, but I can get my hands on one, and I travel with these little nicotine toothpicks or nicotine mints, and that's actually a great pick-me-up. On a separate note, actually two separate notes. One, if anyone's is listening in and you're in the supplement industry, there is a big market out there right now for some form of nicotine supplementation that does not involve sucralose or acesulfame potassium. Because if you go and get any of the mints currently available in Amazon or the toothpicks that I use, et cetera, they're there with chock full of artificial sweeteners. So I think there's a market out there for a stevia-infused nicotine supplement. Just sayin'. And you can send me the royalty checks once you develop that.
And then the other interesting thing, in addition to TDCS, using something like a Halo headset, and in addition to something like a virtual reality headset, the other thing that I've been using is a very novel delivery mechanism that almost seems to drive nootropics into neural tissue more readily, or at least enhance my sensitivity to nootropics and their efficacy is pulsed electromagnetic field therapy or PEMF. And I actually have this device, well I have several devices. But one is, it's kind of like the Cadillac of PEMF. It's this Pulsecenter's XL Pro. It's this giant bed that I can lay on to get massages on. It's in my basement. But there are coils that can be attached to it that you can place on either side of the head, and you put it on a frequency very similar to like the Schumann residence frequency that the Earth would naturally emit, and you basically sandwich your head between these two paddles. And based on our conversation, now I'm very interested in going and popping something like Qualia Mind, for example, and putting these paddles on for 10, 15 minutes, and kind of seeing the results that ensue. So my wheels are spinning when it comes to some of these combinations based on this research that you're doing. It's fascinating.
Andrew: As you can say, one thing to think about in terms, I was starting to use the phrase self-directed adaptive plasticity. There are a lot of ways to get plasticity, but I think the plasticity that we're trying to talk about is self-directed where you're deciding what you learn, and when, and how. And one thing that we know from the literature, it's a quite strong set of results, is that the learning of then should be fairly restricted. I don't think anyone's going to pop a nootropics, throw on a device, and then go out and learn a lot of different stuff all at once. I think what you can do is go deep down a particular corridor of knowledge in that regime and maintain that knowledge or build and maintain that knowledge, or skill, or attribute. And so attention is, one of the jobs of acetylcholine is to create a spotlight of attention. And so I find it really interesting that a lot of the nootropics have a strong cholinergic energetic element to them. Not just because it is very likely to open up the opportunity for plasticity between synapses and neurons, but also that it tends to have an attention focusing component as well.
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Ben: This is fascinating. I could talk to you about this alone all-day long. But there was one other area, before I kind of delve into some of my specific questions for you based on neural enhancement using neurochemicals and supplementation, you also have studied the brain and its fear response. And actually, I was reading a Rolling Stone article last night as I was preparing for this interview and in that article, you say the brain, this exact quote from you, you say the brain, well, I've been interviewed before for magazine articles and I'm not sure this is an exact quote from you, but this is what the magazine says that you said, “The brain isn't supposed to make you happy all the time.” That puzzled me because in many cases we read that we are evolutionarily hardwired to seek pleasure and seek a dopamine response and to seek happiness constantly. So when you said that, what did you mean?
Andrew: I am struck by just how much of our neural architecture is designed to detect threats, keep us safe, and lead to adaptive outcomes through paralysis and anxiety. I think we've come to look at anxiety and the fear response as this thing that's pathologic, when in fact it was designed to mobilize you. So the way to think about anxiety and fear is that they're really just one component of arousal. You can be dead, you can be in a coma. No one wants that. You can be drowsy, you can be asleep, you can be alert and focused, or you can be alert and really hyped up, or you can be kind of fearful and panicking. And so you know you've got these different states of arousal. And if you think about, if I were to food deprive you, I know people are into the fasting thing, but if I were to food deprive most people for 24 hours, they're going to get pretty agitated. That agitation is designed to get you to go look for food. Loneliness, or the sensation of being sad, wasn't designed to get you to think about how pathetic your life is or to disappear into the caverns of the internet. It was designed to get you to go find a mate.
These things that we think of as negative emotions were designed to leverage your behavior. Think about after a Thanksgiving meal or a large meal. What you want to do? You want to lie on the couch and rest and sleep. And it's because there's no anxiety. Next day, there might be some anxiety about some of the things you ate, but there's no anxiety. Or even the post-coital bliss that people feel. People, literally the refractory period, or the post-coital bliss that people experience is the designed, they've accomplished what evolution wanted them to accomplish at least temporarily, which was to reproduce. And so there isn't this strong motivation to go out and mate again, at least for some short period of time. So if you start to think about arousal, and fear, and anxiety as tools that biology uses to leverage your behavior toward or away from different things, then you start to realize that a lot of the brain has basically been wired to get you to do things based on your internal states rather than to feel great all the time.
And so that quote was accurate. It was in the context of fear and the fear response. But essentially that's what I meant, is that a lot of your neurology is designed to get you to do things, the right thing as a result of the fact that you don't feel good about it, that you don't feel good. Consider this the next time you disappear into a long text exchange, when really your anxiety for social connection might actually have been designed to get you to actually have a real face to face contact with somebody or time in the sunshine. I'm not anti-technology, after all, I'm born, and raised, and work, and live in Silicon Valley. But nevertheless, the feelings that you feel internally were not designed for those technologies. Those technologies are hijacking those different internal states and getting, not the other way around.
Ben: And hijacking is a quite appropriate word. This concept of amygdala hijacking, where the media will use inflammatory rhetoric or specific forms of imagery to trigger our emotional brain before our logical brain has a chance to step in and identify that we are indeed being manipulated. I mean that's, in many cases, in politics for example, what media is doing to people. And it's very interesting how if you can get to that fear response first, a lot of times you can affect change in people that normally their logic would be able to override.
Andrew: That's absolutely right. I find it somewhat amusing, also kind of tragic, that these days a lot of the best technologies that are coming out are technologies to buffer us against technology.
Ben: Like what?
Andrew: Like a lot of the meditation-based apps and breathing apps. There's a lot of discussion about technology overuse. I mean these are potent tools. So anything, right? Nootropic, pharmaceutical, behavioral practice, even breathing practices, the cell phone, these are sharp blades so to speak and you have to use them appropriately.
Ben: Yeah. For me nothing can replace going outside barefoot and staring blankly off into the trees in between phone calls versus sitting down with Headspace or putting on a VR headset, granted that might sound hypocritical based off of my previous comment just a few moments ago, to use technology to enhance neurogenesis, but you are right. It can be ironic sometimes, the extent to which we use some of these machines. And I don't want to make people think that I do not argue for a balance of, shall we say, ancestral wisdom combined with better living through science.
Andrew: Now one thing that I think is really interesting is that we're at a point in history that we've never been at before in human evolution where people are starting to think both in terms of what I call outside in versus inside out approaches to adjusting state and behavior. So inside out would be whether or not you achieve it through an app or you go outside and you go into what, I like to use panoramic vision to enter relaxed or calm states. Or you say you stare off into the trees for a bit. You're really working on your inside out. Yes, you're using the trees in the scenery, but you're not simply looking to something else to shift your state. You're really trying to achieve that from the inside out. And for many decades, especially in the US, we've been focused on outside in. What's the thing I can grab to shift me right away? And of course it's going to be the combination of those two. Right? Things like meditative practices or breathing practices, different visual practices as well as things like nootropics that, combined, are going to give you the most powerful sense of control over your brain and your body.
Ben: Yeah. Now I want to make sure that I have time to talk to you a bit about nootropics. So first of all, of course million dollar question, man. Are you on a nootropic right now? I sometimes wonder whether or not someone I'm interviewing is on Adderall, or LSD, or lion's mane, or perhaps just a third cup of coffee.
Andrew: Oh, goodness. I hope my responses don't imply that I'm on LSD. I am definitely not on LSD. I did take one Qualia Mind this morning.
Ben: Isn't the dose seven?
Andrew: The dose is seven. I'm one of these people that is very sensitive to supplementation and medication. I can sense that the shifts pretty readily. Full disclosure, I was an early investor in the Neurohacker Collective long before I knew what Qualia was. I actually invested in them on the basis of their overall mission as opposed to any specific product. And I have to say, Qualia Mind I take from time to time. It's fairly new, but it is a remarkable, in my experience, it's a remarkable effect, positive effect on energy, focus, and in particular, and I'm still trying to explore why this is, maybe you can tell me, Ben, for physical performance in terms of fitness. I've just found that it's allowed me to push through a large number of physical performance barriers. I'm not a professional or competitive athlete, but I've done a lot of martial arts, a lot of distance running, weight training, et cetera over the years, and I'm finding Qualia Mind to be one of the most valuable things I've added to my so-called stack, although I tend to cycle things pretty readily. I don't use many things every day.
Ben: Interesting. Okay. I'm the complete opposite. I believe the last time I took Qualia Mind, I popped eight or nine. I have a relatively high threshold to just about anything, it seems. And I don't know if that comes down to metabolism, genetics, my extreme amounts of muscle mass and how swole I am or what. Either way, I need more. So anyways, when it comes to nootropics, for you, as a neuroscientist at Stanford, do you see traditional institutions, modern medicine, mainstream academics and research kind of beginning to get interest in nootropics? I mean obviously we see things at this point in time such as psilocybin catching on based on some of the John Hopkins research, for example, that have been done on that. And you could even argue that in microdosed format, is considered a nootropic or something that could enhance neurogenesis. But I'm curious, running in the circles that you run in, what you currently would say is the chatter amongst professional academia or medicine when it comes to nootropics?
Andrew: Great question. I think there's an eye toward them, meaning people are starting to pay attention to this nootropic thing. You've got varying levels of sort of vintage or maturity in any scientific field. My neuroscience colleagues at Stanford and beyond are incredibly smart, open-minded people who pay attention to data. We're driven by facts more than opinions. And it's not a culture of sort of marketing driven stuff where people make very strong claims. Of course being in the Bay Area, many local academics at Stanford and elsewhere have been involved in large companies like Genentech, and the Bay Area is just covered with companies like that were born out of academic laboratory discovery. So to be a little more succinct about it, I don't know if any laboratories at major institutions like Stanford that are focused on nootropics per se, and we could talk about why that is 'cause they tend to be kind of more formulations than single ingredient products. But I think one just has to look to the student population.
So when I talk, I've never taken Adderall or Ritalin. When I was in college, I drank coffee to stay up. And I am shocked and frankly a little bit frightened by what has been reported back to me when I've asked graduate students undergraduates, and this just isn't at Stanford, this is at all major universities right and high schools, that the amount of Ritalin and Adderall sharing and abuse, and it's purely abuse if people are trading and selling this stuff, I think is really quite frightening to me. I'm sure those drugs have valuable applications in real prescriptive disease states, but I think people are desperate for things that will allow them to achieve the neural states, if you will, that lend themselves best to studying, learning, and retention of knowledge without putting themselves into addiction risk for health risk.
And so I think nootropics are going to start to emerge more and more on the scene. And as that happens, the universities, because they were designed to serve the general public are going to be forced to really do some controlled studies, and I'm looking forward to those controlled studies. Now what I will say is that not a week goes by these days without someone asking me about nootropics. The number one question I get from anyone over 50 when I say I'm a neuroscientist, they say, “How do I keep my memory?” This is the number one anxiety provoking thought in older people is that they're going to lose the context of their life. They're just going to be walking around not knowing where they were a few minutes ago or who they were a few moments ago. That is an absolutely terrifying idea to most people.
Ben: I hope you tell them to keep their finger on the pulse of their glycaemic variability as one of the top strategies there.
Andrew: Yeah, super interesting. So for instance, I think there are a lot of, no, I should say I consult for the Cognitive Health Institute out in Florida. There are a number of these cognitive institutes now popping up, which are taking a kind of wellness approach in addition to other approaches like infusions of platelet rich plasma and things like this. These are sort of nontraditional approaches, but what people believe are powerful approaches to offset things like cognitive decline geared at both reducing inflammation, adjusting blood sugar levels properly. And here's a different kind of succinct answer to your question, are major institutions paying attention to things like nootropics and things like regulation of blood sugar for things like Alzheimer's? Well, it's interesting because no one is immune from knowing somebody, whether or not you're a professor or you're an MD, these days you come into contact with your own family members and friends who are experiencing issues with cognitive decline or health issues of various sorts, or who have children that are struggling with anxiety, or school performance, or learning issues, or addiction for that matter. And you can't avoid the fact that people need things now.
I mean one of the reasons I like to sit somewhat at the interface of traditional science and, I guess you call wellness or neurohacking, is that I can talk all day about the latest discoveries in animals, but the real key thing is what to do about it, what to do with that information. And when you have somebody who's suffering from Alzheimer's, or who's getting older and wants to maintain their memory, or wants to perform at their very best in school, they're going to look to do something now. And I think that wouldn't it be great if we could give people a supplementation regime that would allow them to explore the space of what works for them? I take one Qualia Mind. You take eight, right? And that's just with we know what works for us. And so I think that the time is coming, it's sort of we're on the horizon of this, but it's going to happen first in the students and general public, and then make its way to the university. Unfortunately, not the other way around. And we can talk about why that's the case, but a lot of that has to do with kind of federal funding structures and things like that more than a lack of interest or a lack of care on the part of the academic community. ‘Cause I'm not the only one that has deep interest and care for what's going on in the general public. It's just that most laboratory science is great geared toward highly reductionist, sort of inject this dose response into different mice, look at the lethality, look at the effects, et cetera.
Ben: Now, I mentioned modafinil earlier. And a lot of people will use that, a.k.a. Provigil. There are other kind of more common I guess, what you might call synthetic smart drugs or even prescription drugs that are used as stimulants and often as smart drugs. I suppose a lot of ADHD or ADD medications could fall into that category as well. There are things like Adderall, for example. What kind of issues exist with the use of these? Because it's quite prevalent. I mean many, many folks from Silicon Valley to Wall Street are using these drugs for extreme productivity.
Andrew: With a proper prescription and monitoring by a physician, there's always still going to be some risk. I mean I think what you're referring to is a lot of people using them kind of pseudo-recreationally…
Ben: Recreational use of modafinil, Ritalin, et cetera. Yes.
Andrew: Right. Yeah. So there, the real issue is the potential for addiction. I mean these are drugs that chemically look very similar to amphetamine, and that the dopaminergic reward pathways of the brain evolved, again like the arousal system, to bias you toward certain behaviors, certain foraging behavior, to look for food, to look for a mate, to look for warmth when it's cold, to look for coolness or water when you're thirsty and those are, your dopamine drip system is like a drip irrigation system that's highly regulated. These drugs throw off the regulation in those dopamine pathways so that you get a huge bolus of reward. It's like winning the lottery the first time, to your brain it's like winning the lottery the first time you do it. And then you're kind of hedonic set-point, as they say, can be reset. People will work very hard. I mean you just look at what drug addicts will do in order to get their heroin, right? They will work extremely hard. Most of the heroin addicts manage somehow, even the ones wandering the streets, to find hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to feed their habit. They'll do all sorts of terrible things in order to do it.
Now Ritalin may not motivate people to do that to the same extent, and again I'm talking about, these are people there not being prescribed Ritalin or modafinil. But in addition to being quite expensive, modafinil is quite expensive, our modafinil is a little bit less expensive, people are tapping into these dopamine systems in a very, very robust way. And especially if there's a backdrop of a propensity for addictive behavior or sensation seeking, you can really get in into a regime pretty quickly where one can't think clearly without them, where you're not confident that you can perform well without them. It's a very slippery slope. And I worry especially the younger population.
Ben: One thing I should throw into that, I don't think we discussed active population. There are a lot of Crossfitters, athletes, Spartan racers, triathletes, marathoners, et cetera who are also hard charging, high achievers in academia or in the business place who listen to this podcast and who use these substances. I myself will occasionally use LSD or P-LSD. I don't use modafinil, particularly because of some of the liver processing issues that occur upon its use. It's got, even at high doses not a ton of liver toxicity, but it still does have some liver processing, and I'm careful with things like that when I have alternatives. But ultimately I don't get hungry when I use some of these substances such as microdoses entheogen-based substance like a psilocybin or microdoses of something like LSD or P-LSD because I'm getting my dopamine hit per se via other mechanisms, and it seems to quell hunger while at the same time producing a large amount of physical activity and exercise drive. I am very careful.
I use something like this about once every one to two weeks on particularly intensive writing days on which I don't really have a lot scheduled other than just staring at my computer, writing for 25 minutes, walking away for five minutes, coming back, rinsing, washing, and repeating for four to six hours. But for people using this type of thing on a daily basis, quelled appetite, extreme drive towards physical activity, and/or work productivity, I can see a real risk for overtraining, for burnout, for, I don't want to, I'm going to use the catch phrase, adrenal fatigue, even though it's a multi-factorial issue. But ultimately, I think pure burnout, almost like pushing the fast-forward button on life is a real risk when you have an unbalanced dopamine driven smart drug versus a more balanced approach.
Andrew: I couldn't agree more. I think that people will always look to maximize their capacity without thinking necessarily about the after effects. And I don't mean that you're going to end up dissolved into a puddle of tears for a decade after doing some hard driving work and intense supplementation of various, proper supplementation. I think what you and I are talking about here are people that are feeling the pressure to always be at their, working at the 99th percentile. And once you taste that output once, you are forever seeking that kind of front edge of performance. Far better to really become a deep thinker and hacking your own neurology and biology in a way that's more sustainable. I don't say all that just as kind of vapors and fluff.
Nothing there that I said was actionable, but I suppose to make it actionable, I'm personally a fan of, as you described, having a couple nature-based tools. I like to use panoramic vision to enter calm states. I also do have a form of practice where I'll use a focus state, I've taught myself to focus on a single point for a long period of time to learn how to just enhance my focus when reading, or writing, or staying on topic. And then to also have, if you're into sort of ingestible neurohacking, the nootropics, I, again I have business relationship to them, but I'm a tremendous fan of Qualia Mind and the stuff that they're developing over at the Neurohacker Collective simply because they put so much care and thought into the formulations. So that's an ingestible thing that I use from time to time. People are drinking coffee left and right, so I think that it's fair to say that nootropics are a good consideration, if not alternative. And of course combined with coffee, if you can handle the kind of upstate that puts you in, great. And then you've got your Wim Hof breathing.
So I think the hardcore pharmaceutical use to achieve high performance is, in my opinion, dangerous and I don't like to see it especially in young people whose brains are just naturally still in a plastic state. This is the real concern, is that the experiment is now being done on the general public of taking things like Ritalin, which isn't being prescribed and is being shared. These kids are essentially rewiring their neurology towards higher thresholds for dopamine release. That worries me. It worries me deeply. What doesn't worry me is when a physician is working closely with a family and taking care of a kid who's taking Ritalin. That's an appropriate use. But I think here in Silicon Valley and beyond, people are so hyped about the opportunity to achieve a superstate that they're not really considering the darker side. And I'm grateful that you have this nuanced view of it, and yet you're also willing to be on the cutting edge there and trying things or reporting back to the public.
I think the wellness community now is serving a very important role with highly vetted information through people like you who are just bringing forward ideas and protocols and directing people toward things that are highly useful. I sit squarely within the academic science community and I can say that you know there is no such role for that in the university just yet. And maybe someday there will be, maybe someday there will be departments of neurohacking at major universities. You never know.
Ben: Now in terms of athletic performance, obviously some of this stuff does have an ergogenic performance enhancement capability. Are you familiar with or do you follow much, for example, WADA regulations on things that would be found in popular smart drugs or whether these type of compounds that many people are consuming would be considered what we would call a PED or performance enhancing drug in sport?
Andrew: I don't follow closely which ones are allowed and which ones are not allowed at the professional athletics. What I do know is that increasing cholinergic transmission, for instance, will increase reaction times. I think back in the '80s and '90s sprinters were using them to get faster out the blocks. The ability to get quickly out of blocks is when the gun goes off can afford a tremendous advantage. So they certainly can afford an advantage, but which ones fall into the category of banned versus not banned I'm not versed in.
Ben: Well, let me ask you this then: are you a cheater if you use smart drugs to get ahead in university? That's honestly something that I think has sparked controversy of late. For example, Duke, I know is one of the few academic institutions that actually has a policy on the use of what they call cognitive enhancing drugs. And they have an academic code that lists the use of those without a prescription as pure cheating. What's your take on that?
Andrew: That's really interesting. I did not know that. I think this is a really interesting topic. The field of neuroscience, when I started, as you mentioned, I'm 42 years old. When I started in biology and psychology, there was no field of neuroscience. There was neurochemistry and neurobiology. No one could agree on a name. So this is an incredibly young field. So now we have this field of neuroscience, and there's ongoing discussion about important ethics, everything from like to what extent do we have free will, or what's the role of faith in neuroscience. And I think this is a topic that, this is the first time I've heard about this or thought about this seriously. Now that you brought it up, this is something that needs to be discussed. And I would, in fact on the basis of what you just told me, I'm going to table this as a topic, kind of emerging theme for the Society for Neuroscience meeting next round. It'll be in 2019. I have a lot of relationships to people at National Institutes of Health that are on the neuro side, and of course to the Society for Neuroscience and other societies. I think this is an issue that needs to be discussed as a panel. I'm not avoiding an answer.
But if I compare to physical sports, for instance. I mean I've always thought there should be natural competition and then open chemically enhanced competition, and that everybody should know which is which. I think that's the fairest way to do it. If you had to really push me for an answer, I don't think it's cheating for someone to enhance their cognition. ‘Cause where you draw the line? I mean caffeine will enhance your cognition up to a point, but it's kind of a bell-shaped curve where at some point it falls off or you get so jazzed up that you can't think and you can't remember properly. So I don't think of it as cheating.
Ben: It seems that the stronger harsher stimulants, particularly the synthetic ones, are the ones that are raising the most eyebrows. The World Anti-Doping Association does list modafinil, adrafinil, phenylpiracetam, and one called selegiline, and I'm not quite sure if I'm pronouncing that properly, on their list of prohibited substances and methods for competitive sports. And honestly, another one is on there as well, DHEA, which is a common nootropic ingredient for WADA. And then when you look at e-sports, electronics sports where there's a huge amount of money right now, they're drug testing a lot of their competitors for performance enhancing drugs, including many of these more synthetic brain drugs, I believe some of the racetams, for example, are included among those, possibly Noopept as well. So, yeah. It's really interesting.
For me personally, I kind of like to see doped up football players hitting each other a lot harder because they're able to go out there and enhance their bodies to a much higher degree than a normal human being should be capable of doing so. They're like gladiators in an arena. And it, I think, can be considered a pure entertainment. I'm a complete libertarian. I say, may the best man when using whatever methods are available. At least that's the way that I'm tempted to think. I lean that way. But then at the same time, when I look at my own twin sons, River and Terran, or I look at a young high school athlete, they're looking up to a lot of these people as role models. They're perhaps making decisions that might not be healthy, under the impression that anything goes. And perhaps for the uneducated person grabbing modafinil, to them, is just as the same thing as grabbing, say, Qualia Mind, even though there are some pretty significant differences in terms of health risks.
So it's a real can of worms. I imagine we'll probably open up a lot of comments on this particular podcast from people who piped in on it. But I don't want to give people the impression that I approve of breaking any type of standards when it comes to WADA, or USADA, or international global sporting organization standards. But I do think that in some cases, the standards begin to get a bit silly when you say, “Okay, you can have a few cups of coffee, but you can't take a racetam.”
Andrew: Right. I mean, I agree. I'm glad you state it that way. I mean anything that breaks the rules of play is not right. If you have an issue with it, then you should go it at the level of rules and regulation, not try and sneak. But it's very interesting when you start to think about in terms of cognitive performance. Because I always think in any regime, whether or not you're a scientist or an athlete, there's incompetence, there's competent, then there's skilled, then talent kind of get superimposed on this, but I'll trade out talent for skilled 'cause talent's kind of an inborn thing, we think of it that way. Then there's mastery and then there's virtuosity. Now no supplement or drug is going to allow someone to go from incompetent to virtuosity, or from competent to mastery automatically.
What we see and what you're saying you appreciate football players I think is the same thing that's appreciated in academia and in science, and in the development of new technologies of all kinds, which is when you take somebody who's already performing at a high level, they've achieved a level of high skill and they now add something that gives them some leverage over their neurology or their body, they can move into mastery or even into virtuosity in a very even way. But it's a myth and it's a mistake to think that one can kind of bypass these stages. Your college freshman who's falling behind because they're sleep deprived and decides to start abusing Adderall or Ritalin, the outcomes are not going to be good in the long term. You know that. But somebody who's taking very good care of themselves, and this is what I'd really like to see promoted in universities is that there's sort of wellness, there's a look to wellness now. You got yoga classes, meditation, people are able to access things like clinical counseling and therapy for people that are stressed and depressed. ‘Cause college is stressful, being an entrepreneur is stressful. You're often isolated, hard-working, sleep-deprived, you often don't have the finances for optimal nutrition and so forth, or circumstances for that. You want to see people taking really great care of themselves and then, and only then, if they think that it's going to afford them a distinct advantage for their goals, to then boost their output by virtue of a legal nootropic or legal supplement of some sort to enhance performance. I think that's where it's a rational and sane approach. Anything else to me just seems like overkill and it'll work in the short term, but there's going to be a brick wall to pop up pretty quick in front of that individual at some point.
Ben: Yeah. Huge can of worms. We could probably do a whole podcast on this alone. By the way, if you're listening in and you have something to say about this, go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/neurohack where the show notes are and leave your thoughts on the legality of smart drugs in everything from WADA and USADA sanctioned sports, to e-sports, to even a university setting. Now many of the folks listening in, I think, are probably kind of unfamiliar with this whole idea behind Neurohacker Collective and particularly this Qualia Mind stuff. My own exposure to it is that it's kind of similar to the Qualia, which I've in the past called “the god pill” because of its effects from a nootropic standpoint, and many people complained that it was a bit clunky because it needed to be taken in step one on an empty stomach and then step two with food. It contained a whole host of ingredients, I believe over 42 ingredients, and so it was quite a handful of different things to take and a lot of pills. And so I think from what I understand, you guys went back to the drawing board and made something new that didn't have to be split into two doses and that also involved taking fewer pills. In your case, one.
But anyways, the other thing that I know about this newer form of the nootropic that you guys are working on is that it contains something called Celastrus, which is I believe also known as the intellect tree, which kind of caught my eye in which I even wrote an article on after I went in and kind of researched the fascinating, a lot of rodent research, but a lot of kind of ancestral wisdom when it comes to the traditional use of this intellect tree for everything from enhanced cognitive function, to better memory, to an increase in brain content of different phospholipids. So it's very interesting, from a neuroprotective and an antioxidant effect on neural tissue. And so I know this new Qualia Mind stuff has that in it, this fringe intellect tree stuff. But I'm curious, in your opinion, what would you say are the main differentiating characteristics of something like this, almost like what might at first glance be considered to be a shotgun formula with a bunch of stuff randomly thrown in and other popular nootropics out there? Because blends are all over the place. There's CILTEP, there's Alpha BRAIN, there are coffees with a whole bunch of different nootropics added to them. What's the difference, what's unique, and how'd this thing come to be? And yes, that was the longest question ever.
Andrew: It's a great question. Again to clarify, and disclaimer, I just want to be clear where I stand with respect to Neurohacker Collective is I came in as an early investor based on their mission to be a hub of sort biohacking, neurohacking tools, some supplementation, some brain machine interface, and other tools. When I tried Qualia…
Ben: You can just come right out and say it: you're biased as hell. But I still want you…
Andrew: Well I'd like to see them succeed in their overall mission for sure. And I have a financial incentive there. But I'll say that in terms of their development formulations, I'm not listed as a formal advisor, but I talk to the folks there a lot. I like to think they value my opinion. It's only one, but it's a fairly informed opinion, and I have talked to them a lot. Here's why I was excited about trying Qualia Mind and why I'm really so excited about the effects. I am personally not a fan of using DHEA, which was in the initial Qualia formulation but is no longer, I believe, in that formulation.
Ben: That was a big concern from a lot of my listeners who are professional athletes. They couldn't use it.
Andrew: Yeah. I just don't like to do anything that directly tinkers with my hormone axis. That's a whole other topic, maybe different podcast sometime, or offline discussion. I didn't want to take a hormone. And I'm also hypersensitive to turmeric. I don't really like turmeric. I know people are really hyped about turmeric. We could talk about that. But I don't like the DHT lowering effects of turmeric. Just don't feel good to me. And so the Qualia Mind has neither turmeric nor DHEA, and then now Qualia of course doesn't have DHEA. So I took Qualia Mind thinking, “Okay. It looks like something that's attractive to me. I'm going to give this a shot.” I mentioned the effects earlier, I feel like it has great energy enhancing effects, it has great focus enhancing effects, it has great physical performance enhancement effects for me. And what I think lies at the heart of the formulation, just there are a number of different ingredients, is that it's actually a fairly low dose, even at the recommended seven pills, of a variety of things.
So first of all, the quality of the ingredients that those guys put in is extremely well-vetted. They're just quality control freaks, and that's great. The second thing is that they're tapping into this cholinergic pathway as well as the dopaminergic and noradrenergic path at low levels. And then of course there's some high quality, fairly low level of caffeine in there as well. And then there are some of the more kind of I would call sort of more esoteric things out there, and I can never pronounce it, like the Celastrus, which are getting at some of the sort of metabolic pathways within the brain that are likely to work in concert with the neuromodulation to enhance the overall effect.
And so when you look at the formulation, there's actually nothing in there that's high. It's not a high dose of anything. And at the same time, the synergy among the ingredients is remarkable. And so this is where, really, biohacking departs from kind of standard laboratory neuroscience or other kinds of science where, by definition, we have to look at a dose response of a single ingredient and analyze it. So I think Qualia Mind has this capacity to be very potent through synergy. And, at least again in my hands, has felt like a great supplement. And this is what I'm hearing all around. I find it kind of laughable when people say, “Oh, there were too many pills in the supplement.” It's a pill. When people say it's like a horse pill, it's like what's the big difference? You drink one more sip of water. Like the fact that people are afraid of swallowing pills kind of makes me worry about them in the first place. I'm not saying people should be popping pills left and right, but the fact that something's a big pill or small pill, should it really matter? That kind of thing has kind of made me laugh when I look at some of the comments. “Like, “Oh, look at these horse pills. The pills are too big.” Really? Okay. I kind of worry about people in general when I hear that.
Ben: Yeah. You're talking to a guy who will just put 30 in my hand, and put 'em in my mouth, and wash 'em back with a glass of water. I believe it's Tim Ferriss, who you mentioned earlier, has a great video out there about how to take 30 some pills at once on YouTube.
Andrew: Right. And there's a generational effect here. This kind of circling back to an earlier question, but I remember when I first started taking supplements is when I was in my teens, and people saying don't you just have to eat right now, those same adults who are entering their '60s and '70s are asking me what they should take. And I'm not an MD. They say, “What should I take?” It's kind of funny. Supplements, resistance training, yoga, breathwork, meditation, those tools are now seen as valuable tools. And I think nootropics are, I think within a year, we reach back a year from now, we reach back to this conversation, we're going to say, “Wow. What a shift there's been.” And I really have to my hat to the NHC guys and all the other folks out there who are developing quality, safe supplements that would be classified as nootropics because it's great to be, they're kind of first to market and they're moving early in the game.
I think that other nootropic formulations that are out there, 'cause you asked about this, have some of these same properties and even some of the same ingredients. Very few of them seem to include as many at such low doses. Most of them tend to hinge their effects on having a much higher dose of fewer things. And just from kind of a scientific perspective, I don't, in a kind of medical and ethical perspective, I don't like to push any system in my body or my brain so hard that I feel like it risks kind of override or the word burn out comes to mind. But a nice, even cocktail is what it is.
Ben: Yeah. It's kind of a similar idea as the original Qualia, meaning you've got nootropic compounds and what are called neurovitamins, but then they're blended with antioxidants to get rid of any risk of cellular damage and also just enhance brain repair or blood-brain barrier integrity, adaptogenic compounds. So there's a little bit of, you could almost argue it has a bit of an anti-aging effect terms of the longevity department. There's, I believe, 10 different adaptogenic extracts in there, amino acids which are a building block for neurotransmitters, and then choline donors, which I've found to be kind of the key for not getting a crash when you're using something like this. The list, you can certainly view online. If you go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/neurohack, I'll link over to Qualia Mind. But it's everything from huperzine, DHA, not DHEA, DHEA, artichoke stem, gingko biloba, mucuna pruriens, so a little bit of a dopaminergic effect, l-theanine, which knocks on the edge of the caffeine, alpha GPC, which we talked about earlier which is great for neurogenesis or combining with crazy video games. A lot in there.
And it is, as I have mentioned many times on podcast and articles before, I don't want to sound like a shill for the product. But at the same time, I had no involvement whatsoever in Neurohacker Collective and somebody gave me a few pills to try, and I was blown away. I used it for stage speaking. Still do. Often use it prior to just about any cognitively demanding activities. I would say three, to depending on the days or the weeks rather demands to five times per week, I'm using it. So I'm a fan of the stuff. You can go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/neurohack. And also what I'm going to do is I've been taking notes as I'm speaking with Andrew, notes on nicotine, articles on Wim Hof, all of the articles that Andrew has been featured in regarding curing human blindness and Alzheimer's, the article with The Rolling Stone on the power of fear. I'll also link to little things mentioned during the episode such as Tim Ferriss' video in which he swallows 25 pills at once, and a really thought-provoking article about whether you're a cheater if you use smart drugs to get ahead. A lot in there in the show notes today. They're jam-packed. So go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/neurohack to check those out.
And then finally, if you decide to go over to the Neurohacker Collective website, we've got a 15% discount code if you want to try this stuff. I'll put it in the show notes for this episode. But it is, if you are taking smart drugs and your memory is sharp as a steel trap, it's Greenfield2018, Greenfield2018 if you want 15% off. I have no clue what happens if you're listening to this and it's 2024. Perhaps, that'll be evergreen. I make no promises. But either way, Greenfield2018 gets you 15% off over at the Qualia website. And you can get there or just go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/neurohack. That's bengreenfieldfitness.com/neurohack.
Andrew, I kind of scratched the surface as far as everything that you're an expert in and everything that you're doing in the realm of stem cells, in the realm of self-discipline, and willpower, and grit, in the realm of fear, and even that curing blindness and Alzheimer's piece. We could have probably done an entire podcast on that. Or of course the, as I mentioned, the legality of smart drugs. But I just want to say thank you for coming on the show, for the time that you were able to make it and sharing this stuff with us.
Andrew: Oh, thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity to come on here. I love this topic and I'm really excited for the hopefully expanding roles of traditional science and in the kind of wellness and performance communities, 'cause that's really the access point for most of the general public and is not through the university. And you were very thorough in the references to links. If I may, and it's a completely non-commercial request here, but one thing that would be wonderful for us, if any of your listeners are interested, we are recruiting subjects for our studies of fear and courage using virtual reality. And we're interested in people that have anxiety, that don't have anxiety, that have phobias, et cetera. And if I could just, we generally access people through our either lab website, which is hubermanlab.com, or through our Instagram which is @hubermanlab, all lower case, H-U-B-E-R-M-A-N-L-A-B, as in bulldog, that would be wonderful just because it's hard to access a large number of potential subjects, and there you would be contributing of course the scientific process and we would be grateful to anyone who's interested in being in our virtual reality studies of fear.
And of course, if you have visual impairments you can contact me via my ophthalmology link for our clinical trial. I hope it's okay to throw that out there. It really helps the scientific process. We rely on the general public for that. And indeed, it's your tax dollars that paid for those studies, so we'd be ever grateful. And I want to thank you, Ben. I really appreciate the depth of rigor that you bring to your work and your extreme curiosity is wonderful. And when you combine those two things, we all learn so much. I've learned a tremendous amount from you. I'm very grateful.
Ben: Awesome, man. And to enhance my bow hunting skills, I may actually be in touch with you about the whole eyesight piece. Perhaps we can work on that together. Anyways though, folks, the show notes are bengreenfieldfitness.com/neurohack. Until next time, I'm Ben Greenfield along with Dr. Andrew Huberman signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have an amazing week.
Meet Dr. Andrew Huberman.
He is a world-renowned Stanford neuroscience professor and director of Huberman Labs at Stanford. Accomplishments made all the more impressive in that he’s barely over 40 years old. Scientific American has covered his breakthroughs towards curing human blindness and Alzheimer’s, Rolling Stone has interviewed him to better understand the power of fear. Discover recently covered his work with the legendary Wim Hoff leading the research to determine how it’s even possible to do Wim can do.
He has made numerous breakthrough contributions to the fields of brain development, brain plasticity, and neural regeneration and repair, and has been awarded numerous distinctions in his field including the McKnight Foundation Neuroscience Scholar Award as well as the 2017 ARVO Cogan Award for contributions to the field of vision science, in an effort to cure blindness. In 2017, the Huberman Lab created a state-of-the-art virtual reality platform for probing the neural mechanisms underlying pathologic fear and anxiety. That work involved collecting 360-degree video fear-inducing scenarios such as heights and claustrophobia. The Huberman VR platform aims to help people cope with stress in daily life and in patients suffering from PTSD. As mentioned, he has also worked with legendary “Iceman” Wim Hoff to provide further insight into the physiological basis for his record-setting feats in cold exposure.
Dr.Huberman is also a science and medical advisor for Neurohacker Collective, makers of cutting-edge nootropic formulations for increasing cognitive and emotional capacity.
During our discussion, you’ll discover:
Andrew’s fascinating work with Wim Hoff in the Pyrenees and how to adjust the neural state with Wim Hoff breathing… 8:00
How Andrew is curing blindness and Alzheimers at Stanford… 20:00
A novel way via which biohackers may be able to grow new brain cells… 28:00
Why Dr. Huberman says “the brain isn’t supposed to make you happy all the time”… 36:45
Andrew’s opinion of single-ingredient substances like Modafinil and Ritalin, and how they are problematic for balanced improvements… 47:00
Whether “smart drugs” should be considered cheating in sports, e-sports and university settings… 1:01:15
Why DHEA was removed from the original Qualia formulation… 1:12:00
And much more!
Resources from this episode:
Neurohacker Collective’s “Qualia Mind” Nootropic (use code GREENFIELD2018 for 15% discount)
My podcast with Wim Hof –HALO Neuroscience Headset
The Pulsecenters XL Pro PEMF device
The nicotine toothpicks Ben uses
Are You A Cheater If You’re Using Smart Drugs To Get Ahead?
Video: Tim Ferriss swallows 25 pills at once
Four Sigmatic Use our link and get 15% off your order.
Organifi Use promo code mentioned here and save 20%.