Can You Really Make Yourself Smarter? Biohacking Your Brain – Jill Carnahan, MD

It’s 2:00 p.m. and you’re sitting at your work desk. That mid-day crash is hitting you HARD. You’re looking at your computer screen, trying to read the same sentence for the 15th time.

Why can’t you focus? If only there were a solution.

Sure, there are caffeinated drinks and those crazy little Vitamin B shots at the check-out counter, but are those really effective?

Usually, they just make you feel jittery after and your focus is not better. Well, good news for you! People are now using all sorts of different methods to ‘biohack’ their brains and bodies for optimal performance – now,  you can do it too!

What is Biohacking?

So what is this “magical” thing I speak of? Biohacking is using pretty much anything at your disposal (medications, knowledge, science, therapies, etc.) to make your body and brain work at its full potential.

I promise you don’t have to do anything too crazy – biohacking can be as simple as meditation. Though some biohackers are making science experiments out of themselves, so they can solve their problems and perform better.

Some people get into biohacking to improve  , some are interested in better focus, and some want inflammation relief. There is a biohack for every one of these problems and more. Too good to be true? I assure you, it’s not.

Biohacking & The Brain

The brain is essential to every function in our body, and brain biohacking is one of the more popular areas. As I’m sure you can imagine, brain biohacking can get a little iffy and should be done safely. This purpose of this article is to dive into some popular brain biohacks – it’s purely informational and not meant to imply you should try these.

DISCLAIMER:  I cannot talk about biohacking brain without discussing the latest research on psychedelics but that does not mean that I am endorsing their use. This article is meant to be informative only – to give you basic information. These are controlled substances and should be only used as a prescription and under the guidance of an experienced doctor.

Before we begin, let’s cover a few brain basics. Brain cells are called neurons. Neurons are what communicate with each other to get different things going on in the body. From neuron to neuron jump little ‘mailmen’ that carry your brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These guys carry all of the information needed to tell every cell in the body what to do. Two of the most commonly known neurotransmitters are dopamine and serotonin. Much of biohacking the brain has to do with influencing these neurotransmitters.

5 Reasons to Consider Biohacking Your Brain

While this may sound scary or like something out of a science fiction movie, it really isn’t scary.  When done safely, there are a lot of different issues that biohacking can help improve. 5 primary brain biohacking goals include:

Believe it or not, you really can improve these things! For example, many of us have been led to believe our intelligence is fixed but it can be improved upon. Each of the 5 reasons listed above can be upgraded.   

How to Safely Biohack Your Brain

People have been trying to hack the brain for centuries. Everything from to electrical brain stimulation could be considered a brain biohack. You can come across some questionable and downright sketchy methods. However, the main goal here is for you to learn different options to biohacking and how to apply all of them safely. The internet is a wild world and you need the highest quality information to stay safe.

Nootropics are one of the first things that comes up when discussing brain biohacks. If you have never heard of nootropics, they are more commonly called ‘smart drugs’ and for good reason. Most of these substances are targeted at making your brain be more efficient.

Then there are psychedelic drugs. Before you think I’ve gone off the deep end, hear me out. These substances really have a bad rap from the 60’s and 70’s, but like most things, when used in moderation positive effects have been reported (when I say moderation I mean WAY smaller doses than would be used recreationally – otherwise known as microdosing). Microdosing has gained popularity in the biohacking community and has even earned a place in discussion panels at various health conferences. Mircodosing can have surprisingly great results on hacking your brain.

**ALWAYS consult with your physician before starting any supplements or drugs.**

Smart Drugs – Nootropics


Modafinil was originally used to treat narcolepsy and other sleep disorders. It was then found that Modafinil even helped people without sleep disorders to focus better, have more mental clarity, better memory, an easier time learning, and to be in a consistent better mood.

After its discovery, the French army actually used modafinil during the to keep their soldiers more alert. An added bonus for all workaholics was Modafinil even worked when sleep deprived, which earned itself a place in Silicon Valley and other high-stress environments.

Since Modafinil affects the brain in a very similar way to amphetamines, it’s feared that you may be able to become addicted to Modafinil. Surprisingly enough, this isn’t the case. Modafinil doesn’t cause withdrawal symptoms like other drugs, so it’s much less likely to cause addiction. Both modafinil and amphetamines attach to dopamine to provide their effects, but they bond to it differently, which causes amphetamines to have higher addictive properties.

There are actually studies going on with some promising outcomes which can help in the recovery of certain . In addition to the treatment of drug addictions, research is finding positive effects Modafinil has on

Note: If you have sensitivities to NSAIDs you should NOT take modafinil.


Forskolin is an amino acid extracted from the root of the Coleus forskohlli plant. It’s mainly used for improved memory, learning capabilities, motivation, and focus. Forskolin can have a positive effect on your brain because it increases cAMP (cyclic adenosine monophosphate), which is what increases your ability to learn and remember things better.

To get the most out of using Forskolin it can be paired with . By pairing with either of these, they inhibit Phosphodiesterase (PDE) which breaks down cAMP. If you have more cAMP you are able to retain more information! Although this sounds great, sometimes too much cAMP activity can cause headaches. This varies person to person and you can only find this out by testing it on yourself.


L-theanine is a compound that is found in tea. This is what causes you to have that relaxed but not sleepy feeling. This is what makes L-theanine a great nootropic. It causes a relaxed . Another positive of L-theanine is that it has an on your body and mind alike. This is definitely helpful for getting work done!

Caffeine works alongside L-theanine in tea. One examined tea to see what each compound brought to the table. Rather than adding to the jittery feeling of caffeine, the L-theanine helps to balance that feeling out so you can be calmer and more focused. On the other hand, caffeine can help reduce the ‘headache’  L-theanine often induces.

Bacopa monnieri (water hyssop):

Bacopa monnieri is a fantastic natural option for a nootropic. It has been shown to improve stress, memory, and learning capabilities in the elderly. It also has properties that can potentially reverse , and can reverse damage due to certain neurotoxins!

This herb takes a few months to start affecting your brain but once it starts, the results are superb. One showed that even after participants stopped taking bacopa monnieri the effects had stayed when retested 4 weeks later.

One concern of bacopa monnieri is potential , which has been observed in animal studies. There is some good news though, this seemed to be a reversible problem. After cessation of bacopa monnieri, the animals were again fertile after 56 days.

Other Nootropics Worth Looking Into

Other supplements that will enhance your brain function include:

If you’ve done your research on nootropics (or what the college kids use during exam times for focus and memory retention), you’re probably wondering why I didn’t include Adderall. Not only do some that say that the effects of Adderall on people without ADHD are merely a placebo, additionally, Adderall can be very addictive and I don’t really recommend it.

Psychedelics For Biohacking

Now let’s talk about psychedelics…  Just hear me out, because there is research backing this information. Remember, this is MICROdosing meaning you take just about the most minimal amount of this possible.

Also, this is worth repeating…

DISCLAIMER:  I cannot talk about biohacking brain without discussing the latest research on psychedelics but that does not mean that I am endorsing their use. This article is meant to be informative only – to give you basic information. These are controlled substances and should be only used as a prescription and under the guidance of an experienced medical doctor or in conjunction with a research protocol.  And just to be clear I do not prescribe these substances to my patients.


Microdosing with LSD is when someone takes 10-20 micrograms of the drug – this is approximately of the amount that is used recreationally. People don’t typically take this every day, just when they need to focus better or get the benefits they want.

The goal with microdosing is not to get high, but to receive the other benefits of the drug. These include better mood, motivation and determination, and feeling more alert. With some people, LSD can cause you to focus better, but sometimes on the wrong subject.

There have been a few reported cases where people have overdosed on LSD but most times they thought they had mistaken it for something else OR they had an underlying condition that was  exasperated by LSD. These cases are very rare.


There are products called psychedelic truffles, which are made from psilocybin (commonly known as magic mushrooms). Psilocybin in small doses (truffles) have been reported to increase cognitive flexibility.

Psilocybin can also help you learn easier and increase neurogenesis (creating new neurons) in animals. They are great for helping you feel better emotionally and can improve your mood.

Typically, people report feeling more optimistic and open after using psilocybin. There are other psychedelics that people use, but these are the two most popular with microdosing.

Remember, these drugs are illegal! I am not promoting them or telling you to use them. This article would not be complete if I didn’t mention that that the latest nootropic research includes the use of microdosing psychedelic drugs.

What to learn more?! You may want to consider reading Michael Pollan’s book called,  Leave your feedback, comments and questions below!

This content was originally published here.

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