Fitter, Happier

Nootropic drugs to better your life.

By Mitch Lillie

You've been taking bad drugs. No, I don't mean the $100 baby laxative you snorted on your last Vegas trip. I mean the drugs many of us all take every day: coffee, Adderall, antidepressants and alcohol. They're weak, and you can do better. That's why we've rounded up five supercharged alternatives, each one sailing the rough and ever-changing seas between the FDA and the DEA. If you're the type who likes to play the "safe route" with "universally accepted medical facts," turn back. But if your life is your guinea pig and you don't mind a side effect here and there, read on. (We've been advised to advise readers to seek the advice of a physician or other health care professional before taking any of these supplements.)


Popular with everyone from swole bodybuilders (the substance helps burn excess calories and keep body fat down) to malnourished children (it is also absorbed into the body without digestion) medium-chain triglycerides have a lot of fans. But you don't have to be a douchebag or an AIDS patient to take advantage of the benefits. Because MCT oil is so readily absorbed into the body, it's something like putting jet fuel in the Honda Accord of your mind and body. "For people who are active, it's very good at sustaining energy," says Cindy Young, nutrition buyer for New Seasons Market and 23-year veteran of the nutrition industry. "We've been so misled in this industry on fats." The flavorless oil packs healthier and longer-term energy than a simple cup of coffee, so try a shot with your Frosted Flakes.

Where to find it: New Seasons, Vitamin World, Super Supplements, Whole Foods.

Possible side effects: Stomach discomfort, diarrhea, gas and in rare cases vomiting and nausea.


"I wasn't high. I wasn't wired. Just clear. I knew what I needed to do and how to do it." Adrafinil won't make you read a book in an hour or learn to play Mozart in a few days, but Eddie Morra's quote from Limitless still applies. "People take it to counteract sleepiness and laziness, and it's really effective for them," says

Gordon Cady, owner of Crystal Clear Supplements in Portland. Unlike caffeine, a straightforward stimulant, adrafinil promotes wakefulness and improves working memory—like upgrading your brain's RAM. "It's a rough world out there with a lot of demands, and adrafinil gives you all-day focus," Cady says, before quickly covering his tracks for FDA investigators. "But I can't sell it as a supplement—that would be illegal." Adrafinil's cousin modafinil is no stranger to the law, as it's a controlled substance in the U.S. and many countries. Adrafinil—most of which is metabolized in your body into modafinil anyway—remains freely available.

Where to find it: Crystal Clear Supplements.

Possible side effects: Mild skin irritation and indigestion.


One of the most potent items on this list is one you're probably already consuming—just not in the right way. Caffeine is consumed by 90 percent of the world for good reason. In addition to its basic wake-up function, caffeine has significant effects on memory, a 2014 Johns Hopkins University study showed, and can help battle depression in women, according to a 2011 Harvard Nurses' Health Study. But put that Red Bull back on the Plaid Pantry shelf and get a Viso.

Founded by Alex Ilica in Portland in 2004, Viso carries supplement facts that read like it's a multivitamin. Where Red Bull stops at taurine and B vitamins, Viso includes a standard complement of vitamins A, B, C, D and E and less common additives like biotin and manganese. The bottle also promises one completely unregulated ingredient: "spiritual awareness."

"I feel it pushes me beyond spiritual awareness. I'm so alert and powered-up," says Danny Diana-Peebles, a local rapper and Viso fan who appeared on the company's Facebook page in September.

Despite rapid West Coast expansion, Ilica's cellphone number is still printed on every bottle. A rush to press the drink into Bay Area supermarkets sent many of our calls to a strange voice-mail greeting that sounded like a roaring crowd followed by a distant shout of "VISO!"

"He's a wild guy," Diana-Peebles says of Ilica. "I like the drink, I don't necessarily endorse his views."

Where to find it: Most convenience and grocery stores.

Possible side effects: Rapid heartbeat, dizziness, jitteriness.


Seven NBA players have been fined for the use of performance-enhancing drugs since the league began testing in 1983. But two of those players—Rashard Lewis in 2009 and O.J. Mayo in 2011—used a substance you can buy at Fred Meyer next to Grandma's Metamucil. DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is a steroid that is a precursor to testosterone and thus banned from use in sports, but not in your home.

"Low DHEA has been associated with hormonal problems, increased body fat, thyroid conditions, aging skin, mood disorders, cognitive problems, osteoporosis, chronic inflammation, immune dysfunction, and a host of other serious chronic conditions," says Holly Morello, a certified nutritional therapist and the owner of Nourishing Excellence Nutritional Therapy in Portland.

Preliminary research has shown DHEA may help with many of those ailments, "most notably aging skin and depression." DHEA is like Prozac, diet pills and body lotion all in one.

Where to find it: New Seasons, Super Supplements, Whole Foods.

Possible side effects: Insomnia, headaches, fatigue and possible hormonal imbalances.


How'd you like to get as high as a cosmonaut? Phenibut, a phenyl derivative of the neurotransmitter GABA, was synthesized by Russian scientists in the 1960s and is rumored to have been a required ingredient in cosmonaut first-aid kits. Whether it was in Gagarin's go-bag remains to be seen, but it would make a great candidate: It has sedative and socializing properties while leaving cognitive and motor functions intact. In short, you're buzzed without swaying, slobbering or stumbling.

"The first time I took it I felt really social," says semi-regular user Sarah, who asked not to be identified due to phenibut's questionable legal future. "I actually felt like calling someone because I was alone. It feels a little trippy and vaguely calming."

Phenibut has to be a black-and-white replacement for alcohol, though: As both substances affect the same brain receptors, mixing is a no-no.

Where to find it: Crystal Clear Supplements.

Possible side effects: Loss of libido, sleepiness, rapid development of tolerance.

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