Can Nootropics Make You Permanently More Productive?

By on November 16, 2017

Warning: Spoilers for the film Limitless and the book The Dark Fields ahead…

In the film ‘Limitless’, Bradley Cooper’s character eventually finds a way to retain all of the new abilities he learned from taking the fictional brain drug ‘NZT’ and thus ends his dependency while still becoming highly successful. Bradley Cooper was able to get his Hollywood ending despite his unhealthy addiction.


But meanwhile in the book that the film was based on (called ‘The Dark Fields’) there was a very different ending with the character eventually bringing the story to an abrupt end in a hotel room (sorry if you were planning on reading it…).

In previous articles I have warned of some of the risks associated nootropics and shown how they could potentially lead to a scenario like the one in the book. But could you potentially end up with an ending that’s a little more Hollywood? Can you have your cake and eat it too?

Could using nootropics eventually lead you to become a better you? Even once you stop using them? Well, there are some arguments that suggest it’s possible…

Nootropics Personality

Disclaimer: I’m not arguing that anyone should take nootropics here. I still believe – like Tim Ferriss – that you can’t get a ‘free lunch’ when it comes to medications, and most ‘harmless’ nootropics still have reasons to be concerned. Then again, I’m also not damning them. At least when you use nootropics you’re not intentionally damaging your brain, as is the case with alcohol! Do as you will, in other words. And some ‘nootropics’ are really just beneficial nutrients, which don’t have any negative effects.

All I’m saying then is that the use of nootropics could have some interesting long-term effects, as in the film…

An Analogy

We can compare the use of nootropics to the use of steroids (again, not recommending you use those either!). Steroids have a range of negative side effects and of course, some positive short-term benefits. However using steroids may also have some positive impacts after you’ve finished using them thanks to the fact that it is easier to regain muscle size once you’ve reached that pinnacle once before. In other words, if you were to use steroids to build large muscle and then stopped, you wouldn’t immediately lose all that muscle (maintaining muscle is easier than building it) and if you did, you would get more of it back more quickly when working out again without using drugs. This is due to an increased number of mitochondria in the muscles, stretched fascia and various other mechanisms (not all of which are fully understood).

brain vs heart

Let me reiterate at this point that I’m not condoning the use of drugs to build muscle, it’s just an interesting example of how a short-term change can lead eventually to a long-term one.

After Effects of Nootropics

The point is then, that using nootropics could have some long term benefits in a similar manner.

For instance, many nootropics have been shown to be effective for learning and for absorbing information/new topics. This obviously has great short-term benefits if you’re cramming for an exam etc. At the same time though, you also aren’t likely to forget something that you learned while on a nootropic afterwards. This could mean that you’re better able to learn a language such as German using something like vasopressin or Piracetam, but you then get to ‘keep’ that new ability afterwards.

mr fantastic brain

This is especially true for any nootropic that is used specifically to increase brain plasticity. Examples include lion’s mane mushroom, magnesium threonate, ciltep etc. Such options increase dopamine, brain-derived neurotrophic factor etc. and thereby boost our ability to reshape our brain. Using these for a short period of time to gain a new skill (I’m working on the backflip right now) could be an interesting option.

Other nootropics claim to help us discover new ideas better and improve our general creativity. Again, you could come up with a good idea while using a nootropic and then find you get to ‘keep’ that idea afterwards. This idea could then help us to come up with other ideas using that as a starting point. Likewise, a nootropic could help you to gain a new perspective.


It’s also worth remembering here how the brain works when it comes to learning and gaining new abilities. This occurs through the strengthening of neural pathways which increases as we use certain areas of our brain more. If a nootropic helps us to practice a cognitive skill that we struggle with normally then, it might help us to improve the neural connections in the corresponding brain areas and thus help us access and use them better without the help of supplements later on. For instance, if we practice focus under the influence of modafinil, then you might be able to ‘bulk up’ the anterior cingulate cortex (part of the attention network) to enhance our concentration.


In a similar way, nootropics could help give us the opportunity to better recognise useful mental states in future. For instance that might mean using nootropics to help us focus and then learning as a result what focus feels like, helping us to reach that flow state again more easily.

And this may indeed have happened to me. I once got messed around badly by a client in my freelance writing business. I got pretty broke and then came my tax return – I had to earn 3K in a couple of weeks. Fortunately, the nature of my business is such that as long as I can find the work and produce enough, I can work longer hours to earn more.

nootropics for productivity

And so, I found some clients, took some modafinil (this was at the time I was reviewing it for my YouTube video) and I churned out 10, 20, 30,000 words per day for the following few weeks. I fixed my finances but I found that modafinil wasn’t great for me for a variety of reasons (impaired creativity among others), so I stopped using it. But having become ‘used’ to writing so much, I was then able to maintain close to that kind of output almost permanently. Modafinil helped me to get there, and then it was easier to stay there.

As I mentioned earlier too – not all nootropics involve synthetic ingredients or spiking neurotransmitters. Some vitamins, minerals and amino acids are considered nootropics too and these can help to fix long-term nutrient deficiencies and imbalances that may be impairing your performance. Likewise, they can support the synthesis of new neurotransmitters, or of neuroplasticity. That too could have a long term benefit, even if you then go back to your old bad habits.

Proceed With Caution

This all sounds very interesting and of course it could be tempting in theory to test the idea out. But while nootropics could have potential benefits long after you stop taking them, it’s worth remembering that the opposite may also be true. Most nootropics work by increasing our production of or sensitivity to particular neurotransmitters and when that happens our brain tends to respond by producing less of that neurotransmitter itself. It may be that stimulating a particular ability with nootropics could eventually lead to the reduction of that ability later in our everyday lives… For instance, if you become overly reliant on 5-HTP to stimulate serotonin, you might actually begin to produce less serotonin.


For the most part, it’s expected that the brain will eventually return to an equilibrium if you can go ‘cold turkey’ long enough. But that can be easier said than done and may not always work as planned when withdrawal and dependence kick in.

It’s also worth noting that if nootropics can alter your brain structures in this way, then they could theoretically impact on your personality in subtle ways too. Piracetam is said by many to improve their appreciation of music. If you learn to like a new track while using such a nootropic and then continue to appreciate that music subsequently, to what extent is that changing who you are?


And just as increased use of our attention network could ‘bulk up’ that area to improve concentration, couldn’t increased cortisol eventually make us more prone to worry and anxiety? Most nootropics that raise dopamine will also raise cortisol after all…

This is an example of ‘negative plasticity’, which I will be talking about shortly in an upcoming article. The point is that if you make your brain more plastic, then you need to make sure you then subject yourself to the right experiences, training and learning opportunities. I’ve mentioned before that intelligence essentially = adaptability + opportunity. Nootropics can help to improve the adaptability inasmuch as they raise plasticity. But you then need to ensure that you only have the best inputs during that critical period.

Until we know more then it’s not a great idea to experiment yourself. But certainly it is an interesting way to look at nootropics, and one that may suggest an alternative way to use them in future. And if you’re using them currently, or have used them previously, consider that there might just be some lasting implications – for better or worse.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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