Tom Rice, a London-based film producer in his late 20s, has a new routine. It includes a little fish oil, a shot of espresso, and 800mg of the cognitive-enhancement drug Piracetam.
"It enables you to think quicker and feel sharper," says Rice. "Although I've only started recently so it's hard to quantify the full effects."
Rice has held a longstanding interest in nootropics -- substances that improve brain function -- as a means of enhancing his performance in a demanding business that requires tireless application.
"I have previously taken Modafinil (also known as Provigil) and found it incredibly useful when I really need to focus... when I have a lot of practical stuff to do, like writing emails and reading scripts."
The producer emphasizes the value of healthy sleep and balanced diet, but through research and networking, has also developed an open attitude to cognitive enhancement.
"I don't want to be on the frontier trying designer drugs but there are interesting developments that are worth keeping tabs on. Piracetam has been around since the 1970s, and from reading the accounts and the research, I felt the risk was negligible.
"I'm not desperate to find solutions to the problems I'm facing, but at the same time I'd love to find something that makes me function more effectively if it has a track record showing it is safe and effective."
A growing trend
Rice's approach is very far from unusual. "Smart drugs" that first entered the market in the mid-20th century, often through army experiments to keep fighters alert, have now reached saturation point in education
, the start-up scene and many of the most demanding industries.
Studies have shown improved memory and focus
, while establishing few negative side effects. In the US and much of Europe, nootropics are typically available only through prescription, but enthusiasts find willing suppliers from overseas.
Dave Asprey, a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur and now CEO of The Bulletproof Executive
, hopes to normalize their use and says they are already commonplace at the highest levels of business.
"When I meet people through work who run companies have many zeroes in their bank accounts, it's uncommon that they don't have a baggie full of supplements. They say 'this is what I take for my brain.'"
The substances are more effective than caffeine, and represent progress based