First many of the most popular "smart drugs" aren't really drugs. At least they're not synthetic medications. This is a
semantic distinction because over one- fourth of all prescription medicine is taken directly from natural sources. Most
popular brain-enhancing prescription drugs are, in fact, derived from plants, animals or minerals, but many so-called
"smart drugs" - and the vast majority of those used by enthusiasts - are readily available in your local health food
store. These belong under the more accurate, but much less sensational, heading, Nutritional Supplements.
Another important distinction should be made between nutritional supplements and underground "smart drinks." These have been a profitable fad in dance-rave nightclubs for a few years and are now climbing above ground into the daylight. Smart bars and cafés are opening in stylish spots around the world. "Smart drinks" can be almost anything, but in the clubs they are often simply a mixture of vitamins, a stimulant (legal or illegal), and an electrolyte-replacing sports drink. A powdered multi-vitamin and 200 milligrams of caffeine in a cup of Gatorade (for $8) may give you a temporary boost of energy in the middle of a long night of dancing (or pumping iron), but as much as it tries to be the trendy and healthy new thing, it certainly does not represent the cutting edge of nutritional supplementation. So what is the cutting edge? Ginkgo biloba.
Say what? That's the name of a bizarre-looking Chinese tree, the last surviving species of an otherwise extinct family of prehistoric plants. The seed kernel is ground into powder and available in tablets at health food stores. This nutrient's main effect is to increase blood flow throughout the body. The blood movement to and from the brain is especially enhanced, supposedly boosting brain functions in the process. In Mind Food and Smart Pills (Doubleday, 1989) Dr. Ross Pelton, R.Ph., PhD, reports that in a scrupulous memory test of healthy volunteers, subjects receiving ginkgo bioba showed significant improvements in short- term memory. Scientists believe that this substance also stimulates microcirculation in the brain and helps prevent damage by free radicals. Even skeptical medical professionals are cautiously enthusiastic about this stuff.
So what can it do for you? I tried ginkgo biloba in a "smart herbs" tablet, 500 milligrams mixed with lesser amounts of ginseng and other plants, one tablet daily for a month. I felt more alert with significantly higher energy levels. This made for better, more productive workouts. It can also be assumed that the positive effect on blood flow could boost bodybuilding gains, and 1 did experience a slightly better muscle pump. Was I smarter? Without an objective test it's difficult to gauge such processes as reasoning and imagination, and after taking a "smart drug" it's easy to simply say, "I feel smarter." But, for what it's worth, I did feel smarter. The increases in energy and alertness alone (putting aside any improvements in actual brain functions) improved my concentration for the few hours that it was in effect and probably could have helped my scores on an intelligence test. Ginkgo biloba is not cheap. Taking 500 milligrams daily will set you back around $10 a month. Some experts recommend over one gram daily, but compared to alternatives it may be the best bargain for those seeking mind and body gains.
Bodybuilders are familiar with choline as part of the choline/inositol team which has a beneficial effect on fat mobilization and is often used in dieting. A member of the B complex of vitamins, choline helps to build cell membranes and with vitamin B-5 it produces the important brain transmitter acetylcholine, which directly aids mental alertness and memory. This is why "smart drug" enthusiasts champion choline as brain food, claiming it enhances their concentration and mental endurance. Dr. Richard Passwater in his book The New Supernutrition (Pocket Books, 1991) reports that high doses of choline significantly enhanced the ability of college students to recall word sequences. I experienced increases in energy and alert ness when taking significant doses of choline with vitamin B-S. Again this naturally makes one "feel" smarter and provides for harder and more productive workouts.
Dr. Ward Dean, M.D., coauthor of Smart Drugs & Nutrients (B&J Publications, 1991) recommends a choline dosage of about three grams per day taken with one gram of vitamin B-S. which helps convert choline into acetylcholine. This is a lot, and it will be relatively expensive. No side effects have been noted in healthy individuals with this water-soluble nutrient, but manic-depressive people are cautioned to avoid it as it may deepen their depressive state. Bodybuilders who are already choline/inositol users may want to adjust their dosage of both vitamins (with vitamin B-5) to retain or increase the fat-burning, cell-repairing effects, gain a surge of energy and endurance for their workouts, and feel more alert and, hopefully,' 'smarter" as well.
Some scientists argue that a superior substance for achieving the effects of choline is dimethylaminoethanol, which is thankfully abbreviated to DMAE. Once known as the prescription drug Deaner and used to treat hyperactivity, this natural substance is now available over the counter in health food stores. It occurs naturally in such "brain foods" as anchovies and sardines, but you'd have to eat a lot of anchovy and sardine sandwiches to consume the amount in a typical capsule. The natural presence in living organisms is minute because it quickly converts into choline. Some studies indicate that, as opposed to orally ingested choline, DMAE readily penetrates cell membranes - and then converts to choline. Others dispute this.
Gym hype touting DMAE as having major steroid-like effects is exaggerated, though users do report some enhanced fat loss and muscle growth in addition to increased energy. As long ago as 1959 an ambitious study by the Mental Health Institute of the US Public Health Service reported that human subjects ingesting DMAE had increases in muscle tone, better concentration, and improved sleep patterns. More recent studies also mention headache relief and a mild stimulant action. Those effects apparently take three weeks to build up. The one reported - but rare - side effect is a mild tightening of the jaw, which will disappear when the dosage is lowered. Again it's not cheap - these nutrients are the "in" supplements right now. Recommended dosages range from 250 milligrams to one gram daily.
There are other "smart drugs" that are available in the United States only with a prescription or from overseas suppliers. I have no personal experience with any of these substances, but they have their chain- pious among brain-enhancement enthusiasts. Vasopressin is a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland. It is used to treat people with impaired memory and is said to have a noticeable effect on a healthy user's ability to memorize and recall. It takes effect immediately. Positive benefits for bodybuilders have not been noted. However, there have been a slew of negative effects for everyone: abdominal cramps, congestion and irritation of the nasal passages, headaches, diarrhea, etc. Available only through a doctor, it is not recommended for pregnant women or those with hypertension or epilepsy, or any other healthy individual as far as I'm concerned, bodybuilder or otherwise. Use at your own risk, but it seems as if the potentially nasty consequences outweigh any memory increases.
Hydergine is a mental-focusing agent derived from a fungris. It mimics the effects of a substance called nerve-growth factor which stimulates the growth of nerve connectors and enhances the communication between nerve and brain cells. Dr. Pelton reports that it stimulates increased blood and oxygen supplies to the brain, prevents lipofuscins (fat and waste within cells), and protects the brain from damage during periods of insufficient oxygen supplies. Steve Fowlkes, editor of Smart Drug News, says it allows him to concentrate better and longer and it enhances his visual fields. Specific benefits for bodybuilders are unknown, although reports on how it affects the body are encouraging. Enhancement of nerve, blood, and cell health would certainly assist physique athletes. It's something to consider. Available through overseas suppliers.
Piracetam is a nontoxic drug that promotes nerve transmissions between the right and left brain hemispheres and is believed to have a beneficial effect on the cerebral cortex which is associated with human thought and reasoning. It is popular with artists and spiritual seekers who feel it increases their creativity and perception. It doesn't appear to have any specific benefits for bodybuilders. It is available only through overseas suppliers.
There have been encouraging studies of some so-called "smart drugs" and the majority of users have nothing but praise. Still, not all brain-enhancers are the same. There are literally dozens of other substances hawked as "smart drugs" that are not mentioned in this article because information on them is scarce or unsubstantiated. Be aware of useless rip-offs. Still others are dangerous and illegal stimulants or hallucinogens, leeching on the "feed your brain" trend. Ecstasy, LSD, and their cousins are "stupid drugs" that kill brain cells instead of nurturing them. My advice is that you start out with one of the natural products available in your local health food store. Many come in combination with other herbs, vitamins, etc.
Since there is evidence that DMAE, ginkgo bioba, and choline have specific effects on workout intensity, growth and fat loss, they should be considered for any bodybuilding supplemental program. Nerve, cell, blood and brain functions - two or more of which are assisted by all the natural nutrients mentioned here - are very important to muscle growth, as are the increases in energy and endurance that make for more productive workouts.
In addition, the heightened interest in "smart drugs" can only bring more information to the cutting edge of nutrition and therefore help bodybuilders (especially natural trainers) in the long run. There are literally thousands of substances - perha hundreds in your local health food store that have not been studied significantly for their effects on training bodybuilders. With increased attention to this myriad of nutrients, more exciting discoveries will surely be made.
Some of the most recent encouraging news is about "smart drugs." No, they won't make you a Nobel physicist and they won't turn you into Mr. Olympia, but some of them do seem to have beneficial effects on both mental functioning and physique growth. Both bodybuilders and nonbodybuilders should consider these nutritional supplements, but, if you have a big exam coming up, don't believe any brain-steroid hype. Although a smart drug may provide a little help, you'd better study hard.