Cognitive Enhancement Weekly for March 11th, 2018

Cognitive Enhancement Weekly is a weekly email covering the latest news, events, journal articles and other content related to cognitive enhancement, nootropics, biohacking and neuroscience. If you want to get this in your inbox every Sunday, you can subscribe here

This week includes a new book on the impact of nutrition on cognitive performance, the future role of performance enhancement on the battlefield, and why you should check your terms and conditions before embedding a chip into your skin.


Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power

Dr. Lisa Mosconi’s book on improving brain function through nutrition has just been released. The book includes recipes, a nutrition plan, and health assessments. Looking forward to reviewing it later.


Performance Enhancers: From Battlefield to Playing Field

Fascinating look at the history of performance enhancing drugs on the battlefield and what the next generation of enhancement might look like: robotic exoskeletons and brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). Also interesting is how the Australian Defense Force is using WADA as a jumping off point for research and policy definition.

Pill may be able to mimic the effects of exercise without having to run a single step

Compounds 516 and 14, referred to in the article, may mimic the effects of exercise by triggering a specific genetic circuit allowing patients to gain exercise-related benefits from those unable to exercise. Researchers are targeting specific kinds of muscular dystrophy and sclerosis as a path to regulatory approval, but the possibility of abuse is obvious.

Take Your Pills, Netflix — the highs and lows of ‘brain-hacking’

The FT has a take on the new Netflix documentary, “Take Your Pills,” exposing the impact of Adderall society on students. “Take Your Pills” is available on March 16th.

New Doccie Delves Deep Into America’s Massive Pharmaceutical Industry

Another Netflix documentary on doping in sport won an Oscar last weekend. “Icarus” details the Russian doping scandal and it’s pretty explosive. No one should be surprised, of course. Some of the most effective performance and cognitive enhancers are based on Russian and Soviet research.

Six Things You Learn When You Go Deep on Microbiome Research

This is a bit of a different take on biohacking, with a focus on your microbiome – the bacterial world that resides inside you. But regardless of what the article suggests, don’t start showering without soap.

The Cybernetic Implant That Attunes You to the Earth’s Poles

How useful would it be to know where magnetic north is? Useful enough to warrant a painful and invasive surgery? Then I’ve got the cyborg implant for you!

Would You Ditch the Gym for a Biohacking Facility?

In another spin-off of the Bulletproof brand, Bulletproof Labs is the company’s first biohacking facility located in Santa Monica. The approach is technology-heavy but appears to lack much in the way of technology rigor.

Authorities Deactivate Transit Pass Implanted In Biohacker’s Hand

“Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow cut a chip out of a travel card, encased it in biocompatible plastic, and implanted it under the skin on his left hand.” That clearly violated terms of use and it was disabled.

Do Olympic curlers need to be jacked and tan?

Over the weekend, the news broke that a Russian Olympic curler tested positive for meldonium, a substance that reportedly improves exercise capacity. The response was expected: why would a curler need performance enhancing drugs? It’s easy to dismiss the possibility of PEDs in low-impact sports like curling, but that overlooks the different types of PEDs available and the type of event the athlete was competing in.

Types of Events

Most of the curling I’ve watched during the Winter Olympics has been the 4-person teams. (Yep, I watch curling. I’m an Olympics fanatic.) The athlete in question competes in the 2-person mixed pairs event. Half the personnel means twice the work, and curling matches are long. The sport looks trivial on television, but it requires fine motor control and endurance. Improving your physical capacity and stamina will always give you better results. While I’m not accusing the athlete of doping, and I frankly don’t care if he does, doping in curling isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Whenever there’s a competition and the stakes are higher than bragging rights, the possibility for doping exists.

Types of Performance Enhancing Drugs

A common misconception is that PEDs are only useful for making someone more muscular, or perhaps faster. The range of PEDs goes well beyond that. Some drugs, like EPO, stimulate red blood cell production. The increase in red blood cells allows more oxygen to be delivered. EPO can be useful for competitors in endurance events.

Other PEDs are may improve performance in more subtle ways. Beta blockers reduce blood pressure and also suppress the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as involuntary muscle movements, which could be key in sports requiring fine motor skills like curling, archery and shooting.

Is meldonium a viable PED for curling? It’s hard to say. Effectiveness of meldonium in improving athletic performance is still being debated. The clinical use of the drug is to treat coronary heart disease, but it is also used to treat symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal.


Launching Cognitive Enhancement Weekly

Since I published my research on cognitive enhancement drugs in the workplace, I’ve been looking for ways to continue my research and share what I’ve learned. With email lists making a bit of a comeback over the last year, I decided to create a curated email list. Much of my inspiration came from the work Joe Crobak has done with Data Eng Weekly (formerly Hadoop Weekly) and I’ve stolen liberally from him to get started.

If you’re interested in smart drugs, nootropics, neuroethics, biohacking and other forms of cognitive enhancement, you can subscribe to the list here:

And feel free to submit links, news, events and journal articles to me via Twitter.

Improving Your Business Writing in 2018

A large part of my day job is reviewing what my colleagues’ write. Every reviewer has certain things he or she is looking for, and the top of my checklist is finding and removing useless content. My goal is to make a document 5-10% shorter, which is generally easy to do because of one mistake I see writers make repeatedly:

They apologize for writing the document. 

Clearly, the authors aren’t coming out with a direct apology. These apologies are indirect and take the form of extensive history or context. Long narratives about how the world got to its current state, even in the context of databases or artificial intelligence, come off as defensive and tedious in business writing.

One method to help produce concise writing is SCQA (Situation, Complication, Question, Answer), although there are several others in similar veins. McKinsey likes Situation-Complication-Resolution (SCR). Regardless, the intent in the same:

Situation: Describe what’s happening in a simple way. “Growth has stagnated over the last three quarters and we must open up new regions to return to growth.” (Okay, not the most compelling story, but you get the idea.)

Complication: Outline what makes the situation challenging. This part needs to be clear, and separate from the situation. “We are having trouble hiring sales staff in the new regions, and existing staff are fully utilized.” This is also where you can support the complication with additional data points. Be as brief as possible.

Question: State the question that will get you to the proposed answer. “Should we continue exploring sales staff increases or rely more heavily on digital marketing?” The advantage of the SCR method is you can skip this and get right to the recommended actions.

Answer (or Resolution): Deliver your key point or points. Optionally, you can support your answers with additional data, but be brief.  “We must take both options by restructuring sales to target new, higher growth regions and building a targeted digital marketing strategy.” 

To improve your writing, write targeted documents and avoid the history lesson. If you simply must include the history, put it in an end note.



Improving Your Sleep When Flying

Travel and Leisure ran an article on improving how you sleep on planes. It has some good tips, but this is a topic I’m unfortunately familiar with. Here’s what I’ve learned after several years flying over 100,000 miles.

Dress in layers

Every plane starts off with the temperature set to arctic, only to slowly creep up to an uncomfortable level exactly halfway through the flight. Another factor is your own body heat – you’re heating up the seat, blanket, pillow, etc. I start most flights in lightweight travel trousers, t-shirt, sweater, shoes and socks. Over the course of a long-haul flight, I end up in gym shorts and a t-shirt. Managing clothing layers helps me regulate body temperature, ensuring better sleep.

Earplugs and noise canceling headphones

The T&L article covers noise canceling headphones, but I like to double-up with earplugs. Don’t bother with the mushy plugs that come in the amenity kit. I like the Mack’s Ultra Soft foam earplugs. They’re low cost and greatly improve the travel experience, especially when the the infant in 16B is melting down.


I use melatonin daily for better sleep and take larger doses when changing time zones. It also works well when flying for more restful sleep. It doesn’t work for everyone; if it works for you, it may be worth considering. I buy large bottles of melatonin at Costco and take three pills when the food is delivered. Ninety minutes later, I’m ready for some sleep.

What are your go-to tips for better sleep while flying?

Why Real Smart Drugs (Probably) Won’t Exist

Today’s smart drugs weren’t created for cognitive enhancement. Drugs like modafinil and methylphenidate were created to treat real cognitive disorders. At best, these drugs have questionable effectiveness for enhancement. If the best option for smart drugs are drugs that were never intended for enhancement, when can we expect pharmaceutical companies to develop, test and market real smart drugs for cognitive enhancement?

Regulatory environment
The main blocker to targeted CED development, at least in the US and EU, are the regulations pharmaceutical companies must operate under. Regulations in these companies generally support the development of drugs to treat deficiencies or, as in the case of drugs like Viagra, restoring function. The development of drugs specifically to enhance a function, like cognition, is unlikely to get support from regulatory bodies. Without that support, there is little value in drugs companies allocating resources in drugs that won’t come to market.

Of course the EU and US aren’t the only regulatory environments. Brazil, China and especially Russia appear to have more lax regimes. CEDs developed there will certainly make their way into other markets, either legitimately or illegitimately. The safety of these drugs, particularly in the form of long-term side effects, will likely remain an open question. An all too likely outcome may look like this:

Brains are complicated
Putting aside the regulatory challenges, is it even possible to create CEDs that are both beneficial and lack side effects? Technologies like fMRI are improving the understanding of the brain, but that’s a long way from effectively influencing brain function.

It’s easy to dismiss how complicated it is to manipulate brain function. Don’t. Many of today’s therapeutic drugs have mechanisms that are only lightly understood. And this is for drugs used to treat deficiencies, when variations from the norm can be detected. There’s still little idea of what levers to pull to enhance already normally functioning brains.

That said, breakthroughs and insights occur regularly. New technologies may surpass what fMRI can tell us; or new substances may greatly improve working memory or executive function with little to no negative side effects. Our own sappho juice may be just around the corner.