One week on smart drugs. Credit: David Salas Hidalgo
Editor's Note:The following piece is a first-hand account by Metro World News reporter Kieron Monks.
It’s an open secret that the great brains of Silicon Valley have a little helper to stay sharp when the pressure mounts and the body screams for rest. The same assistant has come to serve students, teachers, bankers and fighter pilots. So although they are only available through prescription in the U.K., it was time for us to test out "smart drugs," also known as nootropics, or steroids for the brain.
I settled early on Modafinil, the most popular cognitive enhancement solution according to the best-qualified online forums, and not linked to horrific side effects. I could expect greater focus, memory and wakefulness, the reviews said, fitting for a substance used to treat narcolepsy. The transaction was smooth and professional, a blister pack of 10 chunky white pills dropping through the letterbox three days after payment. My supplier wished me a pleasant experience and advised me to avoid mixing the drug with alcohol and grapefruit juice.
I had expected to wait for the effect but it arrived suddenly. Within 15 minutes of the first dose, my mind was stable and serene, following lines of thought without interruption. I was able to stay unusually focused through a phone interview and writing an article, which looked a little more coherent and authoritative than normal, as if a wiser and more serious older brother had written it.
To keep the feeling pure, I skipped my regular coffees, concerned that I might become too hyper. I skipped most everything else that first day, including lunch that I had no appetite for, as I buried myself in mental exercises and research, determined to take advantage of my enhanced capacity.
The first day I stayed in the office over an hour later than normal, and sailed off toward the subway at the end of the day still fresh as an April flower. Through the journey home, I inhabited a kind of zen bubble, despite the shrieking, jabbing and constant delays that would normally leave me an anxious wreck.
The alertness refused to leave, and my appetite would not come back. Everything seemed fascinating, with a trace of euphoria that recalled less innocent experiments. I could ride a stationary bike for an hour and remain entertained. A large, academic book of early 18th century paintings captured my attention completely. When sleep came after 2 a.m., it was accompanied by strange dreams featuring sea snakes.
Perhaps the best effect was waking up without the normal sense of injustice that comes with morning and the imperative to be leaving the bed. I positively sprung from the mattress and was adjusted to the day even before swallowing another 200mg, which sent me skipping off to the train. On a cold January morning, I was warm inside a thin jacket, overheated even, and pulses of energy would sporadically buzz through me, with the elbows particularly active.
Over the week, the effect dropped off gradually, so that my capacity for food and coffee returned. My mental state remained even, too even at times, as I found myself crossing busy roads at a leisurely pace. Ideas didn’t come to me more easily, but I was better able to think them through, and to concentrate until their conclusion.
By the end of the week, friends were tired of my becalmed state — protesting I listened too carefully — and wanted the more haphazard version back. It was a relief and a pleasure to be able to sleep properly again. But even after stopping the drugs, some of the thought discipline remains, and I’m grateful for it.