Nootropics, smart drugs, and meditation

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This topic contains 4 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins 4 months, 1 week ago.

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  • #42555

    steve mareno

    I have a little working knowledge of smart drugs, or cognitive enhancers, along with over 20 years of Zen meditation. Some of these drugs can produce a slightly clearer mind and heightened awareness. Some substances like tryptophan give one a feeling of calmness and relaxation that is similar to awareness meditation once you are beyond the 10 minute mark. In that mental state, irregardless of what produced it, I become more aware and my mind’s usual busyness settles down.

    My thinking is that meditation produces changes in the brain through different secretions of hormones and chemicals, just as having a dog attack you produces adrenalin in the brain that is sent throughout the body. So does it matter if you get a calm and centered feeling by meditation or by taking a Nootropic drug?

    Of course, this is not really a fair question, as I would suppose that after a while you would become conditioned to the drug and it would fail to produce the expected results. But the same could be said of meditation. Not every meditation experience is calming or centering. Sometimes our thoughts don’t really settle down even after 30 or 40 minutes, while other times it only takes 5 minutes and we’re there. But this begs the question, is having my mind settle down and experience a feeling of being there what the meditation is all about? Or, does being there equal being present, and is being present the goal of meditation? I think it is, but that’s just my opinion.

    I know that a lot of studies have been made attempting to map the brains of meditators, but those studies seem to be too narrowly focused on brain activity and the location of that activity, and not on what chemicals are being, or or not being, produced within the brain by the meditation.

    Does any of this matter? I am going to go right on doing my meditation regardless of whether I had a glass of wine beforehand (which muddles the mind a little but relaxes me), have eaten a turkey sandwich (which contains trytpophan), or had a cup of coffee (which helps to keep me awake but can make me a trifle jittery and increase my busy mind). The idea is to just do the meditation no matter what else is going down and not get caught up in this stuff. Maybe this is all part of how one thing is always in relationship to something else. I don’t know.

    Anyone care to share their ideas on this?

    • This topic was modified 4 months, 1 week ago by  steve mareno.
  • #42558

    My thinking is that meditation produces changes in the brain through different secretions of hormones and chemicals

    It mainly changes brain structure, particularly strengthening areas that give the ability to focus. If you become less stressed it impacts the hypothalamus, compassion impacts the Vagus nerve. I can’t remember all the details or provide references. Hormones and chemicals may have short term impact, but your brain does its best to keep these levels stable.

    Does any of this matter?

    You obviously are losing your Zen, in that “does anything really matter?” But seriously, you are focusing more on some tangible measure of your meditation, and less of living in the moment and letting it be.

    There is no such thing as a bad meditation session; the fact that you are doing it is good.

    Drugs will have an impact, just as having some caffeine before sport may help but doing so doesn’t create an existential crisis.

    If you have a meditation background from Zen, then you basically have been left to your own devices. If you want to progress you need something more structured. I can clear my mind immediately, and depending on how many long sessions I have done recently, hold an empty mind from 10 to 40 minutes. This is from a huge amount of hard, brain aching work.

    But the sitting in quiet meditation is only 10% of the work, as you need a living model of good thinking in all parts of your life to be able to create the silence. This is the hardest part.

    Drugs are not the issue, it is about what you want.

  • #42560
    Jennifer Hawkins
    Jennifer Hawkins

    Good topic of discussion.

    My first thought is that it would be better to clarify on the “drugs” being referred to. “Smart drugs” is not a real scientific category (they aren’t “smart phones”) – in fact, it’s a little unclear which drugs you might be referring to even casually. However, I see things like tryptophan with is an amino acid. ( ) As a building block of organic proteins, it’s found in every single living thing in and outside of the brain. To me, calling it a “smart drug” as if someone made it up “Brave New World” style is …deeply inaccurate and unfair? Or at least, that’s how it reads.

    As far as supplements of Tryptophan (to get more than we get via simple eating), some people do try to use it as some kind of “smart booster” and it’s dubious that it works that way. How it can or may work is in legitimately helping people who have mood disorders (as those are caused physically and chemically in the brain as an organ). Could that impact meditation? Sure. It allows one to meditate with a brain in standard chemical balance so that on top of regular observations, you don’t also end up observing the kinds of things that happen when the brain malfunctions. It’s like meditating on or off of insulin as a diabetic. It’s usually better not to be feeling “low sugar” while you’re meditating.

    Next, none of those drugs “calm” you in the way that seems to be implied here. They aren’t marijuana. The most they can do is get a malfunctioning brain to a typical state, and that’s still “monkey mind.” That’s generally how the brain is. In fact, while meditation can ease some of that “monkey mind” state, it doesn’t (and it isn’t the goal of meditation to) make all thinking stop. That’s not what you’re aiming for; that’s not what’s going to happen.

    For reference:
    Mindfulness in Plain English by V. Gunaratana (and some of the other sections of the book as well – take a look).

    Actually, first, there are many types of meditation with different goals. None of them equate to a place of just drug-like no thinking or what have you. But to focus in on mindfulness, the goal is presence and awareness. The whole point is not to stop thinking and feeling and to veg out, but to be able to detach a little and to watch the thinking and feeling that will happen as it arises, goes on for a bit, then ends. That’s the practice; not to stop thinking and feeling all together, and it’s doubtful that could even happen.

    Anyways, hope this helps. @xenman above me is also right. Every session is different. That’s how things should be, really. You’re right that there needs to be more and diverse studies on meditators and to keep on meditating. All the same, it’s good to think about and discuss such things.

  • #42571

    steve mareno

    Xenman, I’m afraid you don’t understand Zen at all, and at no point did I suggest that “does anything really matter?” What I meant was that I don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, so in that sense, knowing about fronts and high pressure areas and such is of not much interest to me when I can just stick my head outside and know what the weather is, w/o needing to understand the particulars. I’m not sure why you replied to this thread really, other than to somehow think that you had something to explain to me about a practice that is not yours, and one that I have practiced for over two decades.

    Yes, drugs is somewhat misleading Jennifer. But that’s what they’re commonly called, Smart Drugs (vs dumb drugs like cocaine, heroin, stuff like that). In no way are they like pot, which is actually a hallucinogenic, albeit a mild one, and some people get wired up from it, and some people get dumbed down. I know, I smoked it for most of my life, but gave it up a long, long time ago.

    The Nootopics are “drugs” or chemicals that increase cognitive action, and Tryptophan is a relaxant that is found in bananas and turkey flesh. Mind function is directly related to brain function, and it’s something I know a little about. I worked in the medical field in this area. Mostly research.

    I only practice Zen awareness meditation because that is all anyone needs (in my opinion), and as I clearly stated in my original post, that is the only type of meditation I familiar with, and all I was referring to.

    I will have to go to the scientific forums on this question, which is a pity as they do not understand meditation, and it appears that here is not the best place to run theories related to brain function to folks. Thank you.

    • This reply was modified 4 months, 1 week ago by  steve mareno.
  • #42573
    Jennifer Hawkins
    Jennifer Hawkins

    I don’t recommend a reactive post especially when you clearly do not understand the science of what you are talking about (and for the moment, I elect to just let your comments on Zen go).

    I’m actual biologist with a background in research. “Smart Drugs” is not scientific or “common” term. That tryptophan is in no way like THC or the plant from which it is derived was my whole point (please read again for comprehension). Tryptophan is an amino acid, a building block of proteins, found in everything organic in variable amounts (including what is commonly consumed by humans as food).

    If you cannot learn more about any of the topics you are touching on here, then in addition to learning more, I do suggest a different forum. Your mode of reply to Xenman is inappropriate, and honestly, it’s hard to believe that you went with being huffy and doubling down on inaccuracies to an actual scientist. I also doubt that you’ll get a reply half so generous on a forum more predominantly dedicated to hard science.

    I hope you’ll calm down, learn, and engage better in the future.

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