Smart drugs, smart headbands: The future of the brain


Not the best use of one’s working memory, perhaps. Still, instant high-fidelity recall of songs is a pretty cool feature; if it pans out like this for everyone, maybe Spotify will have (even more) trouble with its business model. And speaking of music, there’s a lot of research going on right now into “binaural beats” — or the idea that you can induce beneficial brainwaves by simply listening to certain frequencies over regular headphones.

The frequency of the Edge’s brain blasts, 6 Hz, is known as “theta band rhythm.” That’s not Neil Diamond’s backup group, but a pattern that scientists have observed in the brain; it seems to be associated with memory, navigation, and alertness. HUMM intends to start preorders for its device this year for $300, but has also considered selling lightweight, disposable versions for $50 a pop.

“This is really the beginnings of the technology,” McIntyre tells me. “The brain isn’t understood well enough yet to see if this sort of treatment could replace smart drugs, but my hypothesis is yes: anything you can do with pharmaceuticals, you can do with direct stimulation of the brain. In about 20 years, we’ll be at the point where 5 or 10 percent of the population use it.” 

And will Big Pharma stand in the way? No, companies like Novartis actually hold a lot of patents on neurostimulation technology. It makes a lot of financial sense to develop a safe method of delivering the effects of smart drugs to the brain.

McIntyre cautions that the positive effects of the Edge “can very easily be ruined by not eating, sleeping or exercising properly.” (That was apparently the case with the e-sports teams he was working with. They got a noticeable boost, but it was lost when they stopped taking care of themselves.) The same is true of smart drugs. 

In fact, none of the effects of nootropics can hold a candle to the power of exercise to change the brain in positive directions. This is one area of brain science where the results are already in: exercise really is a magic pill for just about anything that ails us, including warding off depression and Alzheimer’s. To paraphrase Idiocracy, it’s what brains crave.

But anyone who can only go to the gym after they’ve downed their morning coffee knows that you’re more likely to exercise with performance-enhancing drugs. Modafinil gives you the motivation to train for a marathon. Plenty of people who have microdosed report that it made them more interested in meditation.

And that’s why I think the most likely 22nd century scenario is a combination of all the above that creates a feedback loop of motivation, memory, mood, and intelligence. You’ll wake up, snap on a disposable wireless headband, down your future Modafinil and (every third morning) your microdose, and thus fortified, head out for a quick five-mile run before work.

Drugs, technology, sleep, meditation, and exercise: all part of this complete brain breakfast.

Yours in total mental fitness,


from Mashable!