Brain-Hackers, otherwise known as Bio-Hackers are a sub-culture of people who want to achieve the most they can from what nature gave them through pills, electric shocks and doing the right things at the right time. Using a range of devices, prescription medications, herbal remedies and electronic devices, they aspire to sleeping less, working harder, and thinking smarter than everyone else and rather than relying solely on evidence or lab tests, they see themselves as human guinea pigs testing on themselves and sharing their findings either in closed or open communities.

I’m not saying I’ve tried everything discussed in this article, and you’ll see why I mention that in a moment.

At the bottom of the brain hacking ladder is coffee alternatives, introducing, Go Cubes.

Consisting of caffeine and L-theanine, (an amino acid found in tea which calms the mind while the caffeine stimulates creating ‘smooth’ stimulation,) and vitamin B, Go Cubes are sugar coated Red Bulls without the can and a cup of coffee with all the good bits that make you do stuff and type really long sentences. Created by a company called Nootrobox, a (bio-hacking’ company,)  these gummy chews in their friendly yellow and red packaging are designed as a ‘gateway purchase’ to the company’s more advanced and simply named pills –  Rise, Sprint and Yawn. I’m not just making that up, one of the founders of Nootrobox really said that he wants Go Cubes to be a gateway purchase to more hardcore stuff.

So while we’re on the topic, let’s skip straight to the hardcore stuff. Brain hackers love taking something that’s designed to do one thing and find a way to make it do something else. I’m talking about prescription medication and it’s way more popular than you think, used by students, entrepreneurs and people who want to do more things, more often.

Modifinil is a prescription drug designed to help those who are sleepy all the time. Brain hackers were quick to question what the impact of this drug would be on someone who didn’t have any sleep issues and some of the stories are pretty darned impressive. Most famously used by ‘The Bulletproof Executive,’ Dave Asprey, who credits it with helping him build a $600m company and making him come up with ideas he wouldn’t normally have, Modifinil has become the drug of choice for people as diverse as programmers who need sleep as a requirement of life and writers with a deadline on Tuesday. Interestingly, Modifinil required a prescription to purchase in Australia, but not so in the U.S. and it’s not illegal to purchase when importing under a certain amount. Jo Rogan, UFC announcer, martial artist and podcaster is a proponent of Modifinil’s competing drug Armodafinil, which is used by jet fighter pilots to maintain alertness. Brain hackers come in all shapes and sizes.

In terms of gizmos to make your brain go ‘vroom,’ let’s look at tDCS, or Trans cranial Direct Current Stimulation. These little palm sized devices have been released by a bunch of companies, or you can simply build your own using simple instructions readily available on the internet. It ‘stimulates’ your brain through electrodes that attach to your head and make you look like some weird science experiment which I guess in some ways you are. While you’re supposed to experience a light buzzing sensation that assists in better cognitive ability, depending on how the device is set it kind of hurts. Reviews online are mixed and despite a plethora of celebrity endorsements and a study at the Johns Hopkins University calling it ‘safe’, uptake has been limited thus far.

Remember Go Cubes and how they’re a ‘gateway gummy?’ Well let’s open the gate – welcome to the world of Nootropics. These are designer drugs, usually herb based but packaged like prescription drugs to make them feel a bit more ‘sciencey.’ Nootropics come in a massive range brands, each promising incredible results, from getting smarter to stressing less to being a better person. However a functionary browse of the ingredients reveals vitamins, minerals and supplements you could get from the local pharmacy – for significantly less money. This is the basis of many brain hacking initiatives, to take something ‘normal,’ such as coffee or vitamin D and enhance it or repackage it in such a way that it makes the buyer feel they have an advantage in life. But do nootropics work? Well I tried them over a few weeks (I’m not going to mention the brand because I’m not endorsing them) and I think I felt better but whether that was because of the placebo effect or that I was so chock full of vitamins that I could have been put on the shelf at a Chemist Warehouse sale I’m not sure.

At the core of all of this is Google. There are numerous interesting forums filled with people trying to improve themselves, not just by popping a pill but talking about the amount of exercise they do, the amount of tea they drink and how much sleep they get. If brain hacking is about self improvement then I’m all for it.