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Nootropic Technologies: A Research-Based Review


Article edited for scientific accuracy by Illuminate Labs Blog Editor Taylor Graber MD 

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With more and more clinical research and consumer interest in nootropic supplements, there’s a burgeoning new class of nootropic technologies which claim to improve cognitive function. These are physical devices which aim to achieve a similar (or improved) effect on memory, cognition and recall compared with dietary supplements.

In this article we’ll review some of the most popular nootropic technologies available today, as well as those coming soon, and conclude whether we believe nootropic technologies are superior to nootropic supplement compounds.

OmniPEMF

The OmniPEMF is an electromagnetic stimulation device worn on the head. Their site makes various health claims, but of interest for the purpose of this article is the claim that the device improves focus, which is a claim of nootropic efficacy. 

There is one published research study on the OmniPEMF testing its effect on focus (among other psychological parameters). To test for attention, the study design used a clock test and measured participants’ accuracy in assessing how many times a dot skipped instead of shifted in a visual model.

This is a strange way to assess concentration and cognitive processing. A more standard test of something like speed and accuracy of math problems solved would be a better study design in our opinion.

The study concluded that the OmniPEMF device reduced user error and improved focus compared with control subjects. Given that the study was “supported” by the same company that manufactures these devices, that is relatively unsurprising. There is no explanation in the study of what this “support” entails, and we find it strange that the Conflict of Interest section mentions no conflict of interest given this vague company “support” (whether financial or otherwise) of the study.

Haelo

The Haelo device uses similar technology to that behind the OmniPEMF: pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy. The technology is patent-pending and their website claims that targeted PEMF pulses can improve mental clarity.

Unlike the OmniPEMF, Haelo hasn’t published any clinical trials using their products which test their claims. Instead, they link out to existing research on the benefits of PEMF therapy. 

There’s nothing generally wrong with using established research in product formulations; in fact we do the same. But when you’re producing a physical device where the existing research is relatively limited, and there are a range of treatment modalities, a clinical trial on the Haelo device specifically would be reassuring. 

To put it simply, there are many different ways a consumer can use a PEMF device because there are many different wavelengths of light and target areas on the body. This is a lot different from medical research on nootropic supplementation which involves consuming a nootropic and measuring the results. Because there are so many variations of PEMF usage, the surface area for safety risks is vastly higher than a consumable, and this is why a clinical trial on the specific device efficacy and safety is necessary in our opinion.

Neuralink

The most promising nootropic technology isn’t available for sale yet, but should be soon. Elon Musk’s company Neuralink aims to produce neural implants which will allow the brain to directly interface with computing devices.

The first applications of the technology are simpler in scope, like treatment of Parkinson’s and spinal cord injury. But due to the underlying technology, the potential for nootropic advancement not feasible with consumables is a possibility. Being able to directly influence neuronal function creates the possibility of drastic advances in human intelligence, and even a brain synced with artificial intelligence for synergistic effects.

Neuralink is set to commence human trials in 2021, so it will likely be a few years later when it becomes available for sale pending trial results, but this is a technology that any nootropic enthusiast should be tracking because of the upside potential.

Nootropic Technologies vs. Nootropic Supplements

The upside potential for nootropic technologies is higher than that of nootropic supplements, but we aren’t close to achieving that potential yet. Two of the most popular nootropic technologies available today, the OmniPEMF and the Haelo, don’t have convincing research backing their nootropic claims.

Since there is overwhelming research backing the nootropic efficacy of compounds like ginkgo biloba extract, we recommend that consumers stick to supplements for now but stay on the lookout for nootropic technologies coming out in the next five years which have non-biased safety and efficacy studies backing their product. 

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