Though not as buzzworthy as things likes artificial intelligence or self-driving vehicles, nootropics have gotten their fair share of interest from techie types, garnering headlines like “’Hacking’ the brain” and “Are smart drugs driving Silicon Valley?”
The general idea is that nootropic supplements help improve cognitive function. Of course, many of us already have a daily solution to this problem: many cups of coffee. Is some scientifically formulated pill really better than that tried and true solution? New research—funded by a nootropics company nonetheless—says maybe not.
San Francisco-based startup HVMN—formerly called Nootrobox, a name you might recognize from its chewable coffee Indiegogo campaign a couple years ago—reportedly commissioned a study which determined that one of its “cognitive enhancement” supplements, called SPRINT, was less effective than coffee when it came to boosting users’ concentration, according to CNBC, who saw the unpublished research. The trial, which was conducted by Maastricht University in the Netherlands, concluded, “In healthy young students, caffeine improves memory performance and sensorimotor speed, whereas SPRINT does not affect the cognitive performance at the dose tested.”
“As we expected, the caffeine had some positive effects, but the SPRINT formulation they gave us was not really effective,” Arjan Blokland, head of the department of neuropsychology and psychopharmacology at Maastricht University, told CNBC.
Despite the disappointing result, HVMN CEO Geoffery Woo tried to put a positive spin on things. “We stand behind the research,” Woo told CNBC. “We tried to make a study that would show effects. In some cases, it did show positive effects. On some measures, they were negative effects.” Specifically, Woo pointed to results showing that his company’s capsules were more effective than caffeine on subjective alertness after 30 minutes and that his pills didn’t raise blood pressure as much as caffeine. However, in a follow-up blog post on HVMN’s website, Woo also questioned the validity of the research in general. “When the study in question didn’t detect improvements of caffeine over placebo, the methodologies and thus the conclusions are put into doubt,” Woo wrote.
Overall, if you’re already skeptical at the idea that $40 bottle of pills can, as HVMN states on its website, “enhance your ability to react rapidly and accurately to the world around you,” then this latest CNBC report is unlikely alter your mindset. Meanwhile, if you were on the fence, maybe spend some time mulling things over with a nice cup of coffee.