Is The NZT Pill from Limitless Real?
“So let’s find that NZT pill!”
It was the first thing I told myself after Limitless came out. I had not even seen the movie, just the trailer, and it already seemed like a brilliant idea. If there were a shortcut to achieving the best you, wouldn’t you take it?
Of course, the NZT pill also caused a massive crash, it messed up Eddie’s head and gets him in trouble with mobsters. But hey, anything for a pill that could solve all of your life’s problems.
Following Limitless’s success, many companies tried to cash in on the buzz.
Unlike the NZT pill, Nootropics of all sorts are very much real. They range from herbal concoctions to ADHD medicine, and even amphetamines. But before we jump into the possible candidate for NZT-like effects, we should get one thing out of the way:
You Don’t Just Access X% Of Your Brain Power
This is such a misconception.
Yet people still believe it and Hollywood keeps producing movies based on the concept. Limitless is only one of those movies. Usually, you hear 10% but for some reason, the Limitless writers decided to change that to 20%. It is still just a myth.
Think about it. Your brain is abnormally large for a primate. It consumes a lot of energy. As in, the brain needs more energy than any of your other organs. If it could do it’s job functioning at a portion of its’s capacity, the other 90% (or 80% respectively) become utterly useless.
Your body does not care if you are a polyglot stock broker or a blue collar worker. As long as you can function, it’s all good. The nervous system prefers the “use it or lose it” mindset.
If you only needed 10%, the individuals that had more brain power than that would have been at an evolutionary disadvantage consuming much more energy than others. Thus, the useless brain capacity would have quickly vanished. If we have it today, it is because we need and use all of it.
This has a very important implication on the search for an NZT pill.
You don’t really have some mysteriously locked potential that Nootropics can release. What they could do for you is allow you to use what you have better and more efficiently. We all procrastinate, get distracted, lose focus on our long-term goals etc.
Nootropics can help immensely with that but that is simply because they bring out the best in you. There is sadly no pill to increase your IQ or to help you write a decent book in 4 days.
Nootropics could, however, give you the means to push your limits until you get to that level (yes, you can increase your IQ—but that is an entirely different article).
Main Types Of Nootropics
Nootropics come in all shapes and forms. There are the blatantly dangerous and illegal (amphetamines, micro-doses of LSD) as well as the inefficient or only vaguely beneficial (like Omega 3’s that are great for your brain but not directly linked to an improved cognitive function). Usually, though, people either take racetams, stimulants of a different sort, or Modafinil/a Modafinil-like compound.
Racetams, sadly, are still very poorly understood in terms of mechanism of action. Anecdotal evidence seems to show they promote focus, improve memory, and even decrease stress levels.
However, due to the limited insight we have in their action, I would personally be extra cautious with them.
Stimulants can be coffee, ADHD medicine (including amphetamines), and nicotine, too. I am not talking about nicotine from cigarettes, of course, as the drawbacks of smoking outweigh the possible benefits.
Nicotine does have some potential for making you more concentrated, but at what cost?
Some self-proclaimed “bio-hackers” have already found a way to tap into it’s potential. At this point, though, it seems that nicotine as a Nootropic is best left to the advanced.
Modafinil and How It’s Different
To end this mystery around the NZT pill, Modafinilis what Limitless was based on. Now go on and stuff your face with it. Still here? Good. Now let me tell you what Modafinil is all about.
First off, it is important to remember that Modafinil is not a stimulant, per se. The term stimulant is way too broad, of course, but Modafinil is better classified as a wakefulness promoting agent.
It is used to treat narcolepsy yet it does not have any of the effects of classic stimulants (whether they are coffee or amphetamines).
Funny enough, Modafinil actually replaced the stimulants that were used in the military before. As of 2012, it is the only ‘go-to pill’ that the US Air Force uses.
Mechanism of Action
Modafinil is a re-uptake inhibitor of dopamine. Your neurons release dopamine and then re-uptake it.
Your brain doesn’t like powerful neurotransmitters to be hanging around as they could cause damage. Modafinil binds to the dopamine transporter that is responsible for pumping the substance back into the cell. It binds in the same spot as cocaine but in a different way.
Hence, the drastic difference in action.
Unlike cocaine, Modafinil practically has zero potential for abuse—it increases your cognitive functioning. The slight increase in dopamine does not actually cause addiction. Modafinil does not cause a ‘high’ either, nor is it particularly great at making you unnaturally happy.
Users describe the feeling it gives them as ‘increased sobriety’ a.k.a. the exact opposite of a high.
Your attention improves, impulsive decreases and distractions become manageable, promotes wakefulness without the need for compensatory sleep.
Effects On Cognition
The main effect of Modafinil, unsurprisingly, is the clarity and the wakefulness.
It is, after all, primarily a drug to treat narcolepsy. It usually takes less than 30 minutes to kick in but it does not cause the initial jitters most stimulants do. Apart from keeping you awake and energized, it has been shown to dramatically improve focus.
This is where it most strongly resembles the NZT pill as it truly allows you to apply yourself 100% to the task at hand. Your motivation, reaction time, and vigilance also increase.
You become sharper which is great for athletes or even if you are planning to have a long and hard workout at the gym. If you go this route, stay hydrated—one of the effects of this real-life NZT pill is dehydration.
However, Modafinil is most useful for intellectual work. There is nothing quite like the flow state in which it puts you. You just sit down, hustle hard (without effort), and before you know it the job is done.
But Isn’t It Addictive, Like the NZT Pill?
Virtually all addictive substances increase dopamine levels. But not all substances that increase dopamine are addictive. Modafinil has been proven to actually lower impulsive reactions.
You are less likely to look for instant gratification and focusing on a long-term goal becomes exponentially easier. You think clearer, and act quicker and more efficiently.
Modafinil could be abused, of course.
As it promotes wakefulness, people have taken larger doses to postpone sleep. Students in highly competitive fields are particularly prone to that. It is important to remember, though, that this is not a chemical addiction but rather irresponsible behavior.
You never lose control of your actions and will while on Modafinil. If anything, you gain more control. It might be tempting to maintain this high functioning level 24/7 but it’s up to you to be responsible and not abuse Modafinil.
Oh, and unlike the NZT pill, Modafinil will not make your brain delete entire days of memory 🙂
Why Isn’t Everyone On Modafinil?
Two words: stigma and price.
There is still, unfortunately, a lot of misconceptions about cognitive enhancers.
Think of them as safe doping for the brain. They can drastically improve your quality of life. Since you experience everything through your brain, a better functioning brain will affect virtually all aspects of your day. Some consider that unfair advantage.
Others fear there might be some negative effects. Modafinil is one of the drugs with the lowest incidence of side effects. Even if they do appear, they are mild and short-lived.
I would go as far as saying that other substances that you ingest daily can be significantly more dangerous. Case in point: alcohol, or even caffeine. However, as with any substance that alters your consciousness (even if it improves it), there is and will always be some stigma around Modafinil.
As for the price, Modafinil is a prescription drug.
You need to get a doctors appointment and then pay to get the prescription filled. The alternative is online Modafinil marketplaces. You will have to wait a little more (shipping) but the price is significantly lower and the quality is practically the same.
The price per pill comes around $2 if you decide to get a small pack but it can go down to as little as 89 cents.
Granted, you have to pay at least $2 initially to get it—which makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Once you break it down though, it comes around the price of your morning coffee. And it does much more for your cognition than a coffee can ever do.
So if you are up to the challenge, why not replace caffeine with Modafinil for a couple of weeks? I’m willing to bet you that you will feel so much better!
Let me know if you have any questions regarding this “real life NZT pill”!
PS: My preferred place to get the NZT pill is Modafinil Star.