Eric Matzner, sometimes referred to as the Brain Bro, is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and self proclaimed biohacker. He is part of a growing community of do-it-your-self biologists passionate about exploring emerging avenues of science in the name of ever increasing self-productivity. Looking to get an edge in work and life, these efficiency-seeking hackers are using anything from brain sensors to measure meditation, tiny on-head electrical shocks to stimulate brain cognition, to an increasingly popular class of drugs/supplements called nootropics.

These substances, thought to improve cognitive function in otherwise healthy individuals, are a highly debated topic among neuroscientists, psychiatrists and physicians. Yet these DIY hackers are creating their own ‘stacks’ of different pills, including both prescription drugs and supplements. Many medical experts find the claims behind these nootropic supplements to be unfounded and are also nervous about the misuse and long-term effects of off-label use of prescription drugs like Adderall and Modafinil. Devoted biohackers would dispute these opinions and are actively trying to legitimize their efforts to gain more mainstream adoption.

Beyond a niche trend, nootropic supplements are a growing business. With the 2015 international sales of cognition-enhancing supplements exceeding $1 billion US and the global demand for these compounds growing rapidly, it is no surprise VC firms once focused on software are starting to invest millions in nootropic startups like Nootrobox.

Committed biohackers like Matzner can take upward of 50-60 pills a day as part of their nootropic stack. The video below showcases Matzner’s morning ritual.


The Early Days of Self-Optimization

The DIY mentality of those like Matzer evokes a culture of hacking similar to the peer-to-peer file sharing communities that cropped up in the late 90s that forever changed the music industry. Programs like Napster enabled people to share, remix and curate their own music collection outside of the traditional music industry. Although lawsuits eventually forced Napster to shut down, many other file sharing sites cropped up to take its place. It wasn’t until Steve Jobs was able to design an iPod and iTunes experience that made songs cheap and easy enough to obtain that Apple was able to kill free music. Jobs proved that people would voluntarily pay for music, if the product they were getting was good enough.

This brings us to nootrpoics, biohacking and the role of the current healthcare players to aid in this pursuit of perfection. How will biohacking evolve from a grassroots community hacking together supplement stacks, biosensors and diagnostic tools to a mainstream practice of intentional optimization of cognitive capability?

Who will design the system that integrates these various components? What will that system look like? Consumers are changing their view of the role of healthcare in their lives, from ‘treating me when I’m sick’ to a focus on continuous optimization, real-time diagnosis and optimization. It will be interesting to see how traditional healthcare providers respond.

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Zach Friedman