[04:03] Jesse Lawler
[05:42] Jesse’s Bike Ride Across The States
[10:14] Jesse’s Experiments With Diets
[17:17] Jesse’s Ketotic Diet
[19:29] Jesse’s Water Fast
[27:50] What Got Jesse Started On Doing Things Like This
[29:36] Uberman Sleep Schedule
[39:10] Jesse’s Experiment With Ritalin
[42:29] Other Smart Drugs Jesse Uses
[48:56] Axon Labs
[50:21] Other Forms Of Technology Jesse Uses In This Field
[53:16] Marijuana, THC, and CBD
[58:15] Jesse’s Craziest Experiment Experience
[1:02:21] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey, what’s up? It’s Ben Greenfield. Welcome to the Ben Greenfield Fitness Show. And I have two things to share with you before we jump into today’s episode with Jesse Lawler of Smart Drug Smarts. The first is that you’re probably used to getting our Q&A episode midweek. But not this week, no. Because I am off getting a tube stuck up my butt. That’s right. At about the time that you are tuning in to this podcast I’m off undergoing a preventive colonoscopy. I will be sure to share all of the nitty gritty details about that and why I’m doing it on a future article about colonoscopies and gut health over at bengreenfieldfitness.com. But needless to say, I really am not in any position to be doing a Q&A episode with my trusty sidekick Brock. So instead, I’m bringing you this special interview with Jesse.
The second thing is that this episode is brought to you by Casper mattresses. Now not only are Casper mattresses made in ‘Merica, but they’re made at a shockingly fair price and they’re obsessively engineered. I’ve got a Casper mattress in the guest bedroom of my house upstairs from where I sit right now in my basement podcast recording studio, and it is an amazingly comfortable mattress. The reason for that is they’ve got two different technologies in these mattresses, latex foam and memory foam. So they’ve got like the perfect sink, they’ve got the perfect bounce, and no matter which way you sleep, on your back, on your side, in a curled up muffled position with a pillow between your knees and a pillow over your head like I do, it’s really comfortable.
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In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“I really wanted to eat, but I wanted to eat not so much because I was starving to death, but because I use food as a self-reward mechanism.” “One benefit of not drinking alcohol is since I’m not sure chewing out my liver with alcohol, I can cut myself a little bit of slack with some of these other things that might have some downsides there.” “I kind of felt like I’d put way too strong an engine into a go cart and that like the engine was like humming and a rattling. But there’s a limit to how fast the go cart could really go anyway, and it was like it was too much. It was like the vibrations of this jet engine in the go cart were not really helping to go cart get anywhere any faster.”
Ben: Hey, folks. Welcome back to the Ben Greenfield Fitness Show. And if you’ve been a longtime listener to the show, then you know that we’re all about n=1 experimentation and you’ve probably heard everything from my overdose on THC from not doing the correct calculations while making can of butter to experimenting with Bulletproof coffee enemas. Well, my guest today makes my n=1 experimentation look like I’m just a dabbler. He’s the host of a podcast called the Smart Drugs Smart Podcast. His name is Jesse Lawler. According to his bio, he’s flirted with paleontology, genetic engineering, screenwriting, green tech software engineering, photography, and neuroscience. I know from his podcast that he has also experimented with things like ketosis, and water fasting, Ritalin, holotropic breathwork, and all sorts of other very, very interesting biohacks, smart drugs, and other forms of consumer electronics and self-qualification. So we’re going to delve into some of that today and you’re going to discover some pretty interesting things along the way. It could be a little bit of a wild ride, I’ll warn you. So one of the other things that I noticed, Jesse, when I was looking over your bio was that in 2002, you rode your bicycle across the US without training, and because we have so many people who are exercise enthusiasts who listen in to the show, I think that’d be a great place to jump in. So welcome to the show, and tell me little bit more about this bike ride.
Jesse: Hey. Well, thank you so very much. Excellent to be here. Yeah, the bicycle trip was, basically the genesis of that was just that I heard it was possible. I had been one of these people, I was as a kid at the time, and I had ridden my bike to my high school and then rode to my university classes, but I’d probably never written more than about 10 miles at a time at any point in my life. And so just to hear that occasionally people would do these coast to coast rides, that was just amazing to me. It kind of blew my mind when I first heard it. And then, of course, I wondered, “Well, shucks. If other people do it, is something that I could do myself?” And I got enamored of the idea and I told my boss at the time, “Hey, I’m going to take some time off.” I think it was the beginning of May that I actually left to do it, and I didn’t know if it was going to be like a two month endeavor, a three month endeavor, how hard this would be but just the, “Hey, I wanted to go sort of had this adventure during the summer time.”
And, yeah. Basically my thinking was as far as the training or the lack of training was that at some point my legs, were going to need to get a lot stronger, and I could either do the training while at home in Los Angeles, go to a gym, or just ride in circles around Los Angeles or something like that, or I could just do the training on the road and have sore legs while I was actually making progress towards my goal of hitting the Florida coast. And I just opted for the latter. I don’t know if I was too lazy to train up front or whatever, but yeah. Basically just sort of got on the bike one day, and I had like packs of gear and all that stuff ’cause it was a camping trip also basically. I brought all my camping gear along with me and the way that me and my friend who rode with me did it was we would ride for probably like four nights out of five we would camp along the roadside or wherever we found, and then maybe one night out of five, yeah, go into a like a cheap motel and shower off and clean our gear to the extent that we could.
But, yeah, made it across. It was five weeks and three days was our total ride time, which was a lot less than I expected actually. One thing for anybody that does that, that ride across the southern tier of the United States, the West Coast, or basically the western half of the States is so much more difficult as far as like changes in elevation and things like that. Then once you cross the continental divide, it’s kind of smooth sailing from there. Some of those eastern states are just flat as a pancake. So as long as you don’t have super strong headwinds, you can really make some great time.
Ben: Wow. So what did you do, just out of curiosity, having never ridden your bicycle that far before about the chafing. Because that’s something that a lot of novice cyclists tend to have to experience firsthand, and I’m curious what you wound up doing about that.
Jesse: Well, a lot of gritting my teeth for one thing. I mean I don’t know that they have solved this problem yet. This was 2002, so maybe chafing technology has significantly advanced in ways I don’t know about in the last couple of years. But I did buy the basically the best biking shorts that I could get my hands on and wash them religiously every night so even as I chafed, at least hopefully I wouldn’t be rubbing bacteria into my wounds and things like that. And like talcum powder, some of the baby powder and stuff to keep as dry as possible. And standing up in the saddle pretty frequently, I mean there’s a lot of reasons to sort of stand up in the saddle and get yourself some blood flow to your nether region so you’re not just sitting on your junk all the time and wind up with problems down the road. But yeah, chafing was a thing. And you can’t ride so bowlegged that you’re not rubbing to some extent, but I mean I think that the investment in a good bicycle seat and the investment in some good bicycle shorts is probably well worth it.
Ben: Right. Absolutely. Yeah, I swear by some stuff called Seat Saver made by a company called Hammer Nutrition, and I have experimented with everything from coconut oil to Vaseline, and that stuff seems to do the trick. But I was just curious about what your personal experience was with that, not to get too personal.
So anyways, you’ve also done some other things. It looks like in your history, before you even began delving into some more targeted experimentation as the Smart Drug Smart Podcast host, and that was your diet. You went from, if I understand, like raw veganism, to veganism, to something a little bit more paleo-esque. Is that true?
Jesse: I’ve been all over the map. People, like basically my friends all mock me about my diet. It’s not exactly the what-are-you-going-to-do-this-week, ’cause I don’t change that frequently, but it has been sort of the what-are-you-going-to-do-one-year-to-the-next. ‘Cause I’ve tried a bunch of fairly extreme rigorous diets over the years, and a lot of them have been very much at odds with one another. So there’s, what’s the saying, “nobody’s more devout than the newly converted”. So of course when you first get into something like raw veganism, all you want to talk about is raw veganism. So people heard me do that one year, and then a couple years later it’ll be something else, and I’ve gotten a lot of flak for that. But, yeah. Basically the one diet that I’ve never done is the standard American diet, and to a large degree, I kind of believe that almost any direction you go radiating out from the standard American diet is going to have some beneficial effects.
The first really kind of unique, out there diet that I got into was raw veganism. And I had a couple of friends that were into it and sort of led me in that direction, and I was living in Los Angeles, and Los Angeles is a city that embraces all sorts of weird behaviors. And so finding a handful of raw vegans there was not as unusual as one might think. And so I became a raw vegan, wound up being just a little more than a year. I dabbled with it for a few months on and off, I did feel some health benefits, and then I decided, “Well tinkering with this has been helpful. Let’s see if I can just fully commit to it and do it for a year.”
So the entire year of 2007, I was basically a fruitarian. Huge amounts of fruit are what you need to kind of sustain activity levels and get enough calories into your system on that diet. So I would ride my bike down to the farmer’s market and pick up just a ton of medjool dates and bananas. It’s like what flour is to most Americans and what Rice is to Asians, bananas, raw bananas are, when you’re a raw vegan, it’s kind of like the cornerstone of every daily meal. And, yeah. I did that for a while. I felt some benefits in retrospect. I think that what I was probably benefiting from wasn’t the raw veganism per se, but the fact that I was cutting out pretty much all grains and all dairy. And I think probably those benefits I might have been misattributing because I’ve done other grain-free, dairy-free diets in the time since then, and it felt equally good, if not better than how I did as a raw vegan. But it was a really difficult diet socially to maintain because there’s just not a lot of stuff that you can eat when you’re going out with friends, and that’s the restriction you have on your diet.
So more recently, I’ve switched, so basically when I was done being a raw vegan, I downshifted it to mere veganism. I was still a vegan, but just allowed myself to cook whatever I wanted. Did that for several years. Probably almost, I think was more than six, a little less than seven years. And then it was exposed, part way through that process, I was exposed to a book by evolutionary biologist at Harvard named Richard Wrangham, and he wrote a book called “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human”, and laid out a really, really compelling Homo Habilis in Africa persuasive argument that it was basically the mastery of fire by, about 1.8 million years ago that kind of led this daisy chain of events that led to modern Homo sapiens. And if we’ve been using fire to heat our food and that changed our digestive physiology, and cooked meat has been a part of our diet for that long, then it’s seemed like it probably wasn’t reasonable for me to think that I was having an optimal diet that didn’t include meat if we’ve been getting our bodies, which have changed obviously, our dietary physiology has changed a huge amount as we transitioned from apes into modern humans. And if a lot of that fine tuning was fine tuning for a diet that was not predominated by, at least heavy in cooked meat, that it probably didn’t make much sense for me to not be eating cooked meat. I was reading this book as a practicing vegan at that the time and I was persuaded by what he was saying, but I just wasn’t quite mentally ready for the message. And so I kind of put the book aside I was like, “You know, I got to come back and reread that one in a couple of years.”
And then probably about two years after I first read it, I ran into some people who were in really incredibly physically good shape and were doing these fat based diets and really protein heavy diets that was the complete opposite of what I’d been doing for a while, and yet there they were in great shape. And I was like, “Well, you know what? Maybe I should go back and reread that book.” And so I sort of had myself mentally primed by those experiences, reread the book a second time, I was like, “You know, what I’m just going to do 90 days on this Paleo Diet,” which was sort of coming into vogue at the time, this was about maybe three years ago, and see how I feel is going, just kind of give it the Pepsi challenge for 90 days. I wasn’t a vegan that was doing it for like ethical reasons, like I wouldn’t wear leather belt or something like that, so I didn’t feel bad that I was going to be eating some innocent little chickens.
And so I did the 90 day test and basically just stuck with it. It wasn’t that I felt ridiculously better as a carnivore again and as a paleo adherent than I did as a vegan, and there was definitely some major changes going on. Like I was pretty constipated for about four, or five to six weeks as I was reintroducing meat to my system because all the, my microbiome that would have helped me digest meat, those guys that starved to death long, long, long ago. And so when I started putting meat back down the gullet, my internal physiology didn’t know quite what to do with it at first. But what I really did notice is doing the same amount of physical exercises that I had been doing as a vegan, I suddenly started putting on a lot of muscle mass, again, with the same amount of exercise. And so I found that kind of impressive and cool.
Ben: Yeah. That’s really interesting. Do you ever do any self-quantification of blood? Like do you test your biomarkers, do you use salivary testing, or stool testing, or have you dealt much in any of that?
Jesse: Well you know, I’ve been doing a little bit of that recently because I’ve been experimenting with a ketogenic diet, and so I’ve been doing the measurement of ketones in my blood. I haven’t been getting regular blood tests. I did do like a big major battery. I guess it was January of this year, maybe December. But yeah, getting regular blood test is actually something I’d like to be doing more of. I just, I’ve been traveling a bunch and it hasn’t been super convenient when I’ve been overseas to try to get that taken care of.
Ben: Now for ketosis, that’s always an interesting one, and that’s one that I experimented with for about twelve months. How is it that you are personally doing a ketotic diet? What’s your fueling protocol look like on that?
Jesse: Well, it’s been a lot of eggs. It sounds like you’re a pretty good cook, so you probably have a lot more variety available to you with the stuff that you’re cooking than I do, but…
Ben: And I’m just so you, the audience, knows that the reason that Jessie is saying that is I was actually quite late for today’s recording because I was in my kitchen trying to figure out how to make duck confit, which is basically a process of preserving duck in its own fat for about a month. And I think that would definitely qualify as ketotic, but anyways we digress. Go ahead, Jesse.
Jesse: Yeah, yeah. No problem. Well I guess the corollary is that I find myself in my kitchen struggling to figure out how to make scrambled eggs. So that’s my level of ability within the kitchen. But, I’ve got a few things that I’ve sort of kept going back to during the couple of months that I’ve been tinkering around with ketogenic diet now. I mean needless to say, there’s a lot of coconut oil involved, a lot of scrambled eggs involved, chicken, fish, and avocados, spinach. The leafy green vegetables, I’m definitely still trying to make sure that I get enough of those. And I guess the one thing that I’ve sort of been splurging on, I guess, to get some sugars is blueberries. And one of the things that I’ve found that’s been interesting as I’ve been doing it is things that it seemed like would kick me out of ketosis in the first month, I’m now able to get away with, eating like a lot more blueberries and I used to without seeing my ketone level spike quite as much. So that’s been rewarding ’cause I’ve been able to reintegrate some things into my diet that I had been missing.
Ben: Now have you experimented much at all with like Beta-hydroxybutyrate salts, or ketone salts, or any of these like liquid or powdered forms of ketones?
Jesse: No. I haven’t. I’m actually, I’m really interested to do that, but it hasn’t been something that I’ve done yet. I’ve just been doing it purely dietarily.
Ben: Gotcha. Now that this water fast, you recently did a water fast, which I would imagine would lend itself well to being in ketosis. Is that something that you did as part of a ketosis experiment? Was that something completely different? And how did that actually work?
Jesse: Yeah. So the water fast actually came before the ketogenic stuff and kind of led me down that road. And yes, anybody wanting to get into ketosis quickly, a water fast is pretty much the way to do it. So late last year, I did an interview on my podcast with a doctor named Thomas Seyfried who’s a cancer researcher, and he made sort of the really interesting point in the course of the interview that well a.) ketogenic diets can be very beneficial as far as if one has cancer to stop the expansion of tumors, and in oftentimes can actually roll back and make them smaller. But he said something which really caught my attention which was he believes that if somebody does not yet have cancer, but you might have maybe a few stray cancer cells somewhere in your body that haven’t plunked down and started to expand in a tumor, and metastasize, and all those things, that going into deep ketosis could be a way of starving them out, that basically the one commonality of the various different types of cancer is that they do well in a high sugar environment and they do really really crappy in a low sugar environment. And of course the healthy cells in your body, we kind of have this backup power system of being able to run off the breakdown products of fats of these ketone bodies as opposed to just glucose. So basically if you drop your glucose levels really low, the rest of your body is going to be able to do okay. But any of these theoretical stray cancer cells that you might have are going to kind of wither up and die.
So what he said is he believes that a healthy person who does not yet have cancer might be able to essentially keep yourself from ever getting it by doing a one week per year water fast, and essentially the first few days of the fast get you into this deep ketosis as you sort of, you first run through all the glucose you’ve got, you then run through all the glycogen you’ve got, and so on and so forth, and get down into this ketogenic state. And then for like the second half of the week, you’re just sitting there with really, really low blood sugar and any of these little cancer cells that you might have that you don’t even know about yet would sort of starve to death during that time, and then you’d go back to your regular life or the other 51 weeks of the year. This is sort of speculation, but he is a certified doctor who studies cancer for a living and basically my thinking upon hearing this was, “Well, even if there’s only a 50% chance he’s right, inconveniencing myself for one week per year and being able to forever keep myself free of cancer seems like a pretty good bet.” It’s when you boil it down to that, it’s like, “Well, shucks. It’s only a week, how bad could it be?” And so, yeah. In February of this year, I did a one week water fast. This was the first time in my life I’ve ever done an acaloric fast for more than about 18 hours. And it was really something, it was, I mean how much do you want me to riff on it?
Ben: Yeah. It’s really interesting that you talk about that because there are so many diets out there, even the Mediterranean diet that include elements of fasting, and there’s of course a great deal of evidence in everything from fruit flies to humans that some amount of caloric restriction and even like intermittent fasting can be beneficial from like a longevity and an anti-cancer standpoint. But it’s quite inconvenient to just like take a week or say like a month in the case of something like Ramadan, I guess, to implement some type of strict fast or strict fasting protocol, especially in heavily exercising individuals. Did you use any type of supplements during the water fast? Like did you use electrolytes, or did you take like a multi-vitamin or anything like that, or did you just do a week of just water?
Jesse: I did absolutely nothing except water. And here’s the thing. I figured if I was going inconveniencing myself that much, the last thing that I wanted was to let somebody come at me like six months later and say, “Oh, you took some vitamins so it doesn’t really count.” And like that would have just driven me nuts. And so I was like I’m going to go to the full bore, inconvenience myself as much as possible ’cause I if I only do it once in my life, I didn’t want somebody to put an asterisk next to the accomplishment.
Ben: Wow. That’s interesting. So as far as how you felt in terms of like energy levels, things like that, how’d it go? Like were you delirious, were you dizzy, or what exactly happened?
Jesse: Yeah. Well it really varied day to day as you might imagine, not that it spiked in different points, but like the first couple days were a much different experience than the last couple of days. The first couple of days made me aware of just how much being hungry is a psychological thing as opposed to a physiological thing. I really wanted to eat, but I wanted to eat not so much because I was starving to death but because I used food like as a self-reward mechanism. Like, “Oh, I’m going to do this work for a while, then I’ll grab lunch and won’t that be great.” It’s kind of like you, I think everybody probably does this, is you make your food selections for what you might eat later, and that’s almost like a little, like a drip feed of reward, a little dopamine for you as you’re planning your day. And of course, it’s also, eating can be a very social thing. We eat with other people. It’s just sort of an activity that’s woven into the fabric of our lives. So having this like cornerstone activity not there, was really aggravating. And for the first couple of days, that’s what I missed. It was just like, “I want this part of my day that I’m used to still be there.” But you know other than the stomach growling, the not eating part was much easier than I thought it would be. And the stomach growls kind of go away after like day two, day three, and you sort of get into cruise mode. It’s like you can see how these people that have done like hunger strikes for like some political reason or something, you actually could starve yourself to death. I don’t think that I would have gotten to the point where I would have freaked out and needed to eat something. It’s weird. It’s like you always do kind of have the mental control to just say, “You know what? I’m not doing this right now.”
Now as far as how it felt, for most people as they transition into ketosis, there can be what’s called like the ketogenic flu where your body kind of, there’s probably a bunch of epigenetic changes going on, your body has realized by this point that something vastly different is happening, that there’s basically a big gear shift going on intercellularly as your body gets used to processing these ketones rather than processing the glucose that it’s used to. And for a lot of people that can be, a really pretty unpleasant process and actually make it feel like you’re having flu-like symptoms for a couple of days. From what I understand, people who are a little bit physically more healthy to begin with don’t have the symptoms come on quite a strong. For me, I felt low energy, but I didn’t get headaches, I didn’t feel nauseous, or anything like that. So I probably got away with it maybe better than some people might.
And then the last few days, sort of after I’d gotten past that low energy ebb, it was something where I felt clear-headed and sharp in the mornings. And by mid-afternoon, I would start to feel definitely not quite as, it was like I couldn’t make myself do things that I didn’t want to do. So it was almost like a low dopamine feeling. I had a hard time using willpower for anything, like I really need to do this thing, to write this e-mail, to read this letter, whatever it is, that kind of stuff just wasn’t happening. I couldn’t force myself to perform tasks, not physical tasks, but mental tasks the way that I was used to. But what was weird about it was at that same time that I was feeling this lack of mental vigor, I was also feeling like a slight euphoria. And this was true for probably days like four through seven that I would be sharp in the mornings, sort of mentally weak in the afternoons, but a little bit euphoric in the afternoons at the same time.
Ben: Interesting. So I’m curious, before we talk about a few of your other little self-experiments here, did you just grow up doing things like this? What do you think actually began to attract you to putting your body through these little experiments?
Jesse: That’s a great question. I mean I feel like I’ve probably gotten weirder as I’ve gotten older, or it’s kind of like once you realize you can kind of stray from the path and try some of these things and not die, and of course I’ve been lucky enough to not die along the way, each one, I think, emboldens you for the next one. So it’s just sort of a self-perpetuating cycle, as long as you don’t get yourself into any real trouble. I was lucky, I say I’m a second generation health nut, my dad is definitely the original health nut Lawler in the family. And so I always, I had that instilled in me at an early age like to not do anything that you think could really, really screw yourself up. So like I haven’t you know experimented with drugs that I thought could be dangerous to me. Sometimes when people do experiments, they experimenting with the things that are probably going to have bad ends. Bank robbery is something that I’ve never experimented in, and probably for good reason. So I don’t want to say experiment with anything and just assume it’ll work out well. Pick your experiments carefully. But I’ve that found the things that I’ve tried, even when they haven’t worked, nothing has crashed and burned so horribly that it’s kept me from wanting to get back on the horse.
Ben: Yeah. I’m concerned about that with my kids growing up with a health nut as a father, if they’re going to just be like diving off the deep end into these crazy, whatever, experiments with everything from like homeopathy to maybe like eating roadkill just because they grew up with a dad like me to where they just think this kind of stuff is normal.
Jesse: Yeah. Good luck with that one.
Ben: So I’m curious about the “Uberman Sleep Schedule” and this idea of polyphasic sleep. From what I understand, you did some experimentation with this as well?
Jesse: Yeah. Okay, so speaking of crash and burns, this was an experiment that did not work well. So first of all, what it is. Obviously sleeping is this thing that most of us do 25 to 33% of our lives. It seems like if we can optimize our sleep, then that is going to have huge follow on benefits for everything else. And a few years ago, this was probably about five years ago now, I heard of this thing it called the Uberman sleep schedule, which is, basically the idea is to break your sleep out of like this one eight hour block into lots of little 20 minute blocks throughout the day. So you’re awake for, I think it’s like 2 hours and 40 minutes, then you take a 20 minute nap, then awake for another 2 hours and 40 minutes, then another 20 minute nap. And so you never have a night time, you never have a day time, and the idea is that when you train your body to behave like this, you instantly drop into rapid eye movement sleep, which is sort of the dreaming sleep which is most important for sort of the restoral of your brain, and laying down memories, and cognition, and stuff like that. It’s the one kind of sleep we need that keeps you from going crazy. They’ve done these the studies where if they wake people up during that specific sleep cycle and you let them go through all the other cycles, but every time they go into REM, you wake ’em up, that can have really bad mental effects for people.
So anyway, the Uberman idea is to keep up with, it’s try to catch all your REM sleep in these little 20 minute bursts, and it radically reduces your overall time sleeping during the day to something like three hours, I think, if you do the math on that on a 24 hour cycle. And there are people who claim that you can do this, and you can pull it off, and you can maintain mental clarity during the wakeful hours and meanwhile you’re adding like you know four or five hours to your productive day. And I read, it was the blogger Steve Pavlina who had a long series of blog posts about his experiences with the Uberman schedule and he did it for, I think it was something like six months and blogged about it. And it just sounded great. I mean he made it sound amazing. It was obviously a little bit inconvenient to need to find a place to take a 20 minute nap every three hours or so. But other than that, he said he was still mentally sharp, and yada, yada, yada. And I read this, and my jaw dropped, and I just got excited about trying it. I thought, “This is something I’ve got to give a try.”
And so a few years ago, this would have been probably back in 2012, I probably reread Steve Pavlina’s blog post on this cover to cover 10 times over the course of a couple of weeks. I got my diet to what his diet had been, I bought the supplements he recommended, I did all the stuff, just perfectly primed my life, told everybody, “Hey, I’m going to have this rough 10 days of transition as I get into this so do don’t expect me to be my cognitive best during this time ’cause I’m probably going to be a sleepy basket case.” And I made a full run at it, and I did it. Just started, set my alarm, and getting one of these like massively loud alarms that would like vibrate the bed and all this stuff to wake yourself up because as everybody who’s done this sleep schedule, said it’s a rough, rough transition ’cause you’re completely resetting your brain’s relationship with sleep. I found it, probably willpower-wise, to be about the hardest thing it that I had ever attempted. Literally by like night four of this, and it was weird. Like when the sun would come up, you start to see how affected we are by sunlight as far as controlling our own diurnal rhythms. The sun would come up, I’d feel pretty good. And when the sun would go down, wow, it just became amazing like, you’d be looking so forward to that next 20 minute burst of sleep.
And there was one night, probably like four or five nights in, I found myself just watching some mindless television show, which I never do, I never watch TV, so this shows like the depths that I had sunk to, and standing up, because I knew if I was even sitting, I was going to fall asleep. So standing up rocking from one foot to the next, just side to side a like a frickin’ zombie man, just like complete zombification ’cause that was the only way that I could keep myself from falling asleep. So in his articles, in Steve Pavlina’s articles, it was somewhere around days five or six that, I think maybe even day four or five, that it started, like you sort of rounded the corner and it started getting easier instead of harder. And I was on day five and six, and it was not, like it was just getting worse. It was not getting better. And so as the sun was dawning on something like the sixth and a half the morning or something like that, I was googling around trying to find more information on sleep because I just figured, “I’m doing everything by the book, why is this not working for me?” And I found something by a sleep researcher, I forget the guy’s name, it’s like an Italian sleep scientist, but basically just completely debunking the whole idea of Uberman saying, “Look, this might be physiologically possible. But if you’re doing it for getting more productivity out of your day, if you’re a bricklayer, and you lay bricks, and it doesn’t take any cognitive processing, maybe you will be more productive. But if you’re something where you use your brain, you’re going to be shooting yourself in the foot.” ‘Cause even if you’re awake five more hours, you’re going to be functionally retarded and, yeah.
Ben: Yeah. That’s actually exactly what my experience was when I tried it out a little bit. And also the research that I found was like if you got to get through whatever, like a like a hell week right, or some kind of military event then maybe it would work for that short term, but it’s unsustainable as like a lifelong practice for sleep.
Jesse: Yeah. So I read that article and it just took the wind out of my sails. I just deflated like a balloon. It was like, “Screw this. I’m going to sleep.” And I slept for like 30 straight hours or some insane thing, and never thought about that one again.
Ben: Interesting. So do you drink alcohol specifically? Obviously, you drink. You did a water fast. But do you drink alcohol?
Jesse: I actually stopped drinking alcohol a little over 10 years ago now. And I wish I had like a great story for it, like I used to start bar brawls or something like that. It really wasn’t that. When I got to my mid-20’s, I started noticing that instead of like drinking and like, “Hey, this makes you want to stay out and party,” it kind of made me like, “Ah, I’m kind of tired. I kind of want to go to bed and go to sleep.” And once that effect changed, obviously alcohol lost a lot of its allure. And I was doing a bicycle ride across Southeast Asia actually when I stopped, and I was riding with a friend who I would basically say is like a functional alcoholic, a guy who drinks too much, but he still manages to make his life work. But when you’re on a long distance bicycle ride with somebody who’s like, you’re with them 24 hours a day and the kind of things that wouldn’t bug you in a regular friendship where you’re seeing somebody maybe once, twice, three times a week, when you’re 24 hours a day with somebody, things start to grate on you that normally wouldn’t. And so seeing the way that we were getting on the bike a little bit later every day, and maybe not putting down the miles that we should, and stuff like that, and it was pretty directly attributable to the fact that my buddy had wanted to drink a little bit too much the night before. I started thinking, “Hey, if alcohol’s affecting him in this way even though I don’t drink nearly as much as this guy, how is it affecting me? Maybe I should just stop drinking for a couple of months and see if I miss it.” And so on the first of the year, what was it, I guess it would’ve been the first of the year 2006, so maybe it’s not 10 years. Maybe it’s only nine years. I just put down alcohol and figured I’ll take a couple months off, see how I feel. And I just didn’t miss it. Just didn’t miss it at all, and it never started again.
Ben: Interesting. Okay. Got it. So it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on this guy that I had on the show who did like a 30 days no alcohol experience and, or experiment. We actually tracked things like triglycerides, and vitamin D, thyroid, et cetera. It was really, really interesting to see what happened to his blood work. He was drinking, I think he was drinking the equivalent of around like three bottles of wine a week. So a little bit more than what would be considered to be like that healthy glass a day type of habit, and he saw as his triglycerides plummeted, his HDL ironically went up when he stopped drinking because drinking is supposed to increase HDL, his thyroid, specifically is TSH, which indicates if high, that thyroid is suffering, that number completely normalized, his testosterone went way up, his vitamin D went way up. It was really interesting. But it was a 30 days no alcohol experiment, and I was pretty shocked to see what happened to his blood work.
Jesse: Yeah. That’s a great score card.
Ben: Yeah. It was. I personally still do the glass of red wine a night type of thing, but yeah, it’s interesting to hear about people’s experience with drinking or not drinking alcohol. Now you also, even though you don’t drink alcohol, it seems that perhaps there are other things that you’re willing to do to your liver or other organs. You did a Ritalin experiment recently, if I’m not mistaken. I’m curious to hear exactly why you chose to experiment with Ritalin and how that turned out.
Jesse: I guess that’s one benefit of not drinking alcohol is I kind of almost use that as a justification since I’m not chewing up my liver with alcohol, I can cut myself a little bit of slack with some of these other things that might have some downsides there. So, yeah. I talk with people about all sorts of different cognitive enhancers on the podcast, and Ritalin was one that is definitely sort of spoken about in that arena. Several of the different ADHD drugs have sort of focus enhancing benefits, and I’ve got some friends and some people that I’ve spoken with that have really sung the praises of Ritalin and how it’s changed their life and gives them the ability to focus for sustained periods. It was something that sounded attractive to me, but it also has some physiological downsides that I was concerned about. I don’t think that I’m an ADHD person, so it’s not like I could go out and get a prescription, but I did happen to find a friend who said, “Hey, if you want a couple of pills so you can give this a try and sort of give it the Pepsi challenge to some of the other things that you’ve experimented with, here’s some pills. Take ’em if you want, don’t take ’em if you don’t want ’em.”
And so I had these pills sort of sitting around for a couple of months, and yeah, just about three weeks ago I guess, I took one of ’em, I still have the other one, and just did a one day experiment with Ritalin and see how it went. And yeah, it was definitely, it’s a strong drug. I feel like the amount that I took was probably too high of a dose for me. The overall sense that I had was that I kind of felt like I’d put way too strong an engine into a go cart and that like the engine was like humming and rattling. But there was a limit to how fast the go cart could really go anyway, and it was like it was too much. It was like the vibrations of this jet engine in the go cart were not really helping to go cart get anywhere any faster, but I could sense that there was this big well of energetic power that was there. And it was maybe just that I didn’t really know how to direct it because it was my first time using that drug. What I came away from it thinking was that I felt very motivated to do stuff, to kind of like do cognitive work while I was on the drug. But what I didn’t feel, which was unusual to me, was I didn’t feel as I performed the cognitive work any sort of sense of reward. It was kind of like the motivation was there, but not, like I said in my podcast, not the biochemical pat on the head that I feel like I sometimes get from some other nootropics. Will I do the second Ritalin bill at some point the future? I’m sure I will. I mean I’ve got the thing. Is it something that I see myself trying to get more of? Probably not.
Ben: Yeah. Well, supposedly it just floods your brain with dopamine and norepinephrine specifically. And I know that you’ve used some other smart drugs. You experimented, obviously as the host of a podcast called “Smart Drug Smarts”, I know you’ve experimented with a variety of different things. Have you found any of the nootropics or smart drugs that you’ve taken to give you a comparable feeling in terms of that like dopamine, norepinephrine release?
Jesse: Yeah. I feel as far as like focus enhanced that probably modafinil and armodafinil could be in the same range if one took a larger dose. I mean, again, dosage matters in all these things. The dose response curve is going to be hugely important. So yeah, I kind of feel like focus-wise, those are probably the modafinil, armodafinil, adrafinil family is sort of in the same ballpark as Ritalin. But again, it would be really dose dependent, and because I’ve only done Ritalin once, I hesitate to characterize that too closely.
Ben: Yeah. It’s interesting actually, one of the first things I do when I’m researching any type of chemical is the amount of it that’s actually metabolized by the liver. And interestingly, even Wikipedia can give you decent data when it comes to this, and I think Ritalin is one of the highest when it comes to, or methyl, what’s it called? Methylphenidate.
Ben: Yeah. Methylphenidate is the chemical term for Ritalin. And yeah, a huge amount of it metabolized by the liver. That’s my concern with it. All these kids with ADD and ADHD basically putting their livers under a huge amount of strain with something like methylphenidate.
Jesse: Yeah. The pill that I had was a sort of extended release pill which is made to sort of be buffered in such a way that it releases in more or less a constant stream throughout like a 12-hour period, which hopefully gave my liver less of a spike of heavy lifting to do than when people are taking a methylphenidate in sort of in the wrong way, or getting it sort of in the black market or whatever, sometimes people are crushing it up, doing things that they can get a big spike of it in their system all at once, almost more it serve like in a drug of abuse type way, and I think something like that could be even worse as far as liver damage profile.
Ben: Yeah. Well what is your favorite, or favorite series of smart drugs, or smart drug stacks, or nootropics? What you found to work really well for you, or gotten the most amount of feedback from your audience about when it comes to cognitive performance or something actually really, really being something you can feel when it comes to amping up your mental and cognitive performance?
Jesse: Yeah. I mean really, I’ve been sort of, I go back and forth between two things, and not like back and forth like I can’t choose between them, but that I try to sort of alternate so I’m not doing the same thing on every day. I still like to, basically if you do the same thing every day, like it just becomes normal and you can’t feel the difference, and I kind of like having a bit of variety. And I guess the two main stacks that I’ve been bouncing between recently have been armodafinil and nicotine is the one. I found that a nicotine patch, of course I’ve never smoked a cigarette my life, never will, never would encourage anybody to. But I found armodafinil and nicotine, I’ll cut one patch in half and put that on my shoulder. Those two things go nicely together for me.
Ben: Interesting. And what is the difference between armodafinil and modafinil?
Jesse: Very small. Not much. Armodafinil has a slightly longer half life, it’s something like 18 hours as opposed to 15. It has a slightly longer onset period before you feel it, but I mean that’s like, I think it’s a difference of 20 minutes versus 40 minutes. But they’re basically very similar I don’t think if one were to dose me with one versus the other I could tell you with any degree of accuracy that if you take modafinil or armodafinil today.
Ben: Now armodafinil, is that the same as Nuvigil.
Jesse: Yes. It is Nuvigil. Nuvigil versus Provigil as far as the trade names.
Ben: Okay. And that’s something, that’s not an OTC right? You actually have to get that prescribed?
Jesse: Yes. That is a prescription one. Not shockingly, it’s a pretty easy to get over the internet from various places that will sell it to you from overseas.
Ben: Oh, yeah. That’s a little scary. But I have gone down that route of self-experimentation before with some pills and always had that worry at the back of my mind. Particularly I did an experiment I talked about in the podcast, it was like a year and a half ago with Viagra, and I didn’t want to go get a prescription for it so I just got a bunch of like generic, like Indian brand, Karmagra or whatever it’s called, and it works just fine. But I always wondered whether it was laced with something like steroids, or modafinil, or whatever else. So it’s always a little bit scary. But you combine nicotine with Nuvigil?
Jesse: Yeah. I mean applied them both at the same time. I mean the nicotine is a transdermal patch. But yeah, I found that that really worked for me as far as sort of perking me up. Like nicotine was an interesting one. So I did an interview about nicotine maybe like episode 30, or 40, or something like that, and it was fascinating, all the upsides cognitively at that that very demonized drug has. But it sounds like the things that are worth demonizing about it are much more about the smoking and the [0:47:48] ______, the tobacco effects, rather than anything about nicotine itself. Nicotine is apparently highly addictive, but not in such a way that it does anything bad. And of course I’ve only maybe done the nicotine patch one, two days a week tops. So it’s nothing that I’m addicted to by any stretch. And then the other aniracetam has been the other sort of go-to smart drug for me that I’ve really enjoyed. And yeah, recently we released actually a supplement stack that has aniracetam at the core of it. But, yeah. I’d say that the aniracetam and the afinils, modafinil, armodafinil have been the ones that I’ve sort of kept coming back to and that I can feel cognitively that there is like an acute onset period where you can feel, “Hey, something’s happening.” It’s like I take fish oil every day in large doses and things like that, but I don’t expect to be able to feel it.
Ben: Now with aniracetam, is there a particular dosage that you use?
Jesse: Yeah. I’ve been doing 750 milligrams for aniracetam.
Ben: Okay. And you said that you actually have, I know that you’re a part of this, is it called Axon Labs?
Jesse: Yeah. Axon Labs is something that we just launched. It’s a couple of different supplements stack products that we have, both of which can be taken daily. One of them is cognitively aimed and is based around aniracetam, the other is sort of more of a general physical thing based around mitochondrial health, but it also contains things like sulbutiamine, which is itself a nootropic, a cognitive enhancer. So you get a little bit of extra bang for your buck cognitively there as well.
Ben: Interesting. So the names of those are what?
Jesse: Nexus is the aniracetam-based stack. And then the mitochondrial stack is called Mitogen, short for mitochondrial generation. It includes the thing called BioPQQ which actually promotes the growth of new mitochondria. You probably talked about that one on your show.
Ben: Yeah. I think Dave Asprey, with Bulletproof exec, he has as a PQQ, what’s it called, Unfair Advantage I think is there in PQQ.
Jesse: Yeah, yeah.
Ben: Gotcha. Interesting. Now any other technology, for example, that you use in this sector? Because obviously there’s everything from like transcranial stimulation and all that muscle stimulation…
Jesse: Transcranial stimulation.
Ben: Or TDCS as it’s known. Or even apps that come with headgear, like Muse for example. How much experimentation have you done with those? And if so, are there any that you found to be a particular favorite?
Jesse: As far as apps go, I have started using Headspace, the meditation app. I’ve had forays into meditation over the course of my life that have never really stuck, but Headspace has been a good one. I am in a meditation phase right now. I’ve been able to keep with it for about two months. So hopefully it’ll stick this time. There are people who swear by it, and the science is there to back it up as far as the growth of additional grey matter and things like that. I wish that meditation had an acute effect I could feel and I could know for sure that I was doing something good for myself, but unfortunately meditation is more akin to something like fish oil where the science makes me believe that yes, there are enough studies here, the long term effects are going to be good, I just need to suck it up and do it even though it seems boring as hell while I’m actually performing this task.
Ben: Now what about any of these other forms of electrical stimulation?
Jesse: So I bought in early TDCS device, and these things, it’s funny. They’re marketed generally for gamers, for people that are video game players. And I’ve used it a few times, it definitely does kind of make me feel somewhat invigorated afterwards. I can’t say that it makes me feel smarter, but definitely kind of more energetic during the couple of hours after I’ve used it. I haven’t stuck with it though. It hasn’t kept me coming back, honestly. Partially because the app that came with it didn’t work on my phone very well, but also there’s been some studies I’ve read recently that it’s really not clear whether TDCS is consistently doing, like there have been lots of effects, lots of studies that have shown positive effects from TDCS, modulating one thing or another, but they recently did sort of a broad spectrum meta-analysis of these various studies and find that it, like that meta-analysis it all sort of boiled down to nothing. Like so some studies would find it spiking one way, some studies would find things spiking another way, and grand melange was kind of awash, which made me wonder is this something that’s really having much of a benefit other than making me feel a little bit buzzy for the next couple of hours. So the jury’s still out for me on TDCS. And honestly, I haven’t given it enough research where I feel like I can come down sort of in the pro or con camp.
Ben: Got it. Now how about marijuana, THC, CBD, stuff like that? Have you ever done much research or experimented with that? Because there’s a lot of talk out there about how it damages gray matter, or memory, or turns you into a dope, those type of things. What’s your take on marijuana, and have you done much of that with your Smart Drug Smarts experimentation?
Jesse: We did have a marijuana episode several episodes ago with a guy who works for a company that is here in California and is specifically scientifically studying the effects of marijuana on everything. I am not a marijuana person myself. This is the strangest Oregonian in the world ’cause I’m probably the only Oregonian who has never smoked pot, but I have tried the CBD supplements and I found that was great as far as kind of mellowing myself out, I guess. It promotes the release of GABA and sort of a good like night time, winding the evening down sort of effect. As far as what marijuana seems to be doing gray matter wise, I feel like the jury is still out for me on that one too. Again, you hear some studies that, “Hey, it’s not really doing anything that terrible.” You hear other things, like yes, there are definitive changes that take place in the brain. It seems like the study’s saying that there are changes that are caused by long term marijuana use are pretty clear.
The thing that I always come back to is think about the people that have used marijuana heavily that I’ve known in my life. There’s a significant number of those people that does seem like it slows down the quickness of them in conversation or their overall levels of motivation. I mean these are kind of the truisms that we hear about when we think of pot heads, but where there’s smoke, there seems to be a certain amount of fire there. And I find it hard to think that it’s not doing something bad, even if it is, like for example, if I were to choose like, “Hey, Jesse you could start smoking pot now or you could start drinking alcohol again,” I would start smoking pot. I’ve never done it before, but I really think that the effects of marijuana probably are not as bad, for a normal recreational usage, as the effects of alcohol that being said, I don’t think either of them is a drug for me.
Ben: Yeah. I’ve found personally that anytime I exceed about 10 milligrams of THC, which for recreational pot users is not that large of a dose, it definitely affects memory and it even affects cognitive performance the next day deleteriously. And it seems to vastly enhance creativity, humor, what movies are funny versus what movies aren’t, those type of things. But ultimately, I have found that the law of diminishing returns from a cognitive standpoint appears to be right at about 10, whereas at smaller doses like five, it seems to actually enhance cognitive performance, especially for kind of more like free flowing combination of left and right brain activity. And then of course with the CBD, you can take the edge off it a little bit. But I’m pretty disillusioned with anything above about a 10 milligram dose unless you have to do something I suppose, like kill pain or something of that nature.
Jesse: One thing that I haven’t done an episode on yet that I’d really like to it is sort of the idea of microdosing. I know that that’s something that’s starting to gain some renown like within the psychedelics community is taking sort of small, like non-recreational doses of psychedelic drugs and going about one’s normal day for enhanced creativity and things like that. That’s an idea that I think has actually a lot of appeal for me. Again, I haven’t done an episode on it, I haven’t looked into it, I haven’t experimented with it myself yet. But I think that all of these drugs that modulate our brains, it’s like they’re tools in a tool kit. You want to understand what the risks are, what the potential benefits are, and I think it’s nice to know that we have fairly predictable chemical ways sometimes. And it does vary on a person to person basis, but predictable chemical ways of modulating how we feel, the kind of thing that we’re interested in, and the type of tasks that we’re going to do cognitively well. I mean there might be times when getting yourself in a great sense of humor is absolutely worth it. Maybe your memory of that night or your cognitive sharpness the next day, that trade might be a perfectly acceptable one.
Ben: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. It’s one of those sometimes drugs. Kind of like sugar in that respect, in my opinion. Anyways though, you’ve done a lot of experimentation obviously. We’ve touched on many of those things today. And of course, I will put a link in the show notes if folks want to go access the show notes and some of the things that Jesse and I have talked about thus far, you can go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/smartdrugsmarts. That’s bengreenfieldfitness.com/smartdrugsmarts. And I’ll also include a link over to Jesse’s podcast, which is the same name, Smart Drug Smarts.
Jesse, what is the worst that you’ve ever messed yourself up or the craziest experience that you’ve had that you haven’t yet had a chance to share?
Jesse: Oh, god. Okay. So coming off the water fast, this is after I had not eaten for a week, needless to say I was pretty excited about eating. More so than I should have been. So it was a midnight to midnight thing. So when midnight struck, when I had completed my 7th day, I had a salad, nothing too crazy, but I figured since I was already in deep in ketosis and I wanted to start fiddling with a ketogenic diet that I would have a ketogenic salad that had some walnuts and some fish. And I had that, and it was midnight, and then I went to bed. I didn’t overdo it that day. And my stomach didn’t like reject me, or get angry, or anything like that. It was like, “Oh. Well, I had that small meal. It worked out okay. So I guess I can actually start eating again.” But that next day, I got a bunch of, this was like hazel nuts and Brazil nuts, ’cause they were very fatty and I figured that would keep me in ketosis, but I could also eat. And, yeah. I ate way too many nuts on that first day back on food, which I guess just like ballooned in my stomach in a way that I never would have suspected. Basically my first day back on food, I was just lulling in misery. I felt like I was going to give birth to something. So, yeah. That might be the worst single effect of any of my self-experiments.
Ben: That sounds like an appropriate time for something like activated charcoal to just soak everything up. That’s my bloat fix.
Jesse: Yeah. I wish I’d had that at the time. But, yeah. Buyer beware, I guess, when you start refeeding yourself after a long fast.
Ben: Yeah. Or the other fix for that that we’ve discovered with our goats is that in cases of extreme bloat, you can actually take massive amounts of an oil, like a mineral oil, and in very extreme cases, you can actually make a small incision right above the rib, it’s like right in the middle of the rib section and just basically drain all the gas out that way. Although if you’re listening in and you decide to go that route, proceed with caution. And you did not hear that here.
Jesse: Yeah, well that’s a heck of a piece of advice.
Ben: There you go. And so on that, making self-incisions to relieve bloating and gas, I think that’s a perfect place to end. Because obviously Jesse and I could go on and on with little stories, and he’s done some really, really cool things with his podcast and some of his guests over there so I do encourage you to go listen in. So I will put a link to his podcast along with everything else that we’ve talked about from nicotine, to Nuvigil, to Axon Labs, Headspace, CBD, you name it, over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/smartdrugsmarts. That’s bengreenfieldfitness.com/smartdrugsmarts. And Jesse, thanks so much for coming on the show today.
Jesse: Hey, thank you so much, Ben. Really appreciate it.
Ben: Alright, folks. This is Ben Greenfield and Jesse Lawler signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have a healthy week.
Meet Jesse Lawler (pictured above), my guest in today’s podcast. Jesse is a software developer, a self-experimentalist, and a health nut; he tweaks his diet, exercise habits, and medicine cabinet on an ongoing basis, always seeking the optimal balance for performance and cognition. He has flirted with everything from paleontology and genetic engineering to screenwriting, green-tech, software engineering, photography, and neuroscience. Jesse is also the host of Smart Drug Smarts, a podcast about “practical neuroscience,” where he speaks each week with the world’s leading minds in neurology, brain-tech, and the social issues related to cognitive enhancement. During our discussion, you’ll discover: -How Jesse rode his bicycle across the entire country with no training… -Why Jesse went from 100% vegan to 100% Paleo… Eliminate fatigue and unlock the secrets of low-carb success. Find out how in The Low Carb Athlete – 100% Free. Sign up now for instant access to the book! Email* I’m interested in…* YES, HOOK ME UP! -The details of Jesse’s week long water fast, what he discovered along the way, and the crazy mistake he made after… -When a “polyphasic sleep schedule” is an appropriate strategy to manage fatigue or lack of sleep… -Why Jessa drinks zero amounts of alcohol… -The details of Jesse’s recent Ritalin experiment… -Whether marijuana damages your brain and memory or makes you stupid, and the concept of micro-dosing with compounds such as THC or CBD… -Jesse’s favorite smart drug and nootropic stacks… -And much more! Resources from this episode: –HammerNutrition Seat Saver (use 15% discount code 80244) –The SmartDrugSmarts podcast –Nicotine patch + Nuvigil –Aniracetam –Axon Labs – Nexus & Mitogen –Headspace app –NatureCBD
Read more at: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/brain-podcasts/smart-drug-smarts/