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(No. 53) Eating leaves, pills and other nootropics from the neotropics, by Stephen P. Williams
The longevity of talent and grace
Legendary actress Liliane Rovère and tragic romantic jazz talent, Chet Baker, 1955. Photograph by William Claxton
Arlette is a very old, but spirited talent agent on the popular French TV comedy “Call My Agent" (Netflix). She’s played by an 88 year old actress named Liliane Rovère, who has been working so long that the addict, heartbreaker and jazz trumpet player Chet Baker was her boyfriend back in the day. His wife didn’t like that, and came at Lili with a gun. She survived. They broke up. She’s still going strong, and gives a compelling performance in “Call My Agent.” New York Magazine offers an appreciation of the formidable actress.
This is your brain on nootropics
In Paraguay and elsewhere, people often carry a thermos of hot water with which they can prepare their yerba mate on the go. Photo by Fermin Rodriguez Penelas on Unsplash
When I was nineteen, I fled Iowa for the neotropics of Mexico and Central America. South America followed later. The neotropics both energized and soothed my soul in ways I’ve never been able to duplicate. Following local customs, I drank some interesting plant potions on the road that had pleasant, but mild effects on my mood and focus. These drugs (along with many others) are now called nootropics and are much sought after by people looking to improve their cognitive powers.
This odd word, nootropics, is a mishmash of the ancient Greek words nóos (mind) and tropḗ (a turning), and it is pronounced with as many syllables as possible:
Nootropics is a broad term for smart drugs, which can be as common as caffeine or as notorious as LSD (in tiny doses). Regular people are using them to level mood swings, enhance motivation and boost energy. In most cases, the drugs have not been approved by the FDA. The American Medical Association says there’s not enough proof to justify risking whatever side effects could occur. (Many nootropics users are citizen scientists who sleuth through medical books to figure out for themselves what works, the medical establishment be damned.) In the cases of LSD and magic mushrooms, they are illegal, except possibly in Oregon. Still, nootropics are popular to the tune of $1 billion globally each year. I expect that figure will grow rapidly.
Mescaline in a bottle. Photo by Pretty Drugthings on Unsplash
In my many visits to the neotropics (the name given to tropical areas in the Americas), I’ve regularly used some natural nootropics: unprocessed coca leaves made into tea, to help my body cope with high altitudes; guarana, a Brazilian stimulant in the form of a berry that looks like an eyeball; and yerba mate, a leaf made into a cool tea that calms and refreshes in a remarkably clear way. In the US, caffeine and the occasional cup of yerba mate are the only nootropics I ingest, although I would really like to try micro-dosing psilocybin or mescaline. All of these substances offer energy, elevated mood and heightened concentration, which are great when you are growing older. They also come with various possible side effects, including elevated heart rate and, potentially, a prison term. In other words, do your research.
To that end, I will suggest that interested people read two articles. One is the Wikipedia entry, which, although it isn’t a thrilling read, offers a concise introduction to the subject of nootropics. For a more personal and insightful take on the subject, check out this conversation between two dedicated nootropicalistas.
More interesting stuff for curious people
Aging behind bars
Hearing aids are about to make a quantum leap.
Smash the state
Billy Corgan, of Smashing Pumpkins, thinks aging grunge rockers should jettison their sentimentality and embrace the movement for social justice.
Montana, August, 2020
I’ve been pretty slow to embrace the changes now occurring in New York City as the museums and high rises reopen. The pandemic has definitely made me appreciate and enjoy just being quiet at home, and sometimes I wish the streets would remain empty. But spring is here, and the streets are filled with happy people. I’m looking forward to eventually expanding my horizons. I hope you are, also.
My guess is that most of you are fortunate people. But due to COVID-19, many people in India right now are unfortunate, lacking even oxygen to help them breath. My heart goes out to that wonderful country. Here is a list of organizations that are trying to help. Please donate what you can.
Let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to write about — My best to you, Stephen