Nootropic Review: Huperzine-A

What it is

How it works

My protocol moving forward

Huperzine-A is a prominent cognitive enhancing herbal supplement. It’s a naturally occurring compound, extracted from moss that has a long-standing history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. The mechanisms of Huperzine aren’t only enhancing, but also neuroprotective; this explains why it has been investigated for treatment of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Mechanism

Huperzine-A functions primarily as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. Acetylcholinesterase is the enzyme responsible for breaking down acetylcholine after it has been released, meaning its inhibition results in more active acetylcholine left to act on receptors for longer, enhancing overall cholinergic activity.

In the brain, acetylcholine is heavily involved in learning, memory, arousal, and sleep/wake regulation; which is why increasing acetylcholine levels is an effective nootropic mechanism. As a result, you can expect Huperzine-A to have a positive effect on these things.

This mechanism is important to keep in mind since acetylcholine does not have a reuptake transporter like other neurotransmitters. What that means is the inhibition of acetylcholinesterase is the only way to enhance cholinergic activity outside of increasing its release or directly activating its receptors. 

On top of its cholinergic effects, Huperzine is also an NMDA receptor antagonist. Long story short, overactivation of these receptors can induce cell death by allowing too much calcium into the neuron. Therefore, inhibiting these receptors provides a neuroprotective effect. Other NMDA antagonists (like memantine) are used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

As a result of its mechanisms, this compound is an efficacious enhancer of learning, memory, and overall cognition, while also being neuroprotective.

My subjective experience

I had a great experience with Huperzine, though some of my tests were not very fun (learn from my mistakes lol).  I used it in various scenarios, and it is something that I will continue to use on occasion moving forward (there aren’t any nootropics I use on a daily basis, I use them as I want).

My primary use cases for this supplement were before bed and in a general nootropic context (cognitive enhancement), and I’ll briefly explain my experiences with both before covering my future protocol.

Before Bed

A cholinergic before bed may sound weird at first since they increase cognitive function and arousal, but let me explain. A subset of neurons in the brainstem known as “REM-On” cells are cholinergic (meaning they release acetylcholine) and their activity is required to stimulate REM sleep. So, increasing acetylcholine activity via acetylcholinesterase inhibition should enhance REM sleep, or at least give you crazy dreams. It did, but only at certain doses.

I tried 3 doses on multiple occasions before bed; 200, 400, and 600 micrograms (mcg). 

200mcg was the most successful by far. 200mcg right before bed gave me super vivid, movie-esque dreams every time.

400mcg was weird. The first time I sat in a weird state between sleep and wake for ~20 minutes, then didn’t dream much at all. Later attempts left me with similar results, a much worse experience than 200mcg overall.

600mcg is something I would not recommend. It was one of the weirdest nights of my life hands down, so much so that I’m yet to try it again. I had no issue falling asleep, but continually woke up throughout the night. I don’t think I dreamt at all, but at one point I woke up and started shaking vigorously in bed. I’m still not sure if that was a dream or not, but in hindsight it was a pretty cool and unique experience (not fun at all in the moment).

In short, if you plan to try Huperzine before bed; start low and increase your dose with caution. 200mcg yielded the best results for me hands down.

As a Nootropic

Huperzine, to be expected, is a great nootropic. The increased acetylcholine activity really comes through (especially at higher doses). On average, it kicked in after about 15 minutes and lasted ~4-5 hours.

Again, I tested 3 different doses; 200, 400, and 600mcg. I originally planned to test 800 as well, but my results with 600 discouraged me from doing so.

400mcg seemed to be the sweet spot for me with Huperzine. With 200 I felt almost nothing at all, and with 600 I was way over-stimmed. Yeah, I had a lot of energy, but my jaw was clenching a bit (Acetylcholine is responsible for muscle contraction), I was salivating a lot, and it was overall just overstimulating. 

Fun Fact: Excess salivation is a side effect at higher doses due to acetlycholine’s function in the parasympathetic nervous system – part of which stimulates salivation. 

400mcg is what I found to be the perfect in between for me, leaving me super focused, acutely stimulated, and productive. I also found it useful for slipping into a flow state during mundane tasks, notably during a long drive or something like data entry.

My protocol moving forward

Huperzine is going to become a permanent addition to my supplement stack, mostly because of how well I feel and perform mentally on 400mcg. I’ll deploy it as wanted in the future. My specific use cases and dosages are outlined here:

-when I need a general bump in energy/focus (400mcg)

-when I want a boost in focus with the primary goal of learning (400mcg)

-if I REALLY need a bump in energy/productivity (600mcg)

-stacked with other nootropics (200-400mcg)

-before bed for enhanced dreaming (200mcg)

These are dosages that work for me that I honed in after several weeks of testing. If you choose to use Huperzine-A, I highly recommend doing your own testing, starting with the lowest dose. For some, 400mcg is way too much and 200 is perfect. Biology and neurobiology are not one size fits all.

Conclusion

Overall, Huperzine is extremely effective at enhancing overall cholinergic activity, making it a great nootropic for me. I was disappointed by its effects before bed though. 200mcg was fairly effective at giving me some movie-esque dreams, but I was unable to lucid dream on it alone.

That being said, Huperzine’s performance as a nootropic with the side benefit of neuroprotection is going to make it a permanent addition to my supplement stack moving forward, and I will use it as desired following the guidelines listed above. It’s cheap and effective on its own, though I do look forward to stacking it with other nootropics that act on other neurotransmitter systems as well.

It doesn’t come without side-effects at higher doses though (excess salivation, jaw clenching, general overstimulation). So if you aren’t willing to put up with that, stick to the lowest dose you find to work for you.

Supplementary info

Brand used: Nutricost

Form: Pills

Height & Weight for dosage comparison: 6’2, 190lbs

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