Before we begin looking at the different memory-enhancing nootropics, I want to stress the fact that every individual has a different level of neurotransmitters because of the different body chemistry between humans.
Normally these slight variations do not have a negative effect, the just make us the way we are, they help us forge our personality. However, when the level of one or more neurotransmitters becomes dangerously low or high, or there is a loss of neurons, a mental disease can develop.
Parkinson’s (loss of dopamine neurons) schizophrenia (excessive dopamine), Alzheimer’s (loss of cholinergic receptors), ADHD (low dopamine) are examples of mental disease caused, in part, by neurotransmitters gone haywire. However, people have slight differences even between perfectly healthy individuals. This explains why a stimulant may improve focus and cognition in a subject, but worsen it (through increased anxiety and paranoia) in another – or how an anxiolytic agent may cause sleepiness is a subject, and enhance cognition in another (by reducing his mind chatter). This is called the Yerkes-Dodson law.
Monoaminergic and cholinergic systems are also interrelated, so, in simple terms, if you increase the levels of the former, without taking care of the latter (and vice-versa) sooner or later you will have unbalanced levels of neurotransmitters, and we do not want that. That is why we need a comprehensive stack that covers all the major neurotransmitters involved in the memory process.
A hypothesis is presented for an inverse relationship between monoaminergic and cholinergic systems in the modulation of implicit (unconscious) and explicit (conscious) cognitive processes. It is postulated that muscarinic cholinergic receptors and monoaminergic systems facilitate unconscious and conscious processes, respectively, and they disfacilitate conscious and unconscious processes, respectively (the purported inverse relationship). In fact, the muscarinic and monoaminergic modulations of a neural network are proposed to be finely balanced such that, if the activity of one receptor system is modified then this by necessity has effects on the other system. 
Below are some of the most effective nootropic drugs and supplements on the market. As we often say: your mileage may vary.
Vasopressin & Desmopressin
Vasopressin is a peptide hormone that works by limiting the amount of water that is eliminated in the urine. Only qualified physicians should use it as it is extremely dangerous. There is evidence that suggests that it either strongly improves memory or has no effect at all. . Another study showed that a Vasopressin analog, DDAVP, does improve memory, but only in males
Desmopressin is a synthetic analog of Vasopressin. It is easier to find, as well as cheaper, but it is also much less effective according to anecdotal experiences on the web.
Since it is extremely dangerous and the research is not definitive, we suggest to avoid it altogether.
Modafinil is an ergogenic smart drug that works by increasing the activity of dopamine and histamine receptors. As of today, it is arguably the best known and effective smart drug on the market. We know by now that some histamine receptors (like H3 histamine receptors) promote wakefulness and enhance focus.
While Modafinil is not a true memory enhancer, a dopaminergic substance like Modafinil or Methylphenidate (Ritalin) is an essential part of any photographic memory stack to enhance focus and attention. If you think about it, enhancing memory by itself is useless if one cannot focus properly on the material to learn. Read more…
Hydergine and Nicergoline
Hydergine, (brand name of Dihydroergotoxine mesylate), is an ergoline (a derivative of the ergot fungus), the same family of compounds as LSD, perhaps the most famous psychedelic drug in the world. It has been used, in the past, — and still is, in some countries — as a treatment for vascular dementia  and Alzheimer’s disease, even though it rarely gets used anymore due to lack of efficacy.
One of the reasons may be the fact that effective doses are higher than those normally prescribed. 
Unlike LSD, Hydergine doesn’t have any psychedelic effect, but it has several supposed benefits as a cognitive enhancer:
- Increases blood supply and oxygen to the brain.
- Enhances brain cell metabolism.
- Protects the brain from free-radical damage during decreased or increased oxygen supply.
- Speeds the elimination of age pigment (lipofuscin) in the brain.
- Inhibits free-radical activity.
- Increases intelligence, memory, learning, and recall.
- Normalizes systolic blood pressure.
- Lowers abnormally high cholesterol levels in some cases.
- Reduces symptoms of tiredness.
- Reduces symptoms of dizziness and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Hydergine also helps the brain suffering from dopamine and serotonin deficits and stimulates norepinephrine release, but by a simultaneous blockade of postsynaptic alpha 1-adrenoceptors it also blocks excessive norepinephrine release, thus helping rebalance monoamines.
Hydergine stacks well with Piracetam and other racetams as they enhance each others’ efficacy. According to anecdotal experiences on the web, it also seems to improve creativity – particularly in music and arts – and promotes concept association. This makes it one of the most interesting compounds as far as photographic memory is concerned, especially when paired with one or more of the techniques that I’m going to explain below.
Nicergoline is another ergoline, also used in vascular dementia. A study showed that Nicergoline improves learning and memory equal to or better than Piracetam, Centrophenoxine, Pyritinol, and DMAE. According to a few nootropic users that tried both Hydergine and Nicergoline, the latter is smoother and more effective than Hydergine. Nicergoline has a “clean, focused, expansive feeling of peaceful energy” compared to the “edginess” of Hydergine, but some like Hydergine as it also improves physical performance.
Ergolines are thought to cause drug-induced valvulopathy, but both Nicergoline and Hydergine have never shown any adverse effect on cardiovascular health and the risk is extremely low. That said, people with heart disease should avoid taking either of them.
NSI-189 is a drug developed by Neuralstem as a treatment for depression. We know that depression damages the hippocampus, and NSI-189 is known to increase the size of the hippocampus by roughly 20%. The hippocampus is essential for mood and memory consolidation, and this is why a lot of nootropic users are experimenting with this substance. For more information read our recent article on NSI-189.
Centrophenoxine, also known as Meclofenoxate, is a cholinergic compound. It is an ester of dimethylethanolamine (DMAE), a nootropic agent, and 4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid (pCPA). Compared to other cholinergic compounds like CDP-Choline and Alpha GPC, Centrophenoxine also has antioxidant activity in the brain, a small stimulating stimulating effect and may also remove lipofuscin pigments that are thought to have a major role in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease (though it has recently been found that centrophenoxine reduces — but not eliminate — lipofuscin accumulation.
PRL-8-53 is a benzoic acid derivative developed in the 1970s by professor Nikolaus Hansl at Creighton University.
In 1979 a double-blind trial of PRL-8-53 on 47 human subjects was published. 5 mg of PRL-8-53 were administrated 2-2.5 hours before the study session.
Those who took PRL-8-53 had an improvement in the recalling of words compared to those taking placebo, particularly those with a low baseline (poor performers), who had an improvement of 87.5-105%. The high performers had a non-statistically significant improvement of 7.9-14%. The drug was particularly effective in subjects over the age of 30. No side effects were ever reported.
The mechanism of PRL-8-53 is still shrouded in mystery, but it seems to enhance cholinergic and dopaminergic neurotransmission while inhibiting serotonin, acting somewhat like the combined effects of Piracetam and Modafinil.
Racetams are a family of compounds with a pyrrolidinone nucleus. The first of his kind was Piracetam, a drug originally developed as a sleep aid by Corneliu E. Giurgea, but when tested on animals it was found to improve memory. It is the prototypical nootropic and it is still used in clinical practice in Europe as a treatment for mild dementia, while in the US it is an over the counter nutritional supplement.
Aniracetam is an AMPAkine, a drug that acts on the AMPA receptors. AMPA is important for LTP (long-term potentiation), the process by which the brain strengthen the synapses. Aniracetam is also classified as an anxiolytic, as it reduces anxiety.
Anecdotal experiences also note increased creativity and concepts association with Aniracetam.
Pramiracetam is another cognitive-enhancing racetam. Other than acting on choline or AMPA, like other racetams, Pramiracetam also increases nitric oxide and this may play a role in his cognitive enhancing effects by improving blood circulation in the brain through vasodilatation.
Phenylpiracetam is a more potent analog of Piracetam. Compared to Piracetam, it also has stimulant effects, (and in fact, it is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency in professional sports), as well as anticonvulsant activity. It also improves microcirculation in the brain.
Coluracetam enhances high-affinity choline uptake (HACU). In animals studies, it had long-lasting pro-cognitive effects and it’s currently being researched as a treatment for Major Depressive Disorder and Alzheimer’s disease.
Fasoracetam is novel racetam which has been researched in a clinical trial as a treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It is neuroprotective and improves memory by modulating certain glutamate receptors and upregulates GABA-B receptors with chronic use
Other commonly available nootropic Racetams are Oxiracetam and Nefiracetam but they are not as useful as the other mentioned for photographic memory, so we’re not going to cover them.
Selegiline is a MAO-B inhibitor. Monoamine oxides (MAO) are a group of enzymes that catalyzes the conversion of monoamines and trace amines (dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, melatonin, histamine, phenethylamine, etc., ) by oxidation, thus limiting their amount in the synapse.
There are two MAO enzymes: MAO-A and MAO-B. MAO-A recycles (mainly) serotonin, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, while MAO-B recycles trace amines. Dopamine is the only monoamine that is equally recycled by both. Through inhibition of this enzymes, MAO inhibitors raise the levels of neurotransmitters in the synaptic cell and indirectly act as antidepressants, stimulants, and anxiolytics. Generally speaking, MAO-B inhibitors are safer and less likely to cause the infamous “cheese effect” and/or serotonin syndrome.
Selegiline is a great nootropic for focus and motivation. However, it is not a powerful memory enhancer, so it should be stacked with a Racetam or a Cholinergic nootropic.
Huperzine A is an alkaloid extracted from Huperzia Serrata. It is a reversible acetylcholinesterase inhibitor and NMDA antagonist. Some studies report a beneficial effect in Alzheimer’s disease, but it is not commonly used in modern medicine. The alkaloid is chiral, having both the left (levo) and right (dextro) enantiomer. The racemic (1:1) mixture of the left and right enantiomer is the most common form, but L-Huperzine A is slightly more effective.
It is important not to take an excessive dose of Huperzine as it is also an NMDA antagonist, which could impair cognition acutely, 150 milligrams a day is the maximum dose I can personally take before it starts giving me brain fog. The best effect comes after around 1 week of continuous dosing, and after 2 weeks a noticeable tolerance arises. As such, I strictly use it only in the last week before the exam.
Bacopa has been shown in studies to relieve anxiety, improve cognition, and enhance memory formation. In a rat study, Bacopa increased the levels of serotonin and enhanced the gene expression of serotonin transporters, thus reducing the symptoms anxiety and depression.
Even though it is not a “true” nootropic, it is a good idea to supplement Vitamin D, especially in places far away from the equator. Vitamin D is essential for dopamine production and expression of GDNF (Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, essential for dopaminergic neurons’ health).
Other essential nootropics for a photographic memory stack are Acetylcholine Precursors. We mentioned Centrophenoxine, which is one of the most effective, but there are also CDP-Choline, Alpha GPC and Choline bitartrate.
Uridine is a natural compound found in tiny quantities in beer and other foods. It is essential for the correct functioning of dopaminergic receptors  and it is even more powerful when combined with CDP-Choline, and Fish Oil. In fact, when taken with Fish Oil, it had a powerful antidepressant effect comparable to antidepressant drugs, in rats.
Last but not least, Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) and
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), especially when taken together, are very good for memory and general brain and physical health.
Update: I’ve noticed that ALA makes me very tired and distracted, so I no longer recommend it. I much prefer N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) as an antioxidant.
References [ + ]