New brands are helping consumers optimize substances for cognitive enhancement.

Led by health consciousness among consumers and a growing interest in cognitive enhancement, new brands and products are promising to deliver natural highs without the shaky side effects of coffee or the calories (and hangovers) of alcohol.


Blame Silicon Valley. Following the optimized nutrition trend (embodied by brands like Soylent, featured in our 2016 Future 100 report), startups are using so-called “bio hacking” to engineer products that have brain-boosting properties without negative side effects.

Go Cubes

The startup Nootrobox, fresh from a $2 million seed investment by Andreessen Horowitz, has launched a new chewable coffee gummy candy product, dubbed Go Cubes. Packaged in cartoonish, candy-like wrapping, Nootrobox Go Cubes are made with L-theanine, B6, and methylated B12 that “improve caffeine for enhanced focus & clarity.” Two cubes equal an entire cup of coffee, according to the brand.

Nootrobox describe Go Cubes as “coffee for astronauts.” Branding appeals to the work-hard-play-hard ethos of the tech set: “Looking to ace your midterms? Push 10,000 lines of code? Stay extra crispy for poker night? Fight spreadsheets in your office? Climb Mt. Everest? Be the first human on Mars? Go Cubes have your back.”

Matcha energy balls have been showing up in trendy health-food stores, such as Grass Roots Juicery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where the treats are made with PANATĒA matcha powder. Like Nootrobox, PANATĒA touts its combination of L-theanine and caffeine as a body and brain booster. “It’s no wonder Buddhist monks have historically used matcha before meditation, and samurai warriors before battle,” the brand says.

PANATĒA matcha powder

Kava buzz

Kava, the South Pacific plant, is being touted as the “new alcohol” in groovier New York neighborhoods, according to the New Yorker. Kavasutra, a new booze-free bar, specializes in drinks made from kava. It looks and feels like a regular bar, but there’s nary a chardonnay in sight.

Kava drinks have been used for centuries in ceremonies in the South Pacific and are made by grinding the root of the plant and mixing it with water. Fans say the effects are similar to alcohol. The drink relieves anxiety and relaxes muscles, but doesn’t mess with cognitive abilities or give you a hangover, fans say. It is legal and unregulated.

Cannabis chic

Heightened interest in the cognitive effects of chemical compounds, reminiscent of drug culture, follows the elevation of cannabis as an ingredient in new snacks, confectionery, coffee, and more. As our Future 100 report charted, marijuana startups such as Dixie Elixirs are taking cues from specialty food and prestige beauty products, designing sleek and childproof bottles for beverages infused with THC, the active chemical found in cannabis.

Meanwhile, High Times magazine is transitioning into a mainstream lifestyle brand, and this April 20th, the upscale gym chain Equinox even pondered whether marijuana could help people work out better.

With more mainstream discussion of psychoactive substances in general, there’s also greater interest in optimizing these substances for self-improvement.

Go Cubes