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Gunshots blasted, blood spurted, the sun scorched, and screams rang. I sat riveted to the screen watching Black Hawk Down, a war movie based on the 1993 United States military raid in Mogadishu, Somalia. I was 18 years old, and I felt like combat was my destiny. 

Fast-forward to three and a half years later. I was in Fort Hood, Texas, my duty station, when we got the orders to deploy to Iraq for a one-year combat tour. In October of 2006, I proudly landed on the outskirts of an aggressive Baghdad suburb called Sadr City in a blackhawk helicopter.

Getting off of the helicopter, onto our base, I remember a senior enlisted member in the platoon grabbing a few of us and saying: “You’re not in America anymore. Everyone outside that gate wants to kill you dead.”

Reality Strikes: Point Of No Return

Within a minute of unboarding, a barrage of 107MM rockets showered the ground all around us. The Mahdi Army, the local Shiite insurgents, were sending us a welcoming gift.

We went on to have a myriad of similar close calls in the coming months, with some patrols ending up with an IED (Improvised Explosive Device), blowing up on one of our vehicles.

Six months later, I was the gunner on an up-armored Humvee when an enemy combatant fired a large caliber sniper round. Smoke engulfed us, and it sounded like a grenade had just exploded nearby. I turned to see the senior member of our  platoon, Marlon Harper, fall to the ground.  An extremely large caliber round had entered his left side and tore through his chest.

Chaos rang out as we scrambled to find out where the shots were coming from. I was firing at perceived threats with a 240 Bravo machine gun. Medics were working on Marlon, when another member of the platoon fell to the ground wounded. I kept shooting away, and within about five minutes, we had the wounded loaded up on a vehicle, as we high tailed it back to the nearest American base.

But it was too late for Marlon. Once we got back to the nearest base, there was nothing any of the medics could do for him. The medics miraculously saved the other officer who lived to give a TEDX talk about this very incident.

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Nootropics & Long-Term Costs Of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

Editor’s Note: 

According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD is classified as ‘a psychiatric disorder’ that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood.

PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, or changes in emotional reactions.

While PTSD is usually linked to veterans, PTSD United estimates that  70 percent of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives. This equates to approximately 223.4 million people.  
 Up to 20 percent of these people go on to develop PTSD. As of today, that equates to approximately 44.7 million people.
Once back in the US as a civilian, I couldn’t get back to “normal” life. I was on edge all of the time. Everything was suspicious to me. I snapped at people. I couldn’t help but notice movements, even when things looked calm. My brain had been  trained to scan everything—I immediately sized people up to determine if they were a threat.
Living a normal life and being able to relax seemed impossible at this point. Until one day I stumbled upon the world of Nootropics. At the time Nootropics were only used by a fringe-group of people experimenting with herbs, nutraceuticals, and pharmaceutical compounds that affect brain function. By acting as precursors to neurotransmitters, or modulators of neurotransmitter receptors, these compounds enhance cognitive function. These groups were experiencing the benefits of brain-hacking.

I realized that the more I could control my prefrontal cortex, the brain’s executive center, the better I could manage the PTSD-related brain conditioning.

The Ayurvedic herb ashwaganda, when combined with Alpha GPC, placed me in a delightfully calm place. In combination with great nootropic compounds like uridine monophosphate, L-theanine, and aniracetam, I could essentially rationalize my way out of my otherwise uncontrollable reactions to PTSD.

Ashwagandha and L-theanine are the two compounds I highly suggest experimenting with when dealing with PTSD. They’re both 100 percent  legal in the United States and can be bought over the counter. In most cases they have no side effects.

L-theanine works on the brain in a way that promotes a smooth, calm feeling, and a great ability to control your reactions to things. It helps the brain to get into the “alpha frequency band,” which is characterized by specific electrical activity, that relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness.

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that reduces cortisol, one of the major stress hormones in your body. This allows your body to relax so you can enter a profoundly balanced mental state.

Aniracetam, a well known and extensively studied nootropic and smart drug (an actual pharmaceutical), has been shown to reduce anxiety levels in rodents, by mixing serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine interactions.

Noopept, another smart drug that acts on alpha and beta 1 waves, is also reported to reduce anxiety. In a 2014 study, scientists found that as a cognitive enhancer, noopept also inhibited oxidative damage and calcium overload in mitochondrial apoptotic pathway. This allows for natural death of cells, which if left unchecked can lead to diseases such as cancer.

A New Way of Being

Slowly, I regained control over my life. Instead of viscerally reacting to things I perceived as threats, I could rationally tell my brain, “This is just leftover conditioning from the war, and it doesn’t apply here.” 

It’s been eight years since Iraq. I’ve now come to realize that oftentimes war is far more destructive than helpful, and that we as a country, and the countries we’ve invaded, would be better off if we left it alone. I’ve cycled off nootropics periodically, but even then my brain is a lot calmer and collected than it used to be. The new conditioning has stuck. My brain is still hard-wired for combat; I still react to perceived threats, and I don’t know if that will ever fully go away. But I am still a different person.

Inspired by nootropics positive effects, I went on to start LiveCortex, a company that focuses on building the best nootropic stacks in the world. My goal is to help others who suffer from PTSD take control and find a new leash on life.

Ryan Michael Ballow is an entrepreneur, neuroscience researcher, and Army combat veteran interested in cognitive optimization and Neurotechnology. He is the founder of LiveCortex, a company focusing on building unique nootropic compounds, and iMobileRescue Inc, an iOS device services company.

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