By David Jay Brown
John Morgenthaler is responsible for coining the term "smart drugs", for writing the first books on the subject, and for much of the public's awareness about how certain drugs and nutrients can enhance cognitive performance.
Morgenthaler co-authored the books Smart Drugs and Nutrients, Smart Drugs II: The Next Generation (both with Ward Dean, M.D), and he edited the book Stop the FDA: Save Your Health Freedom. He has appeared on many popular radio and television shows over the years--such as Larry King Live, 20/20, and The Today Show--talking about how people can enhance their mental performance by adjusting their neurochemistry.
Morgenthaler is also largely responsible for popularizing the notion that certain drugs, herbs and nutrients can be used to enhance sexual desire and performance. He co-authored the books Better Sex Through Chemistry (with Dan Joy), GHB: The Natural Mood Enhancer (with Ward Dean, M.D.), and The Smart Guide to Better Sex. John has been researching brain-boosting and sexually-enhancing substances for over a decade, and he has used what he's learned to educate the public, and to design an array of herbal and nutritional formulas for Health Freedom Nutrition, with which he is associated.
I met John backstage on the set for the Montel Williams Show back in 1990, right after his book Smart Drugs and Nutrients was first published. I felt it was essential to include an interview with John on this site, because he's the person who first inspired my interest in the subject of prosexual drugs and nutrients, and a large portion of what I know about these substances I learned from him. I interviewed John on October 5, 2003.
David: How did you become interested in drugs and nutrients that enhance physical and mental performance?
John: I originally became interested in this like many of the people who are seriously involved in it on the research level; my motivation was driven by a personal interest in healing myself. This goes way back, to my early college days. I was doing well enough that I made it to college, and I was getting good grades, but I knew that there was more brain power up there than I was able to tap into. My concentration and attention weren't as good as I felt they should be.
David: When did you first encounter the notion of smart drugs?
John: The idea originally came out of a book. The book that got me started in nutritional medicine was Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw's book Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach.
David: It was a very influential book for me as well. In fact, there's an interview that I did with Durk and Sandy on this site.
John: Quite a few people in this field had that book as their original inspiration. In the book Durk and Sandy talked about hydergine, and a few other substances that they referred to as having cognition-enhancing effects. But their book, of course, was about life extension. The theme of cognition-enhancement was just a minor aspect of the book, but that's were I picked up on the idea.
Then, in college, I started using a substance called Pemoline--which I don't use anymore, and haven't used in a long time. In fact, I believe it's now illegal. A lot of people started using it for recreational purposes, and that was the beginning of the end of that. It's a drug that, like Ritalin, is used for kids with attention-deficit disorder--or was anyway, as it fell out of favor. But, for me, at that time, that substance vastly improved my concentration and mental energy. I was very very impressed, not just with the effect of that drug, but impressed with the fact that a change of that magnitude could take place.
In other words, I realized that it's possible to take a brain that is working at a suboptimal level, and use a drug or nutrient and get improvement gains ten, twenty, thirty percent--because I was experiencing that. And I sailed through the final years of my computer science degree with flying colors. I was very very impressed with what this could do. So that's how I got started, and one thing lead to another. Pemoline fell out of favor, and I started researching the field of, what they called in the research, "cognition-enhancing substances". Later on I coined the phrase "smart drugs".
David: Didn't you also coin the phrase prosexual drugs? What do you mean when you refer to certain substances as being prosexual?
John: I popularized that phrase, strictly speaking. I wasn't the first to use that term. That came out of a scientific paper called "prosexual Nutrients". It means any substance which can enhance libido or sex function.
David: What sort of relationship do you see between prosexual drugs and smart drugs?
John: Are you talking about on the biochemical level or in terms of the spirit behind the idea?
David: In terms of how much overlap there is between the effects of smart drugs and prosexual drugs. Often they're same substance, like Deprenyl for example. When I interviewed Ward Dean, he told me that "anything that improves brain function is probably going to improve sexual function." I know that intelligence is a powerful aphrodisiac, but I don't think that's the only reason.
John: Let me answer the question on several different levels.
First of all, there's a philosophy behind both ideas--a philosophy of enhancement-medicine, or the use of medical technology for purposes of enhancement, as opposed to merely treatment of a pathology.
Even the trend towards preventive medicine, as a philosophic orientation, is not the same thing as what I'm talking about. Most conventional medicine takes the point of view that, if there's an outright disease or pathology, we''ll treat it with medicine. Preventive medicine suggests the idea that well we prevent the pathology from occurring in the first place, and maybe even bring the person towards wellness.
But enhancement-medicine is the concept of using what we've got with medical technology to make yourself better than normal, not merely preventing a disease.
And that philosophy lies behind both of these. I didn't make it up. It's the same philosophy that was already there in cosmetic surgery, with its face lifts and tummy tucks. It was there in sports enhancement. Sports enhancement preceded both smart drugs and prosexual nutrients by far.
David: It was there in psychology too.
John: Yeah, Maslow paved the way with the whole concept of self-actualization, instead of Freud's idea of merely treating pathology. So that's the philosophical likeness between them.
There is also the fact that there appears to be tremendous overlap in these two areas, and we discovered this somewhat by accident when we got letters from many of the people who read the smart drugs book. The smart drugs book came out long before the work I did on prosexual supplements. People who use smart drugs wrote to us and reported all of the wonderful benefits that they were getting. We got hundreds and hundreds of great letters, and it really gave a lot of meaning to my work, to see that I was having this effect on people. And an awful lot of them were reporting on an improvement in their sex life, which was curious at first. But then, it was such a regular feature of these letters, that we got to looking at it more seriously. And we found that many of the smart drugs and smart nutrients also had prosexual effects, and vice versa.
David: Why do you think that is?
John: I suppose it's because, in many cases, they're working to bring about an optimization of functioning of your nervous system and endocrine system. So the smart drug benefits, and the prosexual benefits, are really both, in a way, side effects of that one primary change. For instance, many of the smart drugs might work by improving blood flow in the brain, or it might work by balancing sex hormone levels.
David: What do you think are some of the most important prosexual substances are that people should know about?
John: Arginine is probably the most important. It depends on if we're talking about a person that has some sort of problem to start with or not. It also depends on what age group you're talking about. But, without question, if we're talking about a man with some erectile difficulties, arginine has got to be the first line of defense. It's easy to get, and it's relatively inexpensive. It's a nutrient, it's very safe, and its effectiveness is very very high. It works by raising nitric oxide levels. I've recommended it to many people who were having erectile difficulties, and it works in about 100% of the cases so far. It's very, very effective.
But erectile difficulties aren't the case for everybody. A lot of times the reason somebody would be interested in this area to begin with might be because they are post-menopausal--and I am using that term for both men and women. A lot of people don't think that men go through menopause, but they do. This is being talked about in the literature now, if you define menopause as a decline of sex hormone levels. The difference between men and women is that women go through it as a relatively abrupt change; it happens all at once, over just a few short years. So they see this transformation. For men, it happens very gradually, over a period of twenty to thirty years. And what you see is primarily testosterone levels dropping, and, correspondingly, estrogen levels going up. So you see this as a function of age in all men.
Some men are lucky because they start out with a high testosterone level, and it's decline is relatively small, so they never notice anything. But all men get a decline of testosterone, and most men get an increase in estrodial. So we need to correct that. And when you look closely at a lot of the prosexual supplements, you'll see that they are correcting these underlying changes that happen with aging. Tribulus, for example, increases the brain's out of LH and increases your testosterone levels. All the adaptagens, like ginseng, bring about an improvement in the ratio of testosterone and estrodial.
David: What are some of the important new developments that have come along since you wrote Better Sex Through Chemistry?
John: We did a book since then called The Smart Guide to Better Sex. Our purpose was to create a book that was for a more popular audience. Also, we wanted to bring the material up to date, and to touch on things that hadn't been touched on in the previous book. Actually, there really wasn't that much that was new. There were some important new herbs, and we didn't know about Tribulus when we wrote the first book. So that was fairly new. There's some solid research on Tribulus now.
David: Can you talk a little bit about the research that's been done with Tribulus?
John: It seems to be an adaptagen. An adaptagen is a substance, like a tonic, that works by bringing about balance in endocrine function, and other things in the body, even sometimes cholesterol. Ginseng is the classic adaptagen. So what you'll find is that, with an adaptagen like ginseng, if stress hormones are too low, it'll bring them up. If they're too high, it'll bring them down. The same thing with some of the sex hormones. So Tribulus seems to work like an adaptagen, pushing in whatever direction you need to go. And in most people it seems to bring about an increase in testosterone.
John: I guess that implies that most people have low testosterone levels.
John: Yeah, people over forty anyway.
David: Are there any other new prosexual substances that you think people should know about?
John: Well, there are a couple of things which look very interesting, but there's just not a great deal of research on them yet. It seems like it's about to happen. One substance of particular interest in this regard is Eurycoma longifolia. Yeah, it's quite a mouthful. It's been in use all over Southeast Asia, especially Malaysia, for a long long time as a general tonic and aphrodisiac. And now we're starting to see some scientific research on it. It still hasn't been elucidated how it works, but it will probably turn out to enhance sex hormone levels. One of the things that's pretty nice about it is that it works on women real well too. A lot of these things don't work out that well on women. This one does.
David: What are you currently working on?
John: Most of my time goes into our monthly newsletter, which, these days, I find more gratifying than doing books. We get to touch on a lot more topics, and actually we reach more people.
David: How can people get access to your newsletter, and find out more about your work?
John: They can go to our web site to subscribe to it. It's a free subscription. www.smart-publications.com
Click here to purchase John Morgenthaler's books, and to visit his Health Freedom Nutrition web site