Most nootropics are broadly defined as substances that can improve cognitive function, such as alertness, memory, concentration, and mood. There are many different modes of action that create these effects, but often they function by altering neurotransmitters. The four main neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and GABA) can be modulated to improve different aspects of cognition. For example, piracetam typically helps improve memory through the increased uptake of acetylcholine (among other unknown methods).
Despite human and animal trials on various nootropic compounds, there is great variability based on the genetics of each individual. Everybody is different and conscious introspection (along with some cool tests) can help you find dominant and deficient neurotransmitters within your own brain. My experience with lemon balm (melissa officinalis) was an exercise in how important individuality can be for utilizing nootropic compounds.
Subjective Neurotransmitter Analysis
Determining the exact breakdown of your brain neurotransmitters is very difficult and any attempts will have a rather large margin of error. However, there are some subjective tests developed by experienced doctors within the neuroscience field.
One such author is Dr. Eric Braverman, who wrote “The Edge Effect” with a comprehensive test to help individuals discover dominant and deficient natures for neurotransmitters. His “Braverman Nature Assessment” includes a twenty-minute true / false test that can subjectively help to evaluate imbalances in your brain.
It is safe to have a fair bit of skepticism when taking the test, but my results are quite accurate given everything that I know about myself. My results showed that I am slightly dopamine dominant, but quite deficient in GABA.
Lemon Balm Experimentation
When researching a few compounds that can improve GABA levels, I stumbled upon lemon balm, which I had some familiarity with. Lemon balm is a herb native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean region, which is known for the lemon scent despite being more closely related to mint.
The reason lemon balm is so effective for GABA deficient individuals is because of the inhibiting effects of GABA transaminase, which is the enzyme responsible for breaking down GABA (and thus leaving a deficiency). The responsible compound in lemon balm is rosmarinic acid, which provided 40% inhibition at 100 microg / mL.
My main purpose for taking lemon balm was to initiate these biochemical reactions to determine whether it could benefit me particularly, but there are a wide range of other effects as well. Comprehensive studies indicate mild memory enhancing properties while long-standing practices utilize it as a mild sedative and sleep aid.
My Lemon Balm Tea Experience
For consuming lemon balm, I chose the tea route, which seemed like to least invasive / most natural method. With a small 8 ounce cup of water, I added a lemon balm tea bag for approximately 2 – 3 minutes and the effects were felt within 5 – 10 minutes.
After sitting down at the computer to read a few things online, I immediately felt the sedative effect across my entire body. It was so powerful, I likened it to the stereotypical image of television and movie heroin addicts that inject themselves with the enhancer. It is definitely not as potent as any opiate, but my sensitivity (due to it being my first attempt) provided a very strong reaction.
Aside from the sedation aspect, I felt more elated as the anxiety from a long day of work started to subside. My eyes watered slightly and it was difficult to stay away. Luckily, I took the cup of tea late at night anticipating such effects so I went to sleep within 30 – 40 minutes of drinking the tea.
Most people would not have a similar experience with lemon balm tea especially at such a low dosage. My sensitive nature and deficiency in GABA probably enhanced the effects of the tea manifold, which is purely individualistic.
This is one of the reasons why we advocate tracking your cognitive enhancement with a variety of different tools. Knowing your own body and how certain compounds interact is of paramount importance for developing your own supplemental regime. Lemon balm might be a waste of money for some people, whereas it is incredibly useful for myself.
Lemon Balm Tea Dosage Guide
There are a variety of methods for administering lemon balm for nootropic effects. Each has different advantages, but they are mainly due to availability.
Dried lemon balm leaves
Many people grow their own lemon balm plants and eat the leaves directly to get the enhanced nootropic effects of the plant. Whether home-grown or purchased, it does not take much for the dried lemon balm leaves to have their effect.
Recommended dosage range: 1,000 mg – 2,000 mg dried Melissa officinalis leaf
Starting point: 1,600 mg per day
Lemon balm extract
Most grocery or health stores do not carry dried lemon balm leaves so it might be more convenient to find the extract. The price ranges vary, but this is a little more potent and requires smaller doses. However, compared to many other extracts, it seems to be less concentrated.
Recommended dosage range: 200 mg – 600 mg
Starting point: 450 mg
Lemon balm tea
While I never found lemon balm tea at any of the health stores, there are probably some that carry this product. It can be expensive to purchase online due to shipping, but I found some options that cost less than a dollar per tea bag (approximately $10 for 12). The lemon balm tea has a nice aroma and is soothing as most tea is, but it is also a more natural option than the extract.
Recommended dosage range: 2 – 7 minutes (with the tea bag in boiling water)
Starting point: 3 minutes
Individuality with Nootropics
My experiences with lemon balm tea were great, but they speak to my own biochemical deficiencies, which are based on genetics and a myriad of other factors. Scientific literature and anecdotal evidence both have a place when researching nootropic stacks, but knowing your own body and listening to it is far more effective for developing your optimal strategy.