Supplements like nootropics are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as they don't claim to prevent, cure or diagnose disease. Instead, they make vague-sounding claims around "wellness," using terms like "boosting productivity" or "promoting alertness."
The claims they do make are thinly supported. As Dr. Candy Tsourounis, a professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco, told CNBC, there are "no randomized, controlled trials in human beings that show that these nootropics have any benefits above and beyond what we would see if someone were to follow a healthy diet and maintain regular exercise."
After years of research, Blokland is similarly convinced that these supplements, for the most part, do very little -- aside from a placebo effect.
"Most of them just don't work," he explained.
The lengthy research cited on HVMN's website and others are primarily animal studies, rather than human studies, and primarily test one of two compounds in combination, rather than the half-dozen contained in a product like SPRINT.
"This is sort of akin to the Soylent approach," said Ernesto Ramirez, head of research and development at health research start-up Fitabase. "Break things down to the base level and then combine them without understanding how they all work together." (Andreessen Horowitz is also a big investor in Soylent, a liquid meal replacement.)
And in some cases, their effects on a standalone basis are similarly unknown. One of the ingredients, Vinpocetine, was recently excluded from the definition of a dietary supplement in a tentative conclusion by regulators. The FDA said it had not assessed whether the compound was effective for "visual acuity, memory and focus."
Woo said that if the final conclusion says that Vinpocetine is not a dietery supplement, HVMN will remove it from future versions of the product.
Some medical experts say that HVMN and other companies should be held to a more rigorous standard and that the FDA should start regulating these supplements.
In June 2017, one month after receiving the results of the study, Nootrobox announced its name change to HVMN and introduced more biohacking products, including a "clinically validated superfuel" drink.
The company also brought on a scientist from the U.K., Dr. Brianna Stubbs, a welcome addition given that neither HVMN co-founder has a scientific background.