Methylene blue is a synthetic nootropic popular for its abilities to enhance mood, brain health, longevity, focus, and memory. It was used to treat psychosis over 100 years ago.1 It is currently under testing for possible assistance with cognitive decline linked to neurodegenerative diseases, bipolar disorder, and other conditions related to brain health and function.2
Its impressive benefits are not without risk, and users need to be careful when combining it with other drugs, particularly those that impact serotonin levels. Read on to learn more about the history, uses, and safety precautions for methylene blue.
Methylene Blue History
Methylene blue is the first fully synthetic (man-made) drug ever used to treat medical conditions. It has been used in medicine since the late 1800s, with impressive benefits for overall brain health and function.3
As the name indicates, methylene blue was first used as a dye. During the late 19th century, researchers believed that dyes and drugs worked in a similar manner, harming pathogenic microbes through staining them. While this is not exactly how methylene blue works, this theory led to its testing and use in medicine.
Throughout its history, methylene blue has been used for malaria, psychosis, and pain. These benefits have led to extensive study into how methylene blue works in the body, as well as to what uses it may have for human health and cognition.
Today, methylene blue is commonly used in medicine, primarily to treat methemoglobinemia, a blood disorder where excess methemoglobin is produced.4
Outside of the medical sphere, neurohackers utilize this drug for its nootropic purposes. As a nootropic, it’s believed to promote a positive mood, provide neuroprotection, protect against age-related cognitive decline, and improve memory and learning abilities.
Chemical Properties of Methylene Blue
Thanks to over 100 years of research, we largely understand the chemical properties that allow methylene blue to have impressive uses for brain health, cognitive function, and mood. There are numerous pathways impacted by this drug that help to explain its benefits.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals produced in the body that allow communications between brain cells, a process known as neurotransmission. These chemicals are largely responsible for how we feel, our mental functions (thinking, focusing, learning, and memorizing), how well we sleep, and much more.
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Methylene blue increases the release of select neurotransmitters, including serotonin and norepinephrine. Both serotonin and norepinephrine play an important role in how we feel, particularly for whether we are happy or sad. Drugs used for promoting a positive mood often aim to enhance the effect of these neurotransmitters.5
Additionally, this drug has an impact on two additional neurotransmitter systems involved in memory, learning, brain health, and longevity: the glutamatergic and cholinergic systems. The two neurotransmitters impacted by these systems are acetylcholine, sometimes referred to as the “learning neurotransmitter,” and glutamate, which is also critical to our memory and learning potential.6
Tau Protein and Amyloid-Beta
The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease (AD), is characterized by an accumulation of plaques made up of the protein amyloid-beta and neurofibrillary tangles of tau protein. It’s thought that the accumulation of these amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles are involved in damage to brain cells and the resultant memory and cognitive deficits characteristic of AD.7
Methylene blue is believed to inhibit the aggregation of tau protein and reduce the levels of amyloid-beta protein and the plaques that they form. Researchers are studying whether this and other benefits may help to slow the progression of AD.
Our bodies and minds require a constant supply of energy to function, with the mitochondria in our cells primarily responsible for supplying this energy. Think of mitochondria like the power plant of our cells, allowing them to function.
When mitochondria don’t function properly, we can experience trouble with memory and other cognitive abilities. Methylene blue has been found to improve mitochondrial function, possibly explaining benefits for memory, learning, and overall brain health and function.
Methylene Blue Benefits and Uses
Preclinical studies have demonstrated properties that suggest methylene blue may help to promote a positive mood. Because certain mood disorders are linked to dysfunction of mitochondria and certain neurotransmitters, researchers believe that the benefits of methylene blue for these functions may provide an enhanced mood and serenity.8
The mood-boosting benefits of this nootropic have long been known, with limited human studies demonstrating promising results. In one such study back in 1987, researchers treated patients with severe depressive illness with either 15 mg/day methylene blue or placebo for three weeks. Those in the methylene blue group experienced significantly greater improvements in depression symptoms than those receiving the placebo.9
Slows Cognitive Decline
While diverse causes are to blame for cognitive decline, most of them are tied to aging or age-related conditions. Even healthy individuals can suffer from age-related cognitive decline. Those with neurodegenerative disorders experience an even greater deterioration of cognitive functions.
Thanks to the benefits of methylene blue on neurotransmitter systems, tau and amyloid-beta protein aggregation, and more, researchers are studying its ability to slow the cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease patients.
In 2008, the BBC reported on a brand-name version of methylene blue known as Rember. In 321 patients, those in the Rember group demonstrated an 81% lower rate of cognitive decline when compared with those not taking the drug. The biggest effect was seen in those treated with 60 mg/day when compared with 30 mg/day, 100 mg/day, or placebo.
Researchers are also examining this drug’s potential in other neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease.10
Memory and Focus Enhancer
Extensive animal research and some humans research suggests that methylene blue may help to enhance memory and focus. This effect is mainly seen in those who are healthy by enhancing mitochondrial metabolism. The more efficient mitochondria are at producing sustained energy for the brain, the better brain cells will function. When our brain cells are at the top of their game, we are likely to notice enhanced memory and learning abilities.11
In a study on 26 healthy human volunteers between 22 and 62 years of age, researchers examined the effects of one dose of methylene blue on the brain during sustained-attention and working memory tasks. Both a functional MRI (fMRI) as well as scoring on memory and attention tasks were used to examine the effects.12
When given methylene blue, the fMRI found increased responses in brain regions associated with focus and short-term memory. There was an associated 7% increase in memory retrieval scores. This study provides human evidence that methylene may help to promote memory and concentration abilities in healthy adults.
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When scientists talk about anti-aging compounds, they’re referring to anything that can help to protect the body and brain from the damage associated with aging. When something is anti-aging, it helps to promote longevity.
Antioxidants protect neurons against damage caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS). These are unstable molecules that we are exposed to as part of normal cellular metabolism. Levels of ROS are increased when exposed to stress, pollution, illness, and more. This type of damage is implicated in memory difficulties, cognitive decline, and a wide range of diseases.13
As a powerful antioxidant at low doses, methylene blue may help to protect the mind and improve longevity.14
Safety and Precautions
Avoid taking methylene blue with any serotonergic drugs. Methylene blue can cause serotonin syndrome if used concurrently with these drugs, which include a wide array of prescription drugs used for their antidepressant and anxiolytic effects. Common examples include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).15
Be careful not to take too large of a dose of methylene blue. Some of the effects reverse at high doses. For example, methylene blue is an anti-oxidant at low doses but becomes a pro-oxidant at higher doses. Because of this, it is recommended to not exceed a dose of 2 mg/kg body weight.
Additionally, you want to source methylene blue cautiously. Chemical-grade and industrial-grade products are not safe for human consumption.
Methylene blue is a nootropic commonly used to relieve poor mood, support memory, and boost focus. These benefits make it particularly useful during final examination and other stressful periods where you need to perform well cognitively.
Through its antioxidant and neuroprotective benefits, this nootropic may enhance your brain health simultaneously, but remember to be careful about taking it with other drugs.
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