Smart Drugs

Modafinil: What’s the Buzz?

  • If you are suffering from narcolepsy, a sleep disorder, or are a stressed student who is slightly overwhelmed by their current curriculum, then you most probably know what Modafinil is. To tell the truth, I didn’t know what it was until I came upon it when doing some research on bio-hacking.

    What is Modafinil

    Modafinil, also known as Provigil, is a drug used to to treat excessive sleepiness, mainly for patients suffering from narcolepsy. As a medicine it is classified as a wakefulness promoting agent, which changes the amount of certain natural substances that control sleep and wakefulness in our brains. It is also prescribed to people with rotating shifts, who have trouble staying awake at work, like half the population.

    Why the Buzz

    Apparently Modafinil functions like a nootropic, a smart drug that enhances cognitive function. When used by healthy people, who do not have a sleep disorder, the drug has been reported to increase awareness and help cognition. If you are wondering what that means, then think of the movie Limitless. Brandon Cooper’s character gets his hands on a drug that turns him temporarily into a super genius, but with a price. Modafinil is supposed to do the same, but in a much more diluted way.

    As you can imagine Modafinil is a hit on college campuses, also a lot of athletes are using it to boost their performance and their ability to train longer. Being a prescription drug a lot of users prefer to buy modafinil online, causing debates in many countries on how to regulate the sales of such “smart drugs”.

    Does it Really Work

    I am not a doctor and haven’t tried the pills myself, so I’ll take the word of some professionals. My search brought me to the National Center for Biotechnology, that sounds very official and knowledgeable. One article was The neurobiology of modafinil as an enhancer of cognitive performance and a potential treatment for substance use disorders. In the Abstract, under Results and Conclusions, they compared the effects of Modafinil (MOD) with psychostimulants, like cocaine.

    “However, its neurochemical effects and anatomical pattern of brain area activation differ from typical psychostimulants and are consistent with its beneficial effects on cognitive performance processes such as attention, learning, and memory.”

    There was also an article in related to patients with a primary brain tumor which found that

    “Inconsistent, differential effects were found on … a measure processing speed in favor of MOD.”

    There is also a site called Examine.com, that gathers research on supplements and shares its results in a comprehensive form. The Modafinil page seems to confirm the positive effects on cognition. Adding the hype and high demand of the pills, then I guess they do have some kind of effect.

    Is it Safe

    The first article I mentioned above also says

    “MOD shows very low, if any, abuse liability, in spite of its use as a cognitive enhancer by otherwise healthy individuals”

    It seems the chances of getting addicted to MOD are low, but the chances of the usage becoming a habit are high. People who have used the drug caution not to forget to catch up with sleep, and eating, after the effects of the drug fade, it can take its toll.

    There is an article in The Independant where Dr Barbara Sahakian, Cambridge Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology and global expert on cognitive-enhancing drugs, recommends licensing such “study drugs” to students if they are found safe.

    “If it is, then let them (drug companies) license it, and maybe sell it in Boots, and have people have the usual information about the side effects and then they can also go to their GP before they take it.”

    She also added

    “When you think about it, a lot of people what they do is really dose themselves with coffee and caffeine and then they end up with palpitations and tremors and things like that, so in some ways I prefer [Modafinil],”

    Last Word

    It seems Modafinil is joining the should-it-be-legal club, with marijuana being the most prominent member and alcohol the most disputed non-member. Modafinil is not a natural product, so it is really up to doctors to decide on the risks of uninhibited use, and if consumer’s common sense can be trusted. But there are also natural products like Kratom that are causing a lot of controversy between consumers and regulators.

    It is hard to judge what the right approach should be.

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