If you’ve done any research on nootropic supplements, you’ve probably come across the king of nootropics, Modafinil.
Modafinil is one of the most common nootropic drugs for a reason. There’s research that suggests it boosts your mood, cognitive function, motivation, and focus.
Who takes modafinil?
It’s a common nootropic for people who want to increase their productivity without exposing themselves to drugs that are addictive like amphetamines.
Several well-known entrepreneurs or public figures have said they have taken modafinil including Dave Asprey, Joe Rogan, and Tim Ferris.
If you’re looking to increase your productivity with a nootropic drug, modafinil may be a drug worth trying. Some nootropics don’t have research to support their use for humans, but modafinil has been researched extensively.
Keep reading to find out what it can do for you, how you should take it, and the potential risks.
Modafinil’s Origin Story
Like most nootropics, it was originally created to do something unrelated to increasing your focus and productivity.
The French scientist Michel Jouvet invented modafinil in 1976. By the mid-1980s, it was being used in humans to combat narcolepsy, which is a disorder where you have trouble staying awake during the daytime. Right now, it has FDA approval in the United States for narcolepsy and several other sleep disorders.
Somewhere along the way, somebody looking to get an edge found that modafinil can be used to stimulate brain function in individuals with normal sleeping habits.
Nowadays it has become a popular nootropic for CEOs and other business professionals trying to get a mental edge on the competition. It’s still unregulated for any use other than correcting sleep disorders, so if you live in the United States, you’ll likely have to order it from out of the country and get it shipped (we’ll talk more about this later).
Why Might You Want to Try Modafinil?
You may think that you’re stuck with the intelligence your born but that’s not entirely true. Your ‘functional’ intelligence varies widely from moment to moment due to fatigue and nutritional status among other factors.
Imagine that you have to write a mentally challenging test at 5:00pm on two back to back days. On the first day, you write the test as soon as you get home from work. You feel dehydrated, exhausted, and have trouble focusing.
On the second day, you write the test after sleeping in and relaxing for the entire day. You feel mentally fresh, are in a good mood, and have no problems focusing on the questions.
On which day do you think you’ll do better?
Modafinil and other nootropic supplements can you transform more of the first type of day and turn it into the second by stimulating wakefulness.
Last year, in the United States, there were over 37,000 deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents. Alcohol is a major contributing factor to the number of deaths caused by car accidents. However, another major contributor is mental fatigue. It’s scary to think how many people are on the roads when they’re mentally exhausted.
You can’t change the way everybody else is driving, but you can drastically increase your own safety by taking care of your own mental state. Taking modafinil might be useful when you need to drive when you’re feeling mentally tired.
Research also shows that taking modafinil can increase your reaction time.
The most common reason people take modafinil is to increase productivity. The best way to increase your mental function is to make sure your diet and sleep habits are on point. However, sometimes you still need an extra boost.
Taking modafinil in the short-term may help you increase your productivity when you need to go through a brief but mentally intense period of work.
We’ll look more in-depth at how modafinil does this below.
How does Modafinil Improve Your Productivity?
Modafinil has a complex interaction with the chemicals in your brain and the exact way it affects you is not completely known.
It may interact with several neurotransmitters in your brain including adrenaline, noradrenaline, serotonin, histamine, and hypocretin.
Rat studies have found that modafinil increases levels of dopamine in the part of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens. This part of your brain is responsible for giving you feelings of reward.
Modafinil’s ability to increase wakefulness in patients with narcolepsy is thought to be caused by modafinil acting on orexic (hypocretin) neurons. Orexin is a molecule that stimulates arousal, appetite, and feelings of wakefulness. Most of the cells that created orexin are found around the hypothalamus.
Other studies have looked at the effect of modafinil on sleep deprivation. Research shows that 300mg of modafinil is about the equivalent as 20mg of an amphetamine.
It also raises histamine levels in the brain. This altered level of histamines may be one of the main ways that modafinil affects your cognition.
If the word histamine sounds familiar, it may be because you recognize it from the group of medications known as antihistamines, which are often used to fight allergies.
If you’re curious about why antihistamines can reduce symptoms of allergies, here’s a good video to explain it.
In your brain, histamines control parts of your brain that regulate your circadian rhythm.
Is Modafinil a stimulant?
The main benefit that you can expect from taking modafinil is decreased sleepiness and increased alertness.
Modafinil may produce similar effects as many stimulant drugs, but it isn’t a stimulant itself.
People who take modafinil say that it gives them a ‘clean’ energy enhancement compared to stimulant drugs. Modafinil is a eugeroic supplement, meaning it stimulates wakefulness by specifically targeting neurotransmitters in the brain.
Stimulates like caffeine stimulate your entire body. This stimulant effect becomes obvious when you get the ‘caffeine jitters.’
Another nootropic drug that’s classified is Adderall. We’ll compare Adderall with modafinil more in depth later.
Here’s Why You May Want to Take Modafinil
As we’ve already mentioned, most of Modafinil’s benefits come from stimulating wakefulness. Here’s a full list of benefits with a description of the research that’s been done to date.
Modafinil May Boost Your Memory
Research shows that modafinil may improve two types of memory, episodic and working memory. Episodic memory is the ability to recollect things that have happened to you personally (as opposed to reciting lists of facts or second-hand knowledge).
You use your working memory when you have to recall temporary information like a list of numbers.
In one study, healthy participants were given either 100mg or 200mg of modafinil two hours before a test that measured their working memory, reaction time, and visuospatial planning. The researchers found that both dosages improved all three aspects of cognition.
Other studies back these results. A 2004 Psychopharmacology study examined the effects modafinil on sixteen healthy participants in their 20s who weren’t sleep deprived. The researchers gave the participants either 200mg of modafinil or a placebo.
The participants had to complete two tasks after taking modafinil: they had to perform a number sequencing test and a matching test.
The researchers found improvements in working memory and processing efficiency from taking modafinil.
Not Feeling Like Getting Off the Couch? Modafinil Might Motivate You
We all go through periods when our motivation is lacking. With all the distractions in our daily lives, it’s amazing that we’re able to get anything done.
Other research has found that modafinil might also increase task enjoyment. Researchers at Cambridge found that a group of 32 participants scored significantly higher on task enjoyment during neuropsychological tests compared to a placebo group.
Modafinil May Improve Your Impulse Control
We live in a world where almost everything we want is available at the touch of a button. Want pizza? There’s an app for that. Want a date tonight? Swipe right. Want to binge-watch five seasons of your favorite show on Netflix? No problem.
A study published in the journal Psychopharmacology found that modafinil may help improve your impulse control.
No matter whether your goal is to save money or to stay on task, improving your impulse control may help you target your goals by eliminating distractions.
Modafinil May Improve Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
Research shows that modafinil might be useful for older individuals who suffer from multiple sclerosis. If you’re not familiar with multiple sclerosis, it’s a disease that causes demyelination. Basically, the fatty sheaths that wrap around the axons of your neurons break down and electrical signals can’t be conducted as easily.
In a double-blind placebo study published in 2012, participants 17 patients with multiple sclerosis were given either 250-mg of modafinil or a placebo two hours before a mental testing session.
The researcher found that participants had a significantly improved memory on a list-learning memory task after taking modafinil.
Research has also shown that the part of the brain that controls wakefulness may be damaged in people with multiple sclerosis.
Modafinil May Help People Transition Off Methamphetamines
Methamphetamines are a group of drugs that are often abused for recreational use. It’s also known as speed or meth. Methamphetamines are highly addictive and quitting them can be extremely difficult.
Another study published in the American Journal of Addiction found that modafinil improves working memory in people addicting to methamphetamine drugs. Prior research has already proven that modafinil can increase memory in healthy individuals or people with ADD and ADHD.
Researchers gave participants either 400mg of modafinil over three consecutive days or a placebo. They found that participants had a significantly improved working memory compared to the placebo group.
How does Modafinil Compare to Adderall?
Some people use modafinil as an alternative to Adderall. It’s thought to be safer and less addictive than Adderall, which contains amphetamines.
First, let’s examine the effectiveness of each of these drugs.
Research comparing the effects of Modafinil to Adderall show that both drugs may have similar effects.
A study published in the Journal of Sleep Research examined how much both of these drugs improve cognitive function in military workers who have undergone 64 hours of sleep deprivation.
The researchers gave 41 subjects either 300mg of modafinil or 20mg of amphetamine and measured mood, perceived fatigue, reaction time, short-term memory, logical reasoning, and tiredness.
The researchers found that both the amphetamine and modafinil groups had improved mood and cognitive ability compared to a placebo group. The researchers concluded that modafinil may be as effective as amphetamines for undoing the effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive performance and may cause fewer side-effects.
Why is modafinil considered safer?
Structurally, these medications are quite different from each other even though they have similar effects. Adderall is primarily used to treat people with symptoms of ADHD by changing the dopamine reward centers in the brain. It’s a combination of amphetamines and dextroamphetamine.
Adderall is known to cause side effects such as high blood pressure, heart palpations, and an elevated heart rate.
When people stop taking Adderall after using it regularly, they often experience extreme discomfort and hallucinations. There is also a much higher risk at bigger addicted to Adderall than modafinil because it contains amphetamines.
Dave Asprey on Modafinil
Dave Asprey, the founder of the company Bulletproof Nutrition Inc., has written about Modafinil on his blog. He has reported that he is a user himself.
According to his blog, he took between 300-400mg per day before he started his company Bulletproof. After that, he decreased his dose to 0-100mg per day in the mornings or at lunchtime.
He said that in the ten years he personality took modafinil, he never noticed any side effects.
He recommends that it’s best used by people after the ages of 23-25 when the brain is fully formed. He also mentions that a very small number of people, about five out of every million, can develop a dangerous rash.
How to Get Modafinil and Proper Dosage
Since modafinil isn’t currently available by prescription for cognitive enhancement, there’s no specific dosage recommended by doctors.
If you’re taking modafinil for the first time, you may want to take a dose around 100mg. If you react to it okay, you can work up to 200mg. In the United States and Canada, you need a prescription to buy Modafinil.
If you suffer from a sleep disorder such as narcolepsy or shift worker sleep disorder, you may be able to get a prescription from your doctor. You may also be able to get a prescription if you have ADD or ADHD.
The legality of modafinil varies from country to country. If you’re interested in taking modafinil and based in North America, your best option is to order online from a retailer based in a country where it’s legal and have it shipped to you.
Before ordering it, definitely read about the regulations before ordering it. If you’re worried about the legality, you can also try several other nootropics that may offer similar effects.
The nootropic adrafinil may be the best alternative. It’s a prodrug to modafinil, which means that your body metabolizes it into modafinil. It’s legal to buy and use in Canada, the United Kingdom, and America. Although, it is a banned substance with the World-Doping agency, so if you’re a competitive athlete, you shouldn’t take it.
Modafinil Possible Side Effects
Research shows that you’re unlikely to become addicted to modafinil. However, whenever you take any new drug or supplement, you should monitor how it affects your body. One of the most common side-effects of modafinil is a loss in appetite that may cause weight loss.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you may see this as a benefit. However, if you already have trouble maintaining your bodyweight, you may want to be aware of it.
Some of the most common side effects reported from taking modafinil in trial studies include dizziness, heart palpitations, restlessness, anxiety, and headaches. It may also affect your sleep if you take it too close to bed. If you notice any of these effects, you can try reducing your dose or stopping altogether.
It’s worth noting that, overall, modafinil is considered to be well-tolerated.
As we mentioned earlier, a very small percentage of the population may develop a severe rash that can be potentially dangerous.
Should I Take Modafinil?
Research shows that taking modafinil may increase your feelings of wakefulness although the exact mechanism of how it works isn’t fully understood.
Should you take it?
Modafinil offers a safe alternative to Adderall. If you’re tempted to try Adderall (or already taking it), but you’re worried about the side effects, you might want to try modafinil instead.
If you know that you have a high-work period coming up, you may benefit from taking modafinil temporary to go through a short period of productivity.
Taking modafinil may also help you increase your motivation, so if you find you’re having trouble staying focused on your work it may benefit you.
If you decide you want to take modafinil, start with a small dose around 100mg and increase only once you know how it affects your body. Using modafinil smartly can elevate your cognitive performance to your full potential.
Daniel grew up in Halifax, Canada. He completed his Honours Kinesiology degree at Dalhousie University where he received an education in topics such as nutrition, exercise physiology, strength training, and sports psychology. He graduated with his MFA in Writing from the University of Saskatchewan in spring 2019. Through his writing career, he’s developed a particular interest in endocrine and mental health research.