Modafinil imbues an unfair cognitive advantage to those lifehackers not afraid to dabble with pharmaceuticals, from night shift working emergency room doctors to programmers and helicopter pilots.
New York Magazine called it Wall Street’s New Drug of Choice, to quote the high-performance subject of the article:
“I sensed it was blood actually moving to the optic nerve. Your eyes start to feel very sort of engorged, and your awareness comes to the front of your face, which is kind of a freaky sensation. I would describe it as being very much like Adderall, but without the speediness.”
With almost 200 human clinical studies in the past 10 years, Modafinil is one of the most proven and safe pharmaceutical smart drugs on the market. Officially a wakefulness-promoting drug, Modafinil is FDA approved for treating narcolepsy and shift work sleep disorder, and in many countries, a prescription is required. Launched in the US as Provigil in 1998 it’s a relatively younger smart drug.
A 2012 study of 18 helicopter pilots by the Warfighter Health Division of U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory found that Modafinil was a veritable solution for maintaining “acceptable levels of mood and performance during sleep deprivation” in periods of sustained wakefulness up to 40 hours. In a 2004 study of 10 F-117 pilots “Modafinil attenuated flight performance” for up to 37 hours of continuous wakefulness. The French air force includes them in the ejection seat survival packages of fighter jets.
Modafinil as a replacement for dextroamphetamine for sustaining alertness in military helicopter…
Aviat Space Environ Med. 2012 Jun;83(6):556-64. Comparative Study; Controlled Clinical Trial; Research Support, U.S…
Modafinil is a hardcore sleep hack, it increases the quality of sleep while decreasing quantity. To quote a 2014 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study done by the Department of Neurology in Marburg, Germany
The sleep diaries showed increases in feeling refreshed in the morning; the diurnal diaries showed significant improvement of performance and of exhaustion. Modafinil is an effective and safe medication in the treatment of IH.
Modafinil in the treatment of idiopathic hypersomnia without long sleep time--a randomized…
J Sleep Res. 2015 Feb;24(1):74-81. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12201. Epub 2014 Sep 5. Randomized Controlled Trial; Research…
Adrafinil vs Modafinil
Adrafinil is the none prescription version of Modafinil and a search for it on Pubmed yields +25 results. Adrafinil is technically a prodrug of Modafinil, meaning that it converts or metabolizes into Modafinil in the liver. The biggest difference between the two is that Adrafinil is, currently, unregulated in the United States. Although Modafinil can be acquired via numerous sources online, varying from shady silk road wannabes to highly credible supplement retailers, there’s still a legality issue for US citizens. For those who wish to stay on the right side of the law without bothering a doctor for prescription, Adrafinil is the clear choice.
Armodafinil vs Modafinil
Modafinil is comprised of an R-isomer and an S-isomer whereas Armodafinil is just the R-isomer. To quote a 2009 study comparing the two:
Despite similar half-lives, plasma concentrations following armodafinil administration are higher late in the day than those following modafinil administration on a milligram-to-milligram basis.
Armodafinil and modafinil have substantially different pharmacokinetic profiles despite having the…
Clin Drug Investig. 2009;29(9):613-23. doi: 10.2165/11315280-000000000-00000. Comparative Study; Research Support…
This would suggest that Armodafinil is the stronger version, at least when it comes to wakefulness.
Modafinil vs Adderall vs Ritalin
Since they are focus promoting pharmaceuticals a lot of comparisons get made between the Modafinil and popular ADHD medication. There’s a common misperception that Modafinil utilizes a similar mechanism of action to the popular ADHD drugs, a French study of 33 humans found a distinct difference between Modafinil and the amphetamine powered stimulants:
These findings demonstrate that the alertness-promoting effects of modafinil and d-amphetamine involve distinct EEG activities and do not reside on the same vigilance regulatory processes.
Distinctive effects of modafinil and d-amphetamine on the homeostatic and circadian modulation of…
Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2003 Mar;166(2):127-38. Epub 2003 Jan 28. Clinical Trial; Randomized Controlled Trial…
One of the biggest difference in the lack of twitchiness or buzz, after years of taking ADHD medications I’m intimately familiar with the edgy, ‘cracked out’ feeling they deliver, indeed I have grown to enjoy it. Modafinil simply delivers a clear head and loads of motivation; you won’t feel like dancing and your hands won’t shake.
One thing I appreciate about Modafinil is that I get hungry like normal and will be motivated to eat. One of the things that have troubled me about ADHD medication and other Nootropics I’ve tried is that you lose your appetite on them and I will find myself in a deprived state after skipping multiple meals.
Mechanism of Action
Since we can’t examine a live human brain dosed on Modafinil, like with all smart drugs the mechanism of action is a matter of intelligent estimation as opposed to certainty. It prevents the reuptake of Dopamine in the brain which causes high concentrations of the neurotransmitter.
2007 paper Mechanisms of modafinil: A review of current research, stated in its conclusion:
It is likely that modafinil both enhances cellular metabolism and reduces free-radicals in neurons. Reduction in brain oxidation or an increase in cortical creatine could promote vigilance
Mechanisms of modafinil: A review of current research
The novel wake-promoting agent modafinil has been in use for the treatment of several sleep disorders for a few years…
It takes about 45–60 minutes to take effect. For that reason when I’m having a Modafinil Day I usually wash down the drug with a cup of coffee or tea. It has a half-life of 13–15 hours, so it will transform the course of your whole day.
Banned Sports Doping Agents
To quote a 2009 study done in New Delhi by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports:
Adrafinil and modafinil have received wide publicity and have become controversial in the sporting world when several athletes were discovered allegedly using these drugs as doping agents.
A novel study of screening and confirmation of modafinil, adrafinil and their metabolite…
Indian J Pharmacol. 2009 Dec;41(6):278-83. doi: 10.4103/0253-7613.59928.
Personal Anecdote: Hallucinating on Modafinil
This is a quintessential productivity drug and really does turn you into a singularly focused zombie, once while on Modafinil I worked at +12 hour day late into the night, even totally exhausted I was motivated to keep going on a project. I began to hallucinate, thinking that people were walking into my office, I took this as a sign to shut down my computer finally. On the short walk to where I lived, I kept thinking that I was seeing people in my peripheral vision and hearing footsteps following me. Hallucinations are not a side effect reported anywhere of this smart drug, but I doubt I’m the first person to work myself into such a state of exhaustion while on it.
On Mood and Depression
Depression can kind of be like a check engine light on a car, there’s a lot of possible causes and more often than not it’s due to a combination of slight imbalances in lifestyle, diet, genetics and internal chemistry.
To quote a 2007 Vanderbilt University randomized, double-blind, study of 12 healthy human subjects:
Mood was assessed daily using both the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule and a general mood scale… These results suggest that modafinil may have general mood-elevating effects accompanied by increased negative affect (anxiety). The findings may have implications for clinical practice, in particular for the adjunctive use of modafinil in treatment-resistant depression.
A randomized, double-blind, crossover trial of modafinil on mood. - PubMed - NCBI
J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2007 Feb;27(1):76-9. Randomized Controlled Trial; Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
Socializing on Modafinil
In my experience, towards the beginning of the bell curve of Modafinil’s cognitive enhancing effects, you’ll feel more social and talkative. However, you’ll grow very critical and social interactions will seem ‘too slow’. I don’t take Modafinil during the day if I have a date, party or other social engagement in the evenings.
A 2011 University of California study demonstrated that Modafinil repaired the damage that methamphetamine addicts had done to their learning ability with prolonged drug usage:
The findings suggest that modafinil improves learning in MA-dependent participants, possibly by enhancing neural function in regions important for learning and cognitive control.
Effect of modafinil on learning and task-related brain activity in methamphetamine-dependent and…
Neuropsychopharmacology. 2011 Apr;36(5):950-9. doi: 10.1038/npp.2010.233. Epub 2011 Feb 2. Clinical Trial; Randomized…
A 2005 double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 62 cocaine addicts showed the drug to have beneficial effects:
“This study provides preliminary evidence… that modafinil improves clinical outcome when combined with psychosocial treatment for cocaine dependence.”
A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of modafinil for cocaine dependence. - PubMed - NCBI
Neuropsychopharmacology. 2005 Jan;30(1):205-11. Clinical Trial; Randomized Controlled Trial; Research Support, U.S…
Modafinil may be something of a self-control lifehack, as many of the studies came to the conclusion that it decreased impulsiveness.
Modafinil and Adrafinil both put some minimal strain on the heart to keep up with the high-performance cognitive state of the brain. It’s not a great idea for those with heart conditions to take them with other agents that increase blood pressure and heart rate. For this reason, I don’t take them with other Nootropics, with the exception of a cup of coffee or tea.
Tolerance & Addiction Risk
In my experience it is something you build up a tolerance too, I wouldn’t recommend taking it more than 2–3 times a week. Many stimulants that underperform or match the enhancing effects of these drugs are highly addictive, in comparison the addiction risk of Modafinil and Adrafinil is remarkably low, however, there’s always a risk with anything that stimulates dopamine.
According to Powdercity.com Modafinil has a synergistic effect with nicotine:
Here’s what one researcher has to say about nicotine:
“To my knowledge, nicotine is the most reliable cognitive enhancer that we currently have, bizarrely,” said Jennifer Rusted, professor of experimental psychology at Sussex University in Britain when we spoke. “The cognitive-enhancing effects of nicotine in a normal population are more robust than you get with any other agent. With Provigil, for instance, the evidence for cognitive benefits is nowhere near as strong as it is for nicotine.”
Why does nicotine work so well? It’s a potent nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonist. Nicotinic acetylcholine activation suppresses GABAergic inputs to dopaminergic neurons, which elicits dopamine release in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Nicotine decreases the risk of parkinson’s disease, markedly improves working memory, and is underutilized due to its association with tobacco smoking.
If you want to try stacking nicotine with modafinil, start with the lowest possible doses, e.g., 1mg nicotine plus 50mg modafinil. Note that nicotine has a very narrow therapeutic range. Slapping fifteen nicotine patches on your back is a bizarrely popular suicide method precisely because it’s so lethal in overdose. As far as nootropics go, nicotine is probably the most dangerous if you’re not careful.
Nicotine is my favorite Modafinil cofactor, although I certainly don’t recommend smoking cigarettes. I recommend pharma grade liquid 5% Nicotine USP solution.
It’s potent stuff, 100 Milligrams will put most people into a cognitively enhanced territory for 4–6 hours. 200 Milligrams is the standard dosage experienced Biohackers and smart drug junkies take, but for many, it’s too much, a friend of mine reported that he couldn’t sleep for two whole days after taking this dosage. On the extreme end, some self experimenters report taking up to 400 Milligrams.
Adrafinil Recommended Dosage: 150 to 300 Milligrams daily; as a prodrug, it’s less bioavailable.
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Originally published on LimitlessMindset.com