Modafinil and Adderall are two of the most commonly prescribed cognitive enhancers. A lot of people seeking to enhance their cognitive abilities using medications wonder which is better between the two. While many people prefer Modafinil, is it really a better nootropic than Adderall?
We will analyze the mechanism of action and side effects behind these two drugs and provide you with worthwhile information so you can make an informed decision.
Mechanisms of Action – Modafinil vs Adderall
Modafinil is a potent psychostimulant from the wakefulness-promoting or eugeroic class of drugs. It was developed to treat daytime sleepiness or narcolepsy. Its effect is similar to those of common stimulants, however, its mechanism of action distinguishes it from its competitors. Unlike methyphenidate, amphetamine and other CNS stimulants that induce wakefulness, Modafinil triggers nerve cells selectively, mainly focusing on amygdala and hypothalamus.
Many users taking Modafinil off-label as a nootropic provided anecdotal accounts that they experience the best cognitive boost from Modafinil when they’re not sleep-deprived. Here are some benefits of taking Modafinil off-label:
- Enhance Cognitive Abilities
Apart from promoting wakefulness, Modafinil is particularly effective in enhancing cognitive, both in sleep-deprived people and in non-fatigued individuals. Further, it has proven to improve mental function in people with conditions that affect attention processing such as drug dependence, ADHD and cognitive decline.
It has been found that Modafinil has antioxidant properties that can destroy damaging free radicals in the brain, which makes it a useful neuroprotectant.
- Miscellaneous / Off-Label Benefits
As of now, Modafinil is not approved for treating childhood ADHD. On one hand, numerous studies suggest that Modafinil is effective for treating memory impairment and fatigue associated with multiple sclerosis. It has also been shown to be effective in impulse control for various situations, including gambling addiction and alcoholism.
Adderall is an amphetamine-based stimulant, comprised of several amphetamine salts that can increase concentration and focus. It is another potent stimulant that activates several neurotransmitters including epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine. Such effect can overwhelm you with feel-good chemicals, leaving you feeling energized and alerted. It also stimulates the release of histamine and serotonin. When a person with ADHD takes this drug, he will find an increase in attention span and a more balanced sense of focus.
Here are some off-label benefits of taking Modafinil:
- Promotes motivation
Adderall can boost drive, mood and energy for better performance.
- Euphoria and invigoration
Adderall triggers the release of dopamine and as a result, some users experience energy, euphoria and invigoration. Many users reported improvements in focus, concentration and attentional control.
Side Effects – Adderall vs. Modafinil
Between the two, Modafinil has a benign side effect profile. Users less likely experience excessive stimulation with Modafinil compared to Adderall.
Common side effects of Modafinil include:
- Difficult sleeping
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Occasional headache
- Increased itchiness
- May increase resting heart rate and blood pressure
Common side effects of Adderall include:
- Decreased appetite (and therefore weight loss)
- Abdominal pain
- Dry mouth
- Increased sweating
- Erectile dysfunction
So, Which Is A Better Nootropic?
Both Modafinil and Adderall have stimulant-type effects. Between the two, Modafinil offers better cognitive enhancing effects with less side effects compared to Adderall. In addition, Adderall is more likely to cause addiction, dependence as well as withdrawal symptoms when discontinued.
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 Silvestri AJ et.al. (June 2002). The central nucleus of the amygdala and the wake-promoting effects of modafinil. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12031546
 Turner DC, et.al. (January 2003). Cognitive enhancing effects of modafinil in healthy volunteers. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12417966
 Paul Gerrard, Robert Malcolm. (June 2007). Mechanisms of modafinil: A review of current research. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2654794/
 Drugs.com. Adderall. Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/adderall.html
 Irena P. Ilieva & Martha J. Farah. (October 2013). Enhancement stimulants: perceived motivational and cognitive advantages. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3813924/