Modafinil: Beginner’s Guide and Experience Review

Modafinil is amongst the most powerful of nootropics (smart drugs) available today. With a burgeoning popularity, this synthetic compound is now a central component of many nootropic stacks designed for productivity and studying.

Technically more of a wakefulness-promoting agent than a stimulant, modafinil was originally developed for the treatment of daytime sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. Modafinil’s role in decreasing fatigue and preventing sleepiness in these conditions however, showcases only a fraction of its capabilities.

Multiple studies have confirmed the extensive range of cognitive benefits one can derive from modafinil. The most prominent amongst these include increased mental alertness, motivation and concentration, better reaction times, enhanced memory, a decrease in fatigue levels and a general sense of well-being.

These effects of modafinil are very similar to other stimulants available in the market i.e. caffeine and amphetamines. However, modafinil is known to give a much cleaner energy boost than all the other stimulants due to its eugeroic properties.

Eugeroics are compounds that specifically improve alertness and act on specific neurotransmitters (and their receptors) in the brain. This causes modafinil to have a much smoother course of action when compared to other stimulants, as well as having lesser side effects, a better tolerance profile and a lower potential for abuse.

Thus, modafinil specifically improves an individual’s focus and concentration without causing an overall increase in the physical and mental overactivity seen with other stimulants. This ‘smart drug’ has now become popular for its off-label use as a concentration enhancer amongst business executives, students, people working on long shifts and almost anyone looking to boost their productivity.

Beginner’s Guide to Modafinil

In this review article, you will be given all the essential information you need on modafinil that shall help you make an informed decision on its proper usage and precautions.

WHAT IS MODAFINIL?

Modafinil is a central nervous system stimulant approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is primarily used as a wakefulness-promoting agent to increase one’s energy and alertness levels, but many users also employ modafinil for its potent properties of improving focus and concentration.

It is sold as a prescription drug in the United States and Canada. Modafinil is listed as a Schedule IV Controlled Substance, thus marking its low potential for abuse and dependency.

It is commonly sold under the trade names Provigil, Alertec, Modalert, Modapro and Modiodal.

A derivative of the revolutionary non-amphetamine stimulant, adrafinil, modafinil was first discovered in 1976 by Michel Jouvet, a French medical professor, in collaboration with the pharmaceutical company Cephalon. Early animal studies highlighted the role of modafinil in causing physical and mental overactivity.

It was subsequently deployed in humans for the first time in 1986 as an experimental treatment for narcolepsy, a sleep disorder characterized by overwhelming daytime drowsiness. After its initial success, modafinil was employed to treat certain other sleep disorders, including lack of sleep due to shift work and obstructive sleep apnea.

The American and British military are also reported to have used modafinil to help keep their soldiers awake and functioning at high capacity (in some instances, for up to 40 hours at a stretch). Multiple studies have confirmed the drug’s actions in reducing the deleterious effects on the brain due to short term sleep deprivation.

Due to these reasons, modafinil has become a popular nootropic used by many people around the world today, primarily to improve their cognitive performance.

HOW DOES MODAFINIL WORK?

Modafinil is known to act on both the central and peripheral nervous system. However, its precise mechanisms of action are yet to be elucidated.

The active component of modafinil goes by the same name and extensive research is underway to discover how this nootropic exerts its plethora of effects.

Multiple studies have confirmed the link between modafinil and its role in affecting various neurotransmitters in the brain. Amongst the neurotransmitters chiefly affected are the following:

  • Histamine

Modafinil has been shown to alter the levels of histamine in the brain, especially in the hypothalamic regions. Histamine, a nitrogenous compound involved in multiple physiologic processes in the entire body, acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. Its primary role is in increasing wakefulness and preventing the onset of sleep.

Studies have shown that modafinil increases the local histamine concentration in the posterior hypothalamus. This effect is abolished once the neuronal levels of histamine are brought down by a powerful histamine inhibitor. Other stimulants (like methylphenidate) do not react in the same manner, thus confirming modafinil’s unique linkage with histamine.

  • Dopamine

Dopamine is a powerful neuroexcitatory transmitter associated with increased concentration, drive and memory. Research studies have confirmed the association between modafinil and increased levels of dopamine in the brain. Modafinil works on the dopamine transporters (especially the ones involved in reuptake) and occupies these sites, thereby increasing the dopamine concentration at the synaptic levels.

  • Orexin

Orexins, also known as hypocretins, are proteinaceous substances used by neurons to communicate with one another. They are primarily involved in the maintenance of vigilance and the regulation of the sleep-arousal cycles. Narcolepsy is known to be associated with reduced levels of orexins in the central nervous system. By affecting the levels of orexins, modafinil brings about increased wakefulness and arousal states in the individual.

  • Norepinephrine

A core component of the sympathetic nervous system, norepinephrine functions as the stress hormone and acts on the areas of the brain that control attention, physical energy and willpower. Modafinil is known to activate these systems to promote vigilance, memory formation and focus.

  • Glutamate

Glutamate, the most abundant neurotransmitter present in humans, is primarily involved in synaptic plasticity (or the ability of nerve synapses to become stronger or weaker over time). This property of glutamate makes it central to cognitive processes such as learning and memory. By activating the glutamate circuits in the brain, modafinil plays a major role in shaping the learning abilities of the individual.

  • GABA

GABA, or gamma amino butyric acid, is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Modafinil reduces the levels of GABA in the neuronal circuits, thus making you less sensitive to feeling sleepy. This effect may also lead to a rise in brain histamine levels.

  • Serotonin

Amongst the most discussed of chemicals, serotonin plays a major role in regulating the mood, behavior and sleep-wake cycle of an individual. Some studies have highlighted the effect of modafinil on these systems.

  • Anandamide

Anandamide is a neurotransmitter involved in the formation of human sleep patterns and is believed to play a peripheral role in determining the properties of modafinil.

As can be seen, the action of modafinil is exerted through a variety of neurotransmitters, thereby explaining the multiple benefits one can derive from this nootropic.

BENEFITS OF MODAFINIL

Originally designed for use in certain sleep disorders, modafinil performs this role excellently and improves alertness, wakefulness and brain function, especially in sleep deprived individuals.

Modafinil is an effective eugeroic that increases wakefulness in people with excessive daytime sleepiness whilst having a minimal impact on their normal nighttime sleep schedules. The drug is thus, an immense asset when treating disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea or narcolepsy.

While modafinil may increase the alertness levels of an individual, it is important to remember that it is not a long-term substitute for sleep. Users of modafinil may stay awake during their regular sleeping hours for short intervals of time without incurring a significant sleep debt.

However, to achieve the maximal benefits afforded by this drug, regular and healthy sleeping patterns are vital. Indeed, many users have experienced the best nootropic and cognitive boosts on the back of a good night’s sleep.

  • Nootropic Effects

Increasing wakefulness is only one of modafinil’s many actions. Amongst the most common off-label uses of this drug is its usage as a nootropic to enhance cognition in both healthy and sleep deprived individuals.

Users report feeling more alert and attentive, with increased levels of energy. In addition, it may enhance mental function in individuals with attention impairment (due to age-related cognitive decline, drug abuse or attention deficit disorders).

Studies have confirmed the improvement in working, episodic and long-term memory in regular users of modafinil. Planning and executing tasks of a difficult and complex nature become much easier, thus highlighting modafinil’s role in enhancing executive function.

Many studies have been conducted to demonstrate the increase in cognition brought about by modafinil. Participants in these research studies demonstrated higher scores as compared to their peers on a variety of neuropsychological tests, such as visual pattern recognition, stop-signal reaction test and spatial planning.

Improved reaction times, learning abilities and enhanced moods are some of the other prominent effects. Further research is required to document the full range of nootropic benefits that may be accrued from this drug.

  • Control of Impulses

Poor impulse control may play an important role in the pathogenesis of certain disorders such as alcoholism, gambling addiction etc. By reducing the impulsivity and preventing the user from getting distracted from his/her task, modafinil may help to control such episodes of abuse and relapse.

  • Neuroprotective Effects

Some exciting new studies have documented the role modafinil plays in improving brain health. By virtue of its inherent anti-oxidant properties, modafinil decreases the levels of damaging free radicals present in the central nervous system, thus conferring additional neuroprotective benefits to the user.

  • Use in other disorders

Modafinil has been advocated for use in childhood attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, alongside other conventional stimulants such as amphetamine. Although research surrounding this subject is promising, modafinil has not yet been approved for use in this condition.

Modafinil has also been proposed as an agent for the treatment of memory loss and fatigue associated with multiple sclerosis.

A number of clinical trials are exploring the use of modafinil in a number of other disorders, namely schizophrenia, depression, nicotine abuse, seasonal affective disorder and bipolar disorder.

With a plethora of benefits to offer, it is no wonder that modafinil is currently amongst the most popular of nootropic drugs.

HOW TO TAKE MODAFINIL

Knowing the correct dose is important to enjoy the full range of benefits of modafinil, as well as limiting the potential to develop adverse effects to the drug.

Modafinil is usually sold in the form of 100 mg or 200 mg tablets. If you already are suffering from some serious medical illness, it is important to consult with a physician before embarking on the use of modafinil.

What dose should I take?

Modafinil, when used for the treatment of narcolepsy and other daytime sleep disorders, is usually taken at 100 mg or 200 mg a day. When used for sleepiness associated with a shift work disorder, doses of 200 mg are recommended, preferably one hour before the start of the shift.

Although not currently approved, modafinil for ADHD is used in the range of 100-200 mg daily. Doses for other conditions such as fatigue associated with multiple sclerosis, mood disorders and addictions need to be individualized.

When being taken for its nootropic benefits, modafinil must be used in a dose of 50 mg, with the dose being titrated over the next couple of weeks as per the requirements of its user. Some people also begin with up to 100-200 mg a day, although doses more than this range may increase the incidence of side effects substantially for beginners.

Modafinil is a lot stronger than other stimulants like caffeine and it is advisable to begin with low doses. Avoid taking modafinil for more than 3 days in a row.

When should I take it?

The wakefulness action of modafinil lasts for almost 12 hours and thus, it is prudent to take the drug early in the day (preferably upon waking up). This ensures that night time sleep patterns of the individual are unharmed by the drug.

Consider your daily schedule when planning to take modafinil. A popular schedule advocates taking modafinil 1 hour before work to maximize one’s productivity.

Are there any other precautions to follow?

It is important to ensure that you receive other essential nutrients (either through your diet or via supplements). This will keep your body healthy while it adjusts to the modafinil.

The maximum safe daily dose of modafinil, according to a number of research studies, is 400 mg. Trials comparing the impact of a larger daily dosing (such as 400 mg) have not shown any considerable benefit over the long term. The propensity for side effects is markedly raised with such large dosing schedules.

Modafinil in moderate doses is safe when taken for prolonged intervals of time. Large clinical trials have failed to demonstrate the development of tolerance to this drug when taken for several months.

Although rare, one should always consider the possibility of psychological dependence developing with the use of modafinil. Isolated case reports do describe the withdrawal symptoms seen in such long-term users, with the chief symptoms being lethargy, insomnia, anxiousness and feeling numb.

TYPES OF MODAFINIL

So, which is the right modafinil for you?

Modafinil is available in many different brand names, which can be a source of confusion for a new user. Modafinil is sold as ‘Provigil’ in the United States and the United Kingdom, while ‘Modavigil’ is the commonly available brand in Australia.

A number of pharmaceutical companies sell the generic form of modafinil online. A number of such generic forms exist, with the primary aim being to reduce prices and improve accessibility to the common man.

Amongst the most popular generic forms of modafinil you will hear of include the following:

  • Modalert

This nootropic, sold by Sun Pharma, is a generic form of modafinil. The prohibitive high cost of the non-generic form of modafinil i.e. Provigil necessitated the development of this drug.

It is usually available as a 200 mg tablet. Doses of 100 mg are considered safe for beginners and the tablet may be split in half for consumption.

This psycho-stimulant enhances mood, memory, motivation, clears brain fog and helps the user to focus for longer periods of time. Made from 12 organic ingredients, modalert carries a lesser incidence of adverse effects as compared to its non-generic form.

  • Modvigil

Modvigil, sold by Hab Pharmaceuticals, is another form of generic modafinil available in the market. It markedly enhances the cognitive performance, memory and mental energy of the user.

One key advantage of this generic form is its ability to maintain the body’s natural hormones (cortisol, melatonin) in balance, thus leaving sleep cycles unaffected. They also have a lesser propensity to cause a ‘rebound’ effect, as is seen with other stimulants.

Hence, abrupt withdrawal does not cripple the user of this drug. It is also associated with a lower risk of side effects and abuse.

  • Waklert

Another generic form sold by Sun Pharma, Waklert is usually available in formulations of 150 mg. Due to advanced manufacturing processes, this drug bears the advantages of a purer composition, thus leading to lesser adverse effects and a more prolonged shelf life.

This smart drug is highly effective in its actions. It was primarily formulated to increase the vigilance and alertness levels of the individual without causing any hyperactivity.

  • Artvigil

The most recent generic version of modafinil, Artvigil is a nootropic that contains the active ingredient, Armodafinil. This drug is usually available in a 150 mg formulation.

This supplement was initially employed for the treatment of neurological diseases but is now one of the most effective smart drugs available in the market.

Modafinil is only sold via a prescription in the United States and Canada. This nootropic may be available in international pharmacies where they may be sold without a prescription.

Ordering from these pharmacies may be illegal in your country and hence, do check with the local regulations before placing your order. They may also carry the risk of receiving the wrong product, or with too less or a different active ingredient. Due diligence before buying from these pharmacies is recommended.

WHO SHOULD USE MODAFINIL?

Modafinil is not to be used by people from all walks of life. A lot of people choose not to resort to using such nootropics to boost their performance, and they shouldn’t.

So, who may incur the maximal benefits from the occasional consumption of modafinil?

Modafinil is ideal for anyone who is involved in tasks requiring high performance and mental focus to succeed. People from many professions have tried using modafinil to get a significant cognitive boost at work, a few of which are listed below:

  • Entrepreneurs: This current century has witnessed a rise in the number of people pursuing their entrepreneurial goals. This in turn has led to the creation of an environment where results and profitability win. Modafinil works in such situations by keeping you laser-focused on the things that matter and preventing distractions from arising.
  • Programmers: Modafinil hones the powers of intense concentration and creativity in programmers, thus enabling them to build and finish projects as per schedule.
  • Students: A boost in focus, improved thinking abilities and the capacity to retain large amounts of information in a short span of time are just some of the benefits students can avail of when using nootropics like modafinil.
  • Graphic/ web designers: With long, weary hours and projects that require you to be on top of your game, modafinil may help designers by boosting their mental energy and motivation.
  • Writers: Many writers resort to using smart drugs like modafinil to tremendously improve their writing output, thus increasing their ability to hit deadlines consistently.
  • Athletes: Athletes involved in professional sports may benefit from the reduced reaction times and increase in focus that comes with regular modafinil usage.

To summarize, if you feel that you could do with a cognitive boost at work or at home, then modafinil might just be the answer for you.

SIDE EFFECTS OF MODAFINIL

Although modafinil has a good safety and tolerance profile when used at recommended doses, it is a powerful drug that may have unintended negative consequences on the user’s health. These possible adverse effects may range from minor issues to active major health emergencies.

The majority of the commonly reported reactions to modafinil are mild and non-threatening in nature. The most frequently observed negative effects include:

  • Anxiousness
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Dry mouth and nose
  • A feeling of indigestion

Some of the other less reported side effects that may be seen in some individuals include the following: excessive shivering, back pain, poor appetite, involuntary trembling, increased sensation of thirst.

Most of these adverse reactions are tolerated well by the user and subside on its own in a few days. In case these symptoms persist for a prolonged period of time, medical help must be called for at the earliest.

In rare instances, modafinil may lead to serious medical conditions that may be catastrophic to the health of the user. If you experience any of the following symptoms, reach out to your health provider immediately:

  • Chest pain
  • Abnormal heart rhythm or a rapid, pounding pulse
  • Extremely high or extremely low blood pressure
  • Fever and chills
  • Retention of urine or inability to pass stools
  • Memory loss, depression
  • Blurring of vision
  • Abnormal voluntary/involuntary movements
  • Confusion

Special care is to be taken if users show signs of asthma, peeling of the skin, blood in the urine, swollen mouth and gums, difficulty in breathing, suicidal thoughts or any other allergic reactions. Further testing is recommended in such individuals.

If you already are on some medications for some chronic illness, it is prudent to carry the list of medications to your doctor before you start using modafinil. Some drugs have shown a potential to cross react with modafinil, leading to an increase in side effects or a reduction in the efficacy of the drug. A proper consult can help to avoid such damaging consequences.

SUMMARY

Modafinil is amongst the most popular, highly exciting and excellent nootropics today. The number of benefits one can receive from its usage are diverse.

It combines the eugeroic and cognitive boosts of conventional stimulants, thereby making it easier for the user to work for long hours at his/her physical and mental best. These effects occur without the usual side effects associated with amphetamine use (such as sleep debt, paranoias, involuntary movements).

The safety profile of modafinil is excellent and it is generally well tolerated by users. The drug though does carry a small risk for abuse and addiction.

A quick look at the nootropic boards and communities that exist online showcase the diversity of opinion that exists concerning the consumption of modafinil.

Some people hail modafinil as a miracle worker, championing its life-changing effects of intense focus, enhanced moods and mental sharpness. Others have not had a very rewarding experience, with a few even experiencing some discomfort on consuming the drug.

In context of such opinions, it is important to remember that research has proven the incredible cognitive benefits that modafinil has to offer. At the same time, it must be stated that this is a very powerful drug that elicits a different reaction in every individual and which may on occasion, lead to serious side effects.

The take home message is this: if you want to minimize the periods of fatigue and maximize your cognitive power for short intervals of time, then modafinil is the nootropic you should be looking for.


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