Is Modafinil Safe As A 'Smart Drug'? Over A Decade Of Study Suggests So

Modafinil, along with being a "wakefulness promoter" prescribed to narcoleptics and chronic fatigue sufferers, has found a niche as a smart drug or "nootropic" that anyone can take to boost concentration and focus. While the risks haven't been studied conclusively, a new paper has made a brave attempt to collate research from the last 14 years to form some sort of conclusion.

After analysing 24 papers on the affects of modafinil, RM Battleday and Anna-Katharine Brem of Oxford University's Department of Experimental Psychology concluded that the drug "appears to consistently engender enhancement of attention, executive functions, and learning" without a "preponderances for side effects or mood changes".

It's important to note that the authors did not conduct the experiments themselves, rather, they gathered research from a wide variety of sources to put together a more complete picture of modafinil's effects on healthy imbibers:

In order to provide an up-to-date systematic evaluation that addresses these concerns, we searched MEDLINE with the terms "modafinil" and "cognitive", and reviewed all resultant primary studies in English from January 1990 until December 2014 investigating the cognitive actions of modafinil in healthy non-sleep-deprived humans.

The end result? That modafinil could very well be a safe smart drug — a pill you can pop if you're lacking in the creativity or concentration departments:

...modafinil appears to consistently engender enhancement of attention, executive functions, and learning. Importantly, we did not observe any preponderances for side effects or mood changes. Finally, in light of the methodological discrepancies encountered within this literature, we conclude with a series of recommendations on how to optimally detect valid, robust, and consistent effects in healthy populations that should aid future assessment of neuroenhancement.

That last bit is worth noting. As psychologist James Thompson points out, the paper doesn't give the drug the all-clear, rather, it's laid the groundwork for more thorough studies, so future research can deliver more focused data:

I do not find the case for Modafinil proved, and I suspect the authors are not bowled over by the effect, but if their suggestions are followed a larger study with more sensitive, repeated cognitive measures could settle the issue. Till then, it might be best to stick to black coffee.

Not that Australians can easily knock the stuff back anyway. Locally, modafinil is a prescription-only drug and is usually sold in the form of Modavigil (pictured). That said, it can be purchased overseas and depending on how customs is feeling that day, it might even get through.

[European Neuropsychopharmacology, via The Guardian]

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    I use modafinil to combat mental fatigue.

    2 weeks in it was amazing
    4 weeks in, still good
    6 weeks I was getting tired again
    8=10 weeks in, modafinil still it turns the light on upstairs, but only the intern is still in the office.

    While it most definately turns on your brain on in my experience, but I feel like using it has resulted in my body using all of my energy reserves that I wouldn't normally tap into, so now there is just nothing left to fuel my brain when I turn it on.

    For periodic use, or for people who do not have my fatigue issues, then go for i t. But if you suffer fatigue, don't put your eggs in one basket! I thought it was a game changer and that I could now get on with my life - instead I'm back at square one.

    PS I am super sick today, and my brain literately turning off and my arms are tingling like crazy, I can hardly type (I called an after hours doctor... but gonna be a couple hours b efoe rthey get here) - plus I haven't taken and modafinil for a few days either which doesn't help.

      Concur with your comment. I use it when Uni is getting hectic (l work full time, renovating a house and have a young family) - it allows me to pump out a few extra hours each day, l've found the best usage is 100mg around 5am, study until 8 then head off to work feeling as though you just woke up. Sporadic use for only a few days at a time has worked best for me but when you crash, you crash as your body has nothing left. It's no 'limitless' drug but it is quite helpful to push out a few extra hours of focused work when needed.

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