In our achievement-driven society, it seems like everyone is looking for a way to gain a competitive advantage and improve their physical and mental performance. And in recent years, one of the most commons ways that biohackers and high-achievers have created this proverbial “leg up” is through the strategic use of a drug called Modafinil. Although Modafinil was initially created as an anti-narcolepsy drug, the pioneers of the biohacking space quickly realized that its utility extended far beyond helping shift workers hack their circadian rhythms.
Because of its ability to keep users alert, focused, and in “flow” throughout the course of a long work day, Modafinil has become a wildly popular “Smart Drug” that is quickly gaining traction among a plethora of different communities. But, as with anything in the realm of performance enhancement, Modafinil’s increasing popularity has also brought about a slew of wild misinformation, false claims, and unfair allegations.
So, what is the real truth about this drug?
What is it? How does it really affect the body? What are the side effects? Is it effective as a “smart drug”? Is it safe? And what can you expect with this so-called “God Pill”?
That’s exactly what I will be detailing today.
Since Modafinil is a schedule IV controlled substance, you can only get it with a doctor’s assistance, and it should only be taken under a doctor’s supervision to prevent and mitigate any of the side effects associated with this drug.
Although I have never been prescribed this medication, my research indicates that it is highly effective at treating the symptoms associated with severe sleep disorders, however, it does not serve as a cure for these conditions.
In comparison to the number of mild and severe medical conditions that Modafinil treats, the research suggests that the side effects associated with the drug are relatively nominal.
However, the number of contraindications associated with this medication as well as its potentially habit forming nature should be topics of concern when evaluating your treatment options.
In addition to its designated use, new studies are showing that Modafinil might serve as an effective treatment option for a number of other cognitive conditions like ADHD and Clinical Depression.
There are a variety of natural alternatives to Modafinil, which could be better options for less severe cases of sleep deprivation (or simple wakefulness).
Substances like Adrafinil, Fluorenol, or Pitosolant as less intense (but still effective) nootropics to help you stay awake and alert.
While these alternatives have fewer recorded side effects and are less abrasive on your system, in extreme cases, they are not as effective as their pharmaceutical counterparts.
Of the more than 70 reviews that I found on WebMD regarding this drug, the majority stated that they felt temporary improvement that lasted in the range of ten hours, which helped the individuals maintain a more normal lifestyle.
Users report a range of side effects, with some patients having more severe side effects while others had none. This backed-up the scientific data that indicates there are contraindications and side effects in some individuals that are directly associated with this medication.
Background: What is Modafinil?
Modafinil is the generic name for the synthetic wakefulness drug Provigil, which and is primarily used for the treatment of sleep conditions that include, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, sleep deprivation, and shift work sleep disorder.
These disorders are not only inconvenient but for the more extreme cases can be deadly.
Recent studies have shown that Modafinil is also an effective drug when treating some non-sleep related conditions, such as ADHD and Clinical Depression.
As a Schedule IV prescription drug, it is not a supplement that you can simply purchase over the counter at your local pharmacy or GNC.
Other Names for Modafinil
Other names for Modafinil are Modalert, Alertec, Modvigil, and Provigil.
Benefits and effects
The benefits seen by taking Modafinil will depend on your individual symptoms or goals when using the drug.
While some patients experience life changing side effects and the elimination of crippling sleep disorders, other users experience effects that are less remarkable but still beneficial.
Commonly Recorded Benefits for “Normal” Patients:
Here are some of the most commonly recorded benefits by patients taking Modafinil to combat destructive sleep disorders.
- Improved Job Satisfaction: It is difficult to hold onto a job or regular income when you are unable to remain awake for more than a few moments at a time. This is especially true in today’s knowledge economy, where our attention is precious. Taking Modafinil keeps you awake and able to function normally enabling you to have a functional work life.
- Socializing: Our relationships give meaning to our lives, but it’s not always easy to be care-free and relaxed, even around friends. To maintain a healthy social circle participation is mandatory. Unfortunately, when you are too tired to function, participating in any social event becomes all but impossible. Taking Modafinil allows you to be more engaged in other aspects of life that you may have been missing out on, and be more social as a result.
- Home Life: Raising a healthy family and experiencing a fulfilling home life takes work, and when you are chronically tired or depressed it can feel overwhelming, even impossible to do everything else and still make time for your children and spouse.. Modafinil helps relieve depression and increase your energy levels so that you can connect with those you love in a healthier and more consistent manner.
Modafinil’s clinical benefits can be distilled down to one phrase… Physical homeostasis.
In other words, it helps rebalance and recalibrate your brain and body, negating the effects of disruptive sleep disorders and allowing you to live a normal life again or for the first time.
Commonly Recorded Benefits for Performance Focused Patients
Just because you need a prescription to legally possess Modafinil doesn’t necessarily mean that narcolepsy is your primary reason for requesting a prescription.
Since Modafinil has a wide number of applications, it’s actually pretty easy to get a prescription from your doctor as long as you have some kind of legitimate need.
For example, I know of several freelancers who work with overseas clients and use Modafinil to help them stay awake and alert during their abnormal work hours.
I also know of plenty of entrepreneurs and startup employees who convince their local doctor to give them a prescription to help with the ridiculous workloads they are facing.
Since these individuals don’t technically suffer from a sleep disorder, I wanted to discuss the performance related benefits separate from clinical benefits.
- Increased Productivity: The most common benefit that I found reported from a wide variety of high achieving individuals is an increase in productivity. Some claim that it gives them laser like focus, others that it simply balances their energy levels, but nearly everyone who uses Modafinil reports some sort of increase in their motivation and productivity.
- Increased Mental Endurance: One of the most difficult parts about being a knowledge worker is trying to operate at full capacity for hours on end. Modafinil seems to provide a quick solution. Nearly everyone I know who has tried the drug claims that they were able to work far longer than normal while maintaining their productivity over the long hours.
- Improves Decision Making: Another commonly reported benefit is that Modafinil helps man people improve their decision making. Or rather, it helps them reduce their propensity to make impulsive or otherwise “bad” decisions.
While most of the studies associated claiming these benefits dealt with smaller sample sizes and require further research, there is enough scientific and anecdotal evidence to suggest that Modafinil is indeed an effective substance for enhancing personal performance.
How It Works
Modafinil targets dopaminergic neurons in the hypothalamus of the brain which creates orexin, hypocretin, and dopamine, thereby elevating mood, alertness, and energy levels.
Studies have shown that when the release of dopamine is stimulated by exercise, exhilaration, and diet individuals tend to experience increased happiness, greater concentration, and a heightened sense of fulfillment.
However, due to various cognitive dysfunctions, many individuals are unable to naturally produce sufficient amounts of dopamine resulting in deficiencies and disorders that can be improved with a proper dosage of Modafinil.
To maximize the effectiveness of Modafinil and prevent your body from building a tolerance for the drug, you should take Modafinil at your prescribed dosage only one to three times a week.
Under normal circumstances, patients will feel slight improvement after the first few doses, with the positive effects becoming more and more pronounced as the medication builds up in their body.
The short term effects (and the effects most desired by individuals using Modafinil to enhance performance) wear off after about ten hours.
Is Modafinil Actually a Nootropic “Smart Drug”
So with all of the benefits previously mentioned, many of you are probably wondering if Modafinil is truly the “Smart Drug” that proponents claim it is.
While it is true that Modafinil is regularly associated with the fictional substance “NZT-48″from the movie Limitless, as of 2017, no conclusive studies show that Modafinil has any long-lasting impact on major cognitive functions (source).
Most studies conclude that any perceived effects like increased focus, creativity, or concentration are merely byproducts of the drug’s ability to increase user’s wakefulness and energy.
These same stimulant effects can be achieved in a much safer (albeit less noticeable) manner with moderate caffeine intake over the course of a work day.
Since Modafinil is designed to keep users awake and alert over the course of 9-10 hours, the ideal time to take Modafinil is in the morning prior to starting your day or 2-3 hours before starting a shift.
This medication can be taken with or without food and is usually started with a 12 week or less prescription that will be reviewed on a regular basis before moving forward.
Due to its interactions with other medications, Modafinil should not be shared with friends and family who do not have prescriptions.
And if you do decide to purchase it online instead of going through your medical provider, be sure to discuss your use with your doctor before taking any other prescribed medications.
It can be stored at room temperature in a dry location and should be kept out of the reach of children.
Regardless of their condition, nearly all adult patients are prescribed the same 200 mg/day dose.
This drug is considered to be the last option for children as it has been shown to produce adverse psychiatric and dermatologic effects.
While Modafinil has been shown to produce severe side effects in some individuals, they are extremely rare.
If you experience an allergic reaction with symptoms that include skin rash, blistering, peeling, mouth sores, fever, shortness of breath, leg swelling, or jaundice, stop taking Modafinil and call your doctor immediately.
Since this medication manipulates brain chemistry, there are other side effects that, if present, should be an immediate red flag to stop taking it.
These include hallucinations, depression, anxiety, chest pains, trouble breathing, unusual thoughts and aggressive behavior, and suicidal thoughts.
While the above side effects are uncommon, there are a number of more common side effects that you might experience when using Modafinil for the first few times.
Less severe side effects include headaches, back pain, dizziness, nausea, upset stomach, diarrhea, insomnia, stuffy nose. These side effects may require your dosage be modified, or that you be changed to a different medication.
As I mentioned before, Modafinil manipulates your brain’s chemistry which can lead to possibly the most common “side effect” of all, a robot-like state of workaholism.
A friend of mine with a prescription for Modafinil once told me that he will often find himself “…In a state of emotionless focus. I didn’t want to do anything except work. My appetite, libido, and desire to ‘goof off’ disappeared and were replaced by a steady state of focus.”
While some of you might be drawn to the drug for the purpose of robot-like focus, I have had a number of acquaintances report that they felt less compassionate, loving, and empathetic while using Modafinil so keep this in mind before beginning your dose.
Of the 70+ Modafinil reviews I found on WebMD, nearly all of users stated that they felt a temporary improvement in their alertness and focus which lasted around 10 hours and enabled them to live a more normal lifestyle.
They reported a range of side effects, with some noting more severe side effects and others claiming that they had none.
These reviews backed up my own experience, after using Modafinil on and off for the past three or so years.
These anecdotal reports back-up the scientific data that indicates there are contraindications and side effects in some individuals that are directly associated with this medication.
I recommend stacking Modafinil with low doses of Phenibut to help relieve the anxiety side effects that are sometimes present with higher doses of Modafinil.
I suggest starting out with a lower dose of Modafinil and work your way up as needed. If you are going to use Phenibut do so sparingly so that your body does not build up a tolerance and diminish its effects.
This stack is not recommended for daily use; twice per week should be sufficient to keep you both motivated and level headed.
Taking this stack more frequently will decrease this stack’s effectiveness and give you diminishing returns over the long haul.
It should also be noted that since Phenibut is a medication with a chemical structure similar gamma-aminobutyric acid, a compound that your brain naturally produces to promote sleep, it can potentially counteract the wakefulness-promoting effects of Modafinil.
I recommend that you start this stack with 50 to 100 mg of Modafinil paired with 250 to 500 mg of Phenibut and update your dose as needed.
>Caffeine (+ L-Theanine)
Low dose caffeine, such as you’d find in decaf coffee or a cup of tea, pairs quite nicely with Modafinil. If you’re used to a cup of joe to get your day started, it’s fine to take Moda as well.
However, I suggest capping your caffeine intake around 200mg (1-2 cups) else you’ll feel overstimulated — even if you’re a coffee addict.
A popular and effective nootropic stack is caffeine + L-theanine, which you can get from plenty of vendors online. L-theanine is a nootropic in its own right, and coupled with caffeine, helps curb any potential jitters.
You may have heard of “microdosing“. If not, here’s a brief summary: it refers to the growing trend, mostly among young professionals, of taking small doses of either LSD or psychedelic mushrooms.
At low doses, these hallucinogens have profound cognitive benefits, such that they perform as nootropics.
1P-LSD is a close analogue of LSD which has the same effects and benefits. At low doses (around 10 ug), you’ll feel happier, more social, and more creative. That may sound like a bold claim, but I can attest from personal experience that the purported benefits microdosing are quite real.
Whereas Modafinil seems to activate the goal-oriented part of the brain, LSD microdoses do the opposite: ignite your creative spark. Modafinil is to the left brain as LSD micro is to the right brain.
I’ve already listed a few Modafinil alternatives throughout the course of this article, but here is a more comprehensive list of substances you can use to get similar (if not identical) effects to Modafinil.
- Caffeine: While caffeine is not recommended as a cure for narcolepsy, it proves quite effective for treating fatigue. If taken in excess, this alternative does come with side effects such as jitteriness, anxiety, moodiness, tremors, bad breath, and insomnia.. Because of its effect on the heart as a stimulant, you should see your doctor if for a racing heart or any shortness of breath issues.
- Gotu Kola: This herbal stimulant affects the central nervous system and has been known to combat drowsiness, reduce mental fuzziness, and energize the brain by inducing the body to produce choline that’s primary function is to improve brain function. In this aspect, Gotu Kola may be a better option than Modafinil.
- Country Mallow: Also known as Sida Cordifolia, this herb contains ephedrine; a natural fatigue fighter. If you want to fight narcolepsy without resorting to pharmaceuticals, Livestrong recommends consuming five teaspoons of this herb as a strong tea. However, before making any changes, you should check with your doctor before making any medication changes or adding anything new to your regimen to avoid potential drug interactions.
- Adrafinil: Worth mentioning again. Just like Modafinil, Adrafinil is a synthetic drug. It was originally used in France to fight fatigue in the elderly but has since been discontinued because of its inferiority to Modafinil. For individuals in the U.S., Adrafinil is available over the counter and easy to purchase online (since it is still being reviewed by the FDA.) There is also no one perfect dosage, since it’s still under FDA review.
- 1P-LSD. As discussed above, “LSD Microdosing” refers to taking small doses of LSD to stay focused and boost your mood. This works… and works well. 1P-LSD is a semi-legal analog of LSD that functions identically. I highly recommend substituting Modafinil with 1P-LSD (thank me later).
They are essentially the same, with the main difference simply being the manufacturers themselves, and minute inactive ingredients (since the main ingredient in all of the synthetic versions is Modafinil.)
The positive results of Modafinil use for chronic life-changing conditions such as narcolepsy, shift sleep disorder, and sleep apnea cannot be understated.
So long as you monitor your dose and do not take Modafinil for too many consecutive days, you should continue to see positive results as long as you continue your use.
However, the allegations that Modafinil is the new “God Pill” or “Limitless Drug”, enhancing your productivity, creativity, and memory seem to be (more than a little) exaggerated.
These results seem to be more related with the drugs ability to keep you awake, helping you function more normally and effectively through staying awake and alert – but not serving any long-lasting nootropic effect.
So for anyone looking to use Modafinil as a cognitive enhancer, it’s great for a short burst of productivity. However, the contraindications and the adverse side effects indicate that this is not your best option for long term, daily use.
Instead, healthier alternatives like Country Mallow, Gotu Kola, and 1P-LSD all make for sound choices in my book.