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Modafinil Productivity or Poison?


By Dr. Neil 

Recently one new drug used by those looking for increased focus and performance is Modafinil. Modafinil is sold in the US as the trade name Provigil, and commonly called Moda by recreational users. People are saying it’s the new Adderall, the limitless pill, and the new panacea – so what’s the real deal?

The article featured in Vice Magazine highlighted a Facebook sub-community that discusses it’s benefits, how to use it, and what to expect.

But before you buy into the hype, there are five things to keep in mind before consuming any medication without a physicians’ supervision:

  • Its 18 years old. Modafinil was first marketed in 1998. Meaning there have been no long term studies on brain impact, no studies on development, no studies on chronic use, and minimal on long-term safety. 

“But doc, there are lots of medications that are new, that doctors prescribe.”

  • True, but with Modafinil we don’t even know how it truly works. A lot of the research behind it suggests that it may increase hypothalamic histamine levels; some studies suggest that it prevents the reuptake of dopamine; some suggest an effect on the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).   It’s a mixed bag.
  • It wasn’t designed for an improvement in cognitive function. Modafinil is FDA approved to treat narcolepsy. Meaning, the initial studies that were used to obtain FDA approval were tailored for just that – its impact on narcolepsy. So while using medications for alternative purposes is commonly done, the FDA never said it was safe for that use.
  • It has real side effects. There’s a reason it’s a prescription drug – it has tangible, dangerous side effects. To name a few: insomnia, nervousness, anxiety, tremor, irritability, aggressiveness, confusion, and palpitations.

“But doc, isn’t a little insomnia good? I can get more done.”

  • In theory, sleeping less would be more effective, but your brain needs sleep to solidify memories, regenerate and recover. It has taken evolution a billion years to determine that your body needs 7-8 hours of sleep to function optimally. Do you really think one pill can overtake that? 

In my opinion, Modafinil certainly not the productivity pill that it’s cut out to be. Nor is it poison. It’s something that if taken for the right reasons (e.g. insomnia) and may have benefit, but should certainly NOT be taken without a physician’s supervision.