Modafinil is a nootropic, a term for a stimulant that acts as a cognitive enhancer. It’s also sometimes called a “smart drug” by those in the new movement called brain hacking.
Modafinil has traditionally been prescribed to treat the drowsiness caused by narcolepsy or shift work disorder. However, it can clearly boost brain performance in a wide variety of professional and academic activities.
Modafinil and cognitive enhancement
The ability to increase energy, boost focus and concentration, and improve memory make modafinil a powerful drug. It’s becoming increasingly popular for those who want to excel at universities or in careers where brain performance provides an edge.
But, at least in the United States, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not consider cognitive enhancement a valid reason for physicians to write a prescription. That’s led to a growing number of Americans ordering generic modafinil from overseas outlets where the restrictions are much more relaxed.
Is modafinil better than most drugs prescribed for depression?
Modafinil has not been approved by the FDA for the treatment of depression as it has not been through sufficient clinical trials. But non-scientific reports consistently claim that Modafinil gives a mood and outlook boost to those who suffer from recurring depression.
In fact, modafinil responses are generally immediate, in contrast to many of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which can take several weeks before delivering benefits. Even more promising, modafinil is known to have very mild side effects when compared to the sedative effects of using prescription antidepressants.
Without a doubt, you want to have an in-depth conversation with your doctor before attempting to use modafinil as a substitute for traditional antidepressants. But it’s good to know that you have options.
Let’s talk about modafinil side effects
Based on my research (and I have personally never experienced this), the most reported side effect of using modafinil is a headache. Less common but also very mild have been dry mouth, insomnia, nausea, anxiety, insomnia, and constipation.
If you experience any of the above, especially if they persist after the first few days, reduce your dose or discontinue using it entirely. And seek medical attention if those symptoms continue after you’ve stopped modafinil entirely.
What is it like to continue using modafinil daily?
In my case, I’ve been taking modafinil almost daily for several years. My concern from the very beginning was that something that made me feel great and was so effective at increasing my brain performance might prove to be addictive.
But that’s never been a problem for me. On the weekends, where I often don’t take the drug at all, I don’t feel any withdrawal symptoms whatsoever. My brain still works fine without the modafinil boost, but I’m sure happy to be able to return to it when my workload is heavy.
The other concern with any prescription drug is building up a tolerance. Tolerance can be defined as needing more of the drug over time to continue feeling the same benefit.
When I first started using modafinil, I took a full tablet (200mg) for about 3 days. It seemed so strong that, one day, I just decided to cut my tablet in half and try a 100mg dose.
Absolute perfection! I felt that was just the right amount of active ingredient for optimum brain performance.
So, if tolerance were an issue, you would expect that my dose would have risen over these last few years, right? But, it hasn’t.
As I indicated above, on the rare occasion where I’m facing a long difficult day, I may increase my dose to 150mg, or even an entire 200mg tablet. But I’m right back to 100mg the next day. No problem whatsoever.
How well can modafinil work in a nootropic stack?
Easily tens of thousands of so-called brain hackers dedicate a lot of effort to experimenting with combinations of nootropic drugs and various synthetic or herbal supplements. The idea is to find a perfect mix that maximizes cognitive performance and your mood.
Of course, that won’t be the same combination for everyone. It takes a fair amount of trial and error discover what works best with your own brain chemistry.
For me, I added nothing to my modafinil for almost three years. Then, I tried some combinations with different racetams (a prominent category of synthetic nootropics) and saw very little impact.
I was about to give up on the whole idea of nootropic stacking when I read an article about some of the positive brain benefits of using l-theanine. Ironically, I was only doing the research to help my wife with some ideas to address a few medical things she was experiencing.
What kind of Smart Drug is L-Theanine?
L-theanine is an all-natural amino acid found organically in green tea and some mushrooms. It is responsible for that mild relaxation feeling that you get when you enjoy a cup of tea, but it also greatly helps with your concentration.
L-theanine supports your own natural alpha brain waves, helping you resist external stressors and allowing the brain to focus much better. That was exciting research for me.
I don’t particularly care for green tea, but I learned that several companies I trust were creating synthetic L-theanine in pill form. I ordered a bottle on Amazon from a brand that I really trust, started a test of my own. I took the L-theanine at the same time I had my morning modafinil, and experienced those very results within a couple of weeks.
I want to point out that I still believe modafinil is much more powerful, but it became clear that the simple inclusion of L-theanine in my morning routine was a net positive. Pretty simple nootropic stacking, right?
Do I think that modafinil is right for everyone?
The easy way to answer that question is to say no. There are so many varieties of possible human health conditions, both hereditary and lifestyle-driven, that I don’t think any one thing can help everyone enjoy cognitive enhancement.
But here’s what I do suspect. There’s going to be increased pressure on the FDA to expand the prescription applications of modafinil. At this point, you can only legally have a prescription if there’s a diagnosed “problem” to overcome.
That excludes a whole category of people who are not suffering from conditions that require it in order to function normally. They just want to excel.
In other words, people who want to improve everyday performance are going to get tired of having to illegally purchase it from overseas providers. They have to then pray that it passes unconfiscated through U.S. Customs.
At this point, it’s perfectly obvious that science has proven the drug’s safety.
Even more to the point, it’s clearly not destructive. There’s no addiction data to cause concern, no tolerance data to suggest abuse. There’s no smoking gun to suggest that modafinil does anything but help brains function better.
In fact, I believe the potential mental health benefits of modafinil has already frightened many pharmaceutical competitors. They fear the revenue hit to their business if a “cleaner” antidepressant becomes available.
My suspicion is that those companies have put pressure on the FDA, likely through donations to key politicians and/or their lobbyists, to slow down or stop the process of expanding modafinil’s availability.
My hope for anyone who reads this is that you’ll find the answer to your own cognitive enhancement formula. It’s pretty shocking how much it changes your productivity – especially if distraction (ADD/ADHD, perhaps) has limited your ability to focus.
Does it have to be modafinil? Certainly not.
In fact, start with one of the organic supplements suggested on other pages of this site. Even if the benefits are fewer, just seeing for yourself that nootropics are not a fairytale will be plenty exciting.
You’ll use that enthusiasm to figure out the proper next steps. I hope it changes your academic outlook, your career progression… your family’s security and happiness.
I think it might even play a huge role in slowing, or completely stopping, the age-related brain decay that so many experience. I’ve seen it up close in my own family and it’s a crime that we don’t maximize our opportunity to solve it forever.