Prescription Drugs

Smart Drug Modafinil 'Safe for Widespread Use,' Scientists Say

Modafinil is "one of the most promising neuroenhancers to date"-and still a controlled substance in the U.S.



Good news, overachieving students, ADHD-havers, Limitless fans, and pillheads everywhere: A meta-analysis of the data on "smart drug" modafinil has found that yes, it's safe, and yes, it's effective as a cognitve enhancer.

Published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology, the review covers 24 placebo-controlled studies of modafinil—also known by the brand name Provigil—that were conducted between 1990 and 2014 on healthy, non-sleep deprived individuals. "Such an analysis overcomes some of the limitations of each of the smaller studies, such as narrow demographics or conflicting results, and draws an overarching conclusion," notes Quartz writer Akshat Rathi

Officially sanctioned in the U.S. to treat sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, modafinil is sometimes prescribed off-label to treat conditions like depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Parkinson's disease. It's also become popular as a cognitive enhancer, or nootropic. A 2008 poll from science journal Nature found that 44 percent of its readers who had tried any "smart drugs" had tried modafinil.* And while less popular than Adderall, it's also a hit among college students as a study aid. 

Without a prescription, modafinal is still pretty easy for Americans to purchase online from foreign pharmacies (where it's sold under names such as Modalert, Modvigil, and Alertec), albeit also pretty illegal. Some countries, such as India and Mexico, neither classify modafinil as a controlled substance nor require buyers to have a medical prescription; in others, such as Canada, Australia, Germany, and the U.K., it's not a controlled substance but a prescription is required. In the U.S., however, it's both a Schedule IV controlled drug and prescription-only. 

Could that change? In the new review, researchers found that "modafinil appears to consistently engender enhancement of attention, executive functions, and learning," all without "any preponderances for side effects or mood changes." Modafinil "appears safe for widespread use," concluded researchers, calling it "one of the most promising and highly-investigated neuroenhancers to date."

Unfortunately, neither the U.S. Food and Drug Administration nor the Drug Enforcement Agency has historically found extreme positive benefits + a lack of major safety concerns to be sufficient for letting us scrubs get our hands on a substance (see: marijuana, birth control pills, raw milk). And neuroenhancement for the heck of it still seems to rub a lot of people the wrong way, for reasons largely philosophical and irrational. At least we'll always have Indian pharmacies?

"Modafinil may well deserve the title of the first well-validated pharmaceutical nootropic agent," said Guy Goodwin, president of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology. "In other words, it's the first real example of a 'smart drug', which can genuinely help, for example, with exam preparation. Previous ethical discussion of such agents has tended to assume extravagant effects before it was clear that there were any. If correct, the present update means the ethical debate is real: how should we classify, condone or condemn a drug that improves human performance in the absence of pre-existing cognitive impairment?"

Read the whole study here

* Updated 

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  1. What would be the appeal of this for a non-student? Would it make me better at creating spreadsheets, or doing other typical job stuff?

    1. You can go several days without sleeping with little to no side effects. Me? I like sleep.

      1. Yeah, but imagine how much extra shit you could get done if you didn’t have to sleep?

        1. It catches up to you eventually. You need sleep to regulate body temperature and sort out what you’ve learned.

          Researchers have kept cows awake for up to 11 days, and they drop dead of hypothermia.

          1. Researchers have kept cows awake for up to 11 days, and they drop dead of hypothermia.

            You can’t fool me, Playa, that’s from a Far Side cartoon.

    2. Couldn’t tell you, I haven’t stopped taking nootropics since I was a student. If your job requires a good memory and the ability to focus (and/or multitask, which can tweak the particular nootropic cocktail best for you) then it would help you.

      Do some research, and then try a regimen of DHT, piracetam, choline, L-theanine, and ginko biloba for a month. If you like the way it feels, branch out into others. If you don’t notice any difference, then you’re not that deep in a hole as those supplements don’t cost much.

        1. I’m not babysitting his ass when he decides to stay up all night tackling the unsolved Hilbert problems.

          1. Is that any worse than staying up all night tackling a backlog of Dilbert cartoons?

      1. I didn’t like piracetam much. I take choline, vinopocetine, l-Theanine, 5HTP, & huzperzine A regularly though

        1. Try phenylpiracetam. It’s about 100x more potent. The real benefit is that it protects against alcohol related damage to the memory. If you’re not a drinker, it might not be worth it.

          5HTP- good for the mood.

          Also, L-Tyrosine on an empty stomach. Great for reducing cravings, and to some extent, increasing impulse control.

          1. I’ve heard good things about sulbutiamine as well.

            1. I think that’s the one that was found to induce impotency in dogs.

        2. Surprised nobody’s mentioned Noopept.

          I tested it on a relative with dementia and it significantly restored them to normal function.

          1. Noopept is too new and there are too many anectodal stories floating around about short term memory loss. I would wait.

    3. Modafinil gave me some wicked dry mouth and crazy dreams. I didn’t notice much difference in alertness or focus. YMMV

  2. A 2008 poll from science journal Nature found that 44 percent of its readers had tried modafinil.

    … The fuck?! Why is everyone holding out on me???

    1. You have to know somebody. You’re asking the wrong questions.

  3. And neuroenhancement for the heck of it still seems to rub a lot of people the wrong way, for reasons largely philosophical and irrational.

    As opposed to, say, breast enhancement.

  4. Shouldn’t we be talking about the drug that finally, for the first time in all humanity, gets women in the mood?

    1. Essence of money?

    2. A screening of Magic Mike?

    3. Alcohol? It’s been around for a while.

      Also, you know who else took drugs to stay awake and keep alert?

  5. I had it prescribed off label about 10 years ago. I’m already a genius, so it didn’t really help.

    1. I didn’t find it did much, either, but I ordered mine from a sketchy Indian pharmacy when I took it, so I figured it might just not be the real thing…

      1. It’s like really, really strong coffee, slightly mood elevating, but without the jitters and bathroom breaks. If you take one every 12 hours in the appropriate dose for your body weight, you can stay up indefinitely.

      2. ….and apparently used the sketchy Indian variety (ModAlert) for the photo as well. Jesus fucking Christ, how cheap are the editors of Reason? I was under the impression Reason was a well funded publication and the website was hugely popular, yet it seems similar in production value to Joe Penishead’s durg review blog.

  6. And neuroenhancement for the heck of it still seems to rub a lot of people the wrong way, for reasons largely philosophical and irrational.

    There is a type of person who hates the idea of something having positive effects with no negative side effects. It drives them nuts, because they believe that suffering is noble–even necessary–for anything positive. They view use of such things as “taking the easy way” and it really bugs the shit out of them when people do it. They’re the kind of people who will refuse pain pills after an injury for no seemingly rational reason (i.e. being allergic to opiates or it making them nauseous, etc), and if they are the caregiver, they will withhold as much pain relief from their “patient” as they can get away with. Such people often even have a problem with sex, because if people are having sex without any repercussions (such as getting STDs or pregnant, doing it without commitment, etc), then the same obsession with suffering applies. Anything that is too easy is “wrong” to them.

    And of course these types gravitate to positions dealing with controlling and prohibiting drugs; that’s what happens when you create any position with power over something that people obsess about. And so they are going to instinctively prohibit anything that is fun or pleasurable or gives some sort of benefit without a cost. Because to them, that’s just…wrong. And they want to make sure it is stopped.

    It’s not rational. At all. But they’re out there.

    1. So will they be testing kids at the Internationsl Mathematics Olympiad for this stuff?

      1. Various E-Sports leagues are now testing players for this stuff!

    2. Yep.

      Too much caffeine? Panic attacks, irritability, and racing heart. Too much Adderall? Tachycardia, dry mouth, and cardiac arrest.

      Too much Provigil? Nothing. BAN IT!!!!

      1. They particularly dislike pleasure, though. That’s why marijuana got its inexplicable worse-than-heroin-and-cocaine treatment (among other reasons); it is basically the exact thing they hate the most. Weed is fun, pleasurable, and can even be euphoric, with pretty much zero negative side effects. To these types, this is worse than heroin or cocaine, because with heroin or cocaine, you have to pay the piper (if you know how you feel after a night of a bunch of really good cocaine, you know exactly what I mean). But with weed, there is no real price, especially if you vape it or eat it.

        And they just cannot stand that. It’s fundamentally wrong to them.

        1. (if you know how you feel after a night of a bunch of really good cocaine, you know exactly what I mean)

          That is what Russian novels and a six pack of toilet paper are for.

        2. I think they may believe this because its seems like a free lunch, and most things don’t work that way.

          They kind of have a point. Its wise to be wary.

          But I suspect its more than that…they get off on people paying the price.

        3. Don’t be fucking stupid. Heroin is fun as hell, and if it was readily available from legitimate sources the negative effects would be significantly lower, dummy.

      2. Too much caffeine

        The words are English, but they make no sense together.

        1. You’ll know it when it happens.

          1. I am what you would call an “advanced” coffee drinker, short of powdered caffeine that killed that college kid, I don’t think I can OD.

            1. I take tablets so I get the same dose every time. 400mg.

    3. Used to be we called these people Puritans, now they’re called Progressives.

      1. Uh, no. Attempting to shoehorn this into some kind of partisan narrative is stupid. The suffering-lovers come from all walks of life. Most people don’t have a problem with things being easy and pleasant; in fact, most of us would prefer that things be that way, whether progressive or conservative or hedonist or whatever. But there’s a type who hates it, because it’s “cheap” to them; you haven’t paid properly by suffering for it, so it’s…false. Wrong. Bad.

        There are plenty of people who want to stop other people from doing things they don’t like. But they usually have an actual reason, even if that reason is stupid or uninformed or misguided. But the suffering-lovers don’t have a reason other than “you should have to pay for the good in life with suffering!” if you ask “why?”, they will not be able to articulate an answer, because it’s completely irrational.

        1. I thought the love of suffering was one of the core tenets of Puritanism, but maybe I’m getting my religious bat shittery mixed up.

          As for the swipe at Progressives, that was just for lulz. I realize a lot of people of all kinds of political stripes also seem to think that not having to suffer for something is somehow cheating. It’s weird, to say the least.

          1. What Puritans were actually about is a lot more complicated than the cartoonish stereotype that the word conjures up now. Plus, there’s no way they could have all been like the type I described because that type, while not super rare, is no where near a large part of the population.

            The suffering-lovers seem to have a “fairness” component to them, strangely enough. Sort of that if you haven’t suffered, it’s not “fair”. Getting positives without having to “pay” for them with negatives is…dishonest to them? Yes, it is very weird and very irrational.

        2. Amen, Dude or Dudette, way to GO, Epi, GO!

          On this matter? I often think we owe a tremendous debt to those who simply and plainly point out the obvious to us. Yes, really, I mean that, because God-damned eggheads and “sophisticated” fuck-heads just LOVE to muddy the waters with stupid, ideological Holier-Than-Thou-isms? Including, prominently, like you said? Paraphrased by Yours Truly? “The more you suffer, the more virtuous you are”. Downright EVIL lie, MeThinks!

          Anyway, M. Scott Peck was a Christian (non-fanatical, WAY-non-fanatical) Psychiatrist writer, popular in the mid 1980s to early 1990s (pushing up daysies now). “The Road Less Travelled” = 1st break-through book? Other popular (and deeply disturbing to wanna-be-totally-rational-at-times folks like me) works include “People of the Lie; The Hope for Healing Human Evil”. Yeah, imagine THAT? Shrink says, diagnois is, this patient is EVIL!!! “If the shoe fits, wear it”. How about that “depressed” German pilot that killed ??? A hundred plus passengers lately, ’cause he was feelin’ BLUE, fer Chrissakes?!?!? I digress, yes?

          1. M. Scott Peck said (paraphrased by me), that suffering (sometimes demonstrative or publicity-gathering, yes), willingly undertaken by the innocent, to help other innocents? Martin Luther King Jr. said similar things, “Un-earner suffering is redemptive”? This is way-cool, to be commended. But? Refusing to take an aspirin, when you have a fuckin’ headache? Just ’cause you’re “Way too cool for school”, and you wanna SHOW OFF your supposed moral superiority?!?!? Take a HIKE, frickin’ self-righteous assholes! Take a fuckin’ God-damned ASPIRIN already!!!

          2. Dudette. Epi is definitely a dudette.

            1. Epi has astoundingly perky breasts.

              1. Getting pregnant really did wonders for them.

            2. “Bambina”

              1. You dudes (and dudettes) are a HOOT, that was FUNNY!

                Continuing my tirade agin’ the idjits of the world? “Suffering is virtuous” in their minds often slops on into “aborting the diseased who will be guaranteed to suffer or die early if brought to term, is evil”, and, “genetically improving via engineering humans, for better traits, and for stopping diseases, is evil”, ’cause “God’s will” or who knows what. Well, shit, me and my Dearly Beloved take teratogenic poisons all day & sleep on a radioactive slag heap every night, and give birth to defective babies, Holy Shit, was that OUR decision, or GOD’s decision?!?!
                Anyway, pleasure and full function is GOOD, and pain and defectiveness is BAD, all other things being equal, should be obvious “to the casual observer”, as they said in school. And THAT, I sincerely believe ***IS*** God’s will? Move forward, get better, not worse, and pleasure is better than pain, full function is better than defectiveness. Heal and help is way-cool, but do NOT deliberately create suffering or defectiveness, in myself or anyone else, is ALSO way cool!

          3. Peck was an interesting character made even moreso by his penchant for screwing his patients and breaking the hearts of everyone who wanted him to be some kind of secular, psychiatric Bodhisattva.

            People of the Lie & RLT are both good books, though the latter is probably more useful.

    4. Honestly, I think people like to soap box on the idea of human enhancement because they are themselves mired in dismal mediocrity. Barry Bonds or Lance Armstrong were juicing? To the memory hole with their achievements.

      Never mind that this sort often finds taking the stairs daunting.

      College students taking ADHD to cram for finals? Pill-popping success whores. They’d do or take anything to get ahead.

      Never mind that this sort flunked out of more classes at the state university than they remember actually taking, and eventually settled for jobs they hate.

      Parents want to modify their prospective children in utero to select for traits more conducive to a happy, successful life? Absolutely not! Awful, terrible people! Let nature take its course! Everyone gambles and everyone should play by the same odds. Who cares if your child is born with congenital heart defects because it runs in your family.

      Never mind that this sort…etc.

      1. Oh, there are definitely lots of people like that. But the suffering-lovers are different in that they apply the same rules to themselves. They’re not saying that you shouldn’t be able to do/enjoy something because it might give someone else an advantage over them. They’re saying you shouldn’t be able to do or take or have anything positive without paying *some* kind of negative price.

        The people you describe will absolutely do or take or have things they would deny to others, they are “free for me but not thee” types. The suffering lovers are actually at least consistent in that they include themselves.

    5. Im other words, Japan.

      1. Never seen a threading fail THAT extreme before.

  7. I’d like to fly to Canada and buy some off-label. Could I get busted going through customs?

    1. Do you have a doctor? Mine would give it to me, no questions asked. It’s non-addictive and not schedule II.

      If not, order it on the internet. Never cross the border with meds. Ever.

      1. actually — and I didn’t know this ’til I was just reading about it — modafinil is not actually illegal to bring into the country if you have like 60 pills or less or something.

        1. Similar rules for codeine; it’s OTC in Canada and you can bring back something like two bottles. But of course, that’s because codeine sucks and so they don’t care.

        2. They’ll usually confiscate if it’s scheduled (II,III, IV, & V), and that will be the end of it. I have no idea if that gets you on a list for more scrutiny during future border crossings.

          I came back from Atlantis (Bahamas, not Dubai) last year, and brought back what was apparently the equivalent of Vicodin from the hotel gift shop. CPB confiscated it when I landed in Ft Lauderdale, and the entire thing took 30 seconds, no paperwork. I have no idea if I’m in some sort of database now.

          1. I should hope so. I’d feel much safer.

            1. You’re in a database of my potential victims.

          2. ” I have no idea if I’m in some sort of database now.

            You ?

            Nah, no way.

            1. Oh, I am, just not for this.

  8. Hey H&R commenters: Are you mostly pro or anti-abortion? Settle a debate for me

    1. Off the top of my head, I generally recall 2/3 of libertarians as pro-choice and 1/3 as pro-life… “Generally”…

  9. I’ve had some experience with modafinil. It definitely kept me awake but it left me irritable and made my urine smell like asparagus. The 200mg pills were an uncomfortably high dose so I broke them in half, then quarters, then decided any benefit of this drug were outweighed by the general discomfort it brought on. I had to be careful to avoid caffeine while taking it as it made me feel overstimulated. Some people claim is it a miracle for them. I found it to be a slice of anxiety and wakefulness in pill form. Coincidentally, my grandfather, a longtime narcoleptic, was prescribed it in a stack of other meds when he was deteriorating mentally. Even in his diminished state he declined the modafinil. I imagine he experienced similar effects as I did.

    1. It’s hit or miss. One (small) dose gave my dad the worst migraine of his life.

    2. pussy

  10. Adrafrinil, a prodrug of modafinil, is readily available in the US and is legal. Just be careful about taking large doses or taking it for a prolonged period, it can be trouble for the liver. It works great in the short term, though (or so I’ve heard).

    1. Active after first pass, or longer?

      1. I’m not sure about the pass activity. BTW, what you said upthread about phenylpiracetam is true. If used occasionally it’s good stuff: wakefulness without the jitters and it seems to help with physical stamina too. Beats the Hell out of caffeine.

  11. Big thanks to all the turd spanking petty tyrants and other assorted liberty hating creeps running the FDA and DEA for keeping smarts out of reach for me unless I decide to leave the USA.

  12. Drugs are bad, mmmkay?

  13. the ethical debate is real:

    And profoundly stupid, along the same lines as 98% of bio-ethics. Bio-ethics is mostly an exercise in denying people the right to make their own decisions, because icky.

    how should we classify

    How about, “readily available OTC”?



    or condemn

    Not at all.

    a drug that improves human performance in the absence of pre-existing cognitive impairment?”

  14. lol, start givening them to all the kids in US schools!

  15. This is great news, good to see some solid research which proves that healthy people are okay to take this drug!

    I wish more people were aware of it’s benefits.

    It’s a shame it takes a blockbuster film like Limitless to get people interested in cognitive enhancement!

  16. Ive been buying modafinil online for 3 years now but my website was shut down. Ive found another one. Has anyone had any ddealings with ?

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