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Modafinil May be the First Smart Drug to Gain a Scientific Two Thumbs Up

  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    So-called smart drugs or “nootropics” might have a roaring internet trade already, but there’s still little consensus on how effective most substances actually are at enhancing cognitive function in people who are healthy but just want a bit of a brain boost.

    A study published this week, however, makes bold claims on the properties of one of the most well-known smart drugs: modafinil. Modafinil is a medication prescribed for sleep conditions such as narcolepsy, but students, execs, and hacker types have documented taking the drug even when they’re sleeping just fine—and getting brain enhancing effects as a result.

    The new paper, published in European Neuropsychopharmacology, supports the general claims of modafinil fans. Ruairidh Battleday and Anna-Katharine Brem from the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School reviewed studies that looked at the effect of modafinil on non-sleep-deprived people and came away stating that modafinil “may well deserve the title of the first well-validated pharmaceutical ‘nootropic’ agent.” What’s more, they reported that they “did not observe any preponderances for side effects or mood changes.” The studies they looked at reported only minor adverse effects and little effect on mood—“if anything improving it.”

    The authors went about their review by looking at previously published studies from January 1990 to December 2014 that investigated the cognitive effects of modafinil in healthy people (who weren’t sleep deprived). They decided to do the overview, which included 24 eligible studies, because of lack of consensus on modafinil’s effects and discrepancies in the methodology of studies.

    One major discrepancy was how researchers tested modafinil’s effects. This involves having a subject complete a task having taken modafinil and having taken a placebo, and comparing their performance. But what task do you use? They found that in general, studies were split into two camps: simpler tasks, and more complex tasks. A lot of methodologies developed to test cognition are more commonly applied to people with cognitive deficits. The researchers found that more recent studies that used more complex tests of cognition tended to report more consistently beneficial effects of modafinil than those using simpler tests.

    This brought them to another conclusion: we need a better way to test the cognitive effects of nootropics. The kind of simple tasks used to test cognition are often targeted at people who have some sort of cognitive deficit, but they’re not necessarily going to cut it when you’re looking to measure the effect of drugs that may improve cognition beyond even normal levels. This applies beyond modafinil to smart drugs in general, especially as we can imagine the future will bring even more sophisticated enhancement products: How do you measure brain power that might be off the charts?

    While the researchers might have given some solid grounding for modafinil’s effects, there’s still the ethical debate over whether, or when, it’s ok to take a pill that makes you smarter (obviously, modafinil is not yet licensed for this use). Is it OK to give yourself a drug-induced boost before an exam? Guy Goodwin, President of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, suggested in a press statement that these findings underline the urgency of that discussion. “Previous ethical discussion of such agents has tended to assume extravagant effects before it was clear that there were any,” he said. “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?”

    However, not everyone agrees that modafinil is all that. Comments in the r/nootropics subreddit, full of users who report trying various alleged “smart” substances, show mixed reports. One points out that more studies are ongoing: A paper published after the period reviewed in this study concludes modafinil “does not enhance the global cognitive performance of healthy non-sleep deprived students, except regarding non-demanding tasks.”

    The jury might still be out on this particular substance, but one thing’s clear: smart drugs are here.

    Motherboard - Vice/Aug. 21, 2015
    Newshawk Crew

    Author Bio

    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.


  1. scartissue_68
    Modafinil does have two interesting characteristics that substantiate the claim of being a smart drug. I am 65 years old and was facing a long, unyielding deadline-driven task some months back. I consulted my PHP, hoping he would give me a few Adderals or even Dexadrine. He offered Modafinil instead.

    The results were amazing (1) in repetitive tasks (i had to make 6 different control mods to about 60 digital files. Blew right through that with no break) and (2) the drug actually diminished the stress of facing the deadlines that were make or break and I had no backups. Concentration was enhanced, but it was the ability to think three or four moves ahead that were remarkable.

    Big Problem: This stuff is incredibly expensive. ($900 USD retail for #30/200mg). Fortunately, I found an on-line coupon that cut the price to around $350. These are advertised prices, here in the Midwest, so I'm not offering a price discussion of illegal drugs.

    Modafinil is a Schedule IV Controlled Substance, so getting it shouldn't be to tough, assuming you have a good relationship with your PHP. Its label specifies narcolepsy and "shift differential disorder".

    Also, it has a very low "temptation to abuse" factor and a slight hangover (probably mostly just exhaustion from using Modafinil several days on limited sleep). There is no euphoria, as with amphetamines. Its not recreational, but very much a mentally stimulating, "smart drug" for about 8 hours per 200mg dose.
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