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Should You Take Modafinil, or Is There a Better Way?

Modafinil (brand name Provigil®) is a prescription drug that treats sleepiness in people with narcolepsy and shift work disorder. Modafinil is also popular as a nootropic; you can use it to improve your focus and increase productivity for several hours.

Modafinil is one of the most effective nootropics you can take—but it’s illegal to obtain it without a prescription and it may come with side effects.

Here’s how modafinil works, as well as its benefits, side effects, and non-prescription alternatives that you can use in its place.

What Is Modafinil?

Modafinil is a eugeroic—a wakefulness drug that keeps you from becoming sleepy. In recent years, some doctors have also prescribed it as a cognitive enhancer.

Most drugs that keep you awake are stimulants, like amphetamines or ephedrine. They’re effective, but they come with side effects and a high risk of addiction, and you have to continue increasing the dose to avoid tolerance.[1]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29215762/

Modafinil is not a stimulant and is not known to be addictive.[2]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10757254/[3]https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2015/020717s037s038lbl.pdf It also doesn’t cause tolerance, meaning you can take it for an extended period of time without having to increase the dose.[4]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10828434/ Unlike many stimulants, modafinil isn’t rewarding. It’s not pleasurable to take; instead, it simply makes you more focused and increases your ability to work for a long time.

Because of its safety profile and low risk of addiction, modafinil prescriptions have increased in recent years, and researchers have begun exploring its possible effects as a cognitive enhancer.

Modafinil’s Nootropic Benefits

Recent research suggests that modafinil is a potent nootropic.

  • A 2015 review found that in healthy adults, modafinil enhances attention, learning, and executive function (planning, organizing, logical thinking, blocking out distractions).[5]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26381811/
  • Another review found that modafinil has off-label use for treating ADHD by enhancing attention and decreasing distractibility.[6]​​https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16669720/
  • A 2019 study concluded that modafinil is an effective cognitive enhancer in healthy people.[7]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31433334/

Modafinil is particularly good if you’re working on focused, clear-cut projects that demand your sustained attention.[8]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26381811/

Modafinil is prescription-strength and may be too strong for most people. Supplemental nootropics can be just as effective but gentler on your system, without the side effects that we’ll talk about below. However, nootropics are highly individual. Take this quiz to see which nootropics are likely to work with your unique biology.

Modafinil Dose

Modafinil usually comes in either 100 mg or 200 mg pills. However, modafinil is powerful, and some people who take it as a nootropic report that it can cause anxiety or irritability at higher doses.

As a result, a lot of people take 50 mg of modafinil for cognitive enhancement.

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Modafinil Side Effects

Modafinil has no major side effects in most people.[9]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29215762/ In rare cases, however, it can cause severe skin reactions. In 2007, the FDA ordered modafinil’s manufacturer to include a warning about possible skin problems that can arise from using the drug.[10]https://web.archive.org/web/20090115021301/http://www.fda.gov/cder/dsn/2007_fall/postmarketing.htm#modafinil

Modafinil also comes with side effects that you should be aware of. It may cause:[11]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30285371/

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Rhinitis (a runny nose)

Modafinil also decreases creativity.[12]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26381811/ You may not want to take it if you’re doing artistic work or projects that require out-of-the-box thinking.

If you’re looking for sustained attention and mind power and you need to retain your creativity, nootropics may be the better route for you. Take this quiz to find out.

Modafinil Drug Interactions

Modafinil interacts with the following drugs. Avoid taking modafinil with:

  • Opiates
  • Hormonal contraceptives (modafinil can make contraceptives less effective for up to a month after you take it)[13]https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a602016.html

How to Get Modafinil

You need a prescription to get modafinil legally in the United States. Doctors prescribe modafinil for:

  • Narcolepsy (daytime sleepiness)
  • Shift work disorder (trouble sleeping because of inconsistent or nighttime work hours)
  • Sleep apnea
  • ADHD (off-label)

Some doctors may also prescribe modafinil off-label for cognitive enhancement.

There are also websites that send you modafinil from countries in which it is not a prescription drug, like India. However, ordering through these sites is illegal.

Modafinil Alternatives

It’s difficult to get modafinil without a valid medical reason. Unless your doctor is particularly open-minded, there’s a good chance he or she won’t prescribe modafinil for cognitive enhancement, and sourcing modafinil yourself involves legal risk.

Modafinil may also come with side effects, and it doesn’t work well for creative tasks. As a result, many people avoid modafinil in favor of nootropics that are easier to acquire.

You can get safe and effective brain-boosting supplements without a prescription, and without troubling side effects.

The best cognitive enhancer for you depends on your goals and your unique brain chemistry. If you’re looking for personalized recommendations, this nootropic quiz can help you figure out what combination of nootropics will best help you upgrade your brain function.

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