Is Modafinil Considered A Nootropic?

Written on February 9, 2022 by | Reviewed by William Gallagher, MNeuroSci

Modafinil is a well-documented psychostimulant.

It was originally developed in the 1970s, but clinical trials of the drug were never completed because it simply didn’t live up to the hype.

As it turns out, modafinil has been one of the most commonly used ‘off-label’ Smart Drugs amongst students and those who work long hours for years, despite its lack of FDA approval.

That being said, Modafinil has for a long time now been classified as a Nootropic in the biohacking-community online.

What Does The Research Say?

Clinical research into Modafinil shows mixed results on benefits for cognition enhancement or mood elevation.

Research in healthy volunteers showed improvements in attention-switching abilities related to executive function but not motivation or reward anticipation.

Another trial found improvements in visual-spatial working memory but did not show improvement in episodic memory or planning ability.

Users report some subjective feelings of clarity, alertness, calmness and energy while under the influence of Modafinil.

There is limited research on the safety and effectiveness of Modafinil as a Nootropic.

Studies show that it appears to be safe and well-tolerated when taken according to label directions.

Adverse events reported by users include:

  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Depression
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety and stomach problems.

There are data indicating a potential for "acute liver toxicity" in high doses of Modafinil so it is recommended to avoid high doses.

How Modafinil Works As A Nootropic

Modafinil's mechanism of action is unknown but it has been speculated that it may be similar to other wake-promoting agents such as amphetamines (e.g., Ritalin).

Possible mechanisms include dopamine reuptake inhibition or stimulating dopaminergic neurons in the hypothalamus and nucleus accumbens.

Modafinil acts as a powerful stimulant by increasing the release of norepinephrine in the brain which may enhance alertness at its intended target areas including the prefrontal cortex – an area responsible for decision making, planning, working memory and mental flexibility.

It has a chemical structure very similar to the catecholamine neurotransmitters; Dopamine, Epinephrine (adrenaline) and Norepinephrine.

It is hypothesized that this may increase the availability of these neurotransmitters in the brain. It also increases glutamate levels which are important for synaptic plasticity.

Using Modafinil As A Nootropic

The only downside of using Modafinil for cognitive enhancement purposes/as a Nootropic, is that it must be taken regularly to be effective.

As your brain begins to adapt to taking the drug on a daily basis, it may require more of it to achieve similar results (you build up a tolerance).

Despite its efficacy as a ‘cognitive enhancing’ agent, Modafinil has been shown to improve wakefulness and alertness.

However, if you simply enjoy taking drugs recreationally or if you're looking for an agent that will immediately enhance your cognitive function without side effects, then you may want to avoid this agent as best practice might suggest, particularly if you have any existing medical conditions.

If you're interested in maximizing your cognitive potential, then you may want to consider other agents which are more effective.


  1. (The Efficacy of Modafinil as a Cognitive Enhancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis)
  2. (The neurobiology of modafinil as an enhancer of cognitive performance)
  3. (The atypical stimulant and nootropic modafinil interacts with the dopamine transporter)
  4. (Modafinil-Induced Changes in Functional Connectivity)
  5. (The cognitive-enhancing properties of modafinil)
  6. (Nootropic drugs: Methylphenidate, modafinil and piracetam - Population use trends)