Is Modafinil Considered A Nootropic?

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.

So What Is Modafinil Exactly And What Is All The Hype About?

Briefly, Modafinil is a synthetic stimulant in the same family as amphetamines.

It works by stimulating certain neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin in the brain to induce wakefulness, and is occasionally used to treat narcolepsy.

Modafinil does not cure narcolepsy though, but it can potentially help reduce sleeping symptoms by increasing wakefulness.

However, some users report increased focus and concentration as well as improved memory when taking Modafinil. This is the reason why Modafinil has become extremely popular as a Nootropic.

It has been nicknamed the "Limitless Pill" by Dave Asprey for its supposed ability to make users smarter, quicker and more productive.

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.

Modafinil's Mechanism of Action

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.

What Does The Law Say About Modafinil?

Modafinil is a Schedule IV controlled substance in the United States and is illegal to sell without a prescription.

However, it is legal to purchase or possess without a prescription and to distribute online.

There are anecdotal reports of Modafinil being used by college students studying for exams as well as professionals performing demanding jobs such as airline pilots.

Modafinil's potential as a cognitive-enhancement drug raises ethical questions about cognitive enhancement.

It may be difficult to distinguish between a subjective experience of improved cognitive performance versus the influences of a placebo in user's reports.

Modafinil's popularity among young individuals with no medical conditions or underlying illnesses has raised concerns over its potential for abuse.

Anecdotal reports suggest that some users self-medicate non-medical conditions such as ADHD, depression and focus problems by taking it as a Nootropic.

Modafinil is believed to have a street value corresponding to the average price of $300 per pill.

The legality and safety of Smart Drugs for these purposes remains unclear due to conflicting scientific evidence.

Medical use of Modafinil has prompted concerns about ethical enhancement based on concerns that drug usage will lead to increased hours worked by individuals who do not require sleep due to the risks associated with excessive daytime wakefulness without adequate restorative sleep (e.g., disruptions in circadian rhythms).

This has been termed "chronodisruption".

In 2002, Cephalon Incorporated voluntarily removed modafinil from the market when it became aware of possible side effects such as chest pain and heart valve problems.

After a period of review and analysis, the company reformulated Modafinil for its reintroduction to clinical trials in 2007.

The resumption of clinical trials was motivated by scientific curiosity regarding modafinil's potential as a cognitive enhancer/Nootropic.

Modafinil has since been called the "first safe smart drug".

If You Take Modafinil As A Nootropic, Here's What You Need To Know

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.

In Summary

Modafinil is a drug that was first approved in 1998 by the FDA as a treatment for narcolepsy. It is a wakefulness-promoting agent (or smart drug) that has gained widespread popularity in recent years.

Modafinil helps to improve memory, attention, and focus. It does this by stimulating your brain to release additional neurotransmitters such as histamine, norepinephrine, and hypocretin.

Modafinil also increases levels of two other neurotransmitters: Dopamine and Glutamate.

Because it has effects on multiple major neurotransmitters, modafinil can affect many different cognitive functions at once.

Modafinil's primary effect is on the dopamine transporter molecule in order to block the reuptake of dopamine.

This action causes an increase of extracellular monoamines which leads to an improvement of cognitive functions.

Modafinil is also a mild inhibitor of CYP3A4 and P-glycoprotein, which means that it increases the half-life of some medications including antidepressants.

There is still not enough research to absolutely confirm that modafinil is truly a smart drug that works as a nootropic.

However, all available research indicates that modafinil exhibits characteristics of true nootropics in humans.

Even though it was initially approved as medicine to treat narcolepsy back in 1998, there are thousands of people currently using modafinil because they claim it makes them smarter.

It's important to note that the majority of these users have taken the drug off-label as they don't suffer from any sleep disorder as prescribed by their physician.

It's clear that modafinil is a popular nootropic amongst college students and professionals who use the drug to improve their focus and mental energy.

It has even been rumored that the military, NASA, and other U.S. government agencies sometimes screen potential recruits using modafinil.

Some users have even claimed that they're able to cure depression with this smart drug.

Although people claim that Modafinil is working for them, it may not work for everyone. It's important to note that there are myths surrounding this drug (it causes brain damage; it can cause schizophrenia etc).

However, all of these claims are false. Modafinil is generally considered to be very safe.

All in all, it appears as though modafinil could be a potent nootropic – but we need further research to make any full conclusions on its efficacy as a cognitive enhancer and stimulant. At this point in time we can only rely on anecdotal evidence from users who are taking the drug off-label as medicine or smart drug.


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  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)