Smart Pills: Do they really exist?
28 January 2020
The core of biohacking is finding tricks and tools that cause a big impact with very little effort. Call it enlightened laziness or the relentless pursuit for personal perfection, if there is any difference between them. It’s time to write about Modafinil, the performance-enhancing smart drug that belongs in your bag of biohacker tricks, at least some of the time.
Modafinil is a smart drug, also known as a nootropic. It enhances your cognitive function in a variety of ways (more on that in a second). There are plenty of smart drugs, but modafinil stands in a class of its own for a few reasons:
• It’s not a stimulant. Modafinil acts sort of like a stimulant, but it’s actually a eugeroic – a wakefulness-promoting agent. It doesn’t make you speedy or jittery like most classical stimulants do. Modafinil also doesn’t have a crash or withdrawal, the way many smart drugs do.
• It’s not addictive, in fact, modafinil can help people kick addictions! It has few to no side effects. Modafinil is very safe according to studies, it has been on the market since the 1960’s!
Have you ever seen the movie Limitless with Bradley Cooper? It’s somewhat based on modafinil and how it enhances your brain and mood, unlike some smart drugs, there’s a good deal of evidence to back up the effects of Modafinil.
It has been shown to increase your resistance to fatigue and improve your mood.
In healthy adults, modafinil improves “fatigue levels, motivation, reaction time and vigilance.
A study published by the University of Cambridge found Modafinil to be effective at reducing “impulse response”, i.e., “bad decisions.”
Modafinil even improves brain function in sleep deprived doctors.
In a meta-analysis recently published in European Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers from the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School concluded that a drug called modafinil, which is typically used to treat sleep disorders, is a cognitive enhancer. Essentially, it can help normal people think better.
Out of all cognitive processes, modafinil was found to improve decision-making and planning the most in the 24 studies the authors reviewed. Some of the studies also showed gains in flexible thinking, combining information, or coping with novelty. The drug didn’t seem to influence creativity either way.
“What emerged was that the longer and the more complex the task, the more consistently modafinil showed cognitive benefits,” said Anna-Katharine Berm, a neuropsychologist at Oxford and one of the paper’s authors, in an email.
Surprisingly, the authors found no safety concerns in the data, though they caution that most of the studies were done in controlled environments and only looked at the effects of a single dose. Modafinil is one of an arsenal of drugs, which includes Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta that are increasingly used “off-label” by college students and adults seeking greater productivity. Just 1.5 percent of adults aged 26 to 34 were taking ADHD medications in 2008, but that number had almost doubled to 2.8 percent in 2013, as FiveThirtyEight points out. Though these drugs treat real medical conditions—ADHD, in Adderall’s case; narcolepsy, in modafinil’s—many of the people who take them don’t have those conditions.
Adderall and modafinil are different chemically, but their effects on cognition are similar, according to some psychiatrists. Adderall, or amphetamine, works by boosting the brain’s levels of norepinephrine and dopamine, two chemicals that are responsible for concentration and alertness.
Scientists are less sure how modafinil works. One pathway is by stimulating the release of histamine, which produces a sensation of wakefulness. (People with allergies may be familiar with histamine because many allergy drugs are antihistamines. Just as Benadryl dampens histamine and puts you to sleep, modafinil boosts it and wakes you up.) But modafinil also works on other neurotransmitter systems in the brain, and the resulting effect is one of allowing users to perform complex cognitive tasks more effectively.
These drugs can have negative health consequences, especially at large doses. The number of ER visits associated with the non-medical use of stimulants among young adults tripled between 2005 and 2011, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Some research has shown that the long-term use of modafinil can affect sleep patterns. In rare cases and at high doses, stimulants like Adderall have been shown to induce psychosis.