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Modafinil is a long-lasting prescription drug originally developed to treat narcolepsy (a condition where people fall asleep uncontrollably). Since then, it has been used by everyone from pilots, surgeons, truck drivers and the military to enhance their focus and maintain alertness during sleep deprivation. Now, students and academics are the latest wave of people to make use of this drug to boost productivity and maintain their competitive edge. Despite much of the publicity however, this drug does have a number of limitations; though it will rid you of tiredness while increasing your desire and ability to work, there are studies indicating that modafinil significantly limits creative thinking.
If you’re taking modafinil for studying, do it first thing in the morning! The effects last for a long time and will stop you from sleeping.
Take breaks (really!), Drink lots of water and eat small meals frequently throughout the day.
Modafinil will not stop you from needing sleep; though it may stop you from feeling tired, sleep deprivation will catch up.
Modafinil has been found to boost short-term memory, with powerful effects on attention, as well as almost completely blocking a person’s sense of fatigue. Experienced users have described the focusing effects as being an extension of wakefulness. Losing the sense of fatigue produces a constant sensation of the present and so after 1 or 2 hours work, users continue to feel just as fresh and able to work as if they had begun 10 minutes before. Less positive however, are the reported negative effects on people's ability to think creatively, reducing their ability to problem solve and think outside the box. It is also worth noting that the wakefulness effects of modafinil do have their limitations; Modafinil does not prevent cognitive deterioration over longer period of sleep deprivation, while it can cause overconfidence in cognitive performance. After about 20 hours, your executive functions (abstract and creative thinking, long and short-term memory etc.) suffer as they normally would if you were sleep deprived, even though you might still not feel any fatigue.
We have listed the most common effects of modafinil. Please note that everyone can be affected differently, and this is not an exhaustive list. As a general rule, negative side effects of modafinil increase with higher doses while the benefits of increased alertness taper off; you might get more “alert” but most likely your performance will remain stable, or decrease.
The effects are (from positive to negative):
- Reduced social anxiety
- Increased confidence
- Improved attention in well rested individuals
- Improved short-term memory
- Increased focus
- Increased urination
- Raised blood pressure
- Raised heart rate
- Chest pain*
- Skin rashes*
- Swelling (angioedema)
Dose and onset
How? How Much? When? For how Long?
As with any drug, the correct dose for you depends on factors such as weight, gender, metabolism, whether you have taken the drug recently or not, amongst many others.
Read our section on dosing and tolerance in ME for more information.
Modafinil has two sibling drugs that work in exactly the same way; Armodafinil and Adrafinil. Their chemical differences are explained below. In terms of usage, there are a number of subtle differences between these three forms. For most purposes modafinil, as the most studied form, is the best option. However armodafinil is essentially a more potent form of the same active chemical, and so can be considered as equivalent.. Adrafinil on the other hand is tougher on the body and has not been studied anywhere near as much. As such, there may be undiscovered risks. The main reason behind its popularity is that in most countries where is is illegal to obtain modafinil without a prescription, adrafinil is not a controlled substance and can be freely obtained.
Modafinil: The classic drug.
Armodafinil: Because of how modafinil works in the body, only half of the drug will be in the correct chemical structure to produce an effect on your body. Armodafinil is the purified form of this correct “R” structure, and so is slightly stronger than modafinil. It is also processed by the body a little bit less slowly than modafinil, though not by much.
Adrafinil: Once ingested this drug is processed by the liver to produce modafinil. Since it needs to be broken down to become active, it takes slightly longer for adrafinil to take effect and the effects will also last for longer. Adrafinil is also less potent than modafinil.
How you take it matters...
However you take modafinil, the main thing to consider is the duration of effects (up to 20 hours!). Make sure you dose as early as possible; as soon as you wake up, and never after midday. Unless you are planning on staying up all night, which we don’t recommend as it will affect your sleep cycle and have knock-on effects on your health.
To reduce the duration of action, most people take modafinil sublingually (by placing it under the tongue), or by swallowing the pill on an empty stomach. This allows quick absorption. Which is best is mainly down to personal preference; modafinil tastes extremely bitter and can be difficult to keep under the tongue, but taking modafinil on an empty stomach can worsen the stomach upset and nausea.
N.B. When dosing by splitting up a standard pill, there is a chance that the active drug is not evenly spread throughout the pill (the majority of a pill is made up of harmless filler substances). To better control dosage, some people like to crush up the pill and dissolve it in water, and then drinking their desired dose.
There are reports of users crushing modafinil pills and snorting them. There are no real benefits to this; modafinil is already absorbed quickly if placed under the tongue, while the filler in a pill of modafinil will produce enough powder to block your nose, which would be a somewhat unpleasant experience.
How much? When? And how long?
With the modafinil family, we recommend you start low and work your way up (see titration dosing for advice) but be very wary of the long duration and remember your sleep debt will return once the drug wears off. Typically, higher doses are required by people who typically are experienced with stimulants, and people with higher body mass.
Half-life: This is the time taken for your body to breakdown half of the drug. It can be used as an indicator of how long the effects will last for; however it is not the duration of action as half of the active drug will remain in your body.
- How much?: If you are trying to get rid of fatigue, then as little as 25-50 mg can be effective. If you are seeking the stimulant effects of modafinil, then it is more common to use a dose between 100-400mg.
- How long?: Your body is able to break down half of the drug in about 13 hours; this is another reason why we recommend starting low. A 200 mg dose will wear off after about 18 hours.
- How much?: A 200 mg dose of Modafinil corresponds to between 100-150 mg of Armodafinil
- How long?: Slightly longer than modafinil with half the drug cleared in about 16 hours.
- How much?: A standard dose is between 600-1000 mg.
- How long?: 22-24 hours. It takes an hour for half of the adrafinil taken to be converted into modafinil, which in turn has effects lasting at least 20 hours.
When do the effects kick in and for how long?
Studies looking at the long-term safety of modafinil in people with narcolepsy have shown the drug to be safe in daily use. However we recommend at least alternating days, and rather using the drug rarely when you really require extra stimulation. After consecutive days of dosing, the enhancing effects seem to be reduced. This could due to poorly understood effects on sleep as modafinil builds up in the system. Tolerance also develops over time, leading to a number of "cycling" regimens where people take breaks to restore their sensitivity to the drug.
Also worth considering for long-term use is the potential effects on relying on a drug to be productive. There are a number of sites which discuss this , and just as some people are hesitant, others have had great experiences with modafinil and liken its use to that of caffeine. We recommend you read more and make up your own mind.
How often can I take it?
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There are certain precautions you should take before doing Modafinil. The advice below helps you to be physically and mentally prepared before doing it. Furthermore, we want you to be safe, and just in case you have a bad experience or some of the unwanted side effects associated with Modafinil, we have also provided information on how to take care of yourself when you are in full swing. Finally, there are those uncomfortable or undesirable effects after the high have worn out, we will provide you with some practical tips on how to have a better calm down and help you to reduce the harm done to your body and brain.
Head over to our ME section if you would like to know more about harm reduction.
The main concern with modafinil is obtaining a contaminated sample. This is very rare, especially because of the public backlash a vendor receives when they are found to be selling sub-par products. That being said, the most reliable way of sourcing modafinil is to purchase known brand-names (such as provigil/modalert (Modafinil), or nuvigil/waklert (Armodafinil).
- Check the packaging: Pills should come in foil blister packets; look out for spelling mistakes or blurry text. Use google images to see what the packaging should look like.
- Check the batch number: This can be done online, to check reports of adverse effects. Though rare, it has happened before. Some vendors and third-party groups also publish certificates of authenticity (CoA).
- Consider the origin: Modafinil from India is considered to be slightly more risky; differences in manufacturing procedures can lead to increased levels of harmful heavy metals in the pills.
It is also a good idea to figure what you want to do while on modafinil to avoid getting focused on the wrong thing. People often get sidetracked and later realise they’ve spent the entire day studying medieval crochet techniques. Write a list of all the tasks you need to do and remove yourself from those potential distractions.
- Make sure to eat ; you might not get hungry or feel comfortable ignoring it, but your body will still require food and energy. Set yourself a reminder to eat a small meal every two to three hours, even if it’s just a fruit or a bowl of cereal.
- Hydrate yourself . Modafinil can cause you to urinate often and become dehydrated. Keep a water bottle with you throughout the day and drink as much as you feel you need to. As a target however,try to drink between 2-3 litres of water a day while on modafinil.
- Watch out for headaches . This is one of the most common side effects. They are usually caused by dehydration, which is easily prevented. However modafinil can also cause headaches by itself; if headaches hang around paracetamol should .
- Be careful with caffeine . The effects of modafinil and caffeine are additive so your normal dose of caffeine might become too much. At the same time, withholding from caffeine if you are a regular coffee drinker is not advisable either, as this can lead to caffeine withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and irritability.
After-effects of modafinil tend to be minimal however there are a couple points to bear in mind to avoid negative effects further down the road; this is particularly relevant for anyone who decides to use modafinil for an extended period of time..
- Even super-humans sleep. Though you do not feel tired while on modafinil, your body still has the same requirements for food and sleep. If you don’t make sure to allow your body this space to recuperate after using modafinil, you are in danger of fatiguing your body and damaging your immune system.
- Look out for Itchy and Scratchy. If dosing for a few days in a row, it would also be wise to look out for rashes or irritated skin. This can be a sign that your body is reacting negatively to the modafinil and it might be best to take it easy.
Take care if you have any of the below;
- Any heart problems
- High blood pressure
- Liver problems
- Take oral contraceptives
- History of addictive behaviour
If you fall into any of these categories, consult your doctor before using modafinil. Patient-doctor confidentiality exists for exactly these cases, and even if you are obtaining drugs illegally, your doctor can not share the information.
In general, stimulants are not recommended for people with heart problems as they generally increase heart rate; this also applies to modafinil. If you have heart problems and decide to take modafinil anyway, you should monitor your heart rate closely and consult your doctor.
Modafinil is a remarkably safe drug. Even though overdose can be incredibly unpleasant (high heart rate, extreme anxiety, jittery, some reports of hallucinations), even people who accidentally took 16,000 mg reported no permanent damage. No deaths from modafinil overdose have been reported. However you should go to the hospital anyway, especially if you have ever experienced any heart issues. Also, there are a number of serious interactions which mean that if you overdose while consuming other drugs (alcohol can be particularly dangerous) you should seek emergency medical help immediately.
Even though modafinil is not a classic stimulant, it carries many of the same cardiovascular risks. For people who suffer from angina or other heart issues, modafinil can worsen these conditions. Anxious people can feel overstimulated and sometimes experience panic attacks due to the raised heart-rate.
Even though modafinil is touted as the first “safe and effective” smart drug, there is recent evidence showing that modafinil does have abuse potential. Neuroscientific research has confirmed that modafinil effects brain levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine , which is involved in reward circuitry . Beyond this, you should keep in mind that anything with any with desirable effects has the potential to cause dependence, particu larly stimulants. Though studies have shown modafinil does not produce physical dependence (heavy modafinil users abstained for two weeks and did not experience any withdrawal symptoms ), there are many anecdotal reports of people experiencing addiction to the hyper-productive and euphoric state that the drug produces, especially in people who have previously been addicted to stimulant drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines.
Other medications and effects on the liver
Modafinil is metabolised (processed) by key enzymes in the liver. Someone with liver problems or anyone taking medications which are processed by those same enzymes could experience unwanted side-effects. For example, the effects of modafinil could last for much longer, and the same for concurrent medication. That being said, the metabolites of modafinil are non-toxic and not psychoactive so though there are risks, they are relatively minor.
Modafinil, like most stimulants, has been found to lower the threshold for seizure in some epileptics. Counter-intuitively, there is also evidence to suggest that modafinil can boost the effect of some antiepileptic medications .
One of the high profile side-effects of modafinil has been the few reports of severe skin conditions such as Steven Johnson syndrome and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis.
This is extremely rare however for anyone with a known history of skin or allergy problems should avoid taking modafinil for extended periods of time.
Modafinil has been shown to lower the blood concentration of hormonal contraceptives such as the pill or implant, making them less effective . This is particularly dangerous in cases of prolonged use of modafinil due to the way in which these hormones work to prevent pregnancy. It is also vital to note that modafinil also reduces efficacy of the morning after pill. Condoms and IUDs (such as the copper coil) are the only forms of birth control not affected by modafinil.
In most countries Modafinil is a controlled substance, or requires a prescription. There are dozens of online pharmacies selling modafinil online. Most will ship to all countries regardless of legal status, however you could be risking a criminal offence and your package could be subject to seizure at the border. That said, some countries legally allow you to import prescription drugs for personal use, even if you do not have a prescription. A rare few countries (such as Mexico and India) even sell modafinil over the counter.
North and South America
USA - Schedule IV; this means it is illegal to import with a prescription.
Canada - Schedule F, therefore not an actively controlled drug; however a recent warning from Health Canada means that there has been an increase in seizures by the Border Services Agency, as well as a reduction in prescriptions from doctors. As in most countries, adrafinil is not a controlled substance in Canada.
Mexico - Not a controlled substance and available over the counter at many pharmacies. Sold as Modiodal.
UK - Prescription only. Adrafinil is not a scheduled substance, however it does fall under the Psychoactive Substances Act and so there are very few outlets supplying Adrafinil to the UK.
Rest of Europe - Prescription only.
Asia and Australia
Australia - Prescription only. Adrafinil also requires a prescription.
India - Modafinil is available as a generic retail substance
China - Under strict control and it is not approved for medical use. Even with a prescription it can be difficult to obtain.
South Africa - Prescription only. Adrafinil previously available OTC, though rare.