Q&A: Why I Use Modafinil (Provigil)

By: Dave Asprey

The recent ABC Nightline piece about me using modafinil as a cognitive enhancer brought out a lot of comments.

This blog post addresses many of my readers’ questions and concerns about modafinil, such as: “but Dave, aren’t you all-natural?” and, “how do you know your experiments worked if you were taking prescription drugs?”

Biohacking is about making your biology do what you want by using effective, safe tools, not necessarily about being the most all-natural person out there. It just happens to be that a lot of natural solutions help you reach your potential, and drugs carry their own risks. And when I have done experiments, I take account of the fact I have used modafinil – sometimes I stopped it, sometimes I lowered it, in order to see how my other biohacks work without it.

Then there were some readers who wanted to know how much modafinil I take, and more urgently, how to get some. Before Bulletproof, I took about 300-400 mg per day. When I started the Bulletproof Diet, I reduced my dose to anywhere from 0 – 100 mg of modafinil per day, which I took in the morning or maybe at lunch.

And two years after I wrote this post, eight years after I started using modafinil, I quit using modafinil regularly because the Bulletproof Diet and the other brain hacking things I’ve done have upgraded my performance to the point that modafinil doesn’t do as much. I still keep it with me when I travel, but I just don’t need it to perform at my best like I used to.

Unfortunately, you need to get it through a prescription from your doctor, and they’re not all inclined to hand those prescriptions out, even though the medication is pretty low-risk.

In this post, I also go into depth explaining what steps I take to mitigate risk from modafinil (even though the chance of risk is slim – about 5 out of 1 million can get a dangerous rash based on a genetic susceptibility to many drugs, including modafinil), and I argue against the claims that it’s addictive and immoral.  I know these things aren’t true, just as I know that on my own I’m good enough, and I also know that by using modafinil, I’m even better.

The recent ABC Nightline piece about me using modafinil as a cognitive enhancer brought out a lot of comments.

This recent publicity became the first time some followers realized I use smart drugs, even though I have been very public for more than a decade about my use of smart drugs to increase my health and performance, including modafinil. This post is here to answer questions that lots of people are asking about modafinil and smart drugs in general.

I’ve attempted to capture them all here; if I missed one, please comment on this post.

Q: “I thought you were all natural and I’m disappointed to hear you use cognitive enhancers.”

A: This blog – and biohacking in general – is about doing all you can safely do to achieve your biological goals. My goals are to live longer, maximize my potential, and literally radiate energy. Of course I use the smart drugs that are safe, and I believe that modafinil is one of the safe ones for a variety of reasons. If you use a healthy diet, or Tylenol, to get more done, you’re doing exactly the same thing as me using smart drugs. The only exception is that Tylenol is more dangerous than most smart drugs, believe it or not (much more toxic to your liver). Many smart drugs (not including modafinil) are neuroprotective and probably extend brain cell life.

Q: How do you know your sleep hacking experiments – and the Bulletproof® Diet actually work? You were just hopped up on drugs.

A: I went off modafinil for 3 months in the middle of my experiment to see how I did. I was fine, but modafinil is an improvement. When I started taking it, my neurological function was such that modafinil was transformative and amazing. It was a 50% boost at the higher doses prescribed. Since 2002 when I started, I’ve increased my health and cognitive function using Bulletproof® Coffee and the Bulletproof® Diet and things like Upgraded Aging Formula, which let me ramp down the dose. But most days, I take it because it gives me a 10% boost even in my already “supercharged” state. That 10% helps me be a better father, husband, and provider. It also raises my ability to meditate as measured by EEG, and it helps me to better serve others.

Modafinil helped me write The Better Baby Book and this blog, all while working full time as a successful executive and raising 2 young children. In fact, in the wake of these comments, I ran another small test. I didn’t take any modafinil. Went to sleep at 3 a.m. Woke at 4 a.m. Drove to airport. At 6:30 a.m. I flew from Victoria to Ottowa, arriving at 5:30 p.m. Business dinner until 11 p.m. Slept from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. (4 hours). Had Bulletproof Coffee. Sat in meetings for 8 hours straight, awake, with one more coffee. Hopped on a plane back to Victoria (7 hour total journey). No modafinil. I was alert and highly productive in the meetings – this is what vibrant health does for me. But on modafinil, I’d probably have been more alert and energetic. I’d have felt just like I do now – but more.

Q: What dose do you take?

A: I took 200 mg in the morning and 100-200 at lunch at first before I discovered Bulletproof® Coffee and the Bulletproof® Diet. The health increases I experienced let me ramp my dose down to 100 mg/day, sometimes 50, and sometimes none. I always perform well if I eat the right foods, avoid the toxins, and have butter, Brain Octane™ and Upgraded™ XCT oil. Modafinil is an added boost, not a requirement.

Q: When do you take it?

A: Morning. Maybe at lunch. I never take it at night unless I’m driving and really tired.

Q: Where do you get modafinil?

A: Get it from your doctor with a prescription.

Q: How do I get a prescription?

A: In the U.S., it is legally prescribed for “shift worker sleep disorder” and narcolepsy, and insurance will usually reimburse for it. It is also commonly prescribed for ADD and ADHD, and sometimes for MS, lupus, or chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia. Describe your symptoms to your doctor. Ask for a prescription. The links here may help you fully grasp the symptoms you need to have to qualify for a prescription. (and as a side note, when are we going to decide we don’t need $150 permission slips from our doctors to decide what substances we want to put into our own bodies? But I digress . . ..)

Q: What are the risks and side effects of modafinil?

A: Low but not non-existent.  Check out my comment, and reader Elspeth’s response for more information. There is some more info on genetic risks (about 5 in a million) in this post.

Q: I’m in college or high school. Should I take it?

A: God no! And stay away from Adderall (prescription meth) too. Good quality coffee (low toxin) is ok in the morning for most people at these ages. Your brain won’t be mature fully until 23-25 years old!

Q: Modafinil is a dangerous addictive narcotic like meth.

A: Uh, no it ‘s not. Not even in the stimulant category. It’s “arousal promoting” not stimulating. You can sleep after you take it; it’s just that you don’t want to. It is not a narcotic. It is not addictive – there is no street value for it. My wife, a Karolinska-trained physician who ran drug and alcohol addiction clinics, flat out says, “I’ve never had an addict ask me for it. It is not addictive.” I found I actually decreased my dose as my health improved.

Q: You used it to sleep only 5 hours a night.

A: No, I didn’t. I slept only 5 hours per night because I had things to do and I was experimenting on myself. I used modafinil to increase my performance during the day after less sleep, but I tested (for 3 months) not using modafinil at all. I programmed myself for more efficient sleep (see podcast with advanced brain monitoring for more details).

Q: It’s immoral. If you use it, everyone else will have to.

A: No. Only those who want to will take it. Do you drink coffee? Do you use fire to stay warm? Do you use electric lights to out-compete people who have none? How about agriculture? Reading glasses? Technology for human performance is not new.

Q: Do you think you are not good enough without it?

This question makes me smile. I used biohacking to get the same brain state as someone who spends 20-40 years in daily zen practice. I am a certified heart math coach and can control my stress consciously, and I know Art of Living breathing and yoga. I *love* myself and know I’m “good enough.”

I also know my potential, and I believe I owe it to myself to do everything within my power to best serve others, including my family, coworkers, the team here at Bulletproof Executive, the thousands of people who have used this site to upgrade their lives, and the many more who keep coming here seeking knowledge. Modafinil helped me do that. What kind of man would I be if I didn’t live my life fully? I don’t know; that’s not who I am. So I will continue to use all methods I can find to maximize my abilities, including electronic, pharmaceutical (selected, safe ones), meditation, occasional exercise, Whole body vibration, supplements, Bulletproof Coffee, and the Bulletproof Diet.