Modafinil: The Rise of Smart Drugs
By: Dave Asprey
October 25, 2011
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. This post shares the experience of several people who use it, including first-time users and an interview with a biomedical engineer who, like me, is a long-time Modafinil user. Read to the end for warnings.
What is modafinil?
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. I’ve hacked my brain with neurofeedback so much that I don’t see much of a benefit from modafinil now, but I took it every day for 10 years and saw no problems of any kind with it during that time.
- It works. Really well. Have you ever seen the movie Limitless with Bradley Cooper? It’s based on modafinil. This stuff gives you superhuman mental processing, with few to no downsides.
How modafinil 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.
- There is some evidence Modafinil only helps people with lower IQ, but after years of experimenting (and upgrading my IQ), it doesn’t feel that way.
Is modafinil safe?
There is an extremely rare condition (about 5 cases per million people) called SJS, or Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, in which people with genetic susceptibility can develop a dangerous life threatening rash. SJS is most often triggered by antibiotics, followed by analgesics, cough and cold medication, NSAIDs, psychoepileptics, and antigout drugs. Cocaine, phenytoin, and modafinil can trigger it. More info here.
Even though the risk is low, you might want to get a genetic test before you use any of those drugs, including Modafinil. If you have one of these SNPs, you may have an increased risk, and to have the lowest risk, there are *a lot* of drugs you should avoid including some basic antibiotics…and Modafinil.
I never got tested because the incidence is so low. The full results are not available on the affordable genetic testing site 23andme, but you can ask your doctor to order at least some of these tests through Quest Diagnostics. I don’t know anyone who has gotten these tests, for what it’s worth.
How to dose modafinil
For most healthy people, 30-50 mg of modafinil will be plenty. It lasts 6-8 hours; take it in the morning, with or without food. I should say that modafinil is a prescription drug; you can talk to your doctor about it. There are places you can get it online; I don’t want to link to them because of legal issues…but you may be able to find a source. Biohack responsibly, of course.
Alternatives to modafinil
Not everyone’s game to take a prescription drug for cognition. Racetams and microdoses of nicotine offer similar benefits to modafinil.
If you want to play with nootropics but don’t want the hassle of talking to a doctor/ordering illegally, here’s an in-depth breakdown of 12 smart drug alternatives to modafinil, most of which you can get without a prescription.
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