Modafinil Review: Don’t Believe the Hype?

By on January 17, 2018

Imagine being the fastest and most focused version of you. What would that look like? What could you achieve? That is what many people imagine that modafinil can do for them. So, being the Bioneer, I tried It for myself. First a few years back, and then again more recently to refresh my memory. Here is what I found.

I have a separate post on this site detailing the mechanisms of action of modafinil and where it comes from, so I won’t bore you with all the details again here. Suffice to say that modafinil was originally designed as a treatment for narcolepsy. This is a condition that causes patients to fall asleep without warning at random intervals throughout the day. It was then found to have some impressive cognitive benefits and so began being tested by the likes of the military and Air Force.

Today, modafinil is used by many Silicone Valley innovators and start-ups, big ceo’s and even students that are looking to get ahead. It has been likened to a ‘real Limitless pill’ with benefits ranging from increased focus and memory, to improved wakefulness and energy. The drug has been the subject of a number of studies where it has been shown to potentially raise IQ scores and seemingly without side effects. The long term effects have not been studied though, and it is still only legally available on prescription, forcing many to get their supplies online from dubious websites.

The mechanisms of action are also somewhat uncertain. While we know that it affects orexin, dopamine, norepinephrine, glutamate probably and several other neurotransmitters, there is still much that is uncertain.

But enough of that. Speculation only gets us so far. What does it actually feel like to use?

My Experience – The World Brighter (With Big Caveats)

The first thing I notice when I take modafinil, is that the world seems brighter. After about 20 minutes this effect starts to kick in and lights seem more vivid. Even reflections seem to create mini solar flares, like a director has been a bit too liberal with a filter. Don’t get me wrong though, this is still quite a subtle effect.

The other thing I start to notice is that I become a little starey. My gaze will settle on something and then I won’t be able to look away.

From here, one of two things can happen. Either I attach myself to a job that needs doing (like writing a long post on an easy subject) or I find myself ‘stuck’ doing something entirely inane. I feel unable to pull myself away from tasks, whether that is something useful or a waste of time. So, this can end up being highly productive or not…

And what’s more is that it is only ever highly productive when I know precisely what it is I need to do; when I know the subject inside out. If ever I need to learn anything or be creative, I find modafinil to be a hindrance. I feel like I can’t think abstractly or make logical leaps. My focus seems too narrow to take in new concepts and really explore them. It’s hard to explain, but it definitely doesn’t aid learning for me.

That said, I have had some of my best ideas while on modafinil. This might seem to run contrary to what I just said and what we know about the way that modafinil works, but it is definitely there. While I don’t have the breadth of attention that we now associate with creativity, it seems as though I’m able to ‘deep dive’ into a topic and really explore it that way.

The other benefit is that I can work longer and later without burning out or crashing. You feel very ‘steady’ on modafinil and for me this effect seems to last much longer than 10 hours. Sometimes I’m still going the next day and I definitely struggle falling asleep.

Which is not to say you don’t feel tired. You do. In fact, I feel very wired and worn out and I look it too. And when it does wear off, you feel absolutely beat and it can take a while to fall back into a normal rhythm.

And what I seem less able to do, is fully grasp a subject. That is to say that I find it harder to learn a new topic and to really understand it. I tried learning some basic coding concepts on Modafinil and struggled to take it in – I felt as though I was just staring at the screen. Conversely, when I used a coffee bean extract (said to increase BDNF), I seemingly enjoyed greater comprehension of the same topic. It’s hard to account for placebo in these cases or confounding variables like tiredness/mood. But still, Modafinil certainly doesn’t turn you into superman.

Heck, I poured cold water onto my tea the last time I was using. Eddie Mora wouldn’t do such a thing!

This is one of the reasons I wanted to write this article. To browse the web you would think that Modafinil really was a ‘wonder drug’ that could turn you into a super-smart genius. But it’s really not – for me anyway. I half-suspect that many bloggers and forum users want that to be the case and so they let that cloud their judgement slightly. After all, it certainly makes for a more interesting post.

Modafinil Side Effects

This seems like a good time to talk about side effects. When I say that I look tired, that’s at least partly to do with the bloodshot eyes that almost always accompany modafinil use. You see, the claim that modafinil is without side effects rings completely false to me. I almost always get bloodshot eyes, but I also experience an incredibly dry mouth, small ulcers on my tongue (probably related), teeth grinding, hunger suppression and a frequent need to urinate. Plus some diarrhoea. Noice.

Some of these things are not terribly conducive to productivity. Neither are the headaches which occur commonly, or the anxiety. And all this has happened frequently enough that I can say categorically that it is definitely caused by the modafinil. Your mileage may vary of course, we all react differently.

What I will say is that modafinil makes a surprisingly excellent weight loss aid. I’m surprised no one is touting that benefit right now. But I also wouldn’t recommend using it that way, due to all the other colourful side effects you’d be inviting.

Socially, modafinil makes me feel anxious and causes me to struggle saying attention to what people are saying to me. It’s that horrible feeling you get when you are tipsy in polite company – you know you aren’t firing on all cylinders and you’re hoping that no one will notice.

And let’s not forget that buying Modafinil generally means finding a dodgy online vendor, meaning you are putting your health at serious risk. I did a lot of research before making a choice and I only did so in the interests of journalistic integrity. But when advising any course of action on this site, my question is always: would I feel comfortable recommending this to my sister?

Absolutely not.

Though as I always say, something like Modafinil is – in theory – probably much better for you overall than alcohol. It’s at least used with the intention of being beneficial rather than destructive. So, make of that what you will.

Conclusion

In conclusion then, modafinil is not a nootropic I can recommend using regularly. Under the right, rare, circumstances it can be useful. Most of the time it leaves you too wired and with a host of unpleasant side effects. And I would also say that despite allegedly not being chemically addictive, it has potentially to at least be psychologically addictive.

Not only that, but seeing as it could potentially negatively impact on your creativity, or your ability to absorb information, I don’t see it as being particularly positive for overall cognitive performance either. It’s great if you need to be in a certain mental state for a long time. But how often does life require just one mental state… for ten hours? Far better is to hone your skill for switching between ‘creative’, ‘focussed’, ‘relaxed’ at will. Meditation, sleep, exercise.. they’re not sexy but they’re the real ‘cognitive enhancers’. (And I’ll be talking in much greater depth soon about how to boost your energy levels naturally.) That’s not to say I’m against using nootropics either: the right supplementation and nutrients can make a big difference to mental performance. I’m currently using a stack of: creatine, inositol, lecithin and omega 3 fatty acid and it has done a lot for my focus and mental energy.

 

Perhaps there is an argument to be made for taking very small amounts of modafinil in the short-term during times when you are really burning the candle at both ends. But be prepared to pay the piper. And don’t expect to become Limiltless or anything similar!

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About Adam Sinicki

Hi there! My name is Adam Sinicki, I'm an entrepreneur, psychology graduate and amateur bodybuilder interested in fitness, self improvement, technology and transhumanism. I run an online business (NQR Productions) which allows me to live the lifestyle I want: getting time to hit the gym and to work on my projects and apps. Stick around and I'll be sharing my experiments and adventures in brain training, bodybuilding, productivity, business and technology.