A Pharmacologist Review of Modafinil

Researchers at Oxford and Harvard Medical School claim that they have discovered a drug for the improvement of brain functions - Modafinil, the first "smart drug in the world"; and a series of studies has confirmed that it really works.

Numerous other studies during the recent period have shown that Modafinil affects positively the cognitive processes in the brain, learning and memory, as well as motivation, planning and decision-making.

Mechanism of action still unknown to scientists

Dr. Janko Samardzic, a clinical pharmacologist at the Medical University in Belgrade, and psychologist Aleksandra Jankovic, tested Modafinil effects and provided explanations on how this "smart drug" works.

Modafinil is known for many years in professional publications all over the world as an amphetamine-like substance that has psycho-stimulant properties, meaning it stimulates the particular functions of our brain - Samardzic said and added:

"Although it is a relatively well-known substance, the mechanism of action is not completely clarified yet, and it is thought to affect the levels of certain substances in our brain, and thus acts stimulatingly, enhancing alertness and attention. It is primarily used in the treatment of narcolepsy - a chronic sleep disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness and sudden sleep attacks in unsuitable situations."

Samardzic continued saying:

"Such results have contributed to its popularity as a 'smart drug' primarily in the US, which could be considered abusive. Namely, Modafinil is available in the US solely on the medical prescription, or if recommended by a doctor for certain sleep disorders, attention deficit, and atypical depression. A similar situation exists in European countries, and I note that its 'recreational use' in healthy people does not yet have justification from a professional and scientific aspect".

Can a "smart drug" make you smarter?

Asked if it is possible, from the medical point of view, to increase intelligence with a tablet, Samardzic gives a genuine response, saying that Modafinil does not pretend to influence our intelligence, but it enhances certain mental functions and affects our motivation and focus; and when it comes to negative consequences, the Medical university pharmacologist emphasizes that each drug has its desired and side effects, and that this drug is not an exception.

"Based on known facts about the mechanism of action of the drug Modafinil, you may expect mild forms of cardiovascular side-effects after a short-term administration, such as altered blood pressure and cardiac output. However, further testing is required in order to address side-effects after its long-term use. It is assumed that, as in case of amphetamines, the development of neurotoxicity, or the deterioration of neurons in the brain, can occur, as well" - Samardzic said.

Modafinil is not the first cure of this type

The pharmacologist reminded us that this is actually not the first time we have dealings with drugs which "increase intelligence".

"A similar campaign existed in the 1980s when amphetamines were (ab)used for similar purposes, especially among medical students in the US. Later, it turned out that this effect was short-lived and that amphetamine had numerous side-effects, such as severe mental disorders and development of addiction.

Today, amphetamine derivatives are used in the treatment of ADHD in children, and clinical testing show that Modafinil can be useful in the treatment of this disorder, too, although it is not yet formally approved for this indication " - Samardzic explains, adding that all amphetamine-like drugs, including Modafinil, have a certain level of addiction potential.

"It is known that amphetamines and its most commonly used derivative, 'ecstasy', cause euphoria and strong addiction, while in case of an abrupt discontinuation of the drug it causes general irritability, depression, and mood disorders.

In case of Modafinil, the potential for developing addiction is smaller, but it still exists, and each of us can react differently - someone becomes addicted to the drug only after several takings of the drug, and others only after several months".

The question of the usefulness of Modafinil

What is even more interesting is that the drug in question is very expensive in many countries, so that only richer people can use it, while in some countries it is not yet officially registered as a medicine.

"From a professional point of view, I can say that for now there are no priorities for this medicine, since we already have appropriate drugs from the same or similar classes. This medicine is more important from a scientific point of view, as it encourages further research in the treatment of memory disorders, such as various forms of dementia, while its 'recreational use' as an 'intelligence tablet' is not justified" - Samardzic repeats his statement.

Psychologist Dr. Aleksandra Jankovic says that the use of Modafinil as a drug for enhancing mental abilities seems too unrealistic, or at least, not useful and safe enough, especially considering the previous attempts to "increase IQ" with such drugs.

"Intelligence is, for the most part, something that we get genetically. Therefore, only the level of concentration may be increased, or one can exercise memory, but the medicine for increasing intelligence is a pure non-sense" - Jankovic was determined.