The usual commercial for Modafinil normally sounds something like this: "If you want to solve problems faster, be more efficient, have more energy, and be better than others at your work, then Modafinil is the right solution for you!", says one of the social network marketing pages.
Even scientists from Oxford and Harvard concur that this is one of the safest drugs to use for the advancement of cognitive functions; but is there something behind the scenes that could be far more dangerous? - skeptics wonder.
The subject in question is Modafinil, which is used for treating narcolepsy, but people all around the world use it, too, unaware of the consequences this "studying drug" can bring if used improperly and without a medical advice. So, what did the studies show?
Studies on Modafinil (1990-2014)
Scientific studies published during the period from January 1990 until December 2014 showed the use of Modafinil improved cognitive abilities. In total, there were 24 studies in the same category, discussing benefits of Modafinil effects on decision making, adaptability, studying, memory, and creativity. The effects varied from task to task, but as the tasks got longer and more complex, the improvements were better.
The most noted improvement was seen in decision making and task planning, while the least improvement was seen in working memory. The most important thing was that 70% of the studies showed that there were almost no side effects. Others discovered that some of the test subjects had insomnia, headache, stomachache, or nausea. Researchers highlighted that those same side-effects were also experienced in the placebo groups.
"This is the first look at Modafinil in action since 2008 on subjects that have sleeping problems, so it was possible to include a lot of the previous data. Curiously, we established that the types of tests used in the assessment of cognitive advantages of Modafinil had changed during the last few decades. In the past, people only used the basic recognition tests, but today, more complex tests are used.", Dr. Ruairidh M. Battleday stated, one of the researchers at the University of Oxford.
The limitless use of Modafinil among students
Many users of this "legal drug", as some call it, were inspired by the movie "Limitless". Imitating the hero of the plot, they want to possess "super-powers" by swallowing a single "magical pill". They believe the tiny pill will bestow upon them the gift of wisdom and super-human memory and intelligence. However, others assert that even though people usually compare Modafinil with a pill from the movie, it does not have anything to do with it.
As the BBC News reports, in the US, students abuse this drug on a large scale; they buy it without a prescription and without ever consulting a doctor. The warning not to buy any drug over the Internet does not count in this case.
In Britain, this medicine, with its many brand names, can be bought legally in pharmacies, though only with a prescription. A student from England, who never used any illegal substance of similar chemical content before, wanted to make an experiment and try the drug.
He took the SAT test and proved better than his colleagues. He could stay concentrated for longer periods and was more efficient compared to his previous results by 20%.
The first time he took the pill was at the University of Cambridge, so he says, adding that his concentration, spatial observation, and all brain functions, were far better than before taking this drug.
Conclusion: Nothing lasts forever
Unlike the majority of young people, this fellow used the drug with his doctor's approval, but despite that, he started experiencing its side-effects really soon.
At first, there were very strong headaches, then, the loss of appetite, and going to the restroom too often. The brain slowed down, and the English guy lost his motivation and focus, but his bladder started working faster. The Modafinil effect of enhancing wakefulness and alertness, that is, his primary use in curing sleep disorders, considered to be the best benefit of this drug both for narcoleptics and students, now proved to be the curse for this young man, since he had trouble sleeping and was not able to fall asleep normally anymore. And on top of everything, he noticed some changes on his skin, too.
After that, he tried to get better results by taking the drug, hoping that he will manage to finish some tasks he had to do before work, but that proved wrong: The drug had him torn apart, and he could not concentrate on anything. His concentration was directed at wrong conversations and video games. That was the time he stopped using the drug.
The English man who experienced this and made the experiment on his own will was Benjamin Zand, a British BBC journalist.
The conclusion is that this medicine indeed promotes the feeling of absolute alertness; those who used it claimed that their focus and attention improved a lot, but that it was a short-lasting effect, like with any other drug. So, would you take the pill anyway?