Recently, Modafinil has become popular among students and researchers, to assist them in studying for longer periods of time with enhanced concentration. Due to its effectiveness, and relatively fewer and safer side effects (or so is the claim), more and more people are turning to Modafinil rather than Adderall or Ritalin.
However, one needs to consider the implications of using, or rather abusing, a chemical stimulant, regardless of the purpose. Pharmaceutical drugs should not be used without a doctor’s prescription, regardless of how few the side effects may be.
Today, we’ll be going through different aspects of Modafinil, which include its approved uses, legality, drug abuse, precautions, and, most importantly, it’s side effects to assess whether it truly is a wise move to use Modafinil to help you study.
MEDICAL USE OF MODAFINIL — THE REAL PURPOSE
Modafinil is a eugeroic (a wakefulness agent) that is mainly used for the treatment of narcolepsy. In fact, due to the risk of skin and hypersensitivity reactions, paired with the potential for serious adverse psychiatric reactions, the European Medicines Agency has recommended several times that Modafinil should be restricted solely for the treatment of narcolepsy.
However, despite the European Medicines Agency’s recommendations, doctors still do prescribe the drug for other issues including shift work sleep disorder and sleepiness and fatigue caused by sleep apnea.
In practical application, the drug has been extensively used by the armed forces of several countries, including the United States. The US Military has approved the usage of Modafinil in combat situations where soldiers face, or are likely to face, sleep deprivation. The Air Force has approved Modafinil as its only “go pill” for use on certain missions to manage fatigue and fight sleepiness, especially in conditions where one has to stay alert for long periods of time.
The United Kingdom, France, and India have also approved and used Modafinil for the same purposes. The drug has slowly replaced the usage of amphetamines, which is known to cause a range of health issues with prolonged usage.
As mentioned earlier, Modafinil abuse has surged significantly due to its effectiveness in helping people study and concentrate. Adderall and Ritalin have fallen out of favor due to the addiction potential and long-ranging and lasting side effects. The culture is so strong that there are extensive guides on how to “properly use Modafinil”, even though the first step in “properly” using Modafinil is to get a prescription.
Regardless of one’s stance on using prescription medications without a doctor’s approval, it’s understandable why the drug has become so popular. Modafinil mainly has a cognitive effect, as opposed to a physical one. Increased alertness and wakefulness, along with improved memory and a better ability to concentrate, are some of the cognitive effects one experiences. Physically, you feel less fatigued as well. These would certainly help one in studying and concentrating and all of these effects, along with the knowledge that you’re performing better, boosts one’s confidence significantly.
However, while Modafinil may be effective, most end up treating it as a miracle drug and think it’ll solve all their study problems and automatically improve their grades. While Modafinil may get you to concentrate better and get rid of your sleep, your body will need to catch up on rest at some point in the day. Furthermore, Modafinil won’t make you smarter, it’ll just allow you to concentrate on one topic, and if you have concentration issues, to begin with, you could end up focusing on just video games the entire time you’re on the pill.
MECHANICS OF MODAFINIL
Modafinil has an impact on the neurotransmitters in the brain which causes heightened awareness, concentration and drive. Modafinil increases levels of Dopamine which improves mood, increases focus and boosts motivation. Modafinil does this by blocking receptors in the brain which remove dopamine. A relatively gentle approach in comparison to Adderall or Ritalin.
Then there is norepinephrine which is a stimulant responsible for the flight or fight response. Modafinil increases norepinephrine as well which heightens alertness and increases wakefulness. Modafinil does this using the same mechanism as it uses for dopamine.
The third neurotransmitter at play is histamine which responsible for regulating the sleep cycle and the higher the histamine levels in the brain, you more likely you are to stay awake. Research has shown that Modafinil increases histamine levels by more than 150% which leaves no room for doubt as to why Modafinil keeps one awake. Additionally, Modafinil also increases orexin levels which increase wakefulness. This means Modafinil plays on two different neurotransmitters which keep the body awake.
One of the most common concerns when using Modafinil for studying is the legality involved. The legal implications are not as severe as some might think. The rule is fairly simple. It’s illegal to buy Modafinil without a prescription, but owning it is not illegal. The United States has classified Modafinil as a Schedule IV controlled substance, meaning it has a low potential for abuse and addiction, is used for the treatment of a medical condition, and has limited psychological and physical dependence if abused. For this reason, you need a prescription to buy it, but won’t be arrested if you own it.
This is the same approach in other developed countries including the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, and Canada.
While there are claims that Modafinil has very few and very controlled side effects, the studies seem to show differently. Just like all other medications, Modafinil has also been recorded as having a range of side effects. The most frequent side effect is insomnia, the root cause of which is the norepinephrine, histamine, and orexin neurotransmitters, all of which are affected by Modafinil. Considering Modafinil’s primary role is that of a wakefulness-promoting agent, this side effect shouldn’t be a surprise.
The second most frequent side effect is mild to severe headaches which are caused by a glutamate build-up. Modafinil increases the production of dopamine and orexin, which in turn increases the production of glutamate. The dehydration which Modafinil can also cause contributes to the headaches indirectly and makes them more severe.
It’s also not a good idea for anyone suffering from anxiety to use Modafinil without a prescription and approval of a doctor. People with anxiety already have higher levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, which include norepinephrine and glutamate, and Modafinil would exacerbate the situation.
Modafinil breaks down in the digestive system very slowly in comparison to other drugs, which leads to irritation of intestinal tissue. This results in a range of gastrointestinal issues. Furthermore, by increasing norepinephrine levels in the brain, Modafinil triggers the body’s fight or flight response system. In this state, the body needs to divert energy to more important systems such as the nervous and muscular systems to ensure survival and the digestive system needs to be suppressed as a result. It can be so severe that most Modafinil users will not even notice they’ve got an entire day without having eaten a single bite.
However, the above are only some less serious side effects that can be an issue if you use Modafinil. There is also a list of severe side effects which one should be aware of. The risk of these side effects may be small, but it is still very much existent. If you were to experience any of these side effects, contact a doctor immediately! Some serious side effects include chest pain, fever, hallucinations, severe depression, and skin reactions.
PRECAUTIONS TO CONSIDER WHEN TAKING MODAFINIL
Despite all the above side effects, Modafinil is still considered a safe drug and is promoted as such in the culture. Most of this hype comes from comparisons of Modafinil with other similar drugs such as Adderall or Ritalin. And while the vast majority of users aren’t expected to experience any of these side effects, a fair few might still suffer from some side effects, which have the potential to turn into health complications if certain precautions are not taken.
First and foremost, you should check whether you’re allergic to Modafinil. If you are allergic and you take the drug, you’re going to break out in a variety of different skin conditions and experience several adverse reactions. There was even one reported case of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, an extreme of allergic skin reactions.
If you’re on any other drugs which have a stimulating effect, then you should avoid taking Modafinil, as Modafinil is known to increase the effects of other stimulants. You could end up in a state of overstimulation which would cause further health complications. The same approach should be taken if you consume alcohol; do not take Modafinil while under the influence as Modafinil worsen alcohol’s side effects and vice versa.
If you are going to take Modafinil despite being aware of the obvious side effects, then you need to ensure some additional precautionary measures. First and foremost, use a quality product and don’t purchase your medication from some seedy source. The side effects and adverse reactions are bad enough, without having to worry about a batch of sub-standard pills which can cause problems of their own.
Furthermore, if you’re going to take Modafinil, then you’ll be actively disrupting your sleep cycle by way of a chemical agent. From a lifestyle perspective, you need to ensure you are not compromising your sleep schedule. The same goes for eating habits as well as Modafinil will more than likely get rid of your appetite due to the increased focus on tasks at hand. Keep a bottle of water and something to munch on close to you while under the effect of Modafinil to avoid dehydration and malnutrition.
Eliminate any distractions as well, because taking Modafinil for studying isn’t going to help if you’re going to use its effects to level up on your newest video game. Ideally, you should be in an isolated place with limited distractions (people, entertainment, etc) and just have the bare essentials to finish what you’re working on. You also need to allow for recovery time and moderate the amount of Modafinil you’re consuming. Have a routine in place for when you study and when you take Modafinil to ensure you have the best-intended results and do not adversely affect yourself in the process.
Cognition enhancing drugs like Modafinil should not be taken unless prescribed by a doctor. It doesn’t matter how effective it might be in ensuring you get good grades, as there is a reason why the law states you need a prescription. The argument that armed forces use it without prescriptions does not apply as such bodies have dedicated staff to ensure that users do not have any adverse effects to the medication. In fact, if there are any adverse effects, then use is discontinued for that specific soldier.
There is also the issue of side effects. While reported cases are very few, especially when compared with other similar drugs, the fact remains that these side effects do exist. Considering that the effects are associated with brain chemistry, making predictions is also difficult and any of these side effects can strike at any given moment. You cannot believe claims made on chat rooms and forums by untrained and ill-informed individuals, who can only attest to Modafinil’s greatness solely based on their experiences.
There is also the factor of the ethics involved. Would you support a boxer who won the title after having taken performance-enhancing drugs? Some may even argue that because of the PEDs, the competition was unbalanced and the user should be tried for assault charges, in addition to the crime of cheating and influencing a competition. One can’t claim glory for their victory if they truly did not approach it with honesty.
However, whatever your viewpoint may be on the ethics involved or the likelihood of side effects being an issue, you cannot deny a risk does exist. Before taking Modafinil, or any other prescription medication, without a doctor’s supervision, can be risky and reckless.