Adrafinil - An Overview
Adrafinil (Diphenylmethylsulfinylacetamide) is a synthetic smart drug that promotes attention, energy, and wakefulness. It is one of the most popular smart drugs out there.
Users report enhanced mood, increased mental alertness, increased motivation, improved reaction time, less fatigue, and better memory.18Dongsoo Kim. Practical Use and Risk of Modafinil, a Novel Waking Drug, Environ Health Toxicol. 2012
Adrafinil was developed in a French laboratory in 1974. It is a prodrug of the prescription medication modafinil. This means that when you consume adrafinil, your liver turns it into adrafinil.
There is very little difference between taking adrafinil and modafinil. Adrafinil takes a bit longer to kick in (about an hour or so longer) due to the fact that it must metabolize into adrafinil before taking effect.19Guglietta A, et al. Drug Treatment Of Sleep Disorders, Milestones In Drug Therapy. 2014
The other critical difference is that (in the US at least) modafinil is prescription only. However, you can purchase adrafinil OTC as a supplement.
This loophole allows anyone to experience the effects of modafinil without needing to see a doctor.
Although adrafinil itself is not well studied, modafinil is. Throughout the rest of this article, we will be linking to studies primarily discussing modafinil as we talk about adrafinil’s benefits. But, keep in mind that they are essentially the same thing.
What Does Adrafinil Do?
Alertness and Wakefulness
Researchers originally developed Adrafinil as a drug to treat narcolepsy, so this is one of the areas where it is most effective.
Adrafinil is extremely effective at combating drowsiness during the daytime, without (and this is important) negatively affecting sleep later on.
It can keep you up and alert as you go about your daily tasks, and wear off in time to get a good night’s rest.1Emmanuel J. M. Mignot. A Practical Guide to the Therapy of Narcolepsy and Hypersomnia Syndromes, Neurotherapeutics. 2012
Adrafinil can make you feel less tired and improve cognitive function if you are in an exhausted state. This is especially useful if you are under a lot of stress and need to operate without adequate sleep.
In fact, the US army has conducted studies on adrafinil and has concluded that it is effective enough to be given to soldiers during extended operations.
One military study showed that soldiers who were subjected to 64 hours of continuous mental work performed better when given adrafinil.
According to researchers, “subjective estimates of mood, fatigue, and sleepiness, as well as objective measures of reaction time, logical reasoning and short-term memory clearly showed better performance” after administering the drug.
It also performed better than amphetamines, and with fewer side effects.2Pigeau R, et al. Modafinil, d-amphetamine and placebo during 64 hours of sustained mental work. I. Effects on mood, fatigue, cognitive performance and body temperature, J Sleep Res. 1995
Improves Concentration And Learning
Adrafinil isn’t only effective for sleep-deprived military officers. It also improves concentration for people in normal day-to-day circumstances. Under normal conditions, ” adrafinil appears to consistently engender enhancement of attention, executive functions, and learning.”
In short, you can focus better on adrafinil.3Battleday RM, Brem AK. Modafinil for cognitive neuroenhancement in healthy non-sleep-deprived subjects: A systematic review, Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2015 4Milgram NW, et al. Oral administration of adrafinil improves discrimination learning in aged beagle dogs, Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2000
A study related to the one above concluded “that adrafinil can enhance aspects of highly demanding cognitive performance in non-sleep deprived individuals.”
It ALSO found an increase in “task-enjoyment.” This is most likely related to the regulation of dopamine and norepinephrine. Task-enjoyment is associated with better performance and higher morale while working.
As you may expect, the more you enjoy doing something, the more likely you are to do it well. This may be one of the most useful aspects of adrafinil for, say, students trying to study difficult material, or professionals working long hours on a tedious project.5Müller U, et al. Effects of modafinil on non-verbal cognition, task enjoyment and creative thinking in healthy volunteers, Neuropharmacology. 2013
Multiple studies suggest that adrafinil can increase working memory in users. “Working memory” can be considered the immediate conscious memory system that you actively use during cognitive tasks.
This effect is most likely linked to adrafinil’s effect on attention and learning. After all, if you can pay better attention, you are more likely to retain information.6Müller U, Steffenhagen N, Regenthal R, Bublak P. Effects of modafinil on working memory processes in humans, Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2004 7Danielle C. Turner, et al. Cognitive enhancing effects of modafinil in healthy volunteers, Psychopharmacology. January 2003
Adrafinil can improve mood for those who take it. This smart drug does interact with dopamine and serotonin, which are two of the major neurotransmitters that regulate feelings of well-being.
So, it makes sense that adrafinil users will feel a little pep in their step when it kicks in, and studies agree that taking adrafinil can consistently improve mood and outlook.
However, it does not do this nearly to the degree of other stimulants such as Adderall, which can trigger full-on euphoria. This makes adrafinil far more sustainable, and far less likely to trigger addiction.
Most anecdotal reports describe the mild lift of adrafinil as more akin of a cup of coffee.8Taneja I, Haman K, Shelton RC, Robertson D. A randomized, double-blind, crossover trial of modafinil on mood, J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2007
Adrafinil has started to gain popularity as an off-label treatment for ADHD. It is especially popular for people looking for an alternative to medications like Adderall.
It’s effects on attention, cognition, and mood are somewhat similar to amphetamines, but with a much, much lower risk profile. There is some evidence that adrafinil may have an extra benefit for people suffering from attention disorders, as opposed to those without.9Lindsay SE, Gudelsky GA, Heaton PC. Use of modafinil for the treatment of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Ann Pharmacother. 2006
Improves Impulse Control
Adrafinil can improve impulse control in people with some addictive behaviors. This is probably related to its effects on ADHD (a condition notorious for its lack of mental control).
Some studies show that adrafinil can significantly curb the desire to drink, do drugs, or gamble among people suffering from those addictions.
We think it’s interesting, although not surprising. A substance that can help you stay on task might also help you avoid destructive impulses that could lead you astray.10George WT, Varghese R, Khawaja IS. New Onset of Compulsive Gambling Associated With Modafinil: A Case Report, Prim Care Companion CNS Disord. 2015 11Mereu M, Bonci A, Newman AH, Tanda G. The neurobiology of modafinil as an enhancer of cognitive performance and a potential treatment for substance use disorders, Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2013
Improves Athletic Performance And Reaction Time
Adrafinil’s benefits are not just mental, but physical as well.
Studies have shown that adrafinil can significantly increase the time until athletes reach exhaustion, allowing them to train harder for longer periods of time. This likely due to it “dampening the sense of fatigue.”
In fact, adrafinil is so effective at this, that it is considered a performance-enhancing drug, and is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (so be careful if you are a competitive athlete!)12Jacobs I, Bell DG. Effects of acute modafinil ingestion on exercise time to exhaustion, Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004
May Treat Some Types Of Cognitive Decline
Some initial studies confirm that patients who suffer from attention processing disorders can see improvement by taking adrafinil. This includes people with schizophrenia, substance abuse-related mental impairment, and neurological disorders.13Mereu M, et al. The neurobiology of modafinil as an enhancer of cognitive performance and a potential treatment for substance use disorders, Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2013 14Ford-Johnson L, et al. Cognitive effects of modafinil in patients with multiple sclerosis: A clinical trial, Rehabil Psychol. 2016 15Morein-Zamir S, Turner DC, Sahakian BJ. A review of the effects of modafinil on cognition in schizophrenia, Schizophr Bull. 2007
One study examined the effects of adrafinil in 304 older patients, aged 45 to 88 years. All these patients had difficulties in attention-concentration, affective troubles, and manifestations of depression, as well as problems with memory, anxiety, inactivity, and sleep.
They found significant improvements in all measures with adrafinil. They reported improvement in vigilance, attention, and concentration within the first month of treatment.
Daily activities improved overall with adrafinil treatment. This trial indicates that adrafinil may have use in patients with a wide variety of cognitive decline symptoms.
Another trial studied adrafinil in 86 hospitalized patients presenting with troubles of wakefulness or vigilance. It showed that patients taking adrafinil were less depressed, less irritable, more patient, more sociable, more interested in their surroundings, more communicative, and adapted more easily to the hospital setting.
In some instances, these improvements were observed as early as day 15.16Dewailly P, Durocher AM, Durot A, et al. Adrafinil et ralentissement du sujet âgé institutionnalisé: De la significativité statistique à la pertinence clinique (résultat d’une étude multicentrique en double aveugle versus placebo), Actual Med Int Psychiatr 1989
Does Adrafinil Help With Anxiety?
There are currently no clinical trials that show adrafinil can help treat anxiety. In fact, some say it’s the opposite. Adrafinil can trigger anxiety or even panic attacks (rare) in some people.
Adrafinil is a stimulant, and like any stimulant, it can create a feeling of unease and edginess. This is especially true for people who are sensitive to overstimulation or have a past history of anxiety disorders.
It can also be caused by taking too high a dose.
Adrafinil is a eurogic, wakefulness-enhancing drug. This is due primarily to its effects on select neurotransmitters as well as brainwaves.
Adrafinil causes a decrease in slow waves in the delta and theta frequency bands, at the same time increasing the very fast beta activity.
Delta and theta waves are associated with deep relaxation, while beta waves are associated with engagement and focus.17Salteu B, Grunberger J, Linzmayer L, Stohr H. Pharmaco-EEG, psychometric and plasma level studies with two novel alpha-adrenergic stimulants CRL 40476 and 40028 (Adrafinil), New Trends Exp Clin Psychiatry 1986
How Adrafinil Works In The Brain
So how does adrafinil work? Well, researchers are not 100% sure yet but have a pretty good idea.
They are still looking at this drug’s specific mechanism of action in the brain, but believe it is primarily related to the inhibition of neurotransmitter dopamine & norepinephrine reuptake.
When you take adrafinil, it crosses the blood-brain barrier and begins working primarily on the hypothalamus and amygdala regions of the brain.
This is distinct from traditional stimulants, which trigger neuron activation throughout the entire brain.
In this way, adrafinil seems to be more specific and precise about the responses it triggers, which may be why it’s side-effects profile is so much lower than similar drugs.
Adrafinil works through a number of different pathways to achieve its effects.
This includes major reward pathways (such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) excitatory transmitters (such as GABA and glutamate) and wakefulness hormones, (such as histamine and orexin).
Adrafinil Potential Side Effects
Adrafinil is safe, but it has a few side-effects to watch out for:
- Increased hear rate
- Trouble sleeping
Adrafinil is a prohibited substance listed as a non-specified stimulant by the world Anti-Doping Agency.
We strive to bring you the most up to date, research-based information about Adrafinil and other nootropics.
Something we missed? Do you use Adrafinil? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
About the author:
Erik Levi is a co-founder of HolisticNootropics.com and a certified holistic nutritional therapy practitioner.
As an NTP Erik takes a nutrition first approach to health. He has worked with many different people to help them use nutrition to optimize their quality of life.
Erik believes that mental health is a physiological process and cognitive enhancement is not something that can be achieved by just taking some pills with good Amazon reviews.
Instead, true cognitive enhancement comes with the right balance of nutrients, movement, and gratitude. Erik continues to stay up to date with the most current nootropic and holistic health research and promises to deliver the best solutions possible.
You can check out his personal health blog/podcast/YouTube Channel all under the name Holistic A-Hole.