Modafinil is one of the original so-called “Smart Drugs” that the entire genre of nootropics is built around.
Its ability to significantly boost energy and focus has driven its popularity amongst many high performers.
Unfortunately, consistent use of this nootropic can induce nasty side effects, including insomnia, metabolic issues, anxiety, headaches, among others.
While we don’t discourage using Modafinil, it is essential to know that more natural alternatives can sustainably achieve similar benefits to Modafinil without the side effects.
In fact, many of the alternatives mentioned in this roundup can benefit both mental and physical health, which over time, can boost your overall wellness and help you reach peak performance.
What Is Modafinil
How Modafinil Works In Your Brain
Although the exact therapeutic mechanism of many eugeroics, including Modafinil, remains unknown, it is hypothesized to change the amounts of certain substances in the brain which participate in the sleep-wake cycle.2Dongsoo Kim, Practical Use and Risk of Modafinil, a Novel Waking Drug, Environ Health Toxicol. 20123Seyed MohammadReza Hashemiana,and Tayebeh Farhadi, A review on modafinil: the characteristics, function, and use in critical care, J Drug Assess. 2020
Modafinil is a weak dopamine reuptake inhibitor. It is also very selective and atypical in terms of its mechanism of action. Due to its characteristics, it is usually indicated to promote wakefulness in adult patients who are diagnosed with narcolepsy and obstructive sleep apnea.4FDA, PROVIGIL®HIGHLIGHTS OF PRESCRIBING INFORMATION, FDA. 20155Seyed Mohammad Reza Hashemiana, and Tayebeh Farhadi, A review on modafinil: the characteristics, function, and use in critical care, J Drug Assess. 2020
Modafinil For High Performance
Some techies have reportedly used “smart” drugs like Modafinil to tweak their brains in order to optimize their performance and get ahead in competitive work environments. Eugeroics are allegedly great “cognitive cocktails” for tech workers and aficionados in Silicon Valley.
Smart Drug, Move- “Limitless”
Modafinil has been touted as a “smart drug” or a “genius pill” that substantially enhances cognitive function. It has been glorified in pop culture, especially in movies such as “Limitless”, as a drug which gives the ability to use one’s brain to its full potential.
Modafinil is typically marketed as tablets for oral use under the brand name Provigil. The most commonly prescribed dosage is 200mg once per day during the morning hours.6Food and Drug AdministrationPROVIGIL®HIGHLIGHTS OF PRESCRIBING INFORMATION, Food and Drug Administration. 2015
Modafinil Side Effects
There are several minor and major side effects of Modafinil. The most common side effects are headache, nausea, loss of appetite, anxiety, dizziness, diarrhea, and rhinitis. However, there have been instances where very serious side effects such as erythema multiforme, Stevens–Johnson syndrome, toxic epidermal necrolysis, angioedema, and multi-organ hypersensitivity have been reported.7Author(s), MEDICATION GUIDE PROVIGIL®, Food and Drug Administration. 20158MedlinePlus, Modafinil, MedlinePlus. 2016
Modafinil Can Be Overstiumlating
Modafinil can cause sympathetic overstimulation which can be hazardous to health in many ways. For instance, it can impair the sleep-wake cycle and circadian rhythm. It can also cause systemic and metabolic effects like hyperglycemia, obesity, and dysregulated neurotransmission.9Manish Kumar Shahnawaz Maqbool, Memory improvement by modafinil at cost of metabolic hazards? A study to decipher the benefits and risks of modafinil in rats, NeuroToxicology. 202010Kimberly R. Urban, Wen-Jun Gao Performance enhancement at the cost of potential brain plasticity: neural ramifications of nootropic drugs in the healthy developing brain, Front. Syst. Neurosci. 2014
Modafinil is most popular as a sleep-evading drug, which is perhaps its most attractive feature, especially for students, corporate professionals, and tech workers.11Thierry Gallopin , Pierre-Hervé Luppi, Francis A Rambert, Armand Frydman, Patrice Fort, Effect of the wake-promoting agent modafinil on sleep-promoting neurons from the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus: an in vitro pharmacologic study, Sleep. 200412Seyed Mohammad Reza Hashemiana, and Tayebeh Farhadi, A review on modafinil: the characteristics, function, and use in critical care, J Drug Assess. 2020 However, chronic indiscriminate use of Modafinil can cause a lot of sleep-associated problems such as sleep paralysis, hypnagogic hallucinations, fragmented sleep, and cataplexy.13Eduardo Lopes Danielle Pereira Nilce Sanny Costada Silva Behrensa Hassanade Almeida Fonsecaa Paola Oliveir Calvancanti Taís Figueiredode Araújo LimaaMarciaPradella-Hallinana Juliana Castroa SergioTufika Fernando Morgadinho SantosCoelho, Cataplexy as a side effect of modafinil in a patient without narcolepsy, Sleep Science. 201414Juan J Poza, Cataplexy worsened by modafinil, Sleep. 2003
Natural Modafinil Alternatives
There are many natural and safer alternatives available for those who wish to avoid Modafinil, but still need something to boost mental alertness and energy. These include different types of nootropics along with some enhanced technological devices. These alternatives offer similar benefits but with minimal side effects.15Daniel J. Kuhman, Keanan J. Joyner, and Richard J. Bloomer, Cognitive Performance and Mood Following Ingestion of a Theacrine-Containing Dietary Supplement, Caffeine, or Placebo by Young Men and Women, Nutrients. 201516I-Chen Li, Li-Ya Lee, Tsai-Teng Tzeng, Wan-Ping Chen, Yen-Po Chen, Young-Ju Shiao, and Chin-Chu Chen, Neurohealth Properties of Hericium erinaceus Mycelia Enriched with Erinacines, Behav Neurol. 201817Len Storlien, Nick D Oakes, David E Kelley, Metabolic flexibility, Proc Nutr Soc. 200418Bret H. Goodpaster, Ph.D. and Lauren M. Sparks, Ph.D., Metabolic flexibility in health and disease, Cell Metab. 201819Shang-Ru Tsai, PhD, and Michael R Hamblin, PhD, Biological effects and medical applications of infrared radiation, J Photochem Photobiol B.201720Michael R. Hamblin, Photobiomodulation for Alzheimer’s Disease: Has the Light Dawned?, Photonics. 201921Lorenza S. Colzato,corresponding author Hayley Barone, Roberta Sellaro, and Bernhard Hommel, More attentional focusing through binaural beats: evidence from the global–local task, Psychol Res. 201722ADAA, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), ADAA. 202123Michael R.Hamblin, Shining light on the head: Photobiomodulation for brain disorders, BBA Clinical. 2016