Modafinil is a drug that was designed to help you deal with your sleep disorder – specifically, with narcolepsy – but the drug is also taken by many healthy people who want to enhance their cognitive capabilities. Seen as the first smart drug that’s reasonably safe to use at least for short periods of time, the drug is widely available online to anyone looking for a focus and creativity boost.
Narcolepsy is a brain disorder that can cause a person to fall suddenly asleep at inappropriate times or to experience sleepiness and fatigue. Modafinil is supposed to help with that, and those people who suffer from the disorder need a prescription for it.
However, the drug can also be purchased online and according to recent studies, the drug has many positive effects including, improving attention, learning and memory and increasing “fluid intelligence,” or the brain’s capability of solving problems and thinking creatively.
“Modafinil seems to be the first ‘smart drug’ that is reasonably safe for healthy people,” co-author of a review of 24 of the most recent Modafinil studies Anna-Katharine Brem told The Guardian.
The drug isn’t addictive, she added, but that doesn’t mean that long-term use might not have any adverse effects – however, long-term effects have yet to be studied.
“It would be difficult to get ethical approval to test the effects of taking this drug in the long term, Brem added.
It’s not clear how the drug operates inside the brain, but a theory says that Modafinil increases blood flow to brain areas that are responsible for attention and learning. The drug might also enhance brain activity in areas thought to act as conductors, The Guardian notes, areas that manage memory, reasoning and problem-solving.
“We’re not saying ‘go out and take this drug and your life will be better’,” said Brem. “It is still unlicensed for healthy people – but it is time for a wider debate on how to integrate cognitive enhancement into our lives. We need to explore the ethics, and scientist, politicians and the public need to be involved.”
The drug, however, is only licensed to treat narcolepsy, and it’s not clear whether pharmaceutical companies that make Modafinil versions will want to extend licensing to exam doping.