What is Modafinil and How Does it Work?
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Modafinil and its precursor (adrafinil) and its R isomer (armodafinil) are classed as central nervous system stimulant drugs.
However this does not really tell us the whole story, since modern science does not yet fully understand how this drug works. Any user of modafinil will probably tell you that this drug certainly doesn’t ‘feel’ like other CNS stimulant drugs. Indeed modafinil is noted for its lack of typical CNS stimulant side-effects, such as elevated blood pressure and heart rate.
This could be accounted for by the fact that whilst modafinil does affect the monoamines (e.g. dopamine and nor-adrenaline), it doesn’t have significant effect on adrenaline, therefore doesn’t induce those effects associated with adrenaline such as sweatiness, elevated heart rate and blood pressure.
Also, modafinil increases the amount of histamine. Now anyone who has taken anti-histamines to control hypersensitivity reactions or prevent travel-sickness will attest to, lowering histamine levels causes drowsiness and over-sleeping.
So by increasing histamine levels (in the brain, not the skin), modafinil is thought to ‘promote wakefulness’.
How Modafinil Works
This author believes there to be some interaction between modafinil and the neurones of the reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS is a network of neurones within the brain stem, thought to be responsible for governing arousal levels (*Note on ‘arousal’ – this refers to excitation levels within the CNS, not libido), postural alertness and regulation of the sleep-wake cycle.
Indeed, in cases of narcolepsy (what modafinil was originally prescribed for), there is a notable lack of activity in the neurones of the RAS. So it seems reasonable to conclude that a reversal of narcolepsy (with modafinil use) would entail increased activity in the RAS.
Anyway, all this aside, modafinil use seems to becoming more and more prevalent in modern society amongst those looking for a ‘wakefulness drug’ that doesn’t have the typically detrimental side-effects associated with Ritalin/Adderall/amphetamines (see related article).
There is some debate about whether modafinil delivers genuine nootropic effects, or whether (much like Ritalin etc) it just makes you ‘get stuff done’ which leads to obvious improvements in learning when compared to ‘slacking off’.
My own personal opinion is that modafinil is just like Ritalin, etc, but WITHOUT the negatives. In other words it is not a genuine nootropic, but neither is it an anti-nootropic. It does not actively facilitate learning (other than motivational effects) but does not degrade the hippocampus in any way due to cortisol levels, etc.
Of course, this author is not recommending that you take modafinil, adrafinil or armodafinil. That would be illegal. However if one were to use such a compound, it would be wise to assess tolerance and individual reaction by starting with a VERY small dose (such as 50mg/ quarter of a 100mg tablet). Side effects, though rare include fatal skin reactions. More common side-effects include:Insomnia, bruxism (jaw clenching) and frequent defecation (don’t ask me why, but it is something I have had reported to me).
In conclusion: Modafinil use is prohibited. Its prescise mode of action is not fully understood. However it can offer very real elevations in motivation and energy and focus, without the side-effects associated with more traditional CNS stimulants.