‘Smart drug’ Modafinil has recently become popular with the student community, due to its scientifically proven abilities to safely induce wakefulness, cognitive enhancement, and to boost motivation.
It is currently available as a treatment on the NHS for narcolepsy and sleep disorders. However, surveys have suggested that a fifth of university students are using it to enhance performance exam revision, after it was linked to improved cognition, “without the central and peripheral side effects associated with dopaminergic psychostimulants” (Gallopin et al, 2004).
Studies into Modafinil and have concluded that it improves thinking skills, particularly in long complex tasks while reducing error rates. It was also found to help with creativity, planning, decision making, flexibility, learning and memory skills. The studies also found there were few side effects from taking the drug, and no addictive qualities.
Unsurprisingly, there have been concerns raised regarding the ethics of condoning its use. In response to these issues, Professor Guy Goodwin, President of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) states (quoted from The Telegraph, Dec 2016): “it’s the first real example of a ‘smart drug’, which can genuinely help, for example, with exam preparation. Previous ethical discussion of such agents has tended to assume extravagant effects before it was clear that there were any. If correct, the present update means the ethical debate is real, how should we classify, condone or condemn a drug that improves human performance in the absence of pre-existing cognitive impairment? “
Over 1300 studies on Modafinil have been carried out to test its safety and performance levels, all of which demonstrated the drug to be well tolerated by humans. In 17 years of use in over 20 countries, there have been no known deaths linked to this drug.
With the potential to abuse being so low, it is now considered to a safe alternative to energy drinks that students are known to use for wakefulness when studying for exams. Modafinil offers up to 10 hours of peak time, which cannot be achieved using caffeine without the risk of caffeine overdose. (Link to Caffeine blog post)
Effect of the Wake-Promoting Agent Modafinil on Sleep-Promoting Neurons from the Ventrolateral Preoptic Nucleus: an In Vitro Pharmacologic Study PHARMACOLOGY Thierry Gallopin, PhD1; Pierre-Hervé Luppi, PhD1; Francis A. Rambert, MD2; Armand Frydman, MD2; Patrice Fort, PhD1 (2004)
‘Smart drug’ taken by one in four students really does boost performance: http://www.telegraph.co.uk (2016)