We’re working more, sleeping less, and thus becoming more and more drowsy. There’s only so much coffee can be expected to achieve, and increasingly, that means sleepy people from shift workers to college students are turning to Modafinil, the “new Adderall.” But what is it? And is it dangerous?
Modafinil is a eugeroic, or a drug that promotes wakefulness. Used properly, it’s mostly given to narcoleptics, sleep apnea sufferers, and people struggling with shift work sleep disorder in the U.S. Off-label, it’s often used by doctors to help people dealing with fatigue. It’s not generally prescribed to people who don’t need it, and in theory, abusing it is just as illegal as abusing any other prescription drug.
That said, it’s becoming increasingly popular among academics with piles of research to go through who believe it promotes focus and keeps them on task for hours on end. It helps that there’s no particular high and you don’t feel wired. On paper, it’s far more appealing than other drugs you should also not be taking, with the most common side effects being headaches and gastrointestinal problems, and a low risk of dependency. That said, it can cause an allergic reaction in some people and it has interactions with prescription opioids.
Modafinil is also not a drug whose long-term use is fully understood, and there are potential downsides of being too focused. Much like people began taking Adderall recreationally only to discover that high doses were very, very dangerous, it’s not clear just what long-term Modafinil use might do to otherwise healthy people. One thing we do know, however, is that sleep deficits are very bad news no matter how many drugs you try to compensate with. Finally, with any medication, the sentence “No long-term side-effects have been discovered” has a silent “yet” on the end. In short, if it’s a prescription drug, you shouldn’t be taking it unless you got it from a doctor. The rest of us will just have to rely on caffeine.