Modafinil is an incredible drug – one that continues to fascinate and prove useful to me as time goes by. This post is a collection of thoughts on modafinil – mainly observations of its effects, some additional suggestions for best use, and modafinil pros and cons.
Generally I think the variation that is possible inside human consciousness is fascinating and I am always interested in learning about and comparing between different people’s experiences. So a post like this is my way of contributing to that ongoing discussion.
Important disclaimer: Modafinil is a scheduled substance in certain countries, and may require a prescription to obtain. Please be sure to understand the legalities in your country before ordering anything online.
Modafinil is incredible, it’s powerful as fuck, it will make your best and most productive ‘normal’ work days look like your worst work days…
But it’s definitely not all sunshine and rainbows either – there are some definite potential downsides (what you might call ‘side-effects’) which we’ll get into in a minute.
Side effects are, in my opinion at least, well worth the benefits though – which is why I continue to use the stuff.
I can think of a few possible explanations for this:
1) Modafinil, when used repeatedly over time and independent of what you do while you’re on it, does cause permanent changes the brain.
2) The above is partially true – but it depends what you do while you’re on it.
Here we go:
Modafinil feels like it permanently makes you smarter
It feels like taking modafinil has permanently changed my brain and made me smarter. Now whether modafinil really does this or not – I don’t know – but it is the way it feels to me.
During the day I take modafinil there is a massive change in mental state, but often for one or even two days after it still feels like my brain is working faster – I am mentally sharper and more ‘on it’.
What’s more, in the time between now and when I first took modafinil over two years ago, it feels like my day-to-day brain state has become (only very slightly) more similar to the modafinil brain state.
writing for example – and this reinforces certain associations in your brain between the activity of writing and the mind state of modafinil.
The more you take modafinil and write, the more you reinforce these neural pathways and the more accessible and ingrained in your brain they become.
So now when you perform this activity in a normal conscious state, it feels a bit more like the modafinil brain state.
3) There is no real difference in my thinking or my brain and it’s all just my imagination.
4) My brain has changed since I started taking modafinil, but for reasons completely unrelated to the drug. Correlation here does not mean causation.
All of these are possible, but number 2 seems most likely to me. This is, however, based on my subjective experience and I have a very limited understanding of how the human brain works. Many of you reading probably understand it much better than I do (post a comment, if you do).
Number 4 seems second most likely – if I’m not mistaken, the brain doesn’t stop developing until we’re 25, so it would make sense to be getting smarter during this time. I think this is especially true if you engage in activities that are intellectually stimulating.
So this is interesting to consider, for me at least. And as far as I can tell, as of yet there is no way to know which is the right answer.
And again, very importantly, I am not making any claims about modafinil actually changing your brain. That’s just the way it feels to me.
Modafinil compromises the immune system
This is an unpleasant side effect – one that I haven’t heard people talk about much but that is undoubtedly true for me.
Modafinil runs your system VERY HARD and it does so for 16+ hours – in my experience this can have a noticeably taxing effect on the immune system.
Often after being awake for 18-20 hours straight I’ll start to feel like I’m getting a cold – usually this goes away after sleeping but the effects are certainly there.
The human body is not really meant to be under the influence of heavy stimulants for long hours – and undeniably modafinil puts everything into overdrive (which is why it’s so effective) but it can also take its toll.
Now it may not be just the drug itself, but rather the lessened amount of sleep you tend to get on it – or it may be a combination of the two.
This is certainly a downside and what you might consider a “negative side effect” of modafinil.
This is why I recommend not taking modafinil multiple days in a row, and not more than a few times a month or at most once a week.
This also depends on the individual – people are prescribed modafinil and take it every day and they are fine – so you just have to find what works for you.
Modafinil makes it easy to get ‘focused’ on something that’s not actually important
You often hear about the benefit of “increased focus” – modafinil does provide this, and increased focus is a massive benefit – but of course it does depend what you’re focused on.
Most of the time I can stay on task, and this is not a major thing. But I’ve noticed that when I take modafinil sometimes there’s a tendency to get distracted (very intensely distracted) by things that are only remotely related to what I’m supposed to be doing.
This is especially true when you have the entire internet right in front you – but it can be easy to go down a deep rabbit hole of information without actually doing anything useful.
I remember one time I was meant to be working but somehow ended up becoming intensely interested in the Wikipedia page for Magic Johnson. I read through at least half the page before realizing what I was doing, and I don’t even like basketball.
This is because on modafinil, things that would otherwise not be interesting or only mildly interesting have the potential to suddenly become fascinating.
Plus you’re also able to consume and digest information much more quickly than usual and this makes it a lot more fun.
So.. plan out your day, check yourself to stay on task – and don’t get lost in some corner of the internet, over-researching or over-reading when you should be doing your work!
If you’re young [18 or under] you do not need to take Modafinil
People might say:
What do you mean “young”?
And while that’s true.. I’ve received questions from guys 18 or even younger asking about modafinil.
So – I do understand. Life as a teenager is often kind of shitty and it can seem like a lot to juggle and manage at the time.
You want to get things moving – moving faster – and it makes sense to look for ways to make that happen.
You want freedom AND the responsibility that comes with it – but most people around you, and society more generally – doesn’t want to give it to you yet.
This is frustrating, because you’re willing to put the work in but you haven’t even had the chance yet.
In many ways, simply not enough TIME has passed for you to accomplish the things you want.
So, you want to speed things up.
I get it.
I turned 20 less than 4 years ago – I still remember pretty well.
(And things do get better as time goes by, trust me)
But I do not think you should take modafinil if you are under 18.
It’s not so much that there might be harmful physical side effects – although there might be.
It’s for any (and all) of these reasons:
1) If you’re under 18 you do not need modafinil
2) If you use modafinil at a young age, you risk becoming dependent on it to work hard
3) If you don’t develop a good work ethic first (before using external substances) you will always lose to people who do
Now some of you will disregard this and use modafinil anyway – obviously in the end you can do whatever you like.
But I really do think it is worthwhile to convince you of this – so hear me out first:
If you are under 18 you do not need modafinil
If you are not even in university/college yet, there is no reason at all to take modafinil.
The truth is that high school – even combined with all the other things you have going on in life – is just not that hard. It may seem that way now, but it is most definitely NOT difficult compared to what you will be doing later. This is especially true if you are ambitious.
High school is ultimately designed so that everyone can pass – it is the ‘bare minimum’ to be a functioning member of society.
Even if you are trying to get high, high grades and get into a top university, you can still accomplish this with hard work alone and without any prescription drugs.
This is even more true if you know you are ‘smart’ – but you’re still struggling to do as well as you could, or think you should, in high school. If this is you… then my tough-love advice is that you just need to work harder.
You may have been coasting on your natural intelligence up to this point, and are just now realizing that it won’t be enough to excel when grades really start to matter.
This is fine and probably actually a good thing – but the best time to learn how to work hard is NOW.
Which brings us to point #2:
It’s not worth the risk of becoming dependent on modafinil (or anything else) to work hard
It is certainly possible to use modafinil to get things done in the short-term, but in doing so you risk developing a dependency in the long term.
One thing you definitely DO NOT want to do at a young age is develop a dependency on anything – this is a surefire way to screw over your ‘future self’. Because eventually, at some point later down the line, you will have to deal with that dependency (“fix it”) and it’s much better to just not develop it in the first place.
Ultimately when you put in the work to handle your life (without external tools – just you) you will build the character virtues that make you successful later – and this is far more valuable than any immediate result you get from taking a pill.
Pretty much everything good in my life so far (good grades, good body, freedom to travel, online income) has come from developing a good work ethic. It’s one of the most important things you can do and will help improve every area of your life.
(I really mean it – I understood this pretty early on, but the earlier you realize it the better)
It’s way more important than the short-term effects of any nootropic or substance – no matter what you read online or how tempting it may be.
While drugs are a good (and often great) tool to supplement your work ethic, they do not (and actually cannot) replace the real thing
Which leads us to point 3:
If you rely on external substances rather than personality and character traits – you will always lose to people who do have those traits and have access to the same substances you do.
While study drugs undoubtedly give you an edge, you are not the only person in the world with access to these substances.
Far from it – and once you get to college or university, depending on how competitive your school is, significant numbers of students will be taking this stuff too.
I would go so far as to say that many students – and certainly the ones who are serious about their grades – will be using some form of nootropic.
It’s like the top levels of the Olympics – everyone is on the same PEDs, and they all cancel each other out. Drugs are no longer a real factor in the competition.
(What’s more, as an aside – guys in highly competitive work environments will say the exact same things about college as I’ve said here about high school. Namely that it is extremely easy compared to what you’ll do later. So if you know you’re going into a difficult field (finance, law, etc.) then keep that in mind too.)
Anyway the point is this:
A person with highly developed discipline, knowledge of self, good work habits and time management skills PLUS nootropics will ALWAYS beat a person who hasn’t developed these areas – no matter how much modafinil, caffeine, adderall, or any other substance they take.
I don’t even really consider myself a “competitive type” or like competition that much – I prefer to just do my own thing. But the truth is that in school, business, and likely your career – you will be competing against everyone else who also wants to succeed. That’s just the reality of the systems we live in.
So to recap, I do NOT think you should take modafinil if you are 18 or under for these 3 reasons:
1) You don’t need it yet (Save it for harder stuff later on)
2) You want to avoid developing a dependency on anything external to work hard
3) If you want to be competitive, develop a good work ethic first and then supplement it with external substances. If you don’t do this, you will lose to people who do.
Modafinil Effects (What does it actually feel like?)
In discussing the effects of modafinil, you often hear things like “increased focus and concentration” “better productivity” or “increased mental alertness and wakefulness”.
I often say these things too – they are accurate and true – but they’re also kind of vague.
So what does it actually feel like?
It’s easier to get things done
Normally when you work there is an occasional (or frequent) “pull” of distraction – the urge or impulse to do something else. Usually this pull is towards some fun activity that is not work, or some compulsive behaviour like checking email or social media.
On modafinil the ‘pull’ of distraction is almost completely nonexistent.
It is literally like something is forcing you, from the inside, to do the things that you know you need to do. Almost like the feelings you have towards your tasks and priorities has been re-arranged – what you know you need to do intellectually becomes 100% aligned with what you feel you need to do emotionally and physically.
You feel ‘switched on’
The term ‘alertness’ is best described as imagining that your brain is ‘switched on’. Imagine your normal brain is a like moderately well-light room – taking some modafinil is like flipping the switch for an intense surge of power and lighting this room up like a football stadium at night.
This is great and a supercharged system provides you all kinds of benefits – but you also cannot turn the electricity off. Not until the drug wears off, 16+ hours later. So it feels like your brain and nervous system is on full “GO mode” this entire time, which can sometimes start to feel taxing or draining.
This is the best analogy I can think of – imagine lots and lots of power being shot through a machine – that’s what your body and brain is like when you take modafinil.
Heightened mental and physical awareness
You know when you go to the movies and the previews are playing, and then when it’s time for the real movie to start the curtains widen to reveal the full screen? That’s what it feels like with both your mental and physical awareness when you take modafinil.
Driving on modafinil is a bit weird because you are finely tuned in to everything happening on the road and around you as you pass by.
Workouts tend to be very, very good with a strong mind-muscle connection – provided you remember to stay hydrated throughout the day. You tire less quickly and it’s possible to have workouts that are both more intense and longer lasting than usual.
Mental pattern recognition is heightened – you will see connections between things that you wouldn’t normally. You will also get more random ideas than usual – and you may come up with solutions to problems that seem incredibly simple but that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. (I wouldn’t really say that modafinil encourages ‘creativity’ in the traditional sense, however.)
There is quite noticeable time distortion on modafinil. For ordinary, everyday activities time feels like it’s going much slower than usual. But when I’m working or in a ‘flow’ state – time feels like it’s going much faster.
You’re fast – while the rest of the world is slow
On modafinil you really feel like you’re in the “fast lane” of life while everyone else is in the slow one.
This mainly applies to mental processes here, but it can carry over into what you’re doing physically. You are just sped up in everything you do and it can often seem like the surrounding world is moving at a snail’s pace.
You are working faster than everyone, thinking faster than everyone, you are being jetted ahead by an external (internal) force, where as everyone else is just meandering along at a regular speed.
I’ve particularly noticed that this affects conversations with people –
You may experience this to some degree already – when you have conversations with people you are kind of just waiting for the other person to say what they’re going to say, because you already have a pretty good idea of what that’s going to be.
When you take modafinil this is amplified X1000 because your brain is making connections so much more quickly – and it can feel like you’re waiting for ages and ages for someone to get to the point during conversation.
For this reason (and many others) when I take modafinil I usually avoid talking to people – even more than usual.
Good mood with occasional euphoria
Stimulants have a mood-enhancing effect on most people – on modafinil my mood is generally very good. Occasionally I will get awash with a euphoric feeling – hyped up on life in general with incredibly positive projections for the present and into the future. The fact that I am usually getting a ton of high quality work done definitely contributes to this as well.
The degree of mood enhancement and/or euphoria you experience will likely by down to your individual disposition – personally I tend to respond very well to stimulants. So if caffeine makes you feel good – modafinil likely will too.
Impatience/Easily Annoyed/Let’s Goooooooo
This may seem contradictory to the above but it’s only in certain specific situations –
In ‘normal waking consciousness’ I usually find certain things mildly irritating:
- Waiting in long lines
- Driving in busy traffic
I can be patient if I need to be… but usually I’d prefer not.
And while I don’t like these things ordinarily, on modafinil they drive me absolutely fucking crazy.
Anything that involve waiting… waiting for something or someone else in order to do what you need to do. On modafinil the annoyance is multiplied X1000 and you really want to work at your own (fast) pace.
So I would highly advise that you take modafinil on days where you are not beholden to other people’s schedules very much or at all if possible.
And don’t take it if you know you are going to be waiting for something – waiting in line, waiting for an appointment, etc. The time will feel like it’s inching along at a snail’s pace and you will have a hard time not going mad.
Mindfulness is a lot harder than usual
Being ‘mindful’ refers to a state where you are engaged with your present, physical experience rather than the voice in your head.
That voice, for me on modafinil, is much louder and more intense than usual.
This isn’t as bad as it might be, because the thoughts are almost always positive with very few negative thoughts – but it’s still quite a noticeable difference.
The ‘mind’ voice – like everything else – has been amplified and turned up a notch so it’s much more difficult to stay present and aware of the fact that ‘you’ are not that voice. You could also say that modafinil makes you more egotistical, because the ego is a product of the mind.
This is generally OK because it’s worth it for the other benefits – but by the end you may begin to feel tired of being hammered by your own accelerated and intense thoughts.
Regarding ‘wakefulness’ – you may not behave differently but you do feel different
Keeping with the ‘lights in a room’ analogy from above – after being awake long enough on modafinil, you will want to fall asleep, but there is some mechanism in your brain keeping the lights on – and you literally cannot turn them off.
This is the ‘wakefulness’ aspect of the drug, and it is very powerful. In one study fighter pilots were given modafinil in 100mg doses and showed very little drop in performance after being awake for 37 hours straight.
This is absolutely incredible, and it certainly says something about the effectiveness of the drug. But while those pilots may not have behaved very differently to the outside observer – they most certainly felt different on the inside.
The study goes on to say, “One potential drawback of modafinil was that, at least at the 100-mg dose level, the drug’s effects were not subjectively salient.” So while the pilots were still performing to a high standard from the outside, they could not tell this from the inside, i.e. they probably felt like shit.
I’ve taken modafinil with very little sleep and definitely felt it – even if I may not have behaved any differently. So you can use modafinil to get effectiveness in the outside world with little/no sleep.. but you will still feel it on the inside. In these cases and at a certain point – it sort of just becomes a matter of what you’re willing to put yourself through.
Read next: Your Top 20 Modafinil Questions Answered