This article will address Modafinil’s prevalence as a ‘study drug’ - or ‘smart drug’* - with a focus on the use of Modafinil in the UK. We will cover what Modafinil might normally be used for, its legality, and why it’s growing in popularity as a ‘study drug’. Modafinil’s coverage in the British media, and attitudes towards it from students and academic institutions in the UK will also be addressed. Finally, we will present some alternatives to Modafinil, such as ‘natural nootropics’.
At the end of this article, we summarise and share our favourite ‘natural nootropic’.
Modafinil is a eugeroic, or ‘wakefulness promoting agent’. Modafinil is relatively new, having been discovered in the 1970s and used medically since the 1990s. It works by boosting dopamine, histamine, serotonin, orexin and norepinephrine levels in the brain, though exactly how Modafinil does this is not yet known.
Modafinil is prescribed by the NHS to patients suffering from narcolepsy. It may also be used to treat the symptoms of shift work sleep disorders, excessive daytime sleepiness or other disorders that cause fatigue, though the British government advises against this. Modafinil might also be prescribed for ADHD or similar disorders, though this is quite uncommon.
Is Modafinil Legal?
The legality of Modafinil in the UK is something of a grey area. It doesn't seem to be illegal to possess without a prescription. However, in the UK it is illegal to sell to someone who doesn’t have a prescription, thanks to the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act.
As a result, most purchases of Modafinil are made from overseas pharmacies, who operate outside of regulations and might sell adulterated or fake medication. Moreover, there are some fears that possession might be punishable, as the aforementioned Act is vague about what a ‘psychoactive substance’ is.
Why Is Modafinil So Popular As A ‘Study Drug’?
It's been estimated by The Tab that up to 1/5 of all British students have used Modafinil as a study drug, and it seems safe to say that it's the most widely-used study drug in the UK. But, why has it become so popular?
As it is able to keep you awake, Modafinil is used occasionally by students who want to increase the hours they are able to spend studying, particularly at ‘crunch times’ like exams or essay deadlines. It’s also used by many other people for a similar purpose, such as shift workers, pilots, and even the military. And, as mentioned, Modafinil is believed by some to be able to enhance cognition - though this is the subject of some debate.
‘Smart drugs’ are probably being used more by British students due to the increasing pressure on them. Record numbers of people are going to university in the UK according to a 2016 report by UCAS. As a result, many students feel they must overachieve to stand out, which is a large part of the reason why use of Modafinil in the UK as a study drug has become more common.
In addition, one must take into account that university tuition fees in Britain are now as high as £9,000. The money spent on their degree means some British students feel they cannot do poorly, as they will not be able to pay back their debts. Thus, Modafinil use in the UK may also be rising because of students wanting to make sure their investment was worthwhile.
The prevalence of mental disorders among British students may be another factor behind students using 'smart drugs' like Modafinil in Britain. Student mental health appears to be at a nadir, and these issues can be very detrimental to performance at university. As a result, some students might use Modafinil to study intensely when they are able to do so, to counteract unproductive periods due to a mental health problem.
And, more students have many things that distract them in their everyday lives. Working, socialising and many other things can draw attention away from studies, so some students in the UK may use Modafinil to counteract a studying shortfall thanks to life getting in the way.
What Are Modafinil’s Side Effects?
The NHS says that Modafinil use might cause headaches, nausea, nervousness, insomnia, stomach aches, irritability, weight loss, and arrhythmia.
Teva, a manufacturer of Modafinil, say that headaches occur in ‘more than one in ten’ Modafinil users, and the list of Modafinil’s ‘common’ side effects from Teva roughly align with those described by the NHS.
More serious side effects of Modafinil are suggested by the American FDA’s documentation on the drug: Modafinil might cause psychological issues. While rare, there might be instances of depression, anxiety, hallucinations, mania, suicidal thoughts, or aggressive behaviour. Modafinil’s side effects may also include ‘other mental problems’.
The FDA also suggests that skin problems can result from Modafinil use, which is supported by case studies. However, while the FDA reports that rashes ‘could become life-threatening’, there do not seem to be any recorded fatalities directly connected to a dose - or overdose - of Modafinil.
Modafinil's side effects may also include the potential for addiction. Scientists have pointed out that Modafinil increases the levels of dopamine in the brain, in a similar way to many other drugs that lend themselves to abuse. This risk seems very low, but it is a concern expressed by some researchers.
The Mainstream Media's Attitudes Towards Modafinil
The media’s response to increasing Modafinil use in the UK has been mixed, though there is a fair degree of apprehension towards the ‘study drug’. The Times has reported that while many students (and academics) use Modafinil or other drugs to keep up focus, the long-term effects are not certain. The Independent ran a similar article, covering the pitfalls of Modafinil use. They also raised the potential dangers students might face from buying the pills online, like legal problems.
The Spectator, conversely, took a more positive approach. They said that Modafinil may be useful as a cognitive enhancer, and their writer personally used it to some positive effect. However, their commentary on Modafinil ended by voicing concerns over the way in which the drug is commonly acquired: purchases from overseas pharmacies that may be selling “fake, substandard or unapproved” medication.
The Scottish Herald addressed the use of ‘smart drugs’ like Modafinil with a strong emphasis on the side effects they can cause, such as heart palpitations. They also noted that academic stress is a major contributing factor to the use of Modafinil, and that a blanket ban on drugs is not the right approach: they instead advocated education and more informed decision-making by students.
The BBC has also published articles on ‘smart drug’ use, with their reporter labelling it a ‘nightmare’. He experienced rashes, headaches, focusing on the wrong thing and several other issues that disinclined him from using Modafinil again. They later published a piece on Sussex University students' illegitimate purchases of smart drugs.
Students' Thoughts About Modafinil
As in the mainstream media, the attitudes from student media towards Modafinil in the UK are not unified. The Tab in particular has run several articles on ‘smart drugs’, sometimes finding it helpful for studying, and at other times concluding that Modafinil is only as useful as ‘naps and coffee’.
Other student papers have been more critical of Modafinil, and ‘study drugs’ as a whole. Oxford University’s Cherwell paper said “There are significant risks often associated with study drug abuse, namely addiction and permanently impaired cognitive function.” They also highlighted high rates of Modafinil use amongst Oxford students.
Bristol’s Epigram paper was similarly critical of ‘smart drug’ use - inclusive of Modafinil - in the UK. They stated: “There is limited knowledge on the long-term effects of many drugs in humans. Long term use leads to permanent changes in your brain. It is not uncommon for people to let taking smart drugs become normal, and they may become dependent on them to work, or even develop drug seeking behaviours.”
Aside from student media, reviews of Modafinil directly from students are ambivalent. Some students claim Modafinil made them “feel incredible,” and helped them “work head down for 4-5 hours.” Conversely, others say that Modafinil gave them “mood swings,” caused “insomnia” and further problems. They also said that socialisation can become more difficult from taking Modafinil or other smart drugs.
More student reviews can be found, with some people saying they are able to pull all-nighters after using Modafinil, but subsequently suffer from side-effects like an elevated heart rate. Occasionally, students report being “dulled” by Modafinil use, or that it provides misdirected focus onto the wrong subject, as the BBC reported.
Academic Institutions' Opinions & Statements On Modafinil
While few academic institutions in Britain have directly commented on Modafinil and other smart drugs, there is an ambivalent attitude amongst those who do.
Cambridge University is one of the British institutions that has addressed ‘smart drug’ use. They seem to take a cautiously optimistic approach, citing “promising results,” but a lack of further research.
Oxford University has adopted a less positive attitude, introducing ‘study drug’ workshops. These are intended to “explore the reasons why people might start using smart drugs, and suggest safe and sustainable solutions.” In addition, Oxford has published an article entitled “Why ‘smart drugs’ can make you less clever,” indicating an overall negative feeling towards Modafinil in this British institution.
Other British universities have largely been silent on the subject, with few substantial comments from university officials that we have been able to find.
Alternatives To Smart Drugs
If you want to take a 'smart drug', but would also like to avoid the uncertainty and side effects of Modafinil, then consider a ‘natural nootropic’ like BrainZyme.
Natural nootropics are fast growing in popularity among both experienced nootropic and new users. Why? Because they can deliver similar results but by using natural, herbal or protein based ingredients.
BrainZyme, for example, uses Tyrosine, which has been found to boost dopamine in the brain in a similar way to Modafinil. But, as it's from a naturally occurring protein rather than a synthetic pharmaceutical, it can arguably cause less of the side-effects associated with Modafinil.
This article has examined Modafinil in the UK as a study drug. It has done so through examining Modafinil’s uses, its legality in Britain, its popularity and the attitudes expressed towards it by British media, students and academic institutions. The prevailing opinion seems to be a mixed-to-negative one on the use of Modafinil, particularly amongst the mainstream media and students. Of particular note is the lack of long-term research into the effects of the drug, which is a large reason for negative opinions on the drug.
It has also examined alternatives to smart drugs like Modafinil that people in the UK may wish to use, including ‘natural nootropics’ like BrainZyme.
Our Favourite ‘Natural Nootropic’
We believe in BrainZyme, a 'natural nootropic' cognitive enhancer. We believe there has been a scientifically rigorous approach taken to formulate it with a variety of superfood, herbal, amino A, vitamin and mineral ingredients. In this case, 'natural nootropics' can be far more useful to your brain than pharmaceutical based ones.
In evaluating BrainZyme, we like the fact that it can actually help support your concentration and motivation** naturally - and it's also a great plus for us that it's made in the UK, safe, legal and affordable (less than 1/2 the price of a synthetic nootropic like Modafinil). Both media reviews and customer reviews agree that BrainZyme is a great way to help your cognitive performance.
We personally all have tried BrainZyme and found it to be excellent for improving concentration, motivation, mental energy levels - and as such we think it might be the best 'natural nootropic/smart pill' in 2018.
However, we’d always encourage you to do your own research, and find what works for you personally.