Modafinil for Studying: A Real-Life Limitless Pill or Just Hype?
Benjamin Martin - 7 April 2021
Ever since the 2011 Bradley Cooper movie Limitless hit the big screens, pop culture has been obsessed with the idea of cognitive enhancement.
On university campuses around the world, it is becoming increasingly common to see students taking what is commonly referred to as nootropics, study drugs or smart pills.
The most common of such substances in the UK is modafinil, a prescription-only medicine prescribed for narcolepsy.
In reality, how useful is it for studying? Is it comparable to NZT-48 from Limitless, or is it just hype?
Our team of nootropic experts looked into this thoroughly, and what they discovered may surprise you.
- Why are students using modafinil?
- Modafinil for studying
- Modafinil’s side effects
- Modafinil’s legality
- Safe and effective alternatives to modafinil
Why are students using modafinil?
The recent growth of the use of modafinil in the UK has several contributing factors.
Many students feel a great deal of pressure and stress while studying. Tuition fees in the UK are higher than ever, and education can be very expensive in other places, too.
As a result, many students are expected to succeed as a fiscal necessity, so they view using modafinil for studying as a way to improve the return from their investment.
In a similar vein, it has become much harder to find rewarding work. In many instances, students need to have very good academic and extracurricular results to get a good job.
This makes some students feel that taking modafinil for studying is worth it to try and excel academically and get more opportunities later.
Many students also have issues with mental health, which makes studying much harder. Using modafinil for studying might be a way for some students with mental health issues to try and catch up if they have an unproductive period stemming from their mental illness.
Additionally, it's quite common for students to struggle when adapting to university.
There are a lot of plates students must keep spinning as there are more and more societal demands placed on young people: socialising, relationships, fitness, jobs and other factors.
This can make some students overstretch themselves, so they feel the need to take modafinil to stay on top of their university work.
Finally, more people may use modafinil for studying because it’s easy to become distracted from your studies.
Constantly having access to a phone, television and the internet makes procrastination an ever-present problem. It can make people fall behind in their studies, so they feel they must use modafinil for studying to catch up.
Modafinil for studying
Modafinil is scientifically classed as a eugeroic, which means its primary effect is to promote wakefulness. It is not strictly a stimulant, but its effects are similar to many stimulants.
This means that many students use it as a wakefulness aid. Students working in the days before exams or deadlines might feel the need to cram study into the night to improve their grades.
According to some reports, modafinil can be used as a cognitive enhancer, which is why many students opt to use it for their studies.
The Guardian called modafinil the “world’s first safe smart drug.” Some people have reported that it improved problem solving and made boring tasks more pleasurable to get through.
However, the NHS reports that modafinil was no more effective than a placebo when tested in this capacity.
Modafinil’s side effects
According to the NHS, modafinil’s side effects include headaches, nausea, nervousness, insomnia, stomach aches, irritability, weight loss, and arrhythmia.
One of modafinil’s manufacturers, Teva, say that headaches occur in “more than one in ten” modafinil users. Their list of modafinil’s common side effects roughly aligns with those described by the NHS.
The American FDA sheds light on the more serious side effects of modafinil. Their documentation suggests that modafinil can cause psychological issues.
These are rare, but according to the FDA, modafinil may be connected with depression, anxiety, hallucinations, mania, suicidal thoughts, or aggressive behaviour.
Rather nebulously, modafinil’s side effects may additionally include "other mental problems."
Skin problems are another issue that may result from modafinil use, which is supported by case studies and the FDA.
The FDA reports that rashes ‘could become life-threatening’, but from our research, there do not seem to be any recorded fatalities resulting from a modafinil-induced rash.
Watch: Modafinil side effects - detailed breakdown
Some scientists are concerned that modafinil may have the potential for addiction. Researchers believe that modafinil increases the levels of dopamine in the brain, which is part of what makes a drug addictive.
This risk seems low, but it is a concern expressed by some researchers. It's also worth bearing in mind that most studies undertaken are over short periods - longer-term addiction might be a problem that's thus far gone undiscovered.
Is modafinil legal in the UK?
British law has placed modafinil in a bit of a legal grey area. It isn’t explicitly illegal to possess without a prescription, and punishment for possession is rare.
However, modafinil is illegal to sell to people who haven’t been prescribed it, following the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act.
Additionally, the aforementioned Act is vague about what a ‘psychoactive substance’ is, meaning that possession of modafinil may become punishable by law.
Because of this, most people who use modafinil off-label purchase it from overseas pharmacies. These businesses operate outside of British regulations, so they may be selling adulterated or fake medication that may be ineffective, or cause an undesired reaction.
Conclusion & our recommended modafinil alternative
If you want to take a study drug but would like to avoid the uncertainty and side effects of modafinil, you should consider a natural nootropic.
They can deliver similar results but by using natural, herbal or protein-based ingredients. For a modafinil alternative to be effective, it must meet the following criteria:
- Better value for money than modafinil
- Equally or more effective than modafinil
- Fewer side effects than modafinil
- Legal to use over the counter
There are great alternatives available that meet all these requirements and cost less than modafinil.
Brainzyme Focus Pro, 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.
Find out more about why we think Brainzyme is the best modafinil alternative here.
Try this modafinil alternative
- 100% plant-powered
- Provides similar results
- No side effects
- Costs less than half
About the author
Benjamin Martin is a nootropic and brain supplement enthusiast who has tried every type of performance-boosting supplement under the sun. At Brainzyme, he uses his expertise to produce educational content for the Nootropics UK and Brain Supplements UK blogs.
Based in Edinburgh, Benjamin loves spending his free time in nature whenever he gets the chance.