One of the most popular prescription drugs of the past decade, modafinil has an interesting history. Developed in France in the late 1980s as an experimental treatment for narcolepsy, modafinil was approved for prescription use by the FDA in 1998. But it was not until the mid-naughts that the drug truly caught on in America. What happened?
Marketed as a sleep-disorder medication by pharmaceutical maker Cephalon and sold under the brand-name Provigil, sales of modafinil were just $25 million in 1999. Eight short years later (2007), revenues topped $800 million — making it more profitable than Viagra or Adderall. Although sales would later decline due to generic erosion, Provigil remains the most popular wakefulness-promoting agent (or eugeroic) sold by prescription. Ironically, it is the fact that modafinil is primarily used off-label that is behind its stunning success in the States Modafinil Nederland.
Vastly superior to amphetamines and amphetamine-like stimulants because it does not result in addiction, jitteriness, crashing, and other adverse effects, modafinil was famously used by U.S. soldiers who had to stay awake for days on end when fighting in Iraq. Tales of its efficacy soon reached the home front, and sales of Provigil steadily rose.
Limitless and beyond
In the 2011 movie Limitless, a character played by actor Bradley Cooper exponentially increases his brainpower by taking an experimental nootropic drug called NZT-48. Because art often imitates life, there is compelling evidence that the fictional brain booster was based on modafinil. How do we know?
By the time the movie was in production, modafinil was a poorly-kept secret of the rich and powerful. Wildly popular on Wall Street, it was said to increase concentration, mental acuity, and productivity. Labelled a smart drug (or nootropic) because it reputedly improved one or more aspects of cognitive function, it was the stuff of legend for anyone who wanted to get ahead. It is no wonder the prescription drug can be found in the medicine cabinets of one-percenters the world over. But what about the rest of us?
Limiting the limitless
Even though new generic versions have pushed the price of modafinil down in recent years, it remains an extremely expensive prescription medication. How much? A recent, thorough search of online pharmacies returned an average price of between $10 and $20 per pill!That’s about five times as expensive as Viagra and Cialis pills! Not surprisingly, most people of average means cannot afford modafinil… But they can afford adrafinil!
What is adrafinil?
Remember when we said that modafinil was developed in France in the late 1980s? What we didn’t mention was adrafinil was developed first and that modafinil is its primary metabolite, which means that the two drugs have nearly identical pharmacological effects. The only notable difference is that adrafinil is a prodrug that must be metabolized in vivo, or in the body. In other words, it take a little bit longer (typically forty-five minutes to one hour) to start working. Oh, and it also costs a fraction of the price! Why?
Because adrafinil is currently unregulated in the United States, increased competition has pushed the price of drug down to only about a tenth that of modafinil. Furthermore, both drugs are generally used for the same reason: to improve mental acuity. Yes, some folks do take them to treat sleep disorder, but recent surveys have found that about 90 percent of sales are for off-label use. Translation: People are buying them as smart drugs, not as medicine. Why? Because they work!
Although it inspired the drug that inspired the fictional nootropic in Limitless, adrafinil is far from a miracle drug. In fact, the term smart drug is a bit of a misnomer. You see, adrafinil doesn’t actually boost your brainpower by letting you access more of your gray matter. Instead, it helps you clear your mind by improving wakefulness, alertness, and vigilance. The end result of these actions is an increased ability to focus on challenging mental work, which therefore seems less daunting and exhausting.
There is compelling evidence that adrafinil may improve some aspects of working memory, such as pattern recognition, digital manipulation, and digital span. Once again, these improvements are most likely the result of the drug’s ability to reduce the impact of distractions caused by drowsiness.
As we mentioned, adrafinil is used primarily by healthy individuals as to improve wakefulness — often when they should be sleeping. But it is also used by people that suffer from chronic diseases and conditions that deprive them of the energy they need to live their lives. We know, for example, that patients with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Parkinson’s disease use adrafinil to treat sedation and fatigue.
Because adrafinil has been shown to improve alertness as well as mood, it is sometimes used to treat mental and neurodegenerative disorders. Patients with anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar depression, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, alcohol and drug dependence may benefit from the wakefulness-promoting agent. Why might it work?
All of the aforementioned illnesses and disorders have been linked to inattention, low energy, and fatigue. Since adrafinil has been shown to alleviate those symptoms, it stands to reason that it may have a positive effect on a user’s mood and mental outlook.
A surprising benefit that researchers cannot explain, several studies have found that adrafinil may suppress the appetite and promote weight loss. One small clinical trial found that those that took the drug decreased their daily caloric intake by 18 percent compared to placebo. A simple explanation for this phenomenon could be that people tend to burn more calories when they have more energy, which adrafinil is proven to provide.