Stay-Awake Drug Popular With College Kids Has Addictive Potential

By Rachel Cernansky | March 18, 2009 4:54 pm

modafinilModafinil, a drug officially approved to treat narcolepsy but increasingly used off-label to improve cognitive performance, has been shown to carry a greater risk of addiction than was previously thought.

Brain scans of 10 healthy men taking Provigil, the version of modafinil made by the pharmaceutical company Cephalon, showed increased levels of dopamine in the part of the brain involved in pleasure and addiction. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that carries messages from nerve cell to nerve cell or other tissues. Drugs that increase dopamine have the potential for abuse [USA Today]. The demonstrated effect is similar to that known to accompany classically addictive stimulants, and federal health officials hope that the findings will serve as a warning that modafinil may have unexpected and tragic consequences for people who use it simply for a brain boost [LA Times].

Modafinil has been on the market since 1999, but off-label use has been on the rise by healthy people who believe it will boost their mental performance. It was thought to be safer than other stimulant drugs, because scientists believed it did not affect the brain’s dopamine system. This small new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is the first human evidence that a typical dose of modafinil affects dopamine in the brain as much as a dose of Ritalin, a controlled substance with clear potential for dependence [AP]. With almost $1 billion in sales last year, Provigil is Cephalon’s biggest-selling product, and a longer-acting version called Nuvigil, known as armodafinil, is scheduled to be sold beginning in the third quarter of 2009 [Bloomberg].

Lead researcher Nora Volkow said, “It would be wonderful if one could take a drug and be smarter, faster or have more energy. But that is like fairy tales. We currently have nothing that has those benefits without side effects” [AP]. And the research has led to concessions by some scientists who argue that people should have the right to boost their brains with medications if they so choose. Brain scientist Martha Farah said the new study “goes to show that we need a little caution and a little humility when we’re messing around with our brain chemistry” [AP].

Related Content:
80beats: Prescribe Ritalin to Everyone, Provocative Essay Suggests
DISCOVER: What Breaks Down the Asleep/Awake Divide? Narcolepsy may be caused by the body attacking part of the brain.

Image: Flickr / {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester}

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain
  • Uncle Al

    Modafinil/Nuvigil has been shoveled into soldiers, truck drivers, and other “stay awake” occupations. A researcher slipped a quiet four figures by the competition to find something bad must have been frustrated by the low incidence of lethal erythema multiforme, Stevens-Johnson syndrome, toxic epidermal necrolysis, and drug rash with eosinophilia. If it were addictive there would be addicts. If beng killed by the pharma is not screaming sirens, don’t sweat the small stuff.

    Kids are fed straight amphetamine (Adderall) for Attention Deficit Syndrome Disroder male child pain-in-the-butt. How addictive is all the speed you can swallow? It certainly rots their teeth like the front row at a Willie Nelson concert Feed a kid clonidine and get a vegetable. Add on Wellbutrin to obtain a horny vegetable.

    We already have smarter students. Rather than foster brilliance we allocate for its suppression.

  • Egaeus

    Uncle Al, as always, your expert opinion on everything is appreciated….

  • Evan

    I take modafinal and get no pleasure from it. Far from being addictive to me, I find it easy to take or to skip. The main affect I’ve noticed is that after using it, the following night I desperately need sleep on time.

  • http://n/a john

    well uncle al the use of ritalin was popular with the russian and german troops during stalingrad and other sieges, the brits and of course the u.s.government would never consider the affect it might have on americn troops who for the want of a better xpression had been told it was usefull in allowing them to be more alert to enemy activity. ever wonder what happened to the studies that showed how the pain in the butt kid ended up? do you think the relationship between a pain in the butt kid ( by the way uncle al hyperactivity is a non sexually orienting disaorder yes even gasp female children are owners of it) and a totally off the wall demobed ranger might exist. get a life and look around at what you obviously have no clue as to what you rant about.

  • Sandy

    I agree that Provigil is addictive. I recently stopped taking it after 8 years and I am going through withdrawl. I did not stop taking it by choice; my new insurance company won’t pay for it and it costs close to $900/month. I started taking it because I could not stay awake for more than 12 hours a day. Provigil made so I could make it to at least 14 hours a day, and not fall asleep while I was at work. Now I cannot stay awake for longer than 10 hours a day and have fallen asleep at my desk again. I have severe tremors and stiffness, along with pain associated with the stiffness. I have no appetite. That being said, the most addictive drug I take is Paxil. I will never be able to stop taking it because the withdrawl is excruciating.

  • jake the peg

    hey sandy why dont you quit your job, here in the uk we have about 4 million on the sick (in uk u get everything paid for + money when on the sick). I know loads, on it, usually cos they’re lazy. Point I’m making is life is for living, not for surviving!

  • Spudmumma

    As an female adult with ADHD, I study full time and am married with four kids and a clean house – two kids have ADHD (male and female). I believe we have been made who we are, the way we are for a reason, we have great focus in our own interests and are creative people. As it is I ususally require 6 hours of sleep in 24. Why give that up? Our life is exciting enough as it is, craming more stuff in those hours would only make it over the top! I agree with Jake the peg, Life is for embracing. Having just found out about this drug, I have to be honest, if somone gave it to me I would consider taking a drug like this. New research shows loads of magnesium oil is effective to enhancing memory but doesn’t keep us awake – turns out we just need our sleep.

  • Valene Georgales

    Stevens Johnson Syndrome can not be caught. It is an adverse reaction to medication that Manute was given to treat his kidney condition. I am sick of the misinformation being written about how Manute died. SJS is is a nightmare where the immune system turns on itself causing a painful blistering rash.

  • Jenell Plenskofski

    And what do you think about Cognitive enhancer?, I inform you that could improve your memory as you were a kid.

    Just, I liked to feel this poweful again and I must say that it works!, is like your brain need data all time. Do you remember the movie? Simple it’s awesome! Really, I recommend to try it at least one time, then you will have another point of view of your life.

    Visit: Memory Enhancer

    Please inform me when you try it!!


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