What’s the glue that holds your nootropic stack together? For me, that glue has been modafinil. (For those who are unfamiliar with nootropics, they’re drugs or supplements purported to boost brain function.)
I’ve used modafinil for ADHD with good results ever since I decided to discontinue Adderall due to its noxious side effects. And If customs in the US cracks down and starts confiscating my orders from ModafinilCat, I’ll probably revert back to my baseline state: unmotivated, unproductive, and off my game.
What does modafinil bring to the table that other nootropics can’t? The answer lurks somewhere in modafinil’s enhancement of functional neuronal connectivity.
My nootropic stacks have evolved a lot over the years. But recently I’ve made a conscious effort to tweak things more slowly. That way, it’s easier to track how my performance is affected. Trialing too many nootropics at once or making changes too quickly is a common pitfall when starting out with nootropics.
Throughout all these changes in my supplement regimen, modafinil has always been an important constant. Why modafinil?
Nootropics That Pack A Punch
I’ve tested over 50 nootropics, and read hundreds of PubMed journal articles on the subject.
A reoccurring theme in my research is that there are two basic kinds of nootropics.
The distinction I’m about to make isn’t scientifically rigorous, but it is still a convenient way to categorize nootropics.
These two basic types of nootropics are: (1) slow-acting and (2) fasting-acting nootropics. As the term implies, fast-acting nootropics have immediate, unmistakable effects: they’re “heavy-hitting” nootropics.
But slow-acting nootropics aren’t any less important. These tend to be neuroprotective compounds that promote general brain health or take 4-6 weeks for cognitive enhancing effects to manifest. One example is Bacopa monnieri, which promotes dendrite branching and has other beneficial effects on brain morphology that only become apparent after chronic dosing.
But let’s not derail this post, because today I want to talk about modafinil as the ultimate “heavy-hitting” nootropic.
How I Stumbled On Modafinil
I’m someone that’s groggy when I first wake up in the morning. I’m also more apathetic and unmotivated than the average person.
Since my baseline state was never very goal-oriented or driven, I was never particularly productive. I excelled at underachievement. I always felt like I wasn’t reaching my intellectual potential. These traits are all probably different manifestations of ADHD.
In undergrad, a psychiatrist prescribed Adderall for inattention. There’s no question that Adderall was effective at improving my motivation and productivity. At this point, I also had a mundane realization about how focus, drive, ambition – all these dimensions can be manufactured. Some of us have constitutionally low drive. But it doesn’t have to be that way, because dopaminergic drugs, supplements, and nutraceuticals modulate that sense of reward we get from accomplishments.
I also soon recognized that Adderall has some pretty serious downsides. If you’ve ever taken Adderall for any length of time, you’ll probably know where I’m headed with this post.
Adderall gave me headaches, insomnia, and a profound sense of irritability. It also seemed to make me more socially awkward. I also seriously crashed at the end of a day of Adderall use. I’m not talking about a nice kind of crash, where you collapse into bed, melt into your pillow, and instantly fall asleep. I’m talking about crashing with intractable insomnia.
Adderall can also be neurotoxic after prolonged use. Modafinil on the other hand may actually be neuroprotective.
For a while, I renounced psychostimulants and t.i.d.a more wholesome approach (diet, exercise, a less stressful lifestyle).
But eventually, I was forced to confront the fact that we live in a world that rewards type-A temperaments. White-collar office work requires a responsive, souped up reward system. Otherwise, there’s just no way you’re going to be able to stay focused on that Excel spreadsheet you’ve been working on for the last eight hours at your desk job.
I eventually began experimenting with Adderall alternatives, which is the original context for my interest in nootropics.
The Quest For The Adderall Killer
Before trying modafinil, I’d t.i.d.other prescription ADHD medications like Strattera (atomoxetine) and Ritalin (methylphenidate). Strattera had more tolerable side effects but was ineffective. Conversely, Ritalin was effective but carried just as serious side effects as Adderall.
I first ordered modafinil from ModafinilCat sometime in early 2013, and instantly fell in love. My first experience with modafinil was taking it a few hours before my organic chemistry final. It brightened my mood and provided very clean, lucid mental stimulation. I felt like I had more cognitive horsepower at my disposal.
The more modafinil improved my quality of life, the more interested I became in researching nootropics. Here are some findings about modafinil that you might find interesting (I certainly did):
Modafinil Enhances the Communication of Gap Junctions
In general, most psychoactive drugs work by binding a receptor in the brain or by influencing a neurotransmitter (like how Adderall is a dopamine-releasing agent). Modafinil does modulate neurotransmitters and various receptors, but it also enhances gap junctional communication.
When neuroscientists are talking about synapses, they’re mostly referring to chemical synapses. The chemical synapse is just a gap that neurotransmitters randomly diffuse across to send a signal in the nervous system. Compared with electrical signals, the diffusion of neurotransmitters is a slow process.
But gap junctions are specialized connections between two cells, where the inside of one cell is directly coupled to another. It turns out that modafinil increases the expression of connexin 30, a gap junction protein, which enhances the connectivity between brain cells.
Modafinil Has Cognitive Enhancing Effects in Healthy Volunteers
That’s the title of a paper published in the journal Pyschopharmacology by Turner DC et. al. The authors recruited 60 healthy young adult male volunteers, and gave one group modafinil and the other a placebo prior to a battery of tasks that test memory and attention. The outcome? “Modafinil significantly enhanced performance on tests of digit span, visual pattern recognition memory, spatial planning and stop-signal reaction time.”
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Schmaal L, Goudriaan AE, Joos L, et al. Neural substrates of impulsive decision making modulated by modafinil in alcohol-dependent patients. Psychol Med. 2014;44(13):2787-98.|
|2.||↑||Vollala VR, Upadhya S, Nayak S. Enhanced dendritic arborization of hippocampal CA3 neurons by Bacopa monniera extract treatment in adult rats. Rom J Morphol Embryol. 2011;52(3):879-86.|
|3.||↑||Liu X, Petit JM, Ezan P, Gyger J, Magistretti P, Giaume C. The psychostimulant modafinil enhances gap junctional communication in cortical astrocytes. Neuropharmacology. 2013;75:533-8.|
|4.||↑||Turner DC, Robbins TW, Clark L, Aron AR, Dowson J, Sahakian BJ. Cognitive enhancing effects of modafinil in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2003;165(3):260-9.|