SEP 10, 2019 3:33 PM PDT

Does Modafinil Really Increase Brain Function?

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Modafinil, often sold under the name 'Provigil', is a wakefulness-promoting drug used to treat excessive sleeping in conditions such as narcolepsy and obstructive sleep apnea. However, some also use it as a cognitive enhancer to improve focus, memory, and executive functioning (ALZ Discovery: 2019). But how does it work? And does it really boost brain function? 

Exactly how modafinil works is unknown. However, it seems to have a significant impact on several neurotransmitters, including serotonin and glutamate, as well as the brain's histamine systems, all responsible for regulating mood, learning, and memory. In particular, it is thought to directly alter the concentration of catecholamines, such as adrenaline and dopamine, in the brain in a way thought to enhance executive functioning and focus (Minzenberg: 2008).

Despite these supposed effects, however, studies show that the real effects of modafinil are inconsistent and vary according to the user's prior health. While a systematic review of studies measuring the effects of drug effects between 1990 and 2014 on healthy individuals demonstrated increased performance in demanding tasks, a more recent study contradicted these findings. In this study, researchers found that although the drug may have helped the students complete non-demanding tasks, few positive effects were seen on more demanding tasks such as studying (Fernandez: 2015).

Despite this, more positive results have been found among people with preexisting health issues- in this case: remitted depression. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study from 2017, researchers monitored 60 participants either on a single dose of 200mg of modafinil, or a placebo, for changes in their cognitive function. Drawing conclusions from both neurocognitive tests and the participants' subjective feelings during the trial, the researchers found that the modafinil group performed significantly better on tests for episodic memory and working memory. Despite these improvements, however, they found that modafinil had little effect on planning or sustained attention (Kaser: 2017). 

As most of these trials tested only for a single dosage of modafinil over a short period, further research is necessary to establish more concrete results for both healthy individuals and those with preexisting conditions (Loria: 2016). Due to a lack of funding for cognitive enhancement for healthy people, however, evidence on its benefits, at least for healthy individuals, may continue to come from either smaller-scale studies or anecdotal evidence.

To conclude, it appears that although modafinil may increase certain aspects of cognitive functioning, its results in healthy people vary and appear stronger for those with preexisting issues. Despite some awareness of the neurological processes the drug affects and interacts with, how exactly it impacts the brain is still unknown. Thus, even though anecdotal evidence may still encourage modafinil usage for its cognition-enhancing effects, more research is needed to understand to what extent it actually works. 

 

Sources

 

ALZ Discovery 

Minzenberg, MJ et al.: Pub Med 

Fernandez, A et al.: Pub Med

Kaser, Muzaffer et al: US National Library of Medicine 

Battleday, RM et al.: US National Library of Medicine 

Loria, Kevin: Business Insider 

About the Author
  • Science writer with keen interests in technology and behavioral biology. Her current focus is on the interplay between these fields to create meaningful interactions, applications and environments.
You May Also Like
JUN 07, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Repurposing An Antibiotic To Defeat a Deadly Superbug
JUN 07, 2020
Repurposing An Antibiotic To Defeat a Deadly Superbug
A recent study published in Nature Microbiology describes how an old antibiotic used for Tuberculosis can be powerful tr ...
JUN 18, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
FDA Cancels Emergency Approval for Hydroxychloroquine
JUN 18, 2020
FDA Cancels Emergency Approval for Hydroxychloroquine
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided to cancel emergency use authorization for Hydroxychloroquine and C ...
JUN 17, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Treating Atherosclerosis
JUN 17, 2020
Treating Atherosclerosis
The two main proponents for atherosclerotic plaque and inflammation is an increase in cholesterol and macrophage presenc ...
JUL 19, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Study Finds Turmeric has Antiviral Effects
JUL 19, 2020
Study Finds Turmeric has Antiviral Effects
Researchers from the Wuhan University of Engineering in China have found that curcumin, a natural compound found in turm ...
JUL 25, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
New Method for Targeting The Herpes Virus
JUL 25, 2020
New Method for Targeting The Herpes Virus
A new way for treating the human herpes viruses was recently discovered by researchers at Lund University in Sweden. The ...
AUG 07, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Excipients: "Inactive" Drug Components Could Be Functioning Beyond Their Scopes
AUG 07, 2020
Excipients: "Inactive" Drug Components Could Be Functioning Beyond Their Scopes
Excipients are chemical additives to medications. They are incorporated into all kinds of pharmaceuticals to fulfil ...
Loading Comments...