Modafinil: 'Limitless' Pill (NZT-48) Or Simply The Best Nootropic?

NZT in 'Limitless', close cousin of modafinil

In the 2011 movie ‘Limitless', Bradley Cooper takes a pill called NZT-48 that completely changes his life. Suddenly, he could use ‘the entirety of his brain’. He had immaculate focus, perfect comprehension, became infinitely more creative, was  supremely charming, and his pattern-recognition skills went through the roof. In a matter of days, he changed his life around.

Obviously, there exists no such thing as NZT-48. Some people have found something similar though and it's often called the 'real-life Limitless Pill'.

Meet Modafinil.

What Is Modafinil?

Now, first things first. I hate to break it to you, but taking this pill will not guarantee success or immediately result in you turning your life around. It won’t allow you to learn French in three days, nor will it magically help you make friends who’ll take you on a trip to a beach-side mansion. If you do get invited though, hit me up! I love mansions.

Like many others, I watched ‘Limitless’ and wanted to get my hands on this super-pill. A couple of months later, I read a blog post about ‘The Real-Life Limitless Pill’. The term ‘modafinil’ was dropped halfway through and I decided to investigate. A couple of years later and dozens of tablets later, I can safely state that Modafinil is awesome — if a little risky to use.

First produced in 1986 by a French firm, Modafinil was developed as an experimental treatment for narcolepsy. With great success, I might add. In 1998, it came to the USA. In the USA, Modafinil (usually sold under the name Provigil) is approved by the FDA for use by narcoleptic patients who have trouble staying awake. It’s also prescribed for shift workers who are forced to stick to unusual sleep schedules.

But let’s be honest, that’s not why you’re interested in Modafinil. Modafinil has become known for its nootropic effects and ability to increase alertness, concentration. and productivity. Lately, the US Air force has done experiments with Modafinil, enabling pilots to stay alert and mission-ready for up to 48 hours. What’s more, a ton of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, bloggers, and high-power executives have recently started experimenting with the stuff. In short, a lot of high-achievers are using it to gain an edge.

Right now, it’s classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance under US law, meaning you’re not allowed to bring it into the country without permission. Now, I’m not going to tell you to break the law. However, if you are interested in trying it for yourself, there are some ways to get your hands on it. I'm not encouraging you to try, I'm just stating the facts. I’ll discuss it at the end of this post.

Modafinil is:

  • Not a stimulant. While we’ll go into the science in a little bit, Modafinil is in a completely different class than Adderall or other study drugs. Rather than getting you ‘high’ or ‘wired’, it promotes wakefulness with the associated benefits. There’s no caffeine-crash once it’s worn off and doesn’t give you the jitters.
  • Not addictive. [S] So far, there’s been no evidence whatsoever that Modafinil can bring on physical addiction. There’s also little evidence to suggest that people become resistant to the active substance, thereby having to take more and more to keep getting the same effect.
  • Not known to have many side-effects. I’ll deal with this one further down the line, but there’s only one known serious/debilitating side-effect that occurs in 1 of 200,000 people.
  • An incredible productivity booster. It works. I can’t tell you how many incredibly productive days I’ve had thanks to this stuff. It’s my secret weapon when I want to write, code or study.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I pretend to be. Modafinil may not be legal wherever you live and it may have some harmful side-effects in a small percentage of the population. Consult your doctor and be sure to check your local legislature. No need to die or wind up in jail over this stuff.

How Does It Work?

First off, it should be noted the science is still out on some of the inner workings of Modafinil. We know it works, but we don’t fully know how or why it works. Not to worry though, the brain is such a complicated piece of machinery, researchers still regularly find new effects of common drugs like painkillers and penicillin. Surprisingly, there's a number of major drugs that researchers still don't fully understand why they work. The best example would be general anaesthesia. This shouldn't be a deal-breaker.

In a nutshell, Modafinil temporarily knocks out your sleep-wake cycle. This is also one of the main distinctions between Modafinil and other stimulants. It doesn’t ‘add’ anything. No high. No sudden burst of energy. Rather, it suppresses the feelings of tiredness and lethargy. Essentially, your brain is temporarily unable to send signals saying you should feel unfocused, tired or burnt-out.

The main mechanism of Modafinil is by regulating orexin. Neurons responding to orexin are found in several areas that are responsible for sleep and wakefulness. When these neurons are activated, they increase the local build-up of dopamine. The orexin then scrambles the outgoing signals telling the rest of your body that you ought to feel sleepy, tired or have low energy. So while your brain might be trying to send out signals that you should be tired, they get intercepted. As a result, you don't feel tired at all.

Dopamine, normally associated with the feelings of ‘success’ and ‘reward’, also contributes to being more impulsive and less focused. By preventing the dopamine from being transported, it intercepts the trigger to feel unfocused. This decrease in impulsiveness has also been effective in dealing with addiction and sticking to a single task while on Modafinil. Modafinil further contributes to a feeling of wakefulness and supposedly improves neural plasticity. A downside of this is that the increased focus can lead to lower creativity, according to a couple of studies.

In essence, Modafinil temporarily ‘blunts’ our creativity by making us more focused, yet somewhat less inventive. This might suggest Modafinil is more useful when you have a large but simple workload or a monolithic task you need to power through. Try to stay off it when you need to come up with a great new idea. (Use LSD or something) [S]  

TL;DR: Come up with your billion-dollar idea first, then execute on Modafinil.

While the exact mechanisms of action for Modafinil aren’t fully understood, we know Modafinil influences histamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, GABA, and glutamate production and processing. While explaining all these in detail would take me another seven pages, the gist of it is that these compounds either suppress sleepiness or promote wakefulness and attention.

Positive Effects & Benefits Of Modafinl

The benefits of Modafinil are many. There are numerous anecdotes out there of the effects of Modafinil, some of which can be specific to the user. Some of the general and proven effects of Modafinil are:

Improved focus

According to Dr. Ruairidh McLennan Battleday from UC Berkeley, recent studies of the drug have used more-complex tests of cognition than those employed previously. He found that Modafinil indeed enhances thinking and concentration with the majority of tasks. Modafinil tends to create a sort of ‘sticky’ focus. Once focused on a task, it’s easy to be transfixed on it for some time. Conversely, it makes it more taxing to switch focus from one subject to another.

Reduce fatigue

Modafinil excels at what it was originally designed to do: it increases wakefulness and combats sleepiness. It also helps nullify some of the effects of sleep-deprivation. Though Modafinil can be used to stay awake for long periods of time, you’ll eventually need to catch up on this lost sleep. When needed, it’s a great tool to pull all-nighters. Be mindful of not taking it too late in the day since it might keep you up throughout the night.

Greater reaction time

There’s a reason track athletes have traditionally tested positive for Modafinil use. Why? Because of the improved reaction times it imparts. Modafinil heightens your focus, which allows sprinters to get ‘in the zone’ at the start of a race. What’s more, Modafinil-induced faster neural signalling enables them to have a split-second advantage over the other sprinters. This focus combined with enhanced reaction speeds allows sprinters to get off the blocks faster than ever before.  

Greater comprehension

In general, Modafinil appears to improve what researchers call executive function, the ability to sift through new information and make plans based on it. In my experience, it makes a massive contribution in helping to make connections between newly-learned material or preexisting knowledge

Appetite Suppression

On Modafinil, there’s a general disinterest in eating. While I do not recommend not eating whatsoever, it can be used to reduce caloric intake. If you’re trying to lose those last couple of pounds or if you wish to keep to a certain feeding window because you’re fasting, this might help.

Though merely anecdotal, I’ve found that it also helps with:

Being more sociable and extroverted

On Modafinil, my normally-introverted self starts to disappear. Instead, I feel perfectly at ease. Lunch with friends, chatting up a cutie on the subway, going to parties, calling people I haven’t talked to in a while, you name it. It all becomes so easy and natural. I’m not sure what causes it, but I can keep it going without ever getting burnt out. Nor have I noticed any averse effects after the Modafinil has worn off. The only downside is that I tend to chatter on quite a bit

Being bolder & more aggressive

In recent months, I’ve started to notice that I tend to be somewhat more aggressive on Modafinil. This manifests itself primarily in the gym. The workouts tend to be more intense and done with greater vigor. I’m also a lot bolder in terms of talking to people, taking chances, and committing to activities I’ve been putting off for some time. I haven't found any research literature that suggests Modafinil use leads to heightened aggression. It might be just be me.

Potential Side-Effects Of Modafinil

Like I’ve said before, there are few known side-effects to Modafinil. There’s one I do need to cover though.

In about 5 cases per million people, something called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome occurs. This means that people have a genetic predisposition towards developing a life-threatening rash. Having SJS means you need to avoid a ton of drugs and antibiotics, so you’re probably already aware of whether or not you have it. Nonetheless, you might want to get a genetic test done just to be on the safe side. Be smart. There’s no need to end up six feet deep just because you want to ace your Algebra mid-term.

In addition, some people report some minor side-effects, but these are case-dependent:

  • Headaches. Personally, I believe this has to do with people becoming dehydrated. Modafinil suppresses your impulses to go eat and drink so be sure to have some water and snacks ready to go. If you’re experiencing serious headaches, you might want to consult your doctor.
  • Dizziness. Pretty much the same thing. Eat and drink enough during the day. Also, eating a few eggs before ingestion helps to combat this. The choline in the egg yolk, combined with plenty of water will prevent you from having any serious issues.
  • Insomnia. It’s possible that you’re a so-called high-responder, meaning you react extremely well to the substance, which might result in the effect persisting for quite a bit longer. I suspect the majority of cases has to do with people taking the dose too late in the day or taking too much. This then leads to an inability to sleep. Down below, I’ll tell you when to take it for the best effect.
  • Nausea.

It should be noted that these side-effects were also reported in several placebo groups, so take these with a grain of salt. My advice is to be sensible and make sure you get enough food, water and rest.

Disclaimer: Once again, I’m not a doctor. Be sensible. Get tested for SJS and if you ever feel unwell when taking Modafinil, immediately notify someone. Be safe.

How To Use It

I wouldn’t recommend just popping a pill and seeing what happens. Seriously. Odds are you’ll either waste hours of your hyper-productive time or get caught off-guard by the potency.

First off, I’d recommend taking a relatively small dose. Normally, tablets of Provigil & ModAlert (the brand I use) come in 200mg. Take 50mg, or about 1/4th of a tablet. Trust me, it’s more than enough for all but the most hardcore working days. If you really need the extra boost, you might want to take 100mg (half a pill). I’ve only done this a few times when I had to pull all-nighters. It's an intense focus. Normally, I feel like I could've gotten 95% of the benefits with a smaller dosage. Your mileage may vary.

Be sure to time your dosage carefully. Modafinil is potent stuff and you don’t want it to completely upset your sleeping pattern. Modafinil has a half-life of 16 hours, but the majority of effects have normally worn off after 10/12 hours. I usually take it about an hour after waking up, when I’ve finished my morning routine and had some breakfast. Don’t be an idiot. Don’t take this stuff at five in the afternoon, unless you enjoy staring at the ceiling until the 06:00 in the morning. The only reason for taking it later is when you're trying to do an all-nighter. In that case, take it around 21:00.

Some people have a slightly different approach. They’ll wake up, take the tablet, and snooze for another twenty minutes. Supposedly, they wake up with a crystal-clear mind and no grogginess whatsoever. I personally dislike this approach. You don’t eat anything before ingestion, which isn’t great. I’m also a stickler for my morning routine, so I’d waste valuable time with showering, shaving, meditating, and eating. I prefer to have finished up my morning routine and to sit down at my desk, ready to go. Just note that even basic tasks will captivate you on Modafinil. Your routine might take a lot longer as a result.

Like I mentioned before, try to eat a few eggs before ingestion. First off, it’s good to have some fuel ready to go. Secondly, the choline found in the egg will prevent you from getting headaches.

Now, you’re pretty much good to go. To make the most of your time though, I’d recommend you have a to-do list ready to go. Immediately get to work on these items, or you’ll risk wasting your enhanced focus and energy on useless stuff. Don’t be tempted to play ‘just one’ match of Fortnite. Odds are you’ll look up at the clock suddenly realizing  hours have passed by.

Do not drink coffee or alcohol while you’re on Modafinil. Caffeine interacts with Modafinil and can lead to heart palpitations, anxiety and the jitters. No bueno. The only reason I’ll drink coffee on it is when the dose I’ve taken is too small and I want to amplify the effects a little bit. A single cup will do. Don't drink it later than 8/10 hours before your bedtime.

Do not be tempted to chug a beer. It can lead to blackouts and memory loss. Once again, no bueno.

Modafinil is great for making short work of outstanding deadlines, papers you need to write, coding an application or writing a chapter of that novel. People tend to be a bit less creative on it, so try to focus on execution rather than creative thinking and planning.

Cut out distractions! If you’re like me, your phone is the ultimate productivity-killer. Turn it off before you start and thank me later. Likewise, try to reduce your internet usage as much as possible. Try to catch yourself as early as possible and shut it down. You do not want to waste this focus by reading BuzzFeed articles!

Finally, as mentioned before, drink plenty of water. While Modafinil might suppress the feeling of being thirsty, your body still craves water! Make sure you have a drink within arm’s reach throughout the day. Most of the side-effects of Modafinil can be attributed being so engrossed in your work that forget to take care of yourself.

Be smart.

In summary:

  1. Go through your normal morning routine;
  2. Eat a couple of eggs for breakfast;
  3. Take the modafinil. A small dose, preferably 50 mg;
  4. Get started immediately. Do not wait for it to ‘kick in’;
  5. Drink plenty of water during the day.

How To Get It

Ahh yes, the age-old question. As mentioned earlier, modafinil can only be obtained with a prescription in the USA. The same goes for many other countries. Be aware though that it’s illegal to possess in countries like China, regardless of prescription. Be sensible! I hear Chinese detention camps aren't fun.

There are certain ways to get modafinil without a prescription. I will not explicitly list any online sources or suppliers. I’ve never ordered it online, though a lot of people have had great success with it. I personally bought mine in-person while I was in India last year; 200 tablets for about $75. If you're ordering online, prices will probably be higher.

If you do want to order it online, there are plenty of sources online. (Hint: use Google) What’s more, Reddit is filled with threads regarding trustworthy suppliers and product-quality. When you find a supplier, pay attention to the following:

  • What do other reviewers say?
  • Have there been issues in the past with shipment or payment?
  • Is the only way to pay via Bitcoin or other untraceable means?
  • What brand of Modafinil are they carrying? (I personally use ModAlert)

When a site only accepts Bitcoin, I wouldn’t take the deal. That’s one less layer of safety in ordering something as sketchy as pharmaceuticals on the internet. Be smart.

If you are inclined to make a trip to India (where the majority of Modafinil gets made), here’s the way to go about it. Go to a reasonably-sized pharmacy in a major city. Ask if they carry it. If they do, jackpot! If not, tell the owner you’d be more than willing to pay 1,000 Rupees if he can come by it. You’ll probably be able to pick it up within a couple of hours.

Just remember that Modafinil is an aid. It's not a magic pill. It will not magically change your life, nor will it suddenly make you a world-class performer. Treat it as a way to 2x your effort. If you misdirect it, you won't get anywhere.

Modafinil is great stuff. I really gives you an edge, whether you’re trying to write and code (like me), or trade stocks and read Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’. (Which I've also done)

For the last time, be smart. Don’t get arrested for this stuff, it’s not worth it. Also, don’t abuse the hell out of it.

Everything in moderation. Except moderation, of course.

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