Cookie policy: This site uses cookies (small files stored on your computer) to simplify and improve your experience of this website. Cookies are small text files stored on the device you are using to access this website. For more information please take a look at our terms and conditions. Some parts of the site may not work properly if you choose not to accept cookies.

Join

Subscribe or Register

Existing user? Login

Cognition

Modafinil could be the first safe ‘smart drug’

Narcolepsy drug modafinil improves attention, learning and memory and only has minor side effects.

Modafinil, approved for narcolepsy and other wakefulness disorders, could be the first safe pharmaceutical nootropic agent or ‘smart drug’ and is used by students to sharpen and improve concentration. In the image, a student studying for an exam

Source: Shutterstock.com

Students may benefit from using ’smart drugs’, such as modafinil, to improve concentration

Modafinil, approved for narcolepsy and other wakefulness disorders, could be the first safe pharmaceutical nootropic agent or ‘smart drug’, according to a review published in European Neuropsychopharmacology[1] on 20 August 2015.

Available in the United States and Europe as a treatment for narcolepsy, modafinil has another off-label use, particularly among students, who use it to improve concentration, especially around exam time.

To understand more about its use as a smart drug, researchers from the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, reviewed studies published between 1990 and 2014 that looked at the cognitive effects of modafinil in people who were not sleep-deprived.

The review found that modafinil improved attention, learning and memory, and the benefit increased with the complexity of the task. There was little impact on creativity or mood. The researchers also observed that side effects were minor, such as headache and nausea, and were also seen in placebo groups.

“These so-called neuroenhancers could enable people to be more alert, vigilant and focused,” says neuroscientist and neuroethicist James Giordano, chief of the Neuroethics Studies Program at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington who was not involved in the review. “That could help people to acquire information more quickly, and perhaps retain it somewhat better at certain tasks, but these drugs won’t necessarily make people smarter per se.”

While the results seem to be good news for students, discussion around the ethics of the use of modafinil as a smart drug will continue as new neuroenhancers are developed.

“There may be a perception that students who use modafinil have an unfair advantage over others, but there will always be the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in education, which reflects a variety of factors – from opportunities afforded to students who receive scholarships and do not have to work, to what school one might attend. Simply put, life is not fair,” says Giordano.

Gaining regulatory approval for smart drugs is likely to be challenging. While regulation would provide some degree of control over prescribing and give doctors evidence to support prescribing decisions, there would need to be further studies to examine issues such as short-term and long-term effects, who should and shouldn’t take the drug, variability between individuals, and what happens at the end of the treatment period. And, according to Giordano, any thoughts of using the drug in children will make both ethics and regulation a lot more complex.

“When looking into using modafinil as a therapeutic tool in children with cognitive deficits, or even as a booster for cognitively normal children, it becomes even more important to account for mechanisms, effects and safety – in both the short-term and long-term,” he says.

“We would need to consider the ethics of carrying out long-term prospective studies in children whose brains are still developing, and balance the potential benefits on children’s ability to learn and their long-term outcomes with the unknown effects on their developing brains.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2015.20069223

Have your say

For commenting, please login or register as a user and agree to our Community Guidelines. You will be re-directed back to this page where you will have the ability to comment.

Recommended from Pharmaceutical Press

  • Pharmacy Registration Assessment Questions 2

    Pharmacy Registration Assessment Questions 2

    Pharmacy Registration Assessment Questions 2 features more than 400 entirely new, closed book and calculation questions. It can be used in conjunction with the previous volume or on its own. All questions are in line with current GPhC guidance, enabling you to prepare for the pharmaceutical pre-registration exam with confidence.

    £35.00Buy now
  • Popular Medicines

    Popular Medicines

    An illustrated history of some of the most popular branded medicines. Includes colourful historical adverts and details of the medicine's formula and intended purpose.

    £22.00Buy now
  • Developing Your Prescribing Skills

    Developing Your Prescribing Skills

    Developing Your Prescribing Skills uses case studies, mind maps and feedback from experienced prescribers. It supplies practical advice on the issues facing prescribers in all types of practice.

    £23.00Buy now
  • Essentials of Economic Evaluation in Healthcare

    Essentials of Economic Evaluation in Healthcare

    An introduction to economic evaluation specific to healthcare, for those with little or no knowledge of economics. Covers cost effectiveness, cost utility and cost benefit analysis.

    £33.00Buy now
  • Further MCQs in Pharmacy Practice

    Further MCQs in Pharmacy Practice

    Further MCQs in Pharmacy Practice contains 600 practice-oriented pharmacy exam questions. Includes both open- and closed-book sections.

    £30.00Buy now

Search an extensive range of the world’s most trusted resources

Powered by MedicinesComplete
  • Print
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Save
  • Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF

Supplementary images

  • Modafinil, approved for narcolepsy and other wakefulness disorders, could be the first safe pharmaceutical nootropic agent or ‘smart drug’ and is used by students to sharpen and improve concentration. In the image, a student studying for an exam

Jobs you might like

Newsletter Sign-up

Want to keep up with the latest news, comment and CPD articles in pharmacy and science? Subscribe to our free alerts.