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Modafinil was developed to treat narcolepsy (excessive sleeping), but it is widely used as a ‘smart drug’ to promote cognitive enhancement, where qualities such as alertness and concentration are desired to assist someone with, for example, exam preparation.  Past studies on sleep-deprived individuals have shown a positive effect of modafinil on these functions. Anew systematic review, published online in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology shows that modafinil does indeed confer significant cognitive benefits in this group.

Dr Ruairidh Battleday and Dr Anna-Katharine Brem from the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School evaluated many research papers on cognitive enhancement with modafinil from January 1990 to December 2014. They found 24 studies dealing with different benefits associated with taking modafinil, including planning, flexibility, learning, memory, decision making, and creativity. They found that the performance-enhancing capacity of modafinil varied according to the task. What emerged was that the longer and more complex the task tested, the more consistently modafinil conferred cognitive benefits. The 70% of studies that looked at the effects of modafinil on mood and side effects showed very little overall effect.

Ruairidh McLennan Battleday said: ‘This is the first overview of modafinil’s actions in non-sleep-deprived individuals since 2008, and so we were able to include a lot of recent data. More recent studies have used more complex tests: when these are used, it appears that modafinil more reliably enhances cognition: in particular ‘higher’ brain functions that rely on contribution from multiple simple cognitive processes.’

Anna-Katharine Brem, a researcher at both the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School, said: ‘We ended up having main conclusion: MODAFINIL CAN BE CONSIDRED AS A COGNITIVE ENHANCER

Professor Guy Goodwin, President of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) commented: ‘This overview suggests that, on current evidence, modafinil enhances cognition independent of its known effects in sleep disordered populations. Thus, the authors say that ‘modafinil may well deserve the title of the first well-validated pharmaceutical nootropic agent’. It’s the first real example of a ‘smart drug‘, which can help, for example with exam preparation.

Modafinil for cognitive neuroenhancement in healthy non-sleep-deprived subjects: a systematic review is published in European Neuropsychopharmacology

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