Modafinil: Real-Life ‘Limitless’ Pill Or Simple Productivity Booster?

“I wasn’t high, wasn’t wired, just clear. I knew what i needed to do, and how to do it.“
– Eddie Morra (‘Limitless’)

In the 2011 Hollywood blockbuster ‘Limitless’, Bradley Cooper takes a pill that changes his life, called NZT-48. Suddenly, he was able to 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 (currently) exists no such thing as NZT-48. Some people have found something similar, though. It’s become known as ‘the Limitless Pill’. Meet 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 word ‘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!

Over the last few years, modafinil has gotten a lot of attention as one of the premier ‘smart drugs’ out there. In a world where Ivy League students are popping Adderall like it’s candy, it’s the next big thing. People from all walks of life have benefited massively from using modafinil.

Let me walk you through it.

Not Quite - But close

Not Quite – But close

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.

What is Modafinil?

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.


Nootropics, also referred to as smart drugs, improve mental functions such as cognition, memory, intelligence, motivation, attention, and concentration.
The term nootropics has gradually expanded to be synonymous with cognitive enhancers. Substances such as caffeine can also be classified as a nootropic.

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 for 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 it’s amazing effects and its 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, a high-power executive 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’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 for example. Rather than getting you ‘high’ or ‘wired’, it simply promotes wakefulness. There’s no caffeine-crash once it’s worn off and doesn’t give you the jitters.
  • Not addictive. [S] So far, there’s no been evidence whatsoever that modafinil can be addictive in any way. There’s also little evidence to suggest people become resistant to the substance and have 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 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 studying.

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 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.

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. In summary, your brain is temporarily unable to send signals saying you should feel unfocused or burnt-out.

The main mechanism of modafinil is via 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.

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’s unable to cause a lack of focus. This decrease in impulsiveness has also been effective in dealing addiction and sticking to a single task while on Modafinil. Modafinil further contributes to a feeling of wakefulness and improved neural plasticity. A downside of this is that this increased focus can lead to lower creativity.

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, rather than when you need to come up with a great new idea. [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, certain other substances modafinil influences are histamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, GABA, and glutamate. 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:

  • Combat fatigue. Modafinil excels at what it was originally designed to do: it increases wakefulness and alertness. 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.
  • 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, and he has found that modafinil indeed enhances thinking and concentration. 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.
  • 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. As said before, Modafinil heightens your focus, which allows sprinters to get set at the start of a race. What’s more, the faster neural signalling thanks to Modafinil enables them to have a split-second advantage over the other sprinters. This focus combined with enhanced reaction, which allows sprinters to get out of 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. 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.
  • Being bolder & more aggressive. In recent months, I’ve started to notice that I tend to be somewhat more aggressive on Modafinil. This manifests 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.

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 one 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, leading 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. I wouldn’t recommend it.

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.

Some people have a slightly different approach to taking it. 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. Your mileage might vary.

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 figuring out hours have passed by.

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 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 on reading BuzzFeed articles!

Not The Best Combo In The World

Not The Best Combo In The World

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

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 (also, my routine):

  1. Go through your 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

The Average Reader Right Now

The Average Reader Right Now

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!

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 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, 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.

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

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.

Till next time, Anthony J. Campbell