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The "Smart Drug" the FDA Doesn't Want You to Know About

Modafinil may be the next (unofficial) Adderall.

There’s a new smart drug in town, and its name is Modafinil. Originally approved by the FDA to treat sleep disorders like narcolepsy, Modafinil is said to improve cognitive performance during long and complex tasks, and enhance decision-making and planning skills, according to a review published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. Is this pill the new (albeit unofficial) Adderall?

“[The] Majority of the drug's users—such as students who take it to study for exams—use it off-label, believing it may help them focus,” Live Science reports.  Because of this, an overview of the drug’s influence on non-sleep deprived individuals was conducted and, it turns out, Modafinil does enhance thinking. 

The researchers reviewed 24 placebo-controlled studies between 1990 and 2014. These studies included more than 700 participants, and they tested a huge range of cognitive functions from planning and decision-making to flexibility and learning to memory and creativity. 

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The results: Modafinil affects higher brain functions, but only improved certain features of cognition, according to Live Science. This includes the ability to sift through new information and make plans, the ability to pay attention, learn, and remember, and excluded any noticeable effect on creativity, working memory, and ability to divide attention. 

As for side effects, 70 percent of the studies found few instances of insomnia, headache, nausea, and stomachache; though all of these symptoms were reported in the placebo groups, too. 

There seems to be a rain cloud of contention hovering over this breakthrough, though: ethics. Concerns over this “smart drug,” and its potential to give students (or your coworker) an unfair advantage will have to be addressed as further research is done. 

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