Modafinil — The Story Arch of a Biohacker

Over the past 5 weeks, I’ve traveled throughout the United States and specifically within California. This region of the world is home to some of the most avid biohackers using their newfound capabilities to change the world (or make millions… or both).

The thing that has struck me when speaking with my many friends in the San Francisco bay area is how many have used modafinil and where we all seem to be in our “modafinil narrative”.

For those unfamiliar, modafinil (also known as provigil) is a nootropic drug developed to treat narcolepsy. It is now used off-label for the treatment of many disorders and by even more biohackers looking for an edge. The benefits of modafinil are pretty well established from a focus and concentration aspect. Through increased dopaminergic and adrenergic activity, the drug enhances one’s ability to focus on a task.

The modafinil narrative explains the arch of MOST people with whom I’m spoken about the drug. While there are many benefits for cognitive enhancement, modafinil also comes with side effects. Throughout my meetings with friends, a common theme started to emerge.

Modafinil is great… but I barely take it once per week now.” was the common refrain. Essentially, it seemed all of us were eager to use modafinil once we heard about the benefits, but the side effects reared their ugly head not long after.

My story arch with modafinil was quite similar. I still use it occasionally, but I far prefer to use it sparingly (perhaps once per week maximum). The problem with this type of drug is how it overrides our basic mechanisms in order to create an effect. This is always going to have side effects and downsides, which it seems many of the biohackers have started to realize.

Some of the more famous biohackers, such as Dave Asprey, has discussed using modafinil for many years in a row, but this doesn’t seem like a habit common to anyone interested in cognitive enhancement.

Over the long-term, modafinil is a great drug when used sparingly and with care. That isn’t to say everyone should use (or even try) modafinil, but it is an effective drug nonetheless.

Whether or not you’re into biohacking, modafinil will probably cross your radar if you’re interested in cognitive enhancement at all.

If my experience from the bay area has taught me anything, it’s that any modafinil user will probably go through a similar arch. First, recognizing the potential and power of the drug. Then, realizing the side effects and debating whether it’s worthwhile.