As off-label use of modafinil becomes the rule rather than the exception researchers have scrambled to evaluate the safety of this behavior. Most early studies focused specifically on patients with the conditions that modafinil was designed to treat, such as narcolepsy. However, the last five years have produced several interesting studies and peer reviews that evaluate modafinil’s safety for off-label use. A 2012 Korean study reaffirms modafinil’s safety, and is of particular interest because it was conducted with a military focus.
Modafinil in the military
This topic has been touched on before so I’ll keep it brief. Modafinil is of extreme interest to the military who is always looking to give their soldiers an advantage. Combat fatigue is one of the greatest weaknesses of the human soldier. Modafinil can reduce that and thus extend a soldiers useful time. This is especially true in the air force where pilots may have to engage for hours on end without stopping until the fight is over. This Korean study was funded by the Agency for Defence Development, which is an R&D branch of the Korean military.
I’m not military, so why should I care?
Good question! The fact is that the military is comprised of regular everyday people like you and me. In fact, a military population by simple logic must consist of healthy individuals. You can’t have narcoleptics holding guns in a firefight. Effectively the military’s use of modafinil is exactly the same as anyone else’s off-label use. They want to stay awake and alert longer, and so do you.
The study evaluated off-label users and compared findings from other studies and arrived at an impressive conclusion.
The results are in
Modafinil can be used by anyone, who wishes to work late, stay awake, enhance their cognitive reactions, or brighten their moods. Users may already be under a great level of stress, i.e. cancer patients or soldiers in a battle field. A psychoneuroimmunological approach is thus needed to investigate the multi-functional effects of modafinil.
The first half should make total sense, right up until the world’s longest word pops up. Psychoneuroimmunological. If you needed a few tries to say that one out loud don’t feel bad, so did I. Basically there’s a small amount of evidence that suggests that modafinil could repress the immune system in some way, thus increasing the chances of infection. How serious this is up for debate, and that’s precisely why Dongsoo Kim (the author) recommends further studies in the area. Psychoneuroimmunological is a fancy way of saying that we need studies that examine the effects of modafinil on the immune system, the brain, and the mind, preferably all three to figure out exactly what (if any) impact the drug has on the immune system.
This research is also needed because of another point mentioned in the study: Stress. Stress has a proven impact on the immune system, so any further impact from a drug could greatly increase the rate of infection. While the stress of exams isn’t on the same level as the stress a soldier or a cancer patient might experience, stress is relative. For a student in secondary school or university, those final exams might be the worst thing they’ve ever experienced, meaning that they feel just as much stress as the fighter being shot at or the person undergoing chemotherapy.
But the key point of the study and one we should take home today is that modafinil can be used by anyone. There really isn’t any kind of healthy individual that can’t take modafinil. So if you’ve been considering it, give it a try.