19 Jun

Modafinil: The Pill that Powers your Military

Modafinil isn’t just for civilians anymore, it is also the pill that is powering militaries all over the world. A growing number of countries use modafinil as a way to help soldiers stay awake to go beyond their limits. It’s especially helpful for pilots who must endure long flight missions without falling asleep. Military research divisions are leaving behind amphetamines, used since World War 2. This research is being openly sponsored and supervised by military agencies in more than 9 different countries.

Military research leaders

The United States is leading the pack in this research, conducting experiments through the Air Force Research Laboratory, Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory, Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and Special Operations Command Biomedical Initiative Steering Committee. That is just in the USA alone, there are many more putting in their effort to help push modafinil to its limits and give their soldiers an almost superhuman edge.

Canada has done its fair share of research at Defense Research and Development Canada. Asia is in on the action as well: China’s Second Military Medical University, South Korea’s Air Force Academy, Taiwan’s National Defense Medical Center, and the Bioengineering Laboratory of Singapore’s Defense Medical and Environmental Research Institute. India is also playing its part investigating modafinil through its Institute of Aerospace Medicine and Defense Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences.

In Europe, France’s research program includes its Ministry of Defense, Military Health Service Research Center, and Institute of Aerospace Medicine. The Netherlands Ministry of Defense is also probing modafinil. The UK and other EU countries are actively using modafinil, providing valuable field data. And this is only the public research that has been published so far, there will be so much more in the near future that will surely leave us in awe.

Modafinil’s military applications

Some of the publicly reported studies thus far have tested modafinil in Black Hawk helicopter pilots, F-117 fighter pilots, French paratroopers, and Canadian reservists, among others. They’ve simulated A-6 Intruder bombing missions, AWACS flights, and French Navy patrols. In nearly every trial, modafinil has extended the ability to function without sleep. And we’re already using it in the field. The United States has given modafinil to Air Force personnel since the 2003 Iraq invasion. By 2004, the British Ministry of Defense had bought 24,000 tablets. By 2007, France was routinely supplying it to fighter pilots.

But why is all of this so important to these militaries? It is because of the urgency, one far greater than any other agency would have. For an airline a missed flight could just mean a small financial loss, but to the air force this could mean life or death. They are also more likely to need to be alert and vigilant during a mission and need to be able to perform at 100%.

Not a new concept, but a new solution

Militaries have been using stimulants for their soldiers for centuries. The British years ago would use tea as a way to try to stay awake and alert due to the caffeine found in it. Prussians went even further, using cocaine to power their soldiers. World War II is when both sides began to use amphetamines, which were highly effective, yet not ideal for soldiers’ health. The strong effects of these “go pills” had to be counteracted by “stop pills” which, as their name implies, helped relax soldiers afterwards. Amphetamines are still in use around the world, but governments recognize the harmful effects. Modafinil’s safety and effectiveness explain why so many countries are adopting it and publicly sponsoring that research.

24 May

Korean Study Reaffirms Modafinil’s Safety

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.