An Experiment With Smart Drugs – What I Learned From Modafinil
I first learned about Modafinil in 2012. It’s a prescription drug that’s commonly used to treat narcolepsy and a range of other issues including sleep disorders, and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. It’s also used, off prescription, as a ‘cognitive enhancer'.
I read a study that said Jet fighter pilots could function for up to 37 hours of continuous wakefulness with a very small drop in baseline function on 100 milligram doses of Modafinil.
I tried Modafinil for the first time in law school. I’d kept delaying a number of previous exams. One thing led to another, and eventually I had just two weeks to write nine exams.
The first day. I had one 100 mg pill in the morning, around 8 am. And I made myself a cup of black coffee. And sat down to study. What happened over the next two weeks, changed my life forever. Listen to the podcast for the whole story!
My First Time Trying Modafinil
So, I’d popped a Modafinil. Some time passes, and in, say, 45 minutes, I’m glued to my book (I think it was Civil Procedure Code), and I couldn’t stop reading. I felt an extremely heightened sense of focus.
Another thing I felt was a loss of appetite. I had zero hunger. None. Zip. Zilch! I didn’t feel nausea or any kind of aversion to food.
And excuse me if this is too much information, but I was also peeing a LOT more than usual.
So, these were the first three side effects I discovered about Modafinil. It reduced hunger, increased thirst, and made me pee…..ALL the time.
But those were the side-effects. Let’s talk about how it helped.
I was focused. I was ridiculously focused. While normal people feel their focus amplify with this drug, for a person who had attention deficit disorder, it was like striking gold.
So, by the end of the day, I was still quite focused, but I’d drank maybe 40 percent more water than I usually did and eaten maybe one large meal.
I took my first exam the next day, and it went fairly well. But I had another exam the next day, little time to sleep and a whole semester’s worth of studying to catch up with.
So I slept for three hours, woke up, popped a Modafinil and started to study. Some black coffee and a few hours later, I was in the zone. My eyes were a little dry and I was mildly dehydrated, but I was studying without getting distracted.
Sleep Deprivation & Anxiety
Two days into my exams, I was starting to feel the sleep deprivation take a toll on me. But I had one more exam coming the next day. And even if I wanted to sleep, I wouldn’t be able to sleep immediately. Because of Modafinil’s half-life.
What’s a half-life?
The half-life of a drug is the time taken for the plasma concentration of a drug to reduce to half its original value. Half-life is used to estimate how long it takes for a drug to be removed from your body.
This meant that when I’d finish my exam and come home, I wouldn’t be able to sleep, because there’d still be a lot of Modafinil in my bloodstream. I’d be tired, but unable to sleep, because Modafinil’s half-life is around 12-15 hours.
I’d get anxious and wouldn’t be able to sleep. An inability to sleep meant I’d have to be sleep deprived for the next exam, and as a result, I’d have more Modafinil.
By the fourth day, I was only sleeping for two to three hours a day, but I was studying a semester’s worth of a subject in a single day.
After five days of sleep deprivation, I was starting to feel a disconnect from reality. I felt extremely sensitive to light and loud sounds. Cold water felt like I was being drowned in ice, and hot water felt too hot. This pattern continued till my exams ended, and fortunately, I could stop having Modafinil right then.
So skip forward a few months, I had a big interview with a top tier legal firm. The night before the interview, I was worried. So, I popped a Modafinil.
Biggest mistake of my life.
The next morning, I woke up looking like I’d spent the night getting punched in the face. No prizes for guessing how my interview went. I didn’t clear it.
So, while it can be useful, and a little scary sometimes because of what it does, it DOES have its share of negative effects.
The Downside of Smart Drugs
- Inability to Multitask - I wouldn’t be able to multitask without becoming overly obsessed with one thing. This was especially troubling when I worked a job that required heavy multitasking with tight deadlines.
- Anxiety - When you’re on Modafinil, you NEED to work. You NEED to be productive. If you don’t you’ll feel irritable, anxious and WILL start berating yourself. The drug combined with physical stressors would amplify the anxiety to a near unbearable point.
- Obsessive Behaviour – Modafinil made me obsess. If I was writing, I’d write with too much attention to detail, and I’d often get lost in my work. I would also keep trying to continuously OPTIMISE whatever I was doing, to do it perfectly. While this sounds like a good thing, often it can lead to repeatedly doing the same thing till you realise you’ve spent maybe twice or thrice the time you would have normally spent on it.
- Zero Patience – I was already an impatient person. But on Modafinil I would have VERY little patience for anything that I felt wasn’t related to the work I had to do. Friends, family, small talk, music, all these would be negated to the exclusion of doing what I set my mind to.
So, that said, while it may have some short-term benefits that helped me, I’d never endorse this for anyone else. Always consult a doctor, because CLEARLY I’m no medical professional.