The off-prescription use of modafinil

An online survey of perceived risks and benefits
In programme
Thursday, 8 August, 2019 - 14:25


Cognitive enhancing drugs (CEDs) are believed to improve cognitive functions such as learning, memory, attention and motivation. Presently, little is known about the characteristics of off-prescription CED users or their perceived everyday experience with these drugs. As modafinil is the most commonly used off-prescription CED, the current study aimed to provide a detailed profile of modafinil users and their experiences and perceptions of modafinil.

An international online survey, targeting CED users and students was advertised on forum sites. Information was obtaining regarding demographic data, illicit drug use, psychiatric diagnosis and experience of modafinil. Of the 404 respondents, 219 reported taking modafinil. Of these the majority were male, American or British, university-educated and currently employed, with a mean age of 27. Modafinil users reported higher levels of illicit drug use and psychiatric diagnosis than would be expected from population-based data. More frequent reported modafinil use was associated with higher numbers of perceived benefits whilst reported frequency of use was not associated with perceived risks. A limitation of this study is that information regarding attentional problems and current psychiatric medications was not collected.

Overall, modafinil was perceived by users as being safe. It is possible that the benefits of modafinil increase exponentially through daily use or, alternatively, it may be that those who gain more benefits from modafinil simply use it more frequently as a result. There was also a tentative link between the reported use of modafinil and the reported presence of psychiatric disorders, largely depression and anxiety. Respondents who had a reported psychiatric diagnosis declared higher subjective benefits of modafinil. This may be suggestive of further beneficial effects of modafinil or it may reflect insufficient medical treatment for psychiatric disorders in some people. Further research is needed to explore this in more depth. However, this is an important insight demonstrating that findings from an online survey support experimental data from laboratory-based work. These findings should be beneficial in informing clinicians and legislative bodies about the modafinil user profile and how modafinil is perceived by those who take it.