What Is Modafinil?
So, what is Modafinil? Well in the strictest scientific terms it is the systematic name given to the chemical compound ±-2-[di(phenyl)methylsulfinyl]acetamide, which is precisely why this drug is more commonly referred by the IUPAC systematic name of Modafinil. According to where you are in the world Modafinil is also known by other brand names such as Provigil, Alertec, Modavigil and Modalert. Modafinil is approved by all the major international drug agencies, including the US Food and Drug Administration, mainly as a treatment for sleeping disorders. Manufactured by Cephalon, the company has recently released a new variant of Modafinil, Armodafinil, to be commonly known as Nuvigil.
What Modafinil does
Modafinil was originally designed as an analeptic drug, which means it is designed to stimulate the central nervous system. Like many other stimulants on the market Modafinil releases the monoamines; catecholamine’s, nor epinephrine and dopamine from the synaptic terminals in the nervous system and therefore works similarly to amphetamines. However, the chemical action that makes Modafinil unique is that it also raises the levels of hypothalamic histamines - to promote wakefulness in its users. The hypothalamus is a portion of the brain that, amongst other things, controls our circadian rhythms and feelings of fatigue according to the activity levels of histaminergic cells. It is this specific ‘wakefulness’ property that has made Modafinil a market leader in the treatment of sleeping disorders.
Modafinil and sleep disorders
Being a stimulant to the central nervous system Modafinil was readily accepted as a suitable treatment for narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea and shift work sleeping disorders. Narcolepsy is characterized by a chronic tendency to episodes of daytime sleepiness that will occur several times during the day. These sleeping episodes can last just a few seconds to an hour or more. At best seen as an inconvenience they can be totally debilitating, interfering with both work and the daily routines of life. Obstructive sleep apnea is a medical condition that causes a temporary cessation of breathing, usually during normal sleep patterns and usually last about 10 seconds; although longer periods have also been recorded. Occurrence of obstructive sleep apnea is mainly in men older than 30 years of age, so for most students this is unlikely to be a cause for concern. However, it should be noted that obese people of any age can have a form of this illness known as Pickwickian Syndrome. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by the over relaxation of the muscles of the soft palate of the pharynx. Put more simply, for non-science majors - the muscles in your throat sag and obstruct the airway passage during sleep. Shift work sleeping disorders, as their name implies, can be experienced by anyone who has their work and sleep schedules constantly disrupted, or those indulging in a more nocturnal lifestyle for long periods of time. So, it’s not just workers that can suffer from shift work sleeping disorders, for example a student regularly switching between studying and sleeping day/night times, not too mention just socializing at irregular hours! Of the three sleeping disorders this is the least serious; and how susceptible you are to it depends on your personal circadian rhythm - depending on whether you’re a lark or a night-owl, will determine how well you take to working day or night shifts. However, recent studies have made links between shift work sleeping disorders and the formation of cancers.
Modafinil and other treatments
Since first appearing in the 1970s, Modafinil and its derivatives have been put forward as treatments for various other medical and psychological conditions. Most notably it was promoted as a drug suitable for the treatment of attention deficient hyperactivity disorder - ADHD. However, following rejection from the FDA for such purposes the manufacturer, Cephalon, has not pursued this line. Although not officially being used for marketing purposes at present Modafinil has shown some potential for being used in the treatment of cocaine addiction, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, depression and general fatigue. Whilst taking a drug like Modafinil for general fatigue could be seen as controversial, surely if you’re ‘just’ fatigued you simply need to rest and sleep, reports that Modafinil can be used to ‘boost your brain power’ are proving to be more controversial. However, as this idea of boosting your brain power could be of significant interest to students - we’ll revisit this in a following article.