Modafinil and Adderall are two drugs which seem to have much in common. Both give stimulant-like effects, both are prescribed to treat conditions like ADHD and narcolepsy, and both make excellent cognitive enhancers and productivity boosters when used off label.
That is, however, only how things appear. Behind the scenes, the two substances are quite different.
Those differences are why more and more people are moving away from Adderall and opting for modafinil as their smart drug of choice. And those differences are precisely what this article will explore.
If you’re trying to decide between using Adderall or modafinil, by the time you get to the bottom of this page, which one will suit your purpose best should be clear.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is Modafinil
- 2 What Is Adderal
- 3 How Modafinil Works
- 4 How Adderall Works
- 5 Adderall’s and Modafinil’s Cognitive Benefits
- 6 Modafinil and Adderall Doses
- 7 Modafinil vs. Adderall Onset and Duration
- 8 Adderall and Modafinil Side Effects
- 9 Addiction Potential of Modafinil and Adderall
- 10 Modafinil vs. Adderall for Studying
- 11 Should Modafinil and Adderall Taken Together
- 12 Final Verdict
What Is Modafinil
Modafinil, typically under the brand name Provigil, is a eugeroic, a class of drugs which promotes alertness and wakefulness. It’s approved by the FDA for the treatment of multiple sleep disorders, including narcolepsy , obstructive sleep apnea , and shift work sleep disorder .
The US drug classification system lists modafinil as a Schedule IV controlled substance, meaning it is considered to have low abuse potential.
Schedule IV substances also technically require a prescription to purchase, though they are not illegal to own without one. This caveat is what makes it possible to buy modafinil online without getting into any legal trouble.
If you’re located outside the US, most other countries have a similar drug scheduling system and classify modafinil in more or less the same way (i.e., the same rules apply).
Modafinil Off Label
Off-label use of modafinil has been gaining popularity in recent years because of how good of a cognitive enhancer it is .
Though modafinil isn’t classified as a stimulant, it does produce noticeable mental and physical stimulation. It makes you feel very awake , alert , and mentally agile . It is also well known for its ability to help you stay focused  and give you the drive to get things done .
And all those cognitive benefits are something I can attest to personally.
I have been using modafinil as a smart drug for many years, and as far as I’m concerned, its ability to improve your memory, concentration, productivity and logical reasoning is second to none.
It’s hands down the best cure I have ever experimented with for both a lack of motivation and ensuring mental performance under sleep-deprived conditions.
What Is Adderal
Adderall is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, both of which are stimulants. It’s an FDA-approved drug prescribed by doctors to treat ADHD  and the sleep disorder narcolepsy .
In the US, Adderall is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance and is, therefore, considered to have a high potential for abuse. Its use may lead to severe physical or psychological dependence.
Considering other Schedule II drugs include codeine, fentanyl, morphine, and opium, this is not a warning to be taken lightly. This is also why Schedule II substances not only require a doctor’s prescription to buy but are also illegal to own without one.
Adderall Off Label
Despite the risks, Adderall off-label use as a cognitive enhancer is common. It is known to help with wakefulness , focus , and long-term memory .
Adderall is often picked as a weapon of choice by students looking to boost their grades. It’s also fairly popular with professionals hoping to gain an extra edge in competitive work environments.
Sadly, and not surprisingly, regular Adderall use rarely ends well. Users often develop a tolerance to the drug and stop being able to function normally without it .
How Modafinil Works
Modafinil works by modulating several of your brain’s neurotransmitters, specifically dopamine , norepinephrine , glutamate , and orexin .
It doesn’t, however, work how traditional stimulants do (which is why it’s not classified as one).
Instead of increasing the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, modafinil decreases their uptake . It’s a gentler and safer way of making more of both available to your brain.
Here is what each compound affected by modafinil is responsible for.
- Dopamine, the well-known feel-good neurotransmitter, is responsible for making you more awake  and focused  as well as improving your mood and motivation . It can also better your memory and learning abilities .
- Norepinephrine (also called noradrenaline) manages your fight or flight response . When more of it is available to your brain, you can expect increased wakefulness  and alertness , as well as a boost to your mind’s executive functions (skills which help you get things done) .
- Orexin (sometimes known as hypocretin), is what your brain neurons use to communicate with each other . There more of it there is, the better that process goes. Orexin also regulates wakefulness .
- Glutamate too improves communication, though it targets your nerve cells instead of neurons . The better those can talk to each other, the better your brain works. Not surprisingly, higher glutamate levels have been linked to improved memory and learning abilities .
How Adderall Works
The active ingredients of Adderall, dextroamphetamine, and levoamphetamine work primarily on the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. In both cases, Adderall stimulates their release .
We have already looked at both compounds in detail when touching on how modafinil works. But, to quickly summarize, the former improves your focus, wakefulness, mood, and motivation. The latter controls your fight or flight system and boost alertness and wakefulness.
On top of stimulating their release, Adderall also prevents the breakdown and storage of both dopamine and norepinephrine .
The combination of both actions causes high amounts of the two neurotransmitters to be quickly available to your brain and is responsible for the psychoactive effects of Adderall.
Adderall’s and Modafinil’s Cognitive Benefits
Both Adderall and modafinil produce somewhat similar cognitive effects. By taking either, you can expect:
- Improved wakefulness
- Better focus
- Boost to your memory
Modafinil, however, can also boost your motivation to get things done, something Adderall does not do. The increase in motivation combined with the other benefits listed above usually translates to much-improved productivity levels.
The Benefits and the Dose
The Adderall experience is largely dose-depended. Lower amounts are most commonly prescribed by doctors for ADHD and narcolepsy treatment, and lower amounts are also used for cognitive enhancement. They’re more than sufficient and can be quite stimulating.
Figuring out how much Adderall to use to feel the cognitive benefits but not venture into abuse territory can be tricky, which is why so many people end up addicted to it by accident.
Taking too much Adderall usually leads to a euphoric experience and an inability to concentrate or even just stand still. It negates its most beneficial smart drug effects, making it somewhat counterproductive for work or study.
Gaining cognitive benefits from taking modafinil is much less dose-dependent. Assuming you take enough to feel something to begin with, the difference in effects between a low dose and a high one is minimal.
Compared to Adderall, modafinil is much safer to experiment with. It’s very unlikely you will accidentally push it too far.
Modafinil and Adderall Doses
Modafinil usually comes in 100 mg or 200 mg tablets, with the latter being more common.
200 mg is considered the standard dose, though, for some people, 100 may be enough to give the desired cognitive effects. You may even want to consider starting as low as 50 mg and working your way up as needed.
400 mg is the absolute recommended maximum, and, as mentioned, taking that much modafinil has minimal benefit. Once you feel the effects, increasing the dose doesn’t necessarily make them stronger.
In all cases, modafinil should be taken early in the morning, so it has sufficient time to wear off before it’s time to go to bed. Taking it too late is an easy way of depriving yourself of a good night’s sleep.
Adderall comes in 5 mg, 10 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, and 30 mg pills and is sold in two forms: Adderall IR (instant release) and Adderall XR (extended release).
The instant release variant is typically taken twice per day, once in the morning and once in the early afternoon.
Adderall XR should be taken once per day in the morning.
In either case, just like with modafinil, avoid taking Adderall too late in the day as it may result in insomnia.
Modafinil vs. Adderall Onset and Duration
When modafinil is taken orally, it should take you around half an hour to start feeling the effects, and one hour for it to reach full potency. That follows by a 3 to 5-hour peak, a 1 to 3-hour offset and after effects which may last up to 6 hours.
The half-life of modafinil is 8 hours.
You can also take modafinil sublingually, which is my preferred method. Doing so means you’ll feel the effects quicker, in as little as 10 minutes. The drug will be a bit more potent, so you may need less of it for the effects to kick in.
Both forms of Adderall (instant release and extended release) have about the same timing and duration. The big difference is that you have to take Adderall IR twice a day. Adderall XR comes in a single pill which releases half the dose immediately, and the other half four hours later.
Adderall is usually taken orally, although recreational users also use it via insufflation, due to it being more potent and faster-acting.
When taken orally, expect between 15 and 30 minutes to pass before you start feeling the effects of Adderall. That follows a 2 to 4-hour peak, a 3-hour offset, and after effects which can last up to 10 hours.
The half-life of dextroamphetamine (the most prominent active ingredient of Adderall) is 9 to 11 hours , while the half-life of levoamphetamine is a long 11 to 14 hours .
Adderall and Modafinil Side Effects
Possible common side effects of Adderall include dry mouth, headaches, nervousness, insomnia (even many hours after the effects have worn off), restlessness and, in rarer cases, paranoia and uncontrollable shaking.
On top of these, there is also a long list of less common but more severe Adderall side effects to worry about.
The stimulation felt on Adderall is also forced. Once the effects wear off, the crash can be quite severe, and a state of cognitive and physical fatigue may set in.
Though modafinil is also quite stimulating, both mentally and physically, the stimulation you feel on it is more encouraged rather than forced. Its effects wear off over a more extended period, and crashes are nearly non-existent.
That is one of the main reasons why Adderall users switch to modafinil. Despite achieving the same or (arguably) better effects, it’s a substance that is also much easier to deal with.
That said, though they’re quite uncommon, modafinil is not side effects free.
Common issues can include an upset stomach, nervousness, dry mouth, difficulty falling asleep, and headaches (if not properly hydrated before and during the experience). In very rare cases there is also the risk of an increased heart-rate, rashes, depression or chest pain.
Modafinil use may also lead to weight loss, though some people consider that more of a benefit than a side effect.
Addiction Potential of Modafinil and Adderall
Addiction potential is where Adderall and modafinil are worlds apart. This is the big difference between Schedule II drugs (Adderall) and Schedule IV drugs (modafinil).
Despite perceptions by a large percentage of off-label users, Adderall is prone to abuse and can be highly addictive . Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Sleep problem (insomnia or oversleeping)
- Mental and physical fatigue
- Panic attacks
These symptoms typically last a few days to a few weeks, depending on how much of how often you’ve been using Adderall.
Modafinil, on the other hands, is not addictive , thanks to its less heavy-handed mechanism of action. It’s possible that suddenly stopping modafinil use may cause a few days of mental fatigue, but it’s not something I observed myself.
Modafinil vs. Adderall for Studying
Modafinil and Adderall are both widely used by students worldwide. The appeal of being able to study effectively for longer and getting better results are hard to argue with.
Both drugs will keep you awake and productive longer, give you better focus, and boost your memory. So there, the comparison is a wash.
But, modafinil can also improve your motivation to start and stick with your tasks, helping you make the most of all the other cognitive benefits you’re gaining.
Then there are also the post-use crash and potential addiction factor that come with Adderall. Not to mention the fact that owning it without a prescription is illegal.
In my opinion, the combination of all those things makes modafinil an excellent alternative to Adderall and, hands down, a better study drug.
Should Modafinil and Adderall Taken Together
Modafinil and Adderall affect the same set of neurotransmitters. There is, therefore, no reason to take them together. The results would be unpredictable at best. Worst-case, they can be downright dangerous, especially if both drugs are taken at or close to their regular doses.
Safety aside, there is also no need to take Adderall and modafinil together. As proven by each drug’s popularity, they work perfectly well on their own.
Both Adderall and modafinil can give you excellent stimulant-like effects when used as cognitive enhancers. With either, you can look forward to wakefulness, improved memory, and focus. In the case of modafinil, you’ll also experience a greater drive to get things done and be productive.
But how the two drugs make all of this happen makes one a much better choice over the other.
Adderall’s mechanism of action results in a much rougher experience, leading to unpleasant crashes once the effects have worn off. It’s also a drug that has high abuse potential, which can easily lead down the road of addiction.
Modafinil offers the same effects without those downsides. It has no post-use crash to speak of and is not addictive. Unlike Adderall, it is also not illegal to own if you don’t have a prescription and easy to get online.
All other things being equal, for me at least, the modafinil vs. Adderall battle has a clear winner. It’s why I have been using the former for years and stay well clear of the latter.
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