Will it help me remember to take out the trash, too?
Remember when we all watched Limitless with Bradley Cooper, and thought it was so far-fetched? The whole idea of a pill (called NZT in the film) that enables the user to access a 100 percent of the brain's abilities seems like pure science fiction.
While the drug Modafinil hardly lets you access a 100 percent of your brain's abilities, it's becoming known as a smart drug, and a new study says that Modafinil actually works for some people, improving performance on long and complex tasks, and enhancing decision-making and planning skills.
Modafinil, also known by its brand name Provigil, is a wakefulness drug developed in the 1980s. It's usually prescribed for narcolepsy but is widely used for its stimulating effects and to deal with sleep deficits.
As such, many people believed it helped their cognitive performance and productivity.
"This is the first overview of Modafinil's actions in non-sleep deprived individuals since 2008, and we were able to include a lot of recent data," Ruairidh Mc Lennan Battleday, a co-author of the new review and a lecturer at the University of Oxford, said in a statement.
"The recent studies of the drug have used more complex tests of cognition than those employed previously, and found that Modafinil indeed enhances thinking. In particular, the drug affects the higher brain functions that rely on contribution from multiple simple cognitive processes."
According to a piece in The Atlantic, Modafinil can help normal people think better. For the study, researchers reviewed 24 placebo-controlled studies in healthy people, published between 1990 and 2014.
The studies included more than 700 participants total, and tested a variety of aspects of thinking including planning and decision-making, flexibility, learning, memory, and creativity.
Modafinil improved only certain features of cognition the researchers found. In general, the drug appeared to improve the ability to shift through new information and make plans based on it.
To a degree, Modafinil also enhanced people's ability to pay attention, learn, and remember. The new findings raise ethical concerns about using the drug, especially if it gives students an unfair advantage in preparing for or taking tests.
It has few side effects and has had only a few instances of insomnia, headache, stomachache, and nausea, all of which were reported in the placebo group as well.
If the usage of Modafinil becomes more widespread, there will be an increasing number of debates over the ethics of smart drugs. Currently, people require a psychiatric diagnoses in order to be prescribed the drug. But if it's ultimately found to be safe and it works for almost anyone, should everyone be able to take it at any time?
Would taking Modafinil before a chemistry exam be considered cheating? Is there a limit to how much you're allowed to enhance your intelligence?