Source: Sunday Times
Date: 15 July 2007

Tired professors take ‘smart’
pills to perk up lectures

Will Iredale

modafinil aka Provigil

UNIVERSITY academics are using a “smart” prescription drug that enhances memory and boosts concentration to give them the edge over their rivals when giving presentations.

Studies into the effects of Modafinil, an American drug, have shown it can improve mental ability without the side effects of stimulants such as amphetamines or caffeine.

Modafinil was created to help sufferers from sleep disorders. It is also stocked by the American army for use by exhausted soldiers.

Those academics who use the drug often do so because they fly round the world giving lectures. They take Modafinil to perk themselves up after long flights so that they can make their presentations despite jetlag.

Philip Harvey, professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Emory University school of medicine in Atlanta, said he had recently taken a Modafinil tablet before flying to Britain to give a presentation the afternoon he landed.

“Ratings I have received for those presentations when I have used Modafinil have been the same as at other times [when not jetlagged],” said Harvey. “It makes you seem less tired and helps you perform the same as usual under less than optimal conditions.”

Barbara Sahakian, professor of neuropsychology at Cambridge University, who has researched Modafinil, said academics she knew had started using the drug after hearing about it through their work.

“I flew over to a conference in Florida and one of my colleagues offered me some Modafinil. I found at least four colleagues took it and that was without me even asking them. One was at Oxford, two were from The Hague and one was in Washington,” said Sahakian.

Researchers at Cambridge University who examined the effects of Modafinil found that it dramatically improved memory function in healthy people who were not sleep deprived.

Danielle Turner, from the department of psychiatry at Cambridge, tested 60 healthy young males on their ability to use touch-sensitive computer screens after they had received either a placebo or a Modafinil tablet.

She found the volunteers given Modafinil performed significantly better and showed less impulsive responding and an increased tendency to reflect on the tasks they were given.

Modafinil can be bought over the internet or as a prescription drug in Britain to treat sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. Although it can have mild side effects, such as headaches, it is not addictive.

In April Foresight, a government think tank, said “cognitive enhancers” such as Modafinil could be “as common as coffee” within a couple of decades to help a person think faster and sleep more efficiently.

The Department of Health has asked The Academy of Medical Sciences to assess the impact of such substances and a report is due in November.


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Modafinil (Provigil): FDA endorses new uses