In researching nootropics, it’s likely that most researchers and subjects have come across the medications modafinil and Vyvanse.
These two medications are both used to treat ADHD and sleep disorders, but they may also carry some powerful nootropic (brain enhancing) effects.
This article reviews what you need to know about modafinil and Vyvanse.
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What is Modafinil?
Modafinil is a prescription wakefulness agent that is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help increase alertness in people with sleep disorders. The most common sleep disorders it’s used for are sleep apnea, shift work sleep disorder, and narcolepsy. 
However, it also has a number of off label uses. It may help with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, and fatigue that is secondary to other medical conditions. 
It’s also a nootropic agent, meaning that it provides cognitive benefits — such as boosted memory, focus, alertness, task performance, and more. 
What is Vyvanse?
Vyvanse is the trade name for a drug called lisdexamfetamine. It’s a prescription medication that is approved for use for ADHD and binge eating disorder. 
Vyvanse is a type of amphetamine, so there is a high risk of dependence with Vyvanse use — and it’s quite powerful. 
It works by increasing circulating levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which helps improve focus and alertness. 
Although it’s a stimulant, it improves focus in people with ADHD, allowing them to concentrate on one task at a time. 
Mechanisms of Action
Modafinil is a stimulant that works by inhibiting dopamine reuptake by the nerves. This allows for increased levels of dopamine to circulate in the brain. Dopamine has stimulating, focus-improving effects that can help people with sleep disorders stay awake and help people with ADHD improve their concentration. 
Vyvanse is a stimulant also, but it’s classified as an amphetamine (like Adderall). It increases circulating levels of both dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Norepinephrine has highly stimulating properties, making Vyvanse a more powerful stimulant. 
Modafinil vs. Vyvanse | Comparison
Although they are different in many ways, modafinil and Vyvanse have some similarities. Here are the major things that these two drugs have in common:
- Certain uses. Both modafinil and Vyvanse are used for ADHD. While ADHD is considered an off-label use for modafinil, it’s an approved use for Vyvanse.
- Main effects. Modafinil and Vyvanse are both stimulants that may increase energy, alertness, focus, and concentration.
- Prescription status. In the United States, modafinil and Vyvanse are both prescription drugs. To legally possess them, individuals require a valid prescription from a healthcare provider.
Direct Comparison Studies
Several studies have been conducted comparing modafinil, Vyvanse, and other drugs — mostly for the treatment of ADHD.
In adults with ADHD in one trial, Vyvanse and other amphetamines appeared to be effective, while modafinil was similar to placebo. Another review of studies had similar findings regarding modafinil. [7, 8]
Another large review found positive, but small, effects on ADHD from all included medications in the study when compared to a placebo — including modafinil, Vyvanse, and several others. 
Modafinil side effects
difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
loss of appetite
tight muscles or difficulty moving
uncontrollable shaking of a part of your body
burning, tingling, or numbness of the skin
difficulty seeing or eye pain”
Vyvanse side effects
Additionally, both of these medications may cause severe side effects. If subjects experience any of these, medical attention should be sought as soon as possible — or immediately if the side effect is severe:
Severe modafinil side effects
difficulty breathing or swallowing
swelling of the face, throat, tongue, lips, eyes, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs
fast, pounding, or irregular heartbeat
frenzied, abnormally excited mood
hallucinating (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
thinking about killing or harming yourself”
Severe Vyvanse side effects
“slow or difficult speech
weakness or numbness of an arm or leg
hallucinating (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
believing things that are not true
feeling unusually suspicious of others
motor or verbal tics
swelling of the eyes, face, tongue, lips, or mouth
blurred vision or other vision problems
paleness or blue color of fingers or toes
numbness, pain, or sensitivity to temperature in the fingers or toes
unexplained wounds appearing on fingers or toes”
Additionally, there is one minor drug interaction between modafinil and Vyvanse when they are used together. In studies, researchers noted that the combination of 200 mg modafinil with ADHD drugs similar to Vyvanse caused a delay in the absorption of modafinil by approximately 60 minutes .
Additionally, neither of these medications should be used in combination with alcohol or illicit drugs. It’s important that a physician assesses subjects for other prescription drugs or medical conditions that may be affected by modafinil and Vyvanse, as well.
Based on what we’ve seen, experiences with modafinil and Vyvanse are mixed. While some people who have tried both prefer Vyvanse, others prefer modafinil.
Vyvanse is more powerful than modafinil, but also carries with it the risk of being habit-forming.
On the other hand, modafinil doesn’t carry this same habit-forming potential (as far as we know according to existing research), but many researchers report that the effects are weak or nonexistent.
However, many people are perfectly happy with the increase in focus and energy they get from modafinil.
It all depends on your unique body chemistry and how you handle these medications. It’s worth discussing your concerns and questions about modafinil vs. Vyvanse with your prescribing physician, too.
Here are some of the common uses of both modafinil and Vyvanse:
- ADHD. Both modafinil and Vyvanse are used for ADHD treatment and management. They affect dopamine levels in the body, and increased levels of dopamine — interestingly enough — provide a calming effect for people with ADHD, allowing them to focus. This is despite the fact that, for people without ADHD, stimulants like modafinil and Vyvanse are not likely to be calming. ADHD is an off label use of modafinil.
- Sleep disorders. On the other hand, modafinil is approved by the FDA for use in sleep disorders, like narcolepsy, shift work sleep disorder, and sleep apnea. Vyvanse can also be used to help promote wakefulness in people with these conditions, however, this is considered an off label use of Vyvanse.
- Binge eating. Vyvanse is also used to treat binge eating disorder because it reduces appetite. A common side effect of modafinil is also appetite reduction, however, it’s not used to treat binge eating.
- Cognition. Finally, both Vyvanse and modafinil have nootropic properties, meaning they may improve cognition, focus, concentration, alertness, decision making, task performance, or other similar factors.
Physicians may also prescribe these medications for other off label uses, such as fatigue related to other conditions or mood disorders.
- Addictive potential. Vyvanse is powerful and potentially habit-forming. It’s an amphetamine, and this class of drugs is well known for their addictive potential. Although there has been one case report of possible modafinil dependence, modafinil doesn’t appear to be nearly as addictive as Vyvanse. [4, 11]
- Uses. Modafinil and Vyvanse, although similar in function, are approved for different conditions. Modafinil is approved for sleep disorders, and Vyvanse is approved for ADHD. However, both of these medications may be prescribed for either of these conditions. Additionally, Vyvanse may also be used for binge eating disorder treatment.
- Side effects. As detailed in the tables above, the side effects of modafinil and Vyvanse differ slightly. Based on anecdotal reports as well as research, modafinil tends to have more mild side effects, while the stronger Vyvanse may have more noticeable side effects.
- Potency. Generally, Vyvanse is considered to be much stronger than modafinil. Amphetamines are a powerful class of medications, which is why they are typically only prescribed in very narrow instances — like for ADHD.
- Drug class and mechanism of action. Although modafinil and Vyvanse are both considered stimulants, they are actually from two different classes of drugs. Modafinil is a eugeroic, and Vyvanse is an amphetamine. Additionally, while both involve dopamine, Vyvanse also involves norepinephrine in its mechanism of action.
What’s Best for You?
If you are interested in taking modafinil or Vyvanse, it’s important to first have a conversation with your healthcare provider.
Generally, modafinil is preferred for its nootropic effects because it’s not habit forming.
However, Vyvanse may work better for you if you have ADHD.
Again, though, it’s best to discuss these options with a healthcare provider so that you can have expert guidance regarding these two medications.
Modafinil vs. Vyvanse | Verdict
Modafinil and Vyvanse are two similar drugs, but they have some key differences.
For nootropics researchers, modafinil is our recommendation. Vyvanse is an amphetamine, so it has an increased risk for more severe side effects and may cause dependency.
On the other hand, modafinil has a very low risk of dependency but is still a popular nootropic among researchers. Additionally, it offers a host of cognitive benefits.
These are a few reasons why modafinil is our favorite nootropic.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. Modafinil. MedlinePlus website. February 15, 2016. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a602016.html
- Peñaloza RA, Sarkar U, Claman DM, Omachi TA. Trends in on-label and off-label modafinil use in a nationally representative sample. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(8):704-706. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.2807
- Battleday RM, Brem AK. Modafinil for cognitive neuroenhancement in healthy non-sleep-deprived subjects: A systematic review. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2015;25(11):1865-1881. doi:10.1016/j.euroneuro.2015.07.028
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. Lisdexamfetamine. MedlinePlus website. October 15, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a607047.html
- Roncero C, Álvarez FJ. The use of lisdexamfetamine dimesylate for the treatment of ADHD and other psychiatric disorders. Expert Rev Neurother. 2014;14(8):849-865. doi:10.1586/14737175.2014.932691
- Hashemian SM, Farhadi T. A review on modafinil: the characteristics, function, and use in critical care. J Drug Assess. 2020;9(1):82-86. Published 2020 Apr 4. doi:10.1080/21556660.2020.1745209
- Cortese S, Adamo N, Del Giovane C, et al. Comparative efficacy and tolerability of medications for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children, adolescents, and adults: a systematic review and network meta-analysis. Lancet Psychiatry. 2018;5(9):727-738. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(18)30269-4
- Stuhec M, Lukić P, Locatelli I. Efficacy, Acceptability, and Tolerability of Lisdexamfetamine, Mixed Amphetamine Salts, Methylphenidate, and Modafinil in the Treatment of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Ann Pharmacother. 2019;53(2):121-133. doi:10.1177/1060028018795703
- Elliott J, Johnston A, Husereau D, et al. Pharmacologic treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults: A systematic review and network meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2020;15(10):e0240584. Published 2020 Oct 21. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0240584
- Drugs.com. Drug interactions between modafinil and Vyvanse. Drugs.com website. N.d. https://www.drugs.com/drug-interactions/modafinil-with-vyvanse-1647-0-1475-2533.html?professional=1
- Alacam H, Basay O, Tumkaya S, Mart M, Kar G. Modafinil Dependence: A Case with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Psychiatry Investig. 2018;15(4):424-427. doi:10.30773/pi.2016.10.25