Curious about Modafinil vs. Adderall?
Let's break it down for you…
Both of these drugs are stimulants prescribed to address ADHD, sleep and fatigue. Both are also commonly used as nootropics to enhance cognition and improve performance at work and school.
Like the Limitless Pill from the movie, both Modafinil and Adderall have the potential to drastically change how you work.
But they're not the same.
Adderall and Modafinil have different chemistry, they work in different ways, and they have different side effects. They also differ in terms of their legality and how you can buy them online.
In this comprehensive guide, we'll refer to the research to compare Adderall vs. Modafinil and give you a better sense of how they're the same, how they're different, and which might be right for you.
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What is Modafinil?
To understand how Adderall compares to Modafinil, you have to understand a bit about each of them.
So, what is Modafinil? Modafinil is a prescription medication that enhances wakefulness . It was developed in France throughout the 1980s and 1990s and was eventually approved in the US in 1998 under the brand name Provigil.
It's prescribed to individuals who suffer from sleep disorders so that they do not experience excessive sleepiness during the day . On-label uses for Modafinil include individuals that have been diagnosed with :
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Shift work sleep disorder
It's also more recently been shown to be effective as a therapy for other disorders, so it is now occasionally used for off-label uses like:
- Major depressive disorder
- Treatment for addictions issues
What is Adderall?
Adderall is the brand name for a psychostimulant prescription medication that is a combination of four different kinds of amphetamine salts .
Adderall is essentially the reformulation of a popular weight loss drug called “Obetrol” created by the pharmaceutical company Rexar . It was eventually removed from the US market in the 1970s because it didn't actually work.
In the early 1990s, Richwood Pharmaceuticals bought Rexar. They added some new amphetamine salts and started promoting this weight loss pill as a treatment for ADHD. They then changed the name to Adderall.
Adderall is currently prescribed to treat :
While Modafinil is relatively new on the scene, Adderall has been popular with college students for decades. Many consider it to be the “study drug” of choice for finals week or when that big paper is due.
Mechanisms of Action
Here we'll take a look at how these pharmaceutical drugs affect the brain and body.
While the results are similar, the pharmacology and mechanisms of action for both these products vary.
Modafinil's chemical name is Diphenylmethylsulfinylacetamide and has the following chemical formula: C15H15NO2S . Structurally, Modafinil has two isomers: an “R-” enantiomer and an “S+” enantiomer.
Modafinil is a central nervous system stimulant meaning that it stimulates and increases activity in your central nervous system.
- It inhibits the reuptake of dopamine from the synapses in your nervous system, increasing dopamine action. This is believed to have the dual effect of boosting mood as well as wakefulness
- It also indirectly upregulates several other neurotransmitters involved in wakefulness, including orexin, histamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
- Finally, it's believed to down-regulate GABA, which is a neurotransmitter linked to decreased neural activity.
While it's not clear exactly how Modafinil works, what is clear is that it works quite differently from amphetamines—like Adderall. That means there is no jittery feeling or other characteristics that are common among many stimulants .
Adderall consists of a blend of four amphetamine salts :
- dextroamphetamine sulfate: (C9H13N)2•H2SO4
- amphetamine sulfate: (C9H13N)2•H2SO4
- dextroamphetamine saccharate: (C9H13N)2•C6H10O8
- amphetamine aspartate monohydrate: (C9H13N)•C4H7NO4•H2O
In contrast to Modafinil, Adderall's mechanism of action is very well understood.
Adderall works by upregulating dopamine and norepinephrine. It also triggers a greater release of a number of hormones and neurotransmitters like epinephrine, serotonin, and histamine. It basically works to take these neurotransmitters and push them into the synapse and create greater bonding .
Modafinil vs. Adderall | Comparison
Both Modafinil and Adderall have a particular set of benefits that they confer to their user. Some of these are similar, but some are different. This section focuses on the benefits of Modafinil vs. Adderall.
We have a long, very comprehensive article on the particular benefits of Modafinil, so check that out for a detailed look. But here's a brief look at what you can expect to experience from Modafinil, along with relevant science.
- Heightened Focus: One of the reasons that Modafinil is so popular among students and individuals with massive workloads is the sustained concentration and focus it gives its users. Research has consistently shown that Modafinil is very effective for boosting focus and concentration, enabling users to get more done than they otherwise would [8, 9]. Unlike other types of stimulants, including Adderall and coffee, Modafinil doesn't cause jitters or that feeling of bouncing off the walls. It's a calm, sustained focus.
- Staying Awake: Modafinil promotes wakefulness in users for up to 10-15 hours . This is ideal for students or hustlers looking to meet deadlines. Research demonstrates that in a ton of contexts, including for military helicopter pilots, Modafinil can help people stay awake . It also helps sleep-deprived individuals perform at about the same levels they would if they were well-rested [9, 11]. Just make sure to take this smart drug in the morning so that it doesn't impact your overnight sleep.
- Improved memory. Several research studies have demonstrated significant effects of Modafinil on various aspects of memory including working memory, spatial memory, and episodic memory [11, 12, 13, 14]. This is part of the reason it's so useful to students struggling to remember everything for their massive exam. Modafinil improves that memorization process.
- Enhanced Cognition. Research has demonstrated that Modafinil has a large impact on a number of different cognitive functions. This massive list includes improved spatial planning, visual pattern recognition, reaction time , strategic planning and decision-making skills , and even visual processing .
- Better Mood: Research finds that individuals that take Modafinil report improved moods . Doctors aren't clear exactly why they find this effect, but they suspect this is a side effect of the upregulation of dopamine, which is tied closely with mood. Whatever the reason, this effect is part of the reason that Modafinil is increasingly being used as a complementary therapy for mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder .
- Improved motivation: This is another boon for the hustler, elite student, or entrepreneur: not only does Modafinil help you get the energy to get through your massive pile of work, but it also helps with the motivation to do so. In one study, participants on Modafinil reported taking much more pleasure from their work and an increased desire to do it .
In addition to those well-studied benefits of Modafinil, there are also a few more logistical ones that make Modafinil a great option for many:
- Price: Modafinil and modafinil alternatives are actually pretty cheap, all things considered. Whereas a cup of coffee at Starbucks might set you back about $4, you can get a day's serving of Modafinil for about $0.80. It's much more economical, especially considering how much longer it lasts.
- Hangover cure: This is one of the things that our team loves about Modafinil: it can turn a hangover day into a productive day. Rather than spending the day after a night out sleeping, watching Modern Family, and tapping away on your phone, Modafinil can help you actually get some work done. It's a time rescue.
So what can you expect as benefits of Adderall? Like Modafinil, there are many. Adderall also has the benefit of having been around longer, so there are a ton of studies out there about its use.
- Reduced fatigue. As a stimulant, Adderall has been shown in several studies to reduce fatigue and increase perceived energy levels [19, 20].
- Intense Focus: Adderall's primary use is for treating ADHD, so it's not a surprise that it is effective at improving focus. One study found that it can improve sustained attention and vigilance so that the user can stay on task for very long periods of time 
- Improve cognitive function: Several studies have found that Adderall has a significant effect on a number of different aspects of cognition [22, 23]. However, other studies have found that sometimes these effects are not significantly different from a placebo .
- Improved memory: Research has suggested that Adderall can improve certain kinds of working memory in at least some people, but these effects do not seem to be as clear as for Modafinil [25, 26].
Direct Comparisions Studies
While most of the research done on these two drugs has not compared the two in terms of effectiveness, some researchers have done direct comparisons of Adderall vs. Modafinil. Here are a few of those studies.
- Fatigue: In one study of 41 participants, researchers compared Adderall vs. Modafinil on various cognitive components. They found them equally as good at improving mood, reducing fatigue, and improving cognitive performance. However, because Modafinil has a better safety profile, they concluded that it was the safer of the two alternatives .
- Cognitive performance: In another study, researchers found that Adderall and Modafinil were just as good at improving cognitive performance in sleep-deprived individuals. They found that Adderall tended to last longer than Modafinil, but that it also disturbed sleep. They found that Modafinil had fewer side effects [28, 29, 30].
- Weight loss: Both Modafinil and Adderall have been found to contribute to weight loss. Adderall seems to be especially effective at this , but because it has fewer side effects and lower risk of addiction, researchers actually suggest Modafinil could be more appropriate than Adderall for this use .
As you can see, the benefits of Modafinil and Adderall are somewhat similar. But what about Modafinil side effects compared to Adderall side effects? Is one safer?
The high-level takeaway is this: while both are considered safe, Adderall typically has some stronger side effects. That's what we hear from users and it's also consistent with what we see in the research [28, 29, 30].
Modafinil Side Effects
- Weight Loss
- No Appetite
While these have been found to be the most common of the possible Modafinil side effects, they are even still not very common. In clinical trials, 17% or fewer of the participants reported experiencing any of these side effects [33, 34].
Modafinil overdose: Modafinil is remarkably safe, even at really high doses. While taking more than the recommended Modafinil dosage will increase your chance of experiencing uncomfortable side effects, it won't kill you. There hasn't been a single reported death attributed to Modafinil [34, 35, 36, 37, 38 39, 40].
Adderall Side Effects
Adderall, also, has several commonly experienced side effects :
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
- stomach pain
- Weight loss
Some other more serious—but less common—Adderall side effects include :
- Blurred vision
- Allergic reactions.
If you experience any of the above side effects, you should report them to your health care provider.
Adderall overdose: Like Modafinil, Adderall is pretty safe even at really high doses. The lethal dose for Adderall is about 1.4 grams for someone who is 154 pounds (70 kg). That's about 25 times higher than the recommended dose.
However, while it's usually quite safe, unlike Modafinil, there have been a few cases of individuals who have died from taking it . Again, this is rare. It usually occurred in people with underlying heart conditions. But it has happened. It's never happened with Modafinil.
We've tried both, so our experience might be useful to you.
Here's what our team noted throughout testing these products:
While we have experienced some side effects like headaches, indigestion, trouble sleeping, and diarrhea, these have been minor and are avoidable. In our experience, you can reduce these effects by:
- Drinking water to stay hydrated and reduce headaches
- Eat a big meal in the morning and at night to avoid stomach issues
- Take it in the morning so it doesn't keep you up at night.
In our experience, the side effects are worse. We sometimes get what feels like a nasty Adderall “hangover” the morning after taking it. We've woken up after taking an Adderall and felt like someone punched us upside the head while you were sleeping.
It's not pleasant. It was hangovers like this that ended up being the reason we've mostly stopped used it; we go for one of the many Adderall alternatives now, instead.
Addictive Properties and Dependence
If you start taking Adderall or Modafinil, will you get addicted to it?
Here's what the research says:
Modafinil addiction and dependence
One of the great things about Modafinil is that the research has established that it has a very low risk of abuse [39, 40]. Indeed, it's even started to be used to help people abstain from using other drugs that they're trying to quit, like cocaine and — interestingly, amphetamines [44, 45].
Adderall addiction and dependence
Risk of addiction is very low when using the low daily doses that are prescribed for ADHD. But addiction becomes a greater risk when used at higher doses—which is usually the case when it's used recreationally .
There is a bit of a greater risk for abuse, dependence, and addiction.
Modafinil and Adderall are commonly used by a multitude of people.
Some high-achievers include:
- Entrepreneurs and business executives. If you're looking to bust through your massive to-do list, this is for you. Modafinil will help you crank out 12 to 14 hour days without getting fatigued.
- Developers. Anyone would get tired of coding for hours on end. Modafinil and Adderall can help coders concentrate and work out bugs. We know tons of web developers that find these smart drugs especially useful.
- Students. Anyone that cares about their grades will find these two stimulants useful. They'll help you get through your homework, concentrate on studying for the exam, and actually remember the material better.
- Writers. While Modafinil and Adderall aren't necessarily the best nootropics for creativity, they can still help you actually sit down and get things done. If what you need to do is concentrate and get in your daily word count, Modafinil can really help.
Basically, Modafinil and Adderall are both commonly used in any industry where you need to maintain intense focus. They'll pump up your endurance so that you don't get tired.
The biggest differences between Adderall vs. Modafinil are in their clinical uses as well as in their side effects.
While both Modafinil and Adderall are used to treat narcolepsy, Adderall's primary use is for ADHD. That's basically what it's for: helping improve focus.
Modafinil's primary clinical uses are for sleepiness, stemming from sleep disorders (including narcolepsy, as well as shift-work sleep disorder and sleep apnea). It's also used for depression and to reduce fatigue. While it can be used as a treatment for ADHD, this is much less common.
The side effects of Adderall are worse than Modafinil. That's the case in our own experience and it's been corroborated by research [xx]. You also have a significantly greater chance of becoming dependent on Adderall than you do for Modafinil.
Is Modafinil legal? And what about Adderall?
Both Modafinil and Adderall are legal as long as you have a prescription. If you don't, neither are legal. However, because Adderall is listed as a Schedule II drug in the USA under the Controlled Substances Act, and Modafinil is only listed in Schedule IV, it's a bit easier to get Modafinil and it's taken less seriously.
If you're looking for something that's legal, you'll want Adderall or Modafinil alternatives. There are quite a few nootropics that actually work that are legal.
Keep in mind, too, that there are both Modafinil alternatives as well as Adderall alternatives that you may want to check out. We've written several articles on different nootropics and over-the-counter Adderall alternatives that you can find online or at your local pharmacy or supplement store.
What’s Best For You?
Honestly, we highly recommend Modafinil over Adderall.
Here are the main reasons:
- Same potent effects: Modafinil and Adderall have a lot of the same effects on cognition. In that respect, they're about equal.
- Strength: Modafinil doesn't feel as strong as Adderall, but that's a good thing. Rather than having a “high” feeling, Modafinil makes you feel calm and focused so you can get things done.
- Side effects: Our experience is that Modafinil has much milder side effects. That's corroborated by research.
- Much lower chance of addiction: Modafinil has a much lower potential to be abused, which is a huge plus for it.
- Easier to get: It's much easier to buy Modafinil online than it is to get Adderall. And it tends to be cheaper, too.
Adderall vs. Modafinil | Verdict
While the Modafinil vs. Adderall debate may rage on, you need to find a nootropic that works for you.
We prefer Modafinil.
This “Limitless” pill works well for us, offers little or no side effects, and provides insane productivity. Is Modafinil legal? Not really, unless you have a prescription. But it is easy to buy online, anyways.
While we've taken Adderall in the past, we generally no longer use it. The drug was too harsh and resulted in several side effects. We especially didn't feeling hungover the day after using Adderall. If you're looking for a good nootropic, we suggest one of the many over-the-counter Adderall alternatives. It's not worth the headache — literally.
When getting better grades or making more money is on your mind, Modafinil is the go-to nootropic. There just isn't anything better on the market right now.
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