The Department of Defense has bought thousands of doses of a “smart drug” that could keep soldiers awake for 40 hours in combat.
In response to a MailOnline Freedom of Information inquiry, the Ministry of Defense admitted to having bought more than 12,500 modafinil pills from 2013 to 2021 at an estimated cost of up to £800,000 based on drug prices published by NICE.
Modafinil, a stimulant prescribed to narcoleptics to keep them from falling asleep during the day, has an effect similar to “drinking 20 cups of coffee,” according to one doctor.
Unlike caffeine, which can make coffee drinkers jittery, modafinil has few short-term effects on users, although long-term use of the “smart drug” can cause arrhythmias, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system.
The controversial psychostimulant has surged in popularity over the past two decades as more college students and high-profile business executives seek to illegally purchase modafinil to boost their productivity.
The MoD has bought thousands of doses of modafinil, a “smart drug” that could keep soldiers awake in combat for 40 hours, with 12,500 pills purchased since 2013
Modafinil, a stimulant prescribed to narcoleptics to prevent them from falling asleep during the day, says Dr. Judith Leech, medical director at the West Ottawa Sleep Center in Canada, found an effect similar to “drinking 20 cups of coffee.”
Modafinil is rumored to be the inspiration for the fictional wonder drug taken by Bradley Cooper’s character in the 2011 film Infinite, which allowed him to use 100 percent of his brain and harness superhuman abilities.
The over-the-counter sale of modafinil was banned in the UK in 2016, and the tablets are only available with a prescription for diagnosed cases of narcolepsy and other chronic sleep disorders.
However, reports suggest college campuses are inundated with such mind-altering substances, with 29 percent of college students admitting to having experimented with smart drugs of one type or another, according to a 2019 survey by student newspaper The Tab.
How does Modafinil work?
Modafinil, sold under the brand name Provigil, is a central nervous system stimulant.
The mechanism by which the drug works is not fully understood, although it is known to act on the hypothalamus, a gland in the brain that controls hormones.
Modafinil makes chemical messengers like adenosine and monoamines more available in the spaces between brain cells.
This reduces drowsiness, while the drug is also linked to improvements in decision-making, flexibility, learning, memory, and even creativity.
Side effects of the drug can include restlessness, anxiety, arrhythmia, nausea and vomiting.
Modafinil can also interfere with birth control pills and increase the risk of birth defects if taken during pregnancy.
Although illegal, modafinil is still available online for pill junkies looking for a productivity boost – often from overseas vendors.
In a report for New York Magazine, a Wall Street analyst and trader named Peter Borden vividly described the “crazy feeling” he got after taking modafinil to boost work performance.
He said: “I felt it was actually blood going to the optic nerve. Your eyes begin to feel very stuffy and your awareness comes to the front of your face.
“My senses have shifted to the visual and my sense of hearing has diminished.
“Noise was not even registered.
“It was like walking around on a winter’s day when it just snowed.
“It was very easy to stay visually focused.
“I didn’t take that many breaks; I wasn’t that frustrated; the stuff came out with fewer errors,” said Mr. Borden.
The US military has long had an interest in using drugs to prevent sleepy soldiers from making mistakes on the battlefield, with an early documented experiment on helicopter pilots using dexedrine, an ADHD drug, conducted in 1995.
The results, published in the journal Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, showed that after 34 hours without sleep, the military pilots were able to perform complicated maneuvers in a simulator without “adverse behavioral or physiological effects.”
A US study published in 2012 gave Black Hawk helicopter operators modafinil when they conducted a series of flights and other assessments over a 40-hour period without sleep, and concluded that the pills allowed the pilots to maintain their “alertness.” and better maintain “cognitive function”. throughout the ordeal.
“In my view, this is just one of those abuses of a medical application,” said Dr. Judith Leech, Medical Director at the West Ottawa Sleep Center in Canada.
Speaking to The Ottawa Citizen about the military’s use of modafinil, the doctor continued, “You could probably get the same thing with 20 cups of coffee, but you wouldn’t like it.”
Modafinil is rumored to be the inspiration for the fictional wonder drug taken by Bradley Cooper’s character in the 2011 film Limitless (pictured), which allowed him to use 100 percent of his brain and harness superhuman abilities
|Year||Modafinil tablets purchased by the Department of Defense|
dr Judith Leech (pictured), medical director at the West Ottawa Sleep Center in Canada, said: “Sleep helps the brain store memories and recover from work, and helps the body build its immune system.”
“…What I use on someone whose life is completely compromised by a brain chemistry disorder is different than what I think you should use on an army man or other sane people.
“It’s bad to take drugs for bad reasons. There’s a reason we get sleepy.
“Sleep helps the brain store memories and recover from work, and helps the body build its immune system.
“And you deprive yourself of those things when you use a stimulant to overcome it.”
A Guardian investigation published in 2004 found that purchases of Provigil, a brand name of modafinil, began in 1998 and peaked in 2001, with 5,000 pills shipped, the year the Allies invaded Afghanistan.
The second largest order, for more than 4,000 pills, came in 2002 when troops invaded Iraq.