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Do nootropic drugs like modafinil make you smarter?
Are they like coffee?
Do they improve working memory?
Is there a potential for a pill like NZT-48 from the movie Limitless? From Wikipedia (SPOILER ALERT!):

After taking [a nootropic drug, NZT-48,] Eddie finds himself able to learn faster and recall memories from his distant past, with the only apparent side effect being a change in the colour of Eddie's irises while on the drug - his eyes becoming an intense shade of electric blue. He uses this ability to finish ninety pages of his book. The next day, the effects [have] worn off...

Testing his new ability on the stock market, Eddie makes large returns on small investments...Eddie starts experiencing blackouts, apparently having moved great distances in between periods of lucidity. When the blackouts stop, he...limps home. Later, Eddie sees a news report detailing the murder of the woman he had slept with, and is unable to remember if he was the killer...Eddie meets with Melissa, and discovers that she too had been on NZT. When she attempted to stop taking it, she had experienced a severe mental rebound effect, and others had died after stopping...

Eddie experiments with the drug, and learns to control his dosage and food intake to prevent side effects...Eddie discovers his pills are gone when he returns home, and enters withdrawal. Gennady breaks into his apartment, demanding more NZT. He reveals that, to increase its potency, he has been injecting it. Eddie stabs Gennady, and drinks his blood for the NZT in it. His increased mental acuity [is] restored...

Eddie reveals that he has multiple laboratories working on NZT, and that they had eventually developed a way to get the bugs out of the drug and to reverse engineer it, for the purpose of ceasing to take the drug and retain the enhanced mental faculties facilitated by NZT.

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Duplicate on Skeptics.SE? – New Alexandria Aug 7 '13 at 13:05

Your question is very vague, and on a subject where a lot more research needs to be done, so forgive me but my answer is also going to probably be more vague and less definitive than you were hoping for.

Provigil, as far as I can tell is just another brand name of modafinil, which has some very clear advantages when it comes to increasing your concentration and stamina. Military experiments show increases to precision and alertness in pilots after being awake for extended periods while on the drug compared to the control. Its actual capacity to increase your intelligence is harder to determine however. Some studies have shown it is effective, but in a meta analysis the benefits appeared to be mostly limited to those who did not have a high IQ to start with.

From what I have seen so far, modafinil is more reliable as a stimulant. It can increase working memory and performance at a selection of tasks in some people, but is not a magic bullet for becoming a genius temporarily. In addition, it is not particularly safe for long term use. Other drugs with less severe side effects, and measurable long term side effects exist, but they are not nearly as dramatic. Piracetam and choline are probably the best known and most widely studied combination for this.

As for NZT, there is unfortunately nothing at all like that yet and my speculation on the matter would be meaningless.


Kelley, A. M., Webb, C. M., Athy, J. R., Ley, S., & Gaydos, S. (2012). Cognition enhancement by modafinil: A meta-analysis. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 83(7), 685–690.

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Please check if I've edited in the meta-analysis to which you intended to refer. – Nick Stauner Feb 23 '14 at 21:47

I have a liver disease which causes fatigue. In 2008, I was prescribed Provigil (modafinil) to help with my stamina. After that date, my previously mediocre work performance improved, earning me promotions and raises. In 2010, the liver disease won out, and I was forced to stop working. About a year after my liver transplant in 2011, the doctors allowed me to begin using Provigil again. The resulting increase in stamina aided my recovery significantly as far as exercising and being active in many areas. When I went on Medicare last year, I discovered to my horror that, once I hit the Gap, a 30-supply of Provigil would cost me $900. I now feel a deep sadness at my loss of energy. The only stimulant I've been able to afford is Ritalin. I live now with so many limitations, my quality of life is no longer acceptable. Despite the efforts of my transplant team and my neurologist, this type of drug and others like it are out of the price range of those of us on a fixed income. I've heard discussion regarding addiction as a possible side affect of modafinil, but I'm 63, and I was granted an extension of this life, and I deserve one in which I can participate. You can put me down for being "addicted" to immunosuppressants. Oh, IQ? I tested at 145 back when I was in school.

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Welcome to cogsci.SE. Do you feel that modafinil made you smarter or affected your working memory? Do you have any experience with coffee that you could offer for comparison? – Nick Stauner Feb 23 '14 at 23:42
@user4463 - that's strange - It looks like it became available as a generic by the time you went on Medicare - see…. – Matthew Elvey May 7 '15 at 22:29

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