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Can This Drug Make You Better at Your Job?

Published On 08/27/2015 Published On 08/27/2015
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Looking to get a promotion? It could be as easy as taking a pill.

In a new analysis published in European Neuropsychopharmacology, University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School researchers looked at studies done on the drug modafinil, which, in addition to being an aid for narcolepsy and other sleep disorders, improves your cognitive function. Meaning yes, it could probably give you just that push you need to get ahead at work.

According to The Atlantic, the researchers found that modafinil (sold by the brand name Provigil in the US and similar to Nuvigil) can help improve decision-making and planning skills. It can also help with flexible thinking, combining information, or coping with novelty.

"What emerged was that the longer and the more complex the task... the more consistently modafinil showed cognitive benefits,” Anna-Katharine Brem, a neuropsychologist at Oxford and one of the study's authors, told The Atlantic.

But how does it differ from other drugs that promote productivity, like Adderall? According to some psychiatrists, modafinil and Adderall have similar effects; however, their chemical makeups are different. Adderall, or amphetamine, boosts levels of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, which leads to greater feelings of alertness and concentration.

What mondifil does is a little less clear. Scientists know that it makes you feel more awake because it stimulates the release of histamine (so, the opposite of what an allergy medication like Benadryl does). But the effect it has on the neurotransmitter systems in the brain also allows you to more easily execute complex tasks.

Shockingly, the authors of the analysis found no safety issues regarding the drug -- however, they do note that most of the studies on the drug were on the effects of just one dose, and in controlled environments.

And, of course, drugs like this always have negative outcomes when taken in large doses. The Atlantic notes that ER visits among young people taking stimulants for non-medical uses have grown increasingly. And there's research that shows modafinil can affect your sleep patterns. But, not all psychiatrists believe the health risks are that serious, especially for adults taking the drugs as prescribed. In fact, one of the paper's authors said modafinil has fewer side effects and less potential for abuse than amphetamine.

So, basically, you'll be Bradley Cooper in Limitless in no time. Except, hopefully you won't be pissing off any scary Russian loan sharks.

Lucy Meilus is a staff writer for Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter at @Lucymeilus and send news tips to news@thrillist.com.

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