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12 Most Powerful Modafinil Alternatives That Work (OTC & Legal)

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Best OTC Modafinil Alternative
Best OTC Modafinil Alternative

Imagine a pill capable of supercharging the brain. You’d master skills in no time. See patterns where others can’t. Access the hyper-productive flow state at will.

In the movie Limitless, Bradley Cooper’s character came across a smart drug granting these quasi-superpowers to an otherwise ordinary man. While a pipe dream, biohackers have dubbed off-label use of a prescription drug called modafinil the next best thing.

One 50-200mg Modafinil pill can:

  • Sharpen focus
  • Strengthen memory
  • Boost physical and mental energy
  • Drive motivation through the roof
  • Raise alertness, awareness, and attention
  • And more.

All for 12+ hours.

If you're obsessed with self-optimization and performing at your peak, you've likely heard of modafinil. But there are other great options. Share on X

As I wrote in the ultimate guide to modafinil’s benefits, dosages, and use cases, you can get modafinil over the counter online (of course, with your doctor’s permission).

But it’s not for everyone. Some people don’t have the genes to metabolize the drug well. Others can’t get a prescription. Or perhaps you’re looking for a legal, easy-to-get alternative for off-label productivity purposes.

Modafinil may be proclaimed the king of smart drugs, but there are other great nootropic substitutes. Today I’ll cover what you should know about this popular compound, and the best over-the-counter modafinil alternatives I’ve found.

The Best Alternatives to Modafinil in 2022

Best Overall Nootropic: Nootopia
Great Nootropic Stack: Thesis
Strongest Ingredient: Bromantane
Also Great: Dihexa

Check out my online nootropics shop for my favorite vendors and products.

How Modafinil Works

Like most drugs, we’re still uncovering the exact mechanisms behind how moda works.

One thing’s certain. Every drug affects the body’s many systems differently. According to the researchers at SelfHacked, modafinil works by:

  • Increasing histamine
  • Increasing dopamine
  • Increasing norepinephrine
  • Increasing glutamate
  • Altering orexin
  • Inhibiting GABA

Leading to long-lasting energy, mental clarity, productivity, and effectiveness.

Most nootropics work on at least one of the above neurotransmitters.

effective lternatives to modafinil

No other nootropic compound has the same pronounced 12+ hour effects as Moda. But some feel just as potent. When evaluating nootropics, I’m looking for a pronounced mental or physical energy boost. Ideally both.

I’ve reduced my smart drug intake as I’ve gotten into bioharmonizing. But on days I want an extra “pick-me-up”, I’ll dip into my nootropics stash.

Each compound below delivers.

Note: legality of nootropics varies from country to country, state to state. Please research your local regulations. The following is not medical advice but rather for entertainment purposes only. Always talk to your doctor before modifying your current lifestyle practices.

Best Overall Nootropic: Nootopia

Nootopia Brain Supplements vs Modafinil

You probably haven’t heard of Nootopia (read my full review). Though they released their customized nootropic service in 2021, they’ve been hard at work testing, refining, and evaluating their base formulas for over a decade.

Nootopia is actually the product of a collaboration between the beloved BiOptimizers supplement company, and one of the world’s leading nootropic formulators. The same formulator that Fortune 100 CEOs, Olympians, and “in the know” high-achievers consult with for personalized nootropic stacks that match their neurochemistries and goals.

Formulations that include exotic ingredients (like the “Omnipept” family) that you won’t find in other products. You get the very best blends, containing the highest-quality forms of the most potent ingredients, at the dosage that’ll work best for your mind.

Each box comes with nine different products, and countless ways to combine them to optimize any type of cognitive task. Nootopia uses special delivery technologies that cause pronounced effects within minutes. If you don’t want to actually feel your brain supplement, I recommend going elsewhere.

Best of all, these elevate your mind’s performance over the long term. Nootopia’s benefits last even after you’ve stopped consuming their formulas.

The products speak for themselves. But when you buy from Nootopia, you also gain access to their comprehensive health optimization course and Brilliant Mind Blueprint which is like a Master Class on upgrading your cognition. The tips, tricks, and hacks in this educational content alone make Nootopia worth the price.

From dozens of tests, when I follow their “boosting” tips, I’ve noticed that these nootropics can last up to 12 hours, with smoother effects, and less “come down”, all without inhibiting sleep. Nootopia is definitely a premium service, with lots of options to tweak the formula to specific situations. When I need to accomplish a specific kind of work, I’ll break out my stash, match the right stack, and easily double my productivity.

Get Customized Nootopia Nootropics

Use Nootopia code URBAN to save 10%

Best Nootropic Stack: Thesis (Previously Find My Formula)

Take Thesis Nootropics Starter Kit Review

Thesis (previously Find My Formula) makes special cognitive enhancing nootropics tailored to your unique neurochemistry. Their formulation team is constantly on the lookout for the latest and greatest ingredients backed by research.

Thesis has tested 127+ different ingredients so that you don't have to Share on X

If you’ve tried nootropics and wondered if they did anything or wasted your money, Thesis is your answer.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Based on your results from a lifestyle quiz, their algorithm designs your ideal brain-boosting supplements.
  2. They ship you a Starter Kit with 5 different blends
  3. You test them all to determine your favorites
  4. Customize future orders to include the best nootropics for your brain

Their products include several classes of ingredients like vitamins, minerals, racetams, adaptogens, and peptides.

Different supplement options include:

  • Energy
  • Logic
  • Motivation
  • Creativity
  • Clarity

Here’s the thing. If you own all the latest nootropic ingredients, you can replicate these formulas yourself. In fact, that’s what I did to start with. But the team here is constantly tweaking their stacks with new ingredients and dosages as they hear back from thousands of customers.

You can also apply to join their beta program giving you access to brand-new formulas with cutting-edge ingredients.

If you just want a customized, done-for-you nootropic supplement, read my Thesis Nootropics Review post to understand why it’s my top pick.

Buy Thesis Nootropics

Use the exclusive coupon code URBAN for 15% off

Best Modafinil Ingredient Alternative: Bromantane

limitless bromantane nootropic

Bromantane, also called Ladasten, is the first and only man-made adaptogen (actoprotector). Adaptogens improve resilience to intolerable environmental conditions like extreme temperatures or extended exercise. Bromantane was my favorite nootropic discovery of 2021. It provides noticeable stimulation, a huge energy boost, and productivity-enhancing effects:

  • Greater movement & coordination
  • Supercharges endurance & physical performance
  • Sharpens focus
  • Boosts mood
  • Physical energy
  • Stabilizes the nervous system
  • Relieves anxiety

In addition, Bromantane improves libido and longevity:

  • Quality of life enhancement
  • Modulates the immune system
  • Greater sexual drive and activity in mice
  • Improves sexual heath in rats

Current research hasn’t found any serious adverse effects, and any reported side effects are rare. I haven’t felt a crash, and bromantane doesn’t deplete dopamine like other common smart drugs.

Bromantane is non-addictive and non-habit forming. Meaning it’s easy to stop and doesn’t cause rebound neurotransmitter problems.

Several important notes:

  • Noticeable effects last 8+ hours, and 2-3 hours to be felt
  • Researchers recommend a 10-50mg dose. Start your experiments on the low end. I’ve found low-doses most stimulating
  • WADA banned bromantane because of its obvious performance-enhancing benefits
Buy Bromantane

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Great Nootropic Supplement: Qualia Mind

qualia e1666309652757

Affiliate Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means Outliyr LLC gets a small commission if you buy (at no cost to you). Thanks for your support!

Qualia mind is one of few precisely dosed nootropic blends. Their formulation offers key advantages over new research chemical smart drugs:

  • Fixes common deficiencies that limit your brain’s maximum performance.
  • Supports long-term brain health with a wide array of antioxidants, commonly deficient vitamins and minerals, adaptogenic herbs, and other compounds.
Unlike some nootropics, the benefits of Qualia Mind persist even if you stop taking it Share on X

Mind works on a simple premise: clinical doses of a wide variety of ingredients work synergistically far better than mega doses of a single compound. After thousands of hours of research and hundreds of formulations, the team got it right.

Qualia Mind also has an impressive study backing it. Something few supplement companies would risk putting their products through. After 5 days of Qualia Mind supplementation, participants:

  • Concentration increased by 85.4%
  • Planning skills increased by 34%
  • Ability to visualize objects increased by 31.1%
  • Verbal reasoning increased by 16.9%
  • Verbal short-term memory increased by 13.3%

Keep in mind that these are nootropics customers, not sick patients or animals (like the populations studied by most nootropics research). Their results likely transfer to other healthy nootropics users.

This nootropic blend gives 6-8 hours of quality focus, productivity, concentration, and energy.

Buy Qualia Mind

Use the exclusive Qualia Mind code URBAN for 15% off

Fastest-Acting Modafinil Alternative: Lucy Nicotine


“Evidence that nicotine can produce beneficial effects on some cognitive functions has become firmer and there can now be little doubt that some such effects do occur…”

Nicotine psychopharmacology: addiction, cognition and neuroadaptation

This one may be shocking. Yes, nicotine has serious addiction potential. Whether it improves or destroys your health depends on:

  • Form
  • Frequency

Nicotine, not chemical-laced industrial tobacco, is one of the most potent cognitive enhancers available. I know a neuroscience professor who *hypothetically* recommended it. Particularly as a replacement for the popular study drug Adderall.

Nicotine is like liquid flow state Share on X

Nicotine research backs up his claims:

  • Less stress and anxiety while increasing memory in mice
  • Reverses age-related cognitive impairment, while fixing neural stress and increasing brain cell growth factors
  • Improves the cholinergic system (responsible for learning)
  • Can improve contextual learning

Responsible doses of 1-3mg (taken orally) feel very different than what you’d expect from nicotine. Not at all like smoking a cigarette. To be conservative, I limit use to twice per week maximum.

Biohackers prefer nicotine gum, lozenges, toothpicks, or other non-smoking forms of administration. The fewer ingredients in the product, the better.

Buy Lucy Pure Nicotine

Powerful Modafinil Alternative: Phenylpiracetam

Phenylpiracetam Powder
Latest quality source linked below

I usually avoid synthetic smart drugs. After all, the main difference between them and pharmaceuticals is that pharma is more tightly regulated (and therefore higher quality). The racetam class of nootropics has been studied for decades. Clinically, in some countries, phenylpiracetam goes by the name Phenotropil.

It’s used primarily for improving physical performance and cognition.

Unlike other racetams, phenylpiracetam is more stimulating. This likely explains its physical effects:

  • Decreased body weight
  • Improved ability to process sugar
  • Protects mitochondria in rats

Anecdotal experience throughout the web suggests performance gains in the young, healthy experimenters as well. I’ve had good experiences with it too.

Cognitively, phenylpiracetam is used for:

  • Protecting the brain in mice
  • Reducing neuro-inflammation in mice
  • Preventing amnesia
  • Faster recovery from neurologic conditions
  • Reduces anxiety and depressive disorders with short-term use
  • Increases memory and exerts anti-depressant effects

Tolerance builds quickly. I noticed that its effects diminished when I took it more than once per week.

Buy Phenylpiracetam

Use the Science Bio exclusive promo code URBAN to save 10%

Mild Modafinil Alternative: Sulbutiamine

sulbutiamine powder
Latest quality source linked below

Sulbutiamine is two vitamin B1 molecules synthetically bound together. This makes it more fat-soluble than vitamin B1 by itself. Thus it’s able to pass the blood-brain barrier.

Giving the brain a potent dose of vitamin B1 (also called thiamine).

This leads to two glaring drawbacks:

  1. Sulbutiamine is fairly new and thus not well studied
  2. Long-term safety is unknown

The benefits of sulbutiamine may outweigh the drawbacks:

  • Increases cerebral function and well-being in those with existing conditions
  • Reduces fatigue and chronic fatigue
  • Improves neurophysiological performance in sick patients
  • Improves memory in Alzheimer’s patients
  • Increases working and episodic memory in rats
  • Potentiates long-term memory formation
  • Neuroprotective against oxygen-glucose deprivation in rats

Despite most of the studies occurring in animals, it seems promising for athletes and those deficient in thiamine.

I like the idea of sulbutiamine as a brain-absorbable form of vitamin B1.

Buy Sulbutiamine

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Modafinil Analogues: Adrafinil & Fladrafinil

adrafinil powder

“…Adrafinil is [a] novel behavioral stimulant with cognitive enhancing potential.”

Effects on behavior and cognition in aged canines

I thought I had found the holy grail of smart drugs. Adrafinil was over-the-counter with pronounced, long-lasting effects, and low cost.

Adrafinil is modafinil’s inferior sibling. This molecule is actually converted into modafinil once inside the body. About 60 minutes after consumption.

Before I got my hands on modafinil, I tried adrafinil. While the effects blow most grey-area nootropics out of the water, I stopped taking it due to one major issue:

Side effects. According to one study: liver toxicity, stomach pain, skin irritation, and anxiety.

Fladrafinil is even newer, with less research, but users report better and longer-lasting effects. It’s also far easier to find these days with regulations increasing worldwide.

Buy Afinils

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Modafinil Energy Alternative: Theacrine

science bio theacrine teacine powder

Theacrine, also called Teacrine, is a plant-derived compound similar to caffeine. The plant grows in the Amazon and is related to cacao. As a caffeine analog, it activates similar pathways but with a few big differences.

Unlike caffeine, early research suggests theacrine may be anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Theacrine is the caffeine analog loved for its motivation, cognition, energy, and mood lifting. Share on X

Its properties are more fascinating:

  • Low doses actually decrease wakefulness
  • High doses work like caffeine and increase wakefulness

I prefer theacrine to caffeine because it’s:

  • Less addictive
  • Lasts longer
  • Less disruptive to sleep
  • Easier on the cardiovascular system
  • Fewer side effects like anxiety
  • Reduces pain (potentially)

Disclaimer: Science Biologics products are not intended for human consumption and are for research purposes only.

Buy Theacrine

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Beneficial Modafinil Alternative: Cerebrolysin

cerebrolysin ampuoles review

Cerebrolysin is one of several hot nootropics this year. Popular outside of the USA, this combination of amino acids and proteins is derived from pig brain. If that doesn’t turn you away, SelfHacked describes the pathways impacted by cerebrolysin:

  • Nerve growth factor (NGF)
  • Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)
  • Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF)
  • Ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF)

In short, it protects the brain, encourages growth, improves efficiency, reduces inflammation, and helps heal.

Some research supports its use in:

  • Improving memory and cognition
  • Reducing memory loss
  • Reducing anxiety in rats
  • Increasing functionality in those with cognitive decline

It’s also a great treatment for traumatic brain injury.

Keep your eye on this one. I expect cerebrolysin to star in upcoming research.

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Nootropic Alternative toModafinil: Dihexa

dihexa powder

Dihexa is also a string of amino acids, known as a peptide. For biochemistry geeks, it’s called “N-hexanoic-Tyr-Ile-(6) aminohexanoic amide”. Dihexa is the unofficial biohacker’s nootropic of the year with pronounced effects on cognition and learning ability. As a peptide, it falls under the category of nutritional nootropics and is therefore likely safer than most.

“Dihexa is a first-in-class compound that is orally active, penetrates the blood-brain barrier, and facilitates memory consolidation and retrieval.”

A New Target for the Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease

Washington State University researchers discovered the drug in the ’90s. Unfortunately, it’s also relatively new and has been studied mostly in animals.

Emerging research shows dihexa potentially effective for:

  • Improving formation of new brain cell connections
  • Augmenting memory consolidation
  • Treating Alzheimers disease
  • Overcoming memory and motor dysfunctions
  • Enhanced social skills
  • Improved creativity
  • Better focus and ability to learn
  • Increases hair quality

As a new oligopeptide, dihexa is harder to find and expensive. Dig up a good, reasonably priced, clean source and you’ll know why some call it the holy grail of effective learning enhancers (and email me your favorite source 🙂).

Buy Dihexa

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2023 Update: Thanks to legislation, unfortunately, dihexa prices have actually risen. Now at around $170 per gram, each dose is quite expensive.

How to Upgrade Your Cognitive Enhancing Modafinil Alternatives

Free Nootropics Mini Email Course New

Nootropics aren’t cheap.

You can skip this entire section, but these tips will help ensure that you get the most out of your experience.

Caffeine-free. If you’re new to nootropics, start with the non-caffeinated versions. I drink coffee most days. Sometimes two cups. But I always get my nootropics caffeine-free. For several reasons. First, nootropics potentiate caffeine. One coffee can feel like 3. If you’re not used to the combo, going caff-free gives you more control. Caff-free also means that I can take nootropics later in the day. Also, the health benefits of coffee don’t come from caffeine but from the polyphenols, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals. Plus, I just like the taste of coffee.

DNA decoded. Every human has profound uniquenesses. Even more so, in the brain. My favorite ingredients might give you migraines, and vice-versa. By taking a ~$50 once-in-a-lifetime test and running it through the powerful SelfDecode genetic software, you can easily understand your neurodiversity. To figure out what will work for your brain specifically. Without wasting time, energy, and money on ineffective (or even harmful) nootropics.

Optimal fuel. Nootropics love dietary fat. Certain fats, like a special extract of coconut called C8 MCT Oil, deliver some compounds into the brain more effectively. It also slows their absorption and metabolism. Resulting in a smoother and stronger nootropic experience (with even less crash).

Avoid kryptonite. If fat is a nootropic’s best friend, protein is the enemy. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate for consuming protein and aminos (especially essential amino acids). These aminos, however, compete with nootropics for absorption. If taken too close together, protein can reduce the effects you feel. A rule of thumb is to take nootropics at least 1 hour before eating or wait one hour after.

Optimize recovery. Nootropics are like the gas pedal for your brain. If you don’t recover (while sleeping), eventually you’ll burn out and they’ll lose their charm. There are many ways to improve your recovery. First, increase your sleep time and quality. Your brain needs some extra downtime to compensate for working so hard. Next, feed it the right nutrients. I feel a pronounced difference when I take Shilajit and Magnesium with my nootropics. I’m able to cut back my dose and still feel stronger effects.

If you like this kind of thing, join my FREE nootropics mini-course where you’ll learn:

  • How professionals choose products
  • Tips to feel stronger effects and get more out of your supplements
  • Money-saving hacks
  • Natural cognitive enhancement technologies
  • Latest neuroscience-backed strategies to upgrade your brain

Fill out the info below to get started…

The Top Smart Drug & Nootropic Alternatives to Modafinil

smart drug vs nootropic

I differentiate between smart drugs and nootropics. In my opinion:

  • Smart drugs provide temporary effects followed by a later crash as the body returns to homeostasis.
  • Nootropics improve the overall functioning of the body by providing critical building blocks.

Adaptogens, peptides, potentially algae, grass-fed organs, and the right amounts of vitamins and minerals all fall into the nootropics category. Nootropics have less discernable but longer-lasting effects. They bioharmonize, working with the body rather than against it.

But every once in a while, smart drugs can fuel a productive day or important event. The above supplements are some of my favorite modafinil alternatives:

  • Nootopia
  • Find My Formula
  • Bromantane
  • Qualia Mind
  • Nicotine
  • Phenylpiracetam
  • Sulbutiamine
  • Adrafinil
  • Theacrine
  • Cerebrolysin
  • Dihexa

I’m especially fond of the bolded. The first two are researched all-in-one formulas. The others are effective and theoretically safe. But as peptides are an emerging field, they’re less researched and harder to get. This is by no means a comprehensive list. I’ve tried and still have dozens of powders lying around from my college days. Many of which will I’ll never use.

I’m coming to accept that the Limitless pill won’t be here any time soon. In the meantime, I’m building up my brain with an arsenal of healthy nootropics.

What about you? Would you take a pill that granted you temporary superhuman abilities at the cost of your healthspan?


Post Tags: Brain & Cognition, Nootropics, Product Roundup, Productivity

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