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:
- Narrow focus
- Sharpen 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. Click To Tweet
But it’s not for everyone. Some people don’t metabolize the drug well. Others can’t get a prescription. Or perhaps you’re looking for a legal, easy-to-get alternative.
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.
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.
The Best Legal & Effective Alternatives 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 Modafinil Alternative: Qualia Mind Stack
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.
Mind works on a simple premise: clinical doses of a wide variety of powerful 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.
Mind is leagues ahead of unregulated smart drug powders. The catch? Quality costs more.
Use the exclusive coupon code URBAN for 15% off your order here.
Fastest 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:
Nicotine, not chemical-laced industrial tobacco, is one of the most potent cognitive enhancers available. I know a neuroscience professor that *hypothetically* recommended it. Particularly as a replacement for the popular study drug Adderall.Nicotine is like liquid flow state. Click To Tweet
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) feels 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.
Most Similar Modafinil Alternative: Phenylpiracetam
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:
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.
Mild Modafinil Alternative: Sulbutiamine
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).
Which leads to the two glaring drawbacks:
- Sulbutiamine is fairly new and thus not well studied
- Long-term safety is unknown
The benefits of sulbutiamine may outweigh the drawbacks:
- Increases cerebral function and wellbeing 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 occuring 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.
Modafinil Analogue: Adrafinil
“…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 molecular 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, anxiety.
Modafinil Energy Alternative: Theacrine
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 analogue, 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 analogue loved for its motivation, cognition, energy, and mood lifting. Click To Tweet
It’s 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)
Beneficial Modafinil Alternative: Cerebrolysine
Cerebrolysine 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 cerebrolysine:
- 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
Keep your eye on this one. I expect cerebrolysine to star in upcoming research.
Modafinil Nootropic Alternative: Dihexa
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. 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, clean source and you’ll know why some call it the holy grail of safe and effective nootropics (and email me the source 🙂).
2021 Update: Thanks to new legislation, unfortunately dihexa prices have actually risen. Now at around $170 per gram, each dose is prohibitively expensive.
The Top Smart Drug & Nootropic Alternatives to Modafinil
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:
- Qualia Mind
I’m especially fond of the bolded. Number one is a researched all-in-one formula. The other two 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 supra-human abilities at the cost of your healthspan?