One of the most popular prescription drugs of the past decade, modafinil has an interesting history. Developed in France in the late 1980s as an experimental treatment for narcolepsy, modafinil was approved for prescription use by the FDA in 1998.
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But it was not until the mid-naughts that the drug truly caught on in America. What happened?
Marketed as a sleep-disorder medication by pharmaceutical maker Cephalon and sold under the brand-name Provigil, sales of modafinil were just $25 million in 1999. Eight short years later (2007), revenues topped $800 million — making it more profitable than Viagra or Adderall. Although sales would later decline due to generic erosion, Provigil remains the most popular wakefulness-promoting agent (or eugeroic) sold by prescription. Ironically, it is the fact that modafinil is primarily used off-label that is behind its stunning success in the States.
Vastly superior to amphetamines and amphetamine-like stimulants because it does not result in addiction, jitteriness, crashing, and other adverse effects, modafinil was famously used by U.S. soldiers who had to stay awake for days on end when fighting in Iraq. Tales of its efficacy soon reached the home front, and sales of Provigil steadily rose.
Limitless and beyond
In the 2011 movie Limitless, a character played by actor Bradley Cooper exponentially increases his brainpower by taking an experimental nootropic drug called NZT-48. Because art often imitates life, there is compelling evidence that the fictional brain booster was based on modafinil. How do we know?
By the time the movie was in production, modafinil was a poorly-kept secret of the rich and powerful. Wildly popular on Wall Street, it was said to increase concentration, mental acuity, and productivity. Labelled a smart drug (or nootropic) because it reputedly improved one or more aspects of cognitive function, it was the stuff of legend for anyone who wanted to get ahead. It is no wonder the prescription drug can be found in the medicine cabinets of one-percenters the world over. But what about the rest of us?
Limiting the limitless
Even though new generic versions have pushed the price of modafinil down in recent years, it remains an extremely expensive prescription medication. How much? A recent, thorough search of online pharmacies returned an average price of between $10 and $20 per pill!That’s about five times as expensive as Viagra and Cialis pills! Not surprisingly, most people of average means cannot afford modafinil… But they can afford adrafinil!