Modafinil for Military Use

Nowadays a lot of attention and discussions are focused on nootropics, or smart drugs. For centuries, people have been in search of means to improve their physical and mental abilities, increase vitality and stress resistance. Especially it is needed for armed forces to find the way for soldiers to stay alert, energetic, and concentrated, as their life is much harder than the life of ordinary people, in the difficult situations of wartime or military operations in particular. Smart drugs is the group of herbal or synthetic remedies that provide efficiency, mental activity, wakefulness, vigor, reduce stress and anxiety.

Most Used Brain Meds in Army

Ancient Times

Back to ancient times the rulers knew how it was important to have strong and powerful army. Different herbs used to be taken. Scandinavian vikings discovered the effects of rhodiola rosea to fight tiredness and boost energy. Chinese army widely used such plants as ginseng, and many others, as they knew they were adaptogens, which helped to oppose stressors and improve overall health. Indian ashwagandha is also a well-known and powerful plant that was used in military to support soldiers’ forces. Fish and krill oil have been used in navy due to its valuable properties to cure joints, feed brain, and improve cognition. 

Ginkgo biloba is a smart plant, has been used for centuries in China and is still considered to be one of the best herbal adaptogens, especially for beginners in using nootropic preparations. The trials from the year 2007, sponsored by Department of Defense, proved its high effectiveness for memory retention and formation and increasing mental abilities. This herb is approved for use in the US military. In the same research in the US armed forces, melatonin was found to be a great means to prevent insomnia while changing time zones. 

World War II

Sulbutiamine, which is derivative of vitamin B1, was created in Japan during the World War I to prevent beriberi in the navy. It is still in use to improve the brain work, memory, mood, and health. Amphetamines were widely used by aviation during the World War II. Such countries as Germany and USA gave their pilots pills to have advantages in battles. Tank crews also got the drug. However, the harmful consequences were too severe. Germany stopped using it in the 1970s, the US denied it in 2017. 


Nowadays, the science has moved much forward, and modern remedies are much more effective. The researchers of many countries make studies on how different herbal and synthetic nootropics influence the human’s mind, and learn how to use them in various spheres of life, not only for sick people, but also for healthy adults to stay on the top of their abilities, especially in extreme situations. For armed forces, this is particularly in demand. 

The most popular, safe and effective nootropic nowadays is modafinil. It was under development from 1960s, and appeared on the market as a smart drug in the 1990s. It has come as the best alternative to amphetamine, as a wakefulness promoting agent and energy, concentration, and brain activity booster.

French Foreign Legion used it in its secret operations, the US and Indian army also widely administer it in extreme situation for their soldiers, e.g. in long mission that take more than 40 hours it is mostly needed. Since 2012 and till now, modafinil has been the only nootropic approved for use in the Air Force.

British military men who participated in the war in Iraq, got the pills from the MoD in 2004. Among other countries that use modafinil are Canada, China, Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea.

How Provigil Helps Soldiers and Officers

The mechanism of modafinil action is not fully uncovered. The research at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, USA, and the Centre de Recherche du Service de Sante des Armees, France, together with the Department of Physiology IMASSA, France, and other laboratories, showed that it works, raising dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that facilitates communication between neurons. 

Modafinil also protects neurons from death, increases energy metabolism in the cerebrum, combats sleepiness, stimulates cognition, softly increases serotonin levels, mildly activates heart work, has antioxidant effects, etc. Due to minimal side effects of the drug, scientists in many countries are interested in modafinil in military use for effective and safe conduct of combatant missions.

The idea of creating a super soldier is still relevant, and one of the most valuable and achievable qualities turned out to be the ability to stay awake and efficient for many hours. Military departments of many countries all over the world test modafinil on their armies. The leading country to do those tests is USA. The Warfighter Health Division, U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory, spearheaded studies on replacement dextroamphetamine by modafinil for supporting combat readiness and alertness in pilots of military helicopters. 

Eighteen aviators, 17 male and one female at the age of around 30, were given pills of dextroamphetamine, modafinil, and placebo while they performed their military tasks. It was proved that modafinil had the same invigorating, cognitive, supporting concentration and alertness, risks sensation, and judging effect as dextroamphetamine. It was much more efficient than placebo and much less abusive than dextroamphetamine.

Biomedical professor Jonathan D. Moreno from the University of Pennsylvania said that 100 million dollars are spent every year for research in military purposes, and modafinil is the best drug. A former Air Force colonel Tom Erhard, who currently is a senior research officer at the Strategic and Budget Assessments Center, called modafinil a super drug for soldiers that increases their capacities.

The UK army was not aside, either. The scientist from QinetiQ (the Defence Research Agency) Dr. Anna Casey told that the British MoD had financed the studies of modafinil on air forces. They called the modafinil pills “zombies” for their property to keep a soldier awake and in sharp mind for many hours and even days. Nowadays modafinil is approved for use in military purposes in the USA, India, the UK, France and Canada. It is on the last stages of confirmation in China, too.

Can It Cause Harm?

The research in the Department of Basic Science, Air Force Academy, Cheongwon, Korea was focused on modafinil study for practical use as a stimulant of alertness and fatigue reducer on healthy people, and checked its toxicity, neuro-immune interaction, advantages, and risks. It was found that modafinil is much less abusive than amphetamine, methylphenidate, or cocaine, doesn’t have side effects of those psychostimulants, like anxiety, excessive motor activity, nervousness, and rebound effect, can improve memory, mood, and reduce tiredness. 

The drug can be taken by anyone who works for long hours, must stay awake and efficient, those who have much stress, like soldiers in military missions, or cancer patients. Although the mechanism of its action still demands to be fully studied, and in spite of the fact that in 70 % its side effects are minimal, it still can be addictive for some patients. Long time wakefulness can badly influence immune and nervous systems. 

The reaction on modafinil also depends on the term of its usage. The head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse Dr. Nora Volkow claims that the drug is not so innocuous as we used to think. In her opinion, increasing dopamine in the human brain, modafinil can represent a danger of addiction for some people, as this bioactive compound works a stimulant of pleasure centers. Obviously, it is not normal to keep its level high for a long time. 

On her words, once the body and mind get used to the drug working in the body, the cessation of modafinil will end with typical withdrawal symptoms. A chairman of British Medical Association Occupational Medicine Committee Paul J. Nicholson states that modafinil must not be used widely, as all the researches were made on small groups of people and the tested people didn’t get the medication on a regular basis. He doesn’t deny all the positive effects of modafinil, but warns that the remedy works effectively for people with low cognitive function and disorders, and can be harmful for others.

Summing Up

To sum up all the aforesaid, modafinil is surely an effective nootropic that can be a powerful assistant in military purposes. However, it is still a drug, that was created to help people to fight sleeping disorders, so its usage off-label and without doctor’s consultation can lead to negative consequences. Used in stressful situations, it can help to be on the top of your abilities, but it is not a good idea to take it regularly for a long time. The drug is still under the studies, and the future will uncover all the mysteries and gossips around it. For now, it stays a secret weapon, which many countries are greatly interested in, and yet, its power to make a regular man a super-soldier is still to be discovered.