I am unsure about the appropriateness of the question https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/16215/modafinil-for-academics.

For background, Wikipedia informs us that modafinil is better known in the US by its brand name, Provigil, and is a "vigilance promoting" drug currently approved for the treatment of various sleep disorders. The question seems to ask about using it in what we might call a "performance enhancing" role, rather than for a specific medical condition. In the US, modafinil is available by prescription only and is a controlled substance, so using it without the supervision of a physician would probably be illegal (IANAL).

There is a long history of academics using psychoactive drugs to improve their work, and arguably questions about drug use in academia are on-topic. However, the current question has a "how-to" flavor which makes me less comfortable. I would rather not see this site move in that direction.

If any SE moderators/admins wish to weigh in on potential legal issues, that would be welcome as well.


  • I am with you. I was about to push the close button. Unsure what reason to close. – scaaahu Jan 27 '14 at 5:36

I am also concerned about that question. However, I think it is still valid. The cost of using performance enhancing drugs in academia is not the same as in the medical field. For example, an academic who is primarily a teacher would normally have significant breaks during the year which could be used to recover from the effects...that is, to detox.

I do think this question is on the line but not because it applies equally to all professions (I do not think that). I think this question is on the line because it could easily lead to some promoting damaging drug use. At the same time, we can all give our thoughts, referencing relevant research showing the negative long-term effects.

In the end, I would vote to leave it open....but as I wrote, it is right on the edge for me about what should be allowed here.


This is an example of a "boat programming" question. You could replace "for academics" with anything and it wouldn't meaningfully change either the question or the answers. Therefore it's off-topic.

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    How do you know you could replace "for academics" with anything? What's the basis of that judgement? ISTM that there is one very relevant way that academia differs from most other jobs: holders of other jobs have to do their work at specific dates and times, whereas academic researchers almost never do. – 410 gone Jan 27 '14 at 8:33
  • What about a migration to cogsci.stackexchange.com? – StrongBad Jan 27 '14 at 10:06
  • My sample size is one. I personally know an academic who uses Ritalin(an Attention deficit drug) to boost his productivity in order to meet schedule set by the department chair to fulfill the "Publish or perish" requirement. – scaaahu Jan 27 '14 at 10:08
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    @EnergyNumbers holders of other jobs have to do their work at specific dates and times, whereas academic researchers almost never do: yep, I've managed to put my lectures between 3 and 4am, because that's when I want to do them, and I always ignore the deadlines for conferences, I just send the paper whenever I want ... I agree with aeismail, this question is not specific to academics, and is not on-topic as such. – user102 Jan 27 '14 at 11:11
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    One point is that academics are supposed to produce creative, thoughtful work. It is not the same as modafinil for work that is usually trivial for the worker (most jobs) – anon Jan 27 '14 at 14:41
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    More or less the same question could easily be asked of: teachers, lawyers, emergency response personnel, astronauts, psychologists and psychiatrists, authors, . . . – aeismail Jan 27 '14 at 14:55
  • This question is directly linked to effective work habits for academics. Are effective work habits specific to academia allowed? – anon Jan 27 '14 at 22:07
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    How is the question different if I replace "academics" with "residents" and "medical school students?" I don't see the specificity here. – aeismail Jan 28 '14 at 6:06
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    I don't think that it is a boat-programming question. Focus required for mathematics may be very different from that in other disciplines (I know a lot of coding while sleep-deprived but none of mathematicians). Anyway, if it is for objective/scientific data, then it is rather CogSci.SE, if it is for recommendations - too opinion-based (regardless of legal status). – Piotr Migdal Jan 29 '14 at 18:00

Perhaps a better question would be, "Do long hours spent intensively on (math) research, beyond the normal physiological capacity of the human brain, have a marginal benefit to research quality, above that of substituting periods of non-sleep relaxation, in the long run?"

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    If you explicitly ask for published references about this, yes, that could be, otherwise, answers are likely to be: "No, I do that all the time, and I'm fine" or "Yes, I've done that once, and it was terrible", i.e., primarily opinion-based. – user102 Feb 4 '14 at 10:10

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