Imagine all the benefits of a caffeine pill, but without the harmful consequences. Sound too good to be true? The reality may not be too far off.

Studies are being conducted on a drug called Modafinil, which was approved by the Federal Drug Administration in 1998 to treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder characterized by uncontrollable sleepiness and frequent daytime sleep. Unlike other stimulants, Modafinil, also known as Provigil, has been found to increase alertness and focus in subjects without leaving them feeling wired or anxious.

Most studies of the drug have been performed on subjects mimicking the condition of sleep-deprived shift workers, who alternately work day and night shifts. The military has also conducted similar experiments, based on the rationale that soldiers who sleep less can perform better.

But is the drug safe enough for healthy, non sleep-deprived individuals who are just looking for a way to stay up at night?

Dr. Ronald Chervin, director of the University”s Sleep Disorders Clinic, doesn”t think so.

“Modafinil is not a drug that students should take to cram for a test or write a paper,” he said. “I have not seen published reports about its use for people without chronic sleep disorders.”

This lack of information involving the long-term effects of the drug on normal individuals has led many researchers reluctant to praise Modafinil as the newest miracle drug. In addition, Chervin said, “Modafinil does have known side effects, perhaps the most common being headache when patients first start a regular dose.”

Dr. Naseer Ahmad, an endocrinologist at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, also agrees caution is needed. “This drug is a stimulant used to treat narcolepsy. It keeps your brain active. If not used properly, Modafinil could cause diarrhea, nausea and damage to the liver.”

LSA junior Anna Boonin, a biopsychology and cognitive science major, admits the idea of this magic pill is tempting but remains skeptical.

“There”s a risk when you introduce anything into your body. It”s nice to think, oh I can take this pill and get all my work done and stay up all night,” Boonin said.

“But, then what about when you stop taking it? You wouldn”t be able to function normally in society,” she said.

Until extensive research involving sleep deprivation in normal individuals is conducted, Chervin does not foresee Modafinil being sold over the counter.

“This drug will not be made public and readily available through some other mechanism than a prescription,” he said.

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