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Modafinil found to affect dopamine and pose potential for abuse

Modafinil, a popular drug for treating the chronic sleeping disorder narcolepsy, is also being used nowadays to improve cognitive abilities. Recent material from the Journal of the American Medical Association, however, suggests that both uses of the drug may prove problematic. A report from the said journal state that modafinil affects dopamine activity in the brain in such a way that promotes potential abuse and dependence.

A wake-promoting medication, modafinil is used to treat sleep disorders and cognitive dysfunctions in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. According to the background information provided in the report, the Physician’s Desk Reference has previously cautioned that the drug can produce certain euphoric and psychoactive diseases similar to the effects of stimulant drugs.

The mechanisms behind such effects of drugs are still not well understood though they are considered to be different from the mechanisms of amphetamine and other stimulant medications. Amphetamine, like most stimulants, increases and stimulates the neurotransmitter dopamine by targeting its transporters. A different mechanism for the action of modafinil is hypothesized, but researchers believe that dopamine is also involved.

In the current study, Dr. Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and her colleagues from the Brookhaven laboratory experimented on the effects of modafinil on dopamine activity in the brain. The experiment set out to find whether a certain dose of the drug would affect extracellular dopamine by blocking its transporters.

The experiment involved the participation of 10 health male subjects who were given either a placebo drug or modafinil. Two dosages of modafinil were used in the study –the 200mg recommended dosage for narcolepsy and the 400mg variant, which is usually used for ADHD.

From this setup and using positron emission topography, the researchers found that modafinil significantly increased dopamine levels in the brain by blocking its transporters.

“Because drugs that increase dopamine have the potential for abuse, and considering the increasing use of modafinil for multiple purposes, these results suggest that risk for addiction in vulnerable persons merits heightened awareness,” they explained of the significance of this finding.

The researchers conclude that, “Modafinil was developed with an expectation that a medication could have a non-dopaminergic target for its wake-promoting effects. However, the current findings in humans, along with preclinical studies, documenting the indispensable role of dopamine in the wake-promoting effects of modafinil, support modafinil’s dopamine-enhancing effects as a mechanism for its therapeutic actions.”

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