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Jury out on wakefulness drug

Medical experts are saying highly stressed individuals in India have lately been using Modalert or Modafinil to cut down on sleeping time and enhancing alertness. Mayank Tewari reports.

health and fitness Updated: Apr 29, 2007 03:28 IST

Medical experts are saying highly stressed individuals in India — call center workers, corporate honchos and even students — have lately been using Modalert or Modafinil to cut down on sleeping time and enhancing alertness. Before you think it is yet another high inducing ‘upper’ like Amphetamine or Speed, here is what the drug actually is. Last week, Britain’s Department of Health asked the Academy of Medical Sciences to assess Modafinil as a cognition-enhancing drug.

In India, the medicine has been around for three years. It is given to narcoleptics, people with a neurological disorder marked by uncontrollable attacks of daytime sleep.

A prescription drug, Modalert is manufactured by Sun Pharma and sold at Rs 60 for a strip of 10. Psychiatrist Dr Samir Parikh says, “we do not know the long term effects” of the “relatively new drug”.

“I have to work for long hours. I heard about Modalert from a friend and tried it. I was awake for 26 hours at a stretch, “ says 29-year-old web designer, Raman Shah, who works in a publishing outsourcing firm.

Dr Rajesh Sagar, associate professor, psychiatry, AIIMS, says he frequently gets patients who demand the drug. “We turn them away, as this drug may have serious side effects in the long run.” He also says Modalert is often used by medical students at AIIMS for extended study sessions.

“Recently, a patient wanted me to prescribe Modalert: he claimed he had to work long hours, he wanted to cut down on his sleep, yet stay alert,” says Dr Anoop Misra, Head of the Diabetics and Metabolism, Fortis Hospital.

While doctors in India are suspicious about the trend, the Department of Clinical Neurosciences in Cambridge University has examined the effects of Modafinil on healthy volunteers, and the results have been “dramatic”.

“With Modafinil they [the volunteers] seemed to think a bit longer and they were more accurate,” Dr Danielle Turner, who headed the study, told the BBC.

So, will Modalert be the new wonder drug? Don’t try it out till the debate is settled.