As a drug intended to treat people with sleep disorders where they are prone to sleeping too much, it is little wonder that Modafinil is of interest to security personnel. Whether we’re talking about the military, the police or private security companies; it is a well established fact that at some time security related personnel need to maintain both their wakefulness and alertness without fatigue and beyond the limits of normal endurance. However, what are the implications and risks of providing an artificial aid to achieve this?
It is absolutely no secret that the military has experimented with some physical stimulants, specifically to see if they can be used to help keep security personnel awake and alert without fatigue and beyond the times that they would normally require sleep. The stimulants tested, and indeed used for periods of time, range from the relatively harmless caffeine to more harmful substances like amphetamines and even MDMA, ecstasy. Although not so far officially adopted by the military or the police, Modafinil looks as if it may well become the drug of choice to battle the symptoms of fatigue – without having any harmful side-effects. Although amphetamines are highly effective at keeping people awake and alert for potentially days on end, they do have two serious draw-backs. The first one is that although they will produce feelings of well-being and elevated moods in the user, they also produce symptoms of depression and anxiety when the user stops taking them. However, the same as for cocaine, it is the addictive nature of using amphetamines that makes them unsuitable as a general stimulant of any use to security personnel. On the other hand MDMA is not addictive and will remove the urge to sleep in its users – unfortunately the fact that it will also urge users to dance is not particularly a trait helpful in a stimulant for security personnel. Which is where Modafinil comes in being non-addictive, and in normally healthy individuals, quite benign.
So what is Modafinil?
Modafinil, also commonly known as Provigil in the USA, was designed as an analeptic drug to treat people with narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea, fibromyalgia and all kind of fatigue related to shift work sleep disorders. In short, all of those sleep disorders mean that sufferers of them either cannot control where and when they will fall asleep and/or will spend abnormally long periods of time asleep in any one day. Or, if you prefer, they need something to help them stay awake and not feel fatigue. Before the arrival of Modafinil, as is outlined above, there were a variety of other drugs available to do this, most notably amphetamines, but all of them to some extent or other have adverse effects outweighing their benefit. Even taking caffeine in very high amounts can be medically dangerous for some people! Taking Modafinil is the same as with other stimulants, they release monoamines but, rather than just stimulating, it also raises the levels of hypothalamic histamines making it a novel wake promoting drug rather than a stimulant per se.
Why military and security personnel think of taking Modafinil
The following are some of the reasons and reports as to why the military and other security related services might think og taking Modafinil. Although soldiers in past wars have used amphetamines they invariably become ‘jumpy’ using them and may even have their judgment impaired. Studies in Cambridge, UK, have shown that soldiers taking Modafinil will not only stay awake without fatigue but they can actually enhance their cognitive abilities, or judgment if you will. US military sources are quoted as saying that their soldiers that are taking Modafinil will function for up to 40 hours, then after just 8 hours of sleep – be ready for action again, without any addictive or other side effects. Indeed the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research states that soldiers taking Modafinil and can function effectively for 85 hours ! Meanwhile, a piece of research at the Aeromedical Research Laboratory in Alabama, found that Modafinil actually sharpened the performance of helicopter pilots between 3:30 and 1:30 in the morning. It’s not just the US forces that are taking Modafinil. Since 2001 selected UK forces fighting in Afghanistan are taking Modafinil, with the UK Ministry of Defense has spent nearly $100,000 on the drug to date for its forces out there.