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  1. EXCLUSIVE: British troops 'kept awake on smart drugs': How MoD has spent up to £800,000 on more than 12,500 doses of controversial stimulant modafinil over the last eight years The MoD has admitted to buying over 12,500 'stay-awake' pills from 2013 to 2021 Modafinil, a controversial psychostimulant, is a prescription drug for narcolepsy Compared to 'drinking 20 cups of coffee', modafinil can tackle combat fatigue Long-term side effects include arrhythmia and a weakened immune system Purchases of modafinil peaked in 2001 as British troops entered Afghanistan The MoD has been buying thousands of doses of a 'smart drug' that could keep soldiers awake in combat for 40 hours straight. In response to a MailOnline Freedom of Information probe, the MoD admitted to having bought more than 12,500 pills of modafinil from 2013 to 2021, at an estimated cost of up to £800,000 based on drug prices published by NICE. Modafinil, a stimulant prescribed to stop narcoleptics falling asleep during the day, has a similar effect to 'drinking 20 cups of coffee', according to one doctor. Unlike caffeine, which can leave coffee-drinkers with jitteriness, modafinil has few short-term effects on users, although long-term use of the 'smart drug' can cause arrhythmia, high blood pressure and a weakening of the immune system. The controversial psychostimulant has rocketed in popularity over the last two decades, with growing numbers of students and high-flying businesspeople seeking to buy modafinil illegally to boost their productivity. Modafinil, a stimulant prescribed to stop narcoleptics falling asleep during the day, has a similar effect to 'drinking 20 cups of coffee', according to Dr Judith Leech, Medical Director at the West Ottawa Sleep Center in Canada Modafinil is rumoured to have been the inspiration for the fictional wonder drug taken by Bradley Cooper's character in the 2011 film Limitless, which allowed him to use 100 percent of his brain and tap into superhuman abilities. Non-prescription sale of modafinil was banned in the UK in 2016, and the tablets are only available with a prescription for diagnosed cases of narcolepsy and other chronic sleep disorders. Yet reports suggest university campuses are awash with such mind-altering substances, with 29 percent of students admitting to having experimented with smart drugs of one kind or another, according to a 2019 survey by student newspaper The Tab. How does modafinil work? Modafinil, sold under the brand name Provigil, is a central nervous system stimulant. The mechanism through which the drug operates is not fully understood, although it is known to impact on the hypothalamus, a gland in the brain that controls hormones. Modafinil makes chemical messengers, like adenosine and monoamines, more available in the spaces between brain cells. That reduces sleepiness, with the drug also being linked with improvements in decision-making, flexibility, learning, memory and even creativity. Side-effects of the drug can include agitation, anxiety, arrhythmia, nausea and vomiting. Modafinil can also interfere with contraceptive pills and can increase the risk of congenital malformations when taken during pregnancy. ADVERTISEMENT Although illegal, modafinil is still available online to pill junkies looking for a productivity boost - often from foreign-based distributors. In a report for New York Magazine, an analyst and trader on Wall Street, named Peter Borden, vividly described the 'freaky sensation' he got after popping modafinil to ratchet up his work performance. He said: 'I sensed it was blood actually moving to the optic nerve. 'Your eyes start to feel very sort of engorged, and your awareness comes to the front of your face. 'My senses sort of shifted to the visual, and my auditory sense went down. 'Sounds didn’t even register. 'It was like walking around on a winter day when it just snowed. 'It was very easy to stay visually focused. 'I didn’t take as many breaks; I didn’t get as frustrated; the stuff came out with fewer errors', Mr Borden said. The US military have long been interested in using pharmaceuticals to prevent sleepy soldiers from making blunders on the battlefield, with an early documented experiment on helicopter pilots using Dexedrine, an ADHD drug, carried out in 1995. The findings, published in the journal Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, found after 34 hours without sleep the military pilots could perform complicated manoeuvres in a simulator with 'no adverse behavioural or physiological effects'. A US study published in 2012 gave Black Hawk helicopter operators modafinil as they carried out a series of flights and other evaluations over a 40-hour period without sleep, concluding that the pills allowed the pilots to better 'maintain alertness' and 'cognitive function' throughout the ordeal. 'It's just one of these misuses, in my view, of a medical application', said Dr Judith Leech, Medical Director at the West Ottawa Sleep Center in Canada. Speaking to The Ottawa Citizen about the use of modafinil in the military, the doctor continued: 'You could probably get the same thing with 20 cups of coffee, but you wouldn't like it.' '...What I use in somebody whose life is totally impaired by a brain chemistry disorder is different from what I think you should use in an army person or other healthy people. 'It's bad to use drugs for bad reasons. There's a reason why we get sleepy. 'Sleep helps the brain store memories and recuperate from work, and helps the body build its immune system. 'And you deprive yourself of those things if you use a stimulant to overcome it.' An investigation by the Guardian published in 2004 found purchases of Provigil, a brand name of modafinil, started in 1998 and peaked at 5,000 pills delivered in 2001 - the year allied forces entered Afghanistan. The second largest order, for more than 4,000 pills, came in 2002, when troops entered Iraq. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10707005/Thousands-smart-drugs-bought-MoD-soldiers-awake-40-hours-straight.html
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