Modafinil, available under the brand name Provigil, is a central nervous system stimulant drug. This means that it helps a person feel awake and focused.

Modafinil may help relieve sleepiness in people with Parkinson’s. A combination of modafinil and the drug flecainide is also in clinical trials to treat daytime sleepiness in people with Parkinson’s.

While there is no cure for the disease, modafinil can help manage symptoms. However, emerging evidence suggests that modafinil may offer anti-inflammatory and brain protection benefits that could slow or even reverse Parkinson’s. That said, the data from these studies are inconclusive.

Read on to learn more about whether modafinil can help treat Parkinson’s, including some of the potential risks and side effects.

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Modafinil is a stimulant, meaning it increases activity in the central nervous system, making a person feel more alert and energetic.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved modafinil for shift work sleep disorder, narcolepsy, and obstructive sleep apnea. In each of these conditions, it works by helping a person stay awake and alert. The FDA states that it is an off-label medication for Parkinson’s, but several studies suggest that it can help.

Some people without an underlying diagnosis also use modafinil as a cognitive enhancer to make them feel more alert, competent, and intelligent. However, this use is controversial and potentially dangerous, and it may lead to addiction.

Anecdotally, some individuals with Parkinson’s report that modafinil works as a cognitive enhancer.

The medication may also produce euphoric effects and increase pleasurable sensations.

Doctors typically recommend medications that increase dopamine levels to treat Parkinson’s. These dopaminergic drugs may slow the progression of the disease for 3–6 years.

However, Parkinson’s disease drugs may cause daytime sleepiness. Some people experience sleep attacks, during which they suddenly feel intensely tired or even fall asleep.

Because modafinil is a stimulant, it can help people feel more awake and alert. Some also experience a heightened sense of focus on the drug, which can help reduce the side effects of Parkinson’s treatments.

Modafinil does not treat other Parkinson’s symptoms, such as tremors, constipation, and neurological issues.

However, newer studies suggest that it might offer benefits beyond merely reducing sleepiness.

Parkinson’s causes brain inflammation and damage to neurons that produce dopamine. Researchers have not yet found a way to reverse this process, but drugs that reverse inflammation or promote dopamine level increases could one day treat Parkinson’s. Modafinil may be one such drug.

In animal models of brain inflammation similar to that which occurs with Parkinson’s, modafinil has helped reduce or reverse the inflammation. For example, a 2020 study of mice found that the drug may promote more dopamine in the brain, reduce inflammation, and prevent neurological damage.

The data on modafinil and Parkinson’s are not conclusive, but they suggest that future research might find more specific benefits in humans. Modafinil could offer additional benefits for people using the drug to manage this condition, though it is not a substitute for standard treatments.

Because modafinil can increase a person’s ability to feel pleasure and cause feelings of euphoria, it is potentially addictive. People who use this drug recreationally or at higher than the dosage a doctor recommends are more likely to develop an addiction.

Additionally, individuals who suddenly stop using modafinil may experience symptoms of withdrawal.

Some potential side effects of modafinil include:

  • headache
  • nausea
  • nasal congestion
  • anxiety
  • irritability and anger
  • dizziness
  • diarrhea
  • insomnia
  • decreased appetite and weight loss

In rare cases, a person may experience an allergic reaction. In people with a history of heart disease, high doses of modafinil may increase the risk of high blood pressure.

Modafinil may also increase the risk of psychosis, especially in individuals who have an underlying psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia. It may also worsen tics.

Dopaminergic drugs support dopamine functioning in the brain and body and are the main treatment for Parkinson’s. In most cases, a doctor will prescribe levodopa. In young people, a doctor may recommend a different dopaminergic drug.

The most well-known benefit of modafinil is that it may reduce the side effects of dopaminergic drugs, especially the sleepiness they tend to cause.

People with Parkinson’s may also have a better quality of life with physical and exercise therapy. Psychotherapy and social support can help ease the challenges of living with a potentially disabling illness.

Beyond these standard treatments, additional treatments focus on managing symptoms. These treatments vary from person to person according to their needs but might include:

Learn more about treatment options for Parkinson’s.

There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. The condition also increases the risk of dying of other causes, and many people with Parkinson’s eventually die from complications of the disease.

However, early treatment can improve a person’s quality of life and slow or temporarily stop the progression of Parkinson’s. Modafinil may make it easier to tolerate dopaminergic drugs and the sleepiness they tend to cause.

A worse prognosis tends to occur in those who:

  • develop symptoms later in life
  • have other medical conditions
  • are male
  • do not initially respond to dopaminergic medication early in the disease

Learn more about the early symptoms of Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s is a progressive degenerative disease, and most people with the condition develop serious disabilities within 10 years of diagnosis. The right treatment can help control symptoms for many years, improving quality of life.

However, Parkinson’s treatments can trigger unpleasant side effects, including intense sleepiness. Modafinil offers relief for many people. Additionally, it may have other benefits, including the potential to slow the progression of the condition.

Additional research might identify specific benefits or how modafinil might improve the lives of individuals with Parkinson’s.

People with Parkinson’s disease can consult a doctor about all the drugs they take and any side effects they experience. For many, modafinil may offer significant benefits.