Don't demonise study drugs

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Luke Unger defends those who choose to use study drugs to enhance their productivity at University.

Let me first pre-empt this piece by stating I have never taken ‘study drugs’.
Why am I writing an article in favour of them then, you may ask? Simply because I am fed up with this demonised conception surrounding them and people’s inability to see their potential.

I get it. To a lot of people, when someone mentions that they’ve used a ‘smart drug’ there’s this sudden cynicism, prompting questions to the user and comments about the user. I will try to debunk these myths.

1. ‘Study Drugs are dangerous’

This is perhaps the most convincing argument against taking the drugs. Psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin and Aderol are deemed Class B due to their addictive quality, similar to that of cocaine. The fair point has been made that we do not know for certain if there are any long term affects to these study drugs. Furthermore, some of these drugs have the potential to react with substances already in our system. However, does this mean we should not take them?

Speaking to students who have used the drug and simply looking online, it is clear to see that drugs used to treat ADHD are simply not the most popular. They are difficult to acquire, and the risk is simply not worth the reward for being found in possession with class B drugs. Instead, much safer Nootropic drugs, such as Modafinil, Noopept and Adrafinil are sold and advertised garishly across websites. These smart drugs are more stable and have far fewer or even non-existent side effects. Considering the number of students who take them regularly, surely, if they were that damaging we would be seeing the widescale effects in the media?

The Government is forcing students to take these more addictive substances due to their unwillingness to regulate them. If they allowed regulation of less harmful substances, this would be accompanied by a scientific education into their effects and suitable dosages. Simply put, students will continue to take these drugs. Therefore, the government will be doing more harm than good by not allowing the regulation of them.

2. ‘They don’t even work’

This is simply not accurate. While ‘smart’ drugs will not increase your IQ, clearly, they do increase your productivity. After researchers tested the effects of the drug Modafinil, Guy Goodwin, President of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) stated, ‘This overview suggests that, on current evidence, modafinil enhances cognition independent of its known effects in sleep disordered populations.’ Furthermore, as part of the study, scientists from the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School analysed 24 studies into Modafinil. They concluded that it does improve cognitive function, especially on long and complicated tasks.

3. ‘They are only taken by people who don’t work hard during term time’

The pressure on students in our society is stifling. Never have we been expected to achieve so much. From the age of around 11, students have been examined intensely and competitively, all aimed towards the inevitable question, ‘so what are you going to do with your life’. Now at university, accruing roughly £16,000 of debt per year, students face a claustrophobic social and economic pressure to achieve. I have seen incredibly bright, determined students at their wits end during exam season, using study drugs as a last resort. This is a nationwide occurrence. Last year Oxbridge University’s Student Union set up workshops to raise awareness of the drugs due to the number of students taking them. Many students feel that by taking the drug during these intense periods of work they can study more efficiently for a shorter duration of time. If taken effectively and safely, this means that students are more likely to get better sleep and eat suitably, thus reducing exam stress, and reducing potential mental health problems.

4. ‘Taking them mean it’s harder for people with ADHD to receive medication’

This is the biggest problem caused by the misuse of drugs such as Aderol and Ritilin. Patients are finding it harder and harder to receive these sorts of medications, especially at Student Health Centres, with doctors reluctant to prescribe due to fears students will sell the drug. This is a problem. However, this is an issue due to the fact the government is not willing to legalise and control the flow of the range of ‘smart drugs’ used by students. Considering government fears for their safety, surely it is illogical to demonise them and make illegal, reducing the potential for further research and regulation. The regulation of safer drugs such as Modafinil would see huge reductions in the rate of abuse of these ADHD medications.

5. ‘It’s cheating’

This ethical debate underlies many of these previous comments. There are a large proportion of people who feel by taking these drugs you echo athletes who dope or take steroids to enhance performance. This may be partially true for students but what about scientists? What about doctors? What about policy makers? Are we going to ban these drugs for members of society hoping to improve the current world we live in? Furthermore, for university students surely the aim of the work we produce is not to be competitive but to further develop our field of study. By banning the drugs at the grassroots, we only stifle future scientific and intellectual development that could potentially better our society. With current threats such as global warming, food shortages and international tensions, undoubtedly, we are going to need all the cognitive help available.

Echoing the words of Professor David Nutt on drug policy, it all goes back to regulation. If these drugs were regulated, we would able to control the flow. Whist I do agree we need to promote a society which is not exclusively dependant on drugs for cognitive function, not to ignore the benefits of these drugs is simply primeval.


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