Study drugs: What are the dangers? 

Study drugs, or so-called “smart drugs,” are becoming part of the daily lives of students. They swallow a smart pill whenever they hope to boost their mental performance. In a survey from 2017, 14 per cent of the respondents said they used such stimulants at least once over the previous year. The rate was much higher among students from the USA (30 per cent ). Over 20 per cent of Canadian respondents also admitted referring to these drugs when they needed a mental boost.

Only 4 per cent of the respondents said they had prescriptions (usually due to ADHD). 10 per cent bought them online or through a dealer, and almost half got them through friends. Why did they do this? They gave reasons such as: “I needed to write my essay late at night and I wasn’t focused enough.” The use of smart drugs was especially high during exam week among US respondents.

Why do students take study drugs?

It all started with ADHD diagnoses, which are rapidly increasing around the world. In the United States, in particular, the disorder is quite common. 4.4% of the adult population has ADHD, but people rarely seek professional help for their problem.

It’s easy to understand why a student with ADHD would need smart drugs. It’s difficult for them to focus during lectures, and they are usually forced to hire an essay service from Toronto when they work on any writing assignment. It’s difficult for them to deal with classes, homework, extracurriculars, and all other responsibilities imposed by their studying goals.

Since drugs help students with ADHD to focus, the cultural cachet of the pill became more widespread. Even if they don’t deal with an attention deficit disorder, it’s still difficult for students to focus. They spend many sleepless nights to get ready for exams. Many of them work after classes and handle homework during the evenings. If they are too tired, they get homework help online. But those who don’t want to hire an essay writing service turn to another solution. It’s not caffeine. It’s a mental stimulant in the form of a pill, such as modafinil.

Non-medical use of these drugs is controversial, mainly because there is no scientific proof that the general population benefits from them.

Should we be concerned about this?

Students believe that they should take study drugs even if they don’t have ADHD, since they would help them boost their academic performance. This is a dangerous misconception. Yes; surgeons take modafinil when they have to work long shifts and keep their focus on point all the time. However, they do it rarely and they are 100 per cent aware of potential side effects. Students are not.

Study drugs have been linked to serious side effects that can affect a student’s overall health:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Heart problems
  • Paranoia and hostility
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Hallucinations
  • Hypertension
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased body temperature

Some of these side effects are potentially life-threatening. There are reasons why these should be controlled substances that aren’t freely distributed among the general public. The risk of dependency is extremely high, especially when students get the drugs through friends. They skip consultations with a doctor and take the drug as a friend recommends.

Regular use of study drugs leads to rapid and otherwise unexplained weight loss, and long periods without eating and sleeping. Students who take these drugs have periods of hyperactivity. After that, a “crash” occurs — a period of negative mood, low interest about everything, and staying asleep for longer than usual.     

The adolescent brain is still in the stage of developing. Continuous use of smart drugs can lead to long-term effects on behavior and cognitive performance. In many cases, the usage of stimulants becomes a habit that’s hard to control. Ritalin, one of the most commonly used drugs for this purpose, is also the one with the greatest risk for addiction.  

We are not here to judge students. We’re here to understand them and help them cope with their problems in a healthier way.

Focus can be naturally improved

Meditation, regular exercise, and healthy food habits have a great potential to improve one’s focus. Nothing replaces enough sleep. When a student wakes up feeling fresh and rested, they are ready to take on the day with full steam.

The problem is that we expect too much from students.

Education is getting more expensive, especially for international students in Canada. They have to work to support themselves while studying. Professors keep assigning one project after another, expecting the students to always comply with deadlines and instructions. 

At one point, it becomes too much. The student cannot attend lectures, go to work, do homework, and study for exams — all within the same day. Are we turning students into addicts by expecting too much?

We can make a change by showing support and teaching them how to naturally boost their focus.

Ray Campbell is a blogger who focuses on the education niche. He’s always been interested in learning, and he has visited many universities throughout his trips. Ray discusses potential changes in educational systems, which would lead to more focused and successful students.