Students and Professors Use Smart Drugs

Jul 8 2010 - 6:51am

How well students do on their exams or whether professors teaching an 8 AM class are alert may be linked to their use of smart drugs. A University of Cambridge professor warns that both students and academics are using smart drugs to improve their performance.

Ten percent of undergraduate students at Cambridge admit to using smart drugs, also known as nootropics, according to a recent survey. Barbara Sahakian, professor of clinical neuropsychology at the University, noted that the students are purchasing prescription drugs such as Ritalin and modafinil on the Internet from sources as far away as India. About one-third of students said they would use nootropics if they had access to them.

Students are not the only ones seeking performance enhancement. A recent poll for the journal Nature found that 20 percent of academics also admit they are taking the drugs.

Concern over the safety of prescription drugs acquired over the Internet has many experts concerned, including Professor Sahakian, who is exploring the problem at the request of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs. She points out that the quality of the drugs bought from a website is unknown, and that there are other dangers as well. “You might be on other drugs or have some pre-existing condition that means you shouldn’t be taking it,” she said.


In a report from The Times in June 2007, it was noted that modafinil, which is used to treat sleep disorders such as narcolepsy in the UK and to enhance alertness in military personnel in the US, was overtaking the antihyperactivity drug Ritalin as the smart drug of choice at universities. Modafinil is highly effective at enhancing short-term memory and allows users to stay awake for long periods of time.

Students are either unaware of the side effects or don’t believe they are serious. Modafinil is dangerous for individuals who have high blood pressure. Potential side effects include nosebleed, headache, upper respiratory tract infections, drowsiness, nervousness, and nausea.

Ritalin, a drug commonly prescribed in the United States to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, can cause mood swings, increased heart rate, headache, dizziness, and insomnia. Individuals who use smart drugs can become dependent on them and find it hard to wean themselves off.

Not everyone believes smart drugs are a problem for students. John Harris, director of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester announced last year that students should be given nootropics to enhance their performance. He warned, however, that universities would have to establish policies concerning the use of smart drugs in examinations in order to level the playing field. “The issue would move from legitimacy to one of fairness and cost,” he said in the Telegraph article.

Use of smart drugs by students and academics is a reality, and one that does not appear to be going away. As competition increases on college and university campuses, the desire to use these performance enhancers may increase as well. Vince Cakic, from the department of psychology at Sydney University, noted that universities in the future may try to institute random urine testing to identify drug cheats. But given that banning performance enhancing drugs in sports has not stopped their use, would banning them on college campuses be any more effective?

Telegraph UK July 6, 2010
Telegraph UK January 1, 2009
The Times Online, June 23, 2007

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What is more surprising to me is how behind the times articles like these are. Students have been using mart drugs for years. There are even companies manufacturing over the counter Adderall Alternatives for students who are seeking the benefits, but don't want to take the risks involved with prescription drugs! Mental performance enhancers are simply a part of everyday life on campuses everywhere.