Growing trend of students abusing ADHD drugs for improved academic performance.

A leading pharmacist is concerned about the growing number of students in the UK illegally trading prescription ADHD medicines to improve their concentration during exams. This trend was first observed in the USA and Chemist Direct worries that it has gained a foothold in Britain with students not fully aware of the potential dangers associated with abusing these drugs.

A recent study by Professor Barbara Sahakian, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, has revealed that one in ten Cambridge students admitted to have taken drugs such as Ritalin and Modafinil as a study aid. Whilst UK students’ recreational drug use has been well documented, there exists little or no research into ADHD drug use at any of the UK’s other 132 universities. We could potentially be looking at a vast number of student users.

Omar El-Gohary, Superintendent Pharmacist at Chemist Direct, explained that ADHD drugs work by stimulating the part of the brain which deals with behaviour, increasing levels of dopamine and adrenaline in a manner similar to cocaine.

Methylphenidate (Ritalin), dexamfetamine and atomoxetine are the three most prevalent ADHD treatment drugs, and have been found to improve memory, attention and planning skills in people with or without ADHD.

The short-term benefits of using these drugs have not been lost on the student population. One recent graduate from the University of Leeds (who asked to remain anonymous and shall be known as Student A) admitted using Ritalin and Modafinil, a drug used to treat narcolepsy, during exam time.

Now in a junior position at a financial institution in the City of London, he described his experiences on the drug: “It just makes you concentrate. You don’t look up from your revision, you just concentrate. Furthermore, it seems to stick in your mind. I can’t explain it but your memory recall is improved, however, this last effect only kicks in after a couple weeks of being on the drug”.

Another student, who still regularly uses Ritalin as a study aid described similar effects: “They make me really focused, sometimes hyper, a little dehydrated. I feel like I lose a bit of my personality”.

The loss of personality this student experiences aligns with some of the more worrying side effects of consistent misuse of Ritalin, such as irritability, depression and even psychosis.
Donald Singer, Professor of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of Warwick, highlights the danger in using these drugs without professional medical supervision: “Use without clinical advice may mean that important underlying conditions are not identified, for example high blood pressure, disorders of heart rhythm, psychiatric risk; and potential important interactions with other drugs (including other stimulants) may not be considered”.

What is even more troubling, is that without professional medical supervision, students abusing these drugs are given complete freedom to decide on their own dosage.
Mr El-Gohary notes that “drugs acting on dopamine pathways do have the potential to become addictive. At normal treatment doses these drugs are not addictive. If these drugs are abused at higher doses, the potential for addiction and dependence greatly increases”. He also fears that the drugs obtained from illicit sources may be counterfeit and contain dangerous contaminants.

Student A, who obtained his Ritalin through a Fijian website, explained his greater need for the drug come exam time: “When I first started taking them the effects were strong, one tablet would last for most of the day. However, pretty quickly one builds up a tolerance to it. When it came to exams (after about a month of taking them) I would have to take about 3 a day for the same effect as to begin with.”

It is also important to recognise that Ritalin is a Class B drug, so students caught using could face a five year prison sentence rather than just disciplinary action from their university.
Whilst the students we spoke to have only experienced minor side effects and low levels of dependence, we still don’t have a clear picture of just how many students are abusing these drugs during exam times. Will it take the publicised suffering of one unfortunate student to raise the alarm?

Ultimately, universities need to be aware that these drugs are being taken and alert their students to the dangers; physically, psychologically and legally.
If you find yourself cracking under the pressure of exams and coursework in the coming academic year, Chemist Direct offer a variety of vitamin and mineral supplements that can relieve stress and help you concentrate.

This post was submitted by Jamie Waddell.

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