Following a recent investigation by The Times, which discovered the prevalence of “study drugs” being taken across UK universities, The Glasgow Guardian conducted a survey which looked at use of these nootropics, or cognitive enhancers, at Glasgow.
Study drugs were found by The Times to be taken to improve academic performance and work through exam and deadline periods at universities in the UK. The investigation noted the most commonly used study drugs to be modafinil, a legal prescription drug designed to treat people with excessive sleep disorders and methylphenidate (Ritalin), another prescription drug given to people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It found that 19% of UK students surveyed had taken study drugs at some point in their academic career.
“19% of UK students surveyed had taken study drugs at some point in their academic career.”
The Glasgow Guardian’s survey on the use of study drugs at the University of Glasgow found tat 29% of participants had heard of students taking such drugs to enhance academic performance at the University. However, only 9.7% of respondents admitted they had taken the drugs themselves.
The most commonly used study drug was modafinil, followed by methyphenidate (brand name Ritalin). Methylphenidate is a stimulant drug that affects the dopamine pathways in the brain. It is prescribed for people with ADHD, who would not feasibly be able to plan and cope with assessments without the prescription, as one respondent noted.
Other respondents told The Glasgow Guardian they had taken amphetamines (brand name Adderall) to help them study. Amphetamine drugs are used to treat both ADHD and the sleep disorder narcolepsy in the US, but Adderall is not common nor widely available in the UK. It is a class B drug and illegal without a prescription.
The majority of respondents that had taken study drugs before had experienced negative side effects. One person commented: “I thought it would give me the competitive edge. Instead, I felt like I was in a tunnel… I became heavily addicted to the drug [modafinil], unable to do anything without having taken it, e.g. no motivation, as my brain had become used to the ‘tunnel’.”
“I thought it would give me the competitive edge. Instead, I felt like I was in a tunnel… I became heavily addicted.”
This respondent described their “horror experience” on the stimulants which brought their use to an end: “As I was walking, I fainted, hit my head against a wall, and vomited. This was followed by a series of regaining consciousness, vomiting, and fainting again. I was sent to hospital in an ambulance and was genuinely unsure whether I would survive.”
Whilst one respondent did note that it was “very easy” to obtain study drugs in Glasgow, a theme emphasised in The Times’ investigation, another told The Glasgow Guardian that “while I know people have used them at Glasgow, it doesn’t seem nearly as big compared to [in] the US. I took them in high school and noticed marginal improvement at most.”
Universities UK is to launch a study of drug use at universities in the UK this year, which will be used to shape new guidance for universities by the end of 2022, and which will also include information on the use of cognitive-enhancing drugs for better performance in studies.