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For College Students, “Smart Drugs” Aren’t So Smart

Posted: August 20, 2018

Parents with a child about to enter college commonly worry about drug use on campus. They traditionally think about marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol. Most do not suspect that a new force has entered the world of drugs on college campuses…

From the demanding daily studies to finals week, college life is often associated with mental images of tired students, dressed in the same pair of sweats that they’ve been wearing for a week straight. The library on most campuses is normally filled with students desperate to fit 12 hours’ worth of studying into the 8 hours that they have until their next class or exam.

It is not uncommon to hear of students spending $30 on coffee per night in order to keep themselves alert enough to absorb more material. Some students even try to “time” when they consume their coffee in order to better utilize the effects.

And when the supplies at coffee shops run dry, students often pay absurd amounts to others who have some stockpiled in their rooms.

The shocker? Consider replacing every use of the word “coffee” above with Adderall, and you can begin to understand the culture of “smart drugs” on college campuses.

They go by many names: “Smart drugs, brain pills, study candy” to name a few. According to the Journal of American College Health, by the time they reach senior year, nearly two-thirds of all American college students are offered some sort of “smart drug”; nearly one-third of them take them.

Pressure to perform academically leads some students to seek artificial methods of increasing their ability to focus and retain information. Common misconceptions about Adderall are that it can improve intelligence, higher cognitive function and is harmless to take without a prescription.

In reality, Adderall can, in fact, increase alertness, prevent fatigue when pulling “all-nighters,” improve focus and give the ability to stick to mundane tasks, all of which can lead to increased performances on tests and assignments. That being said, there are still risks associated with taking Adderall without a prescription.

Legally, buying Adderall or other “smart drugs” from someone is still against the law. These drugs are technically classified as amphetamines, listing them as Class B drugs under federal and state laws, alongside fellow Class B narcotics such as cocaine and methamphetamine. 

However tempting it might seem to use Adderall and other “smart drugs” to get ahead in school, students should remember the risks associated with them. Aside from the legal consequences that could haunt illegal users if caught, there are also unknown long-term health effects that are still being studied. Short-term consequences include insomnia, unhealthy weight loss, irritability and potentially life-threatening cardiac issues.

Aside from the obvious, why should we care about “smart drug” abuse in college? One compelling reason is that many behaviors that are formed in college carry through to a person’s work ethic. Consider the fresh-out-of-college worker who is under pressure to perform and impress their new employer. Using the “smart drugs” could be a way to artificially heighten focus at work.

The problem is more significant than inappropriate use of a prescription drug. If the employer has a drug-free workplace policy that includes random drug testing, drugs like Adderall will show up as a positive screening, putting employment in jeopardy.

Instead of abusing potentially harmful substances like Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta, there are alternatives for students who seem to need an extra boost in their study routines. Caffeine is the apparent first choice, being the tried and true study aid for generations. Other all-natural alternative cognitive enhancers are also on the market, from fish oil supplements to other nootropics. A better time management routine can help students to study within a more reasonable time-frame, avoiding the typical cramming sessions that often accompany “smart drug” use. Regardless of the circumstances, students should be educated about the risks associated with so-called “smart drugs” so they can make safe and responsible choices concerning their study habits.