As increasing numbers of young people turn to so-called “smart drugs” to boost academic performance, the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has issued a warning to students about the dangers of this practice, which include not only dependency, but also heart problems and even psychosis.
One big part of the problem is that many students mistakenly view these drugs as relatively harmless, particularly given the fact that some of them are (controversially) prescribed to children. Even though these students are obtaining the drugs illegally, they do not liken them to cocaine or ecstasy, for example. Moreover, those who do have legitimate prescriptions for these pills are finding selling them to be quite profitable, particularly around exam time.
Another problem is that these drugs appeal to many types of students. It's not just the rebels and risk-takers who are getting on board; some straight-A students who are under pressure to maintain good grades and who wouldn't have dreamed of even smoking a cigarette in high school seem to have no qualms about taking these meds for their perceived competitive edge.
‘Smart drugs' even more dangerous when bought online
Many students are buying drugs such as Ritalin and Modafinil online, where a valid prescription is not required. The MHRA in the UK has already closed almost 5,000 websites that sell fake or unlicensed medications. Students who buy these drugs online do not really know what they are getting, whether or not it's contaminated, or if it's even safe – and even if it is the real deal, it is most certainly not safe!
Ritalin is a drug commonly prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and some students believe that it can enhance their cognition. A recent study shows that Ritalin and other ADHD meds can trigger abnormal heart rhythms and increase children's risk of heart attack. It also has a high propensity for dependence.
Modafinil is a drug used to treat narcolepsy, a rare brain disorder that makes people fall asleep without warning at random times. Some students believe that it helps them to stay alert, but studies have shown that it actually does the opposite. In fact, one study showed that it impairs the functioning of the brain, surprising even the researchers who worked on the project.
In a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, subjects who took the drug performed a task with equal accuracy to that of those taking a placebo, but when the tasks required a timely response, the drug actually slowed the subjects' reaction times instead of making them faster as expected.
The Guardian reports that one out of every five students has taken smart drugs, which shows just how prevalent their use has become. In the U.S., some colleges are attempting to get the message out that these drugs can be dangerous, and they are also trying to help promote healthy study habits while taking steps to minimize students' stress levels. Some universities are even using posters to warn about the possibility of felony charges and jail time for using or selling these drugs.
Try brain-boosting foods instead
The desire to enhance one's brain function is certainly understandable, but there is nothing smart about turning to dangerous drugs to achieve this, particularly when there are much safer ways to go about it.
There are several foods that can help boost mental clarity. Reishi mushrooms, cacao and even pure water have been shown to help with mental clarity and mood in general. Coconut oil brought about immediate memory and cognitive improvements in one study. Paragraph recall was improved shortly after taking coconut oil, and one doctor even found that her Alzheimer's-stricken husband could suddenly recall events he had once forgotten after consuming it. Blueberries also have the potential to improve memory, and best of all, they do not put your health at risk!