Athletes who take performance enhancing drugs face severe punitive actions if they are caught. They’re stripped of medals and banned from events. But what happens to people who take cognitive enhancing drugs or nootropics? Study drugs, as they are colloquially called, are often used and abused by students under pressure to perform.
Generally, these are prescription drugs like Ritalin (ADHD), modafinil (narcolepsy) and selegiline (Parkinson’s), which means that students are obtaining them illegally. But legality aside, can study drugs be considered cheating?
Here’s where it gets technical
You see, many natural products have nootropic properties; the most well-known being caffeine. Drinking coffee during an all-nighter can’t very well be considered cheating now, can it? Otherwise there isn’t a student alive who isn’t guilty.
Gingko biloba is a herbal supplement widely used to improve memory and attention, especially in the elderly. It’s hardly reason to call in the study police.
Where is the line that divides the good study aids (Omega 3 and vitamin B) from the bad (Ritalin and modafinil)? Should that line even exist?
Students say …
No. Well, what were you expecting? Of course they say no; they’re the ones who have to produce 10 000-word essays while balancing parents’ expectations with drinking and socialising. Ritalin has been proven to improve learning – or enhance brain plasticity, if you’re looking for some jargon. It allows neurons, those vital little cells, to communicate more effectively so that we can focus more intensely and remember more clearly.
What’s not to like?
Narcolepsy sufferers tend to fall asleep without warning. So, drugs to treat narcolepsy, like modafinil, are necessarily designed to help people stay awake without losing focus. Of course, it’s found a place on college campuses around the world. Students like it because the side effects are less unpleasant than Ritalin – no hyperactivity or shakes.
Doctors say …
Yes – mostly.
While the drugs are undeniably fantastic study aids, when they’re used as such they tend to be abused. And, studies still need to be conducted as to the long-term side-effects on people who don’t have the conditions for which the drugs were originally intended. They are prescription drugs for a reason.
Some doctors are keen to explore these unanticipated side-effects, while others are far more cautious, especially where children are concerned.
Then there is the social fall-out
Because they are prescription drugs and because they aren’t legally available for every student who has to cram for an exam, their wide-spread use is illegal. And with illegal drug use come certain familiar problems.
- Drug peddlers, vying for a bigger piece of the market.
- Petty theft to afford the drugs.
- Spiralling use in recreational situations (Ritalin has been called kiddie cocaine).
- Osmosis-like spread into high schools and even primary schools.
So, what do you think? Should there be a line? Should study drugs, nootropics, cognitive enhancers, call them what you will, be destigmatised or should students be subject to dope tests before exams, just like athletes before an event?