It’s just gone 7pm. My brain’s addled. My deadline is tomorrow and I’ve been staring at my essay for hours, nothing’s getting done and the pressure is getting to me.
I glance over my table at another student. He looks around. He dips one hand into his bag and brings up a sleeve of pills. Casually he pops one and returns to work.
Study drugs. Ritalin, adderal, modafinil, and noopept. They enhance the user’s cognitive capacity to process information and they’re endemic at universities across the UK.
New research conducted by The Student Room, an online community forum, found that as many as one in ten students from all age groups have tried them. Strikingly, a quarter of the students surveyed say that they plan to use a ‘smart drug’ at some point.
Previously The Tab reported that, at some universities, as many as one in four students have taken them.
Originally designed to treat conditions like Narcolepsy and Attention Deficit Disorder, these drugs make students work till they drop. It’s not uncommon to find empty packets around study areas. Seasoned users crush, then snort for added effect.
They’re the perfect capitalist drug. City bankers used to take cocaine to crunch numbers through the night. Now, like students, they’re on the concentration-enhancing white tablets shipped in from India in discrete packaging.
It is easy to understand why so many students use study drugs. With the prospect of unemployment and crushing debt, students are desperate to get ahead of their peers.
Often a first class degree simply is not enough. Students are told they need to have a strong range of extra-curricular activities to secure a decent job – there simply are not enough hours in the day.
In America, where fees are sky high, study drugs have been all the rage for years. CNN and the New York Times have published reports on their widespread use and damaging effects. Running throughout the interviews with American students there’s a common theme – too much pressure.
At university, it seems to be mainly science based students who take them. Like the bankers, they need to stay sharp with endless calculations and decimals. But with endless reading lists – esoteric and dense enough to drive many a student to tears – humanities students are hitting them hard as well.
Arts students get notoriously few contact hours with their lecturers. If they’re lucky, ten a week. With £9,000 fees, that works out at around £100 per hour. Enough to pay for a psychotherapist. Put simply, they need to make every minute count.
One regular user told me: “Heavy theory writers like Marx, Judith Butler, Hegel, or Foucault make a lot more sense if you use study drugs. Normally I wouldn’t get one fifth of what they’re on about, but on modafinil, it’s a lot clearer in my head.”
Like caffeine, after too many doses the ‘smart drugs’ become a necessity. I know several students who’ve become hooked.
In order to get work to a standard they’re happy with they’ve felt the need to take several pills of the stuff. Unable to concentrate on simple pieces of work normally – some have had to take time out to detox, with their grades suffering in the process.
With regular use students can develop sleep deprivation, insomnia, anxiety, and even depression, and next to no research has been done on their potentially damaging long term effects.
Another student, a friend who struggled with study drug dependence told me: “Doing my dissertation, I would take Modafinil two or three times a week to avoid any procrastination. But after a while I couldn’t keep a hold of my emotions. I just felt numb.
“My sleep quality was awful, and I stopped feeling like a functional human being. But I couldn’t work without it.”
Reports continually show that study drugs are now a reality of everyday student life at university. But universities are still doing woefully little to address the blatant drug use on their premises and little if any information is given to students explaining the risks of these drugs.
Instead, the issue is casually brushed under the carpet and students under enormous pressure to perform well pay the price. Drugs have always been used recreationally by students, but unless the issue is addressed with the maturity and severity it deserves, this trend towards study drugs is potentially far more damaging.