Smart Drugs in College

January 17, 2017

The pressure to achieve success in college can be intense, so much so that as many as one-third of post-secondary students have tried smart drug use as a way to increase focus and improve achievement. 

Also known as study drugs, these performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals are medications that are prescribed for conditions such as ADHD but used illegally by others for their cognitive stimulating effects. It may seem innocuous enough – like drinking an extra cup of coffee – to use medication that is deemed safe for ADHD sufferers, but if you or someone you know is considering trying smart drugs to help with school work, there are important factors to consider first.

For an individual to be prescribed a stimulant medication, they must be diagnosed with a condition that warrants its use as well as be assessed as healthy enough to withstand the side effects, which are numerous. Simply stated, the benefits must outweigh the risks. If untreated, ADHD is severe enough it can result in high-risk impulsive and inattentive behaviors, which render the side effects of stimulant medication worthwhile. If, however, you are taking this medication to get better grades, the potential side effects cannot be ignored. They include anxiety, increased blood pressure, headache, nausea, weight loss, insomnia, cardiac disruptions, bowel irregularities and impotence, and if used long term, can result in addiction, psychosis and heart problems.

Under a doctor’s supervision, the effects of prescribed stimulant medication have been observed for several decades and found to have a reasonable amount of safety and efficacy. However, even with a doctor’s guidance, many individuals suffer side effects severe enough to necessitate cessation of use. College students without prescriptions are not receiving proper medical advice (such as relating to dosage and drug interactions) and instead get their meds from unregulated websites or campus dealers, many of whom are fellow students with prescriptions who set their own prices.

Also worth noting is that the full effects of long-term stimulant use in the developing brain are not known. College students who are considering study drug use should be aware that their brains are not completely developed until they are in their mid-twenties, and as such, they may be at greater risk than adult consumers of this medication.

Ironically, smart drugs can cause memory problems, which can prompt continued use and lead to dependency. This is because our brains need sleep in order to consolidate new information and stimulant medications interfere with proper sleep. This may seem like an advantage to a student who needs to stay up late to study but can cause information retrieval problems later, either while the student is at school or has joined the workforce in their credentialed occupation. Stimulant medication only works while you’re using it, which increases the likelihood of dependence.

The off-label use of stimulant medication is second only to marijuana in campus illicit drug use. Many legitimately diagnosed ADHD sufferers receive unsolicited offers to purchase their medication illegally. The high prevalence of smart drug use makes it seem benign, and there even seems to be a media bias in its favor with 95 percent of articles written condoning the practice while only slightly more than half mention the considerable risk factors. However, there are drawbacks to taking any medication, and study drugs are no exception, requiring a careful assessment of the risks before their use is attempted.

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​Are you noticing an uptake in smart drug uses on campus? What are your thoughts on the topic? 

About The Author

AdmitSee Staff
AdmitSee Staff

​We remember our frustration with applying to college and the lack of information surrounding it. So we created AdmitSee to bring much-needed transparency to the application process! Read more about the team here.




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