Adderall. Ritalin. Concerta.
Students cramming for midterms and exams probably make less-than-great decisions. But some take all-nighters and stimulants to a whole new level.
Some students turn to study drugs, prescription medications used to focus the mind. For most, it’s meant to be harmless. Anything to survive that last exam. For others, it’s as regular as the exams themselves.
“I don’t think they’re looked upon the same way as other drugs because so many people are prescribed them,” says one upper-year science student who used them, both unprescribed and later with a prescription. “Children are prescribed them.”
The Dalhousie Gazette found a student with years of experience using various pills to excel academically. His name is being withheld considering the illegal nature of buying prescription drugs.
“My first year at Dal I was introduced to Concerta, 54mg pills, just before exams started,” he says. He used it every exam period, including during midterms, in his first year.
Then came Ritalin. Then, later and with a prescription, Adderall.
“Each pill affected me differently. Concerta was definitely more of a euphoria, I was extremely focused. I never became tired. I was never yawning or complaining, but I always felt motivated, focused, ready to go. The experience on Ritalin was much the same. The experience on Adderall was different, and that’s actually why I no longer take these drugs. Adderall made me quite anxious.”
The three pills he took—Concerta, Ritalin and Adderall—are typically prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. For one 54mg pill, he would have paid $5 on average. The lowest he recalls paying was $3 a pill, but only when he bought them in bulk.
The largest order he ever placed was for 50 pills.
“You can just continue to go, go, go, so long as you time when you’re taking the pills correctly, then you can go,” he says. “And you can go for as long as you want.”
“I suspect it is not a significant issue here,” says Bonnie Neuman, vice-president student services at Dalhousie, “given that we’re a strong academic school and our students are strong scholars.”
According to Neuman, Dal participates in the National College Health Assessment survey but there are no questions about the abuse of drugs “for energy or as study aides,” so Dal has no relevant policies because there is no data to say there is a need.
The survey does, however, ask about the abuse of prescription medications. In 2013, 3.7 per cent of Canadian postsecondary students polled admitted to using non-prescribed stimulants.
Our source disagrees. While other students may not use them long-term the way he did, he would estimate three or four students of 10 would have used them at some point. He also says they were easily accessible.
“When I was in residence it was extremely easy. You could find it in your hallway in some cases,” he says. “I would go to the library, and it would be funny, but I’d be studying while I was on it and I would hear the people behind me asking their friends for it, or I’d hear people around looking for it.”
“I don’t really think that the use of Adderall makes a substantive difference in terms of their academic outcomes,” says Neuman, “because of course it’s not the one test but it’s about all the academic work you do.”
The anonymous student disagrees again. He says that because the pill is used for academic purposes, it’s more of a tool than a recreational stimulant.
“These drugs offer me a benefit to get ahead academically and I think that’s the point here. People that use these drugs don’t look at themselves as drug users or drug abusers, in the same sense that someone who smokes marijuana would. A lot of people that I know who have used them don’t use other drugs, not even marijuana. They don’t smoke cigarettes. They’re generally against using drugs, but they do use these because they offer a benefit.”
That benefit is concentration and the ability to go long periods without sleep. These drugs target the central nervous system and are time-released, and used properly can make a study session last days.
The list of negative side effects is long and can be long lasting. Users can become nervous, agitated, anxious, depressed, suffer from insomnia, loss of appetite, dizziness and headaches—and those are the milder side effects.
The science student developed the sense that he couldn’t study without it.
“You become very dependent on it,” he admits. “I’m consistently anxious now because of this. I wasn’t an anxious person before, now I’m extremely anxious.”