A worrying new trend in schools and colleges could be putting students at risk of forming addictions to prescription drugs. According to research published in the Independent, ten per cent of UK students admit to taking 'cognitive enhancing' drugs such as modafinil and ritalin. These prescription drugs are said to help them stay awake in order to meet deadlines and even improve their concentration.
Modafinil is prescribed to people who suffer from narcolepsy and have trouble staying awake and ritalin is a treatment for ADHD. When taken by healthy people, the latter is said to improve short-term memory and focus. The fact that many students are reported to be using these to enhance their academic performance has spurred some UK universities to consider introducing drug tests in order to prevent cheating.
Professor Barbara Sahakian, a psychiatrist at Cambridge University, told the source that some students who do not take prescription drugs are demanding tests because they are concerned that those who do have an unfair edge."Some admissions tutors are also concerned about it," she added.
In a recent report entitled Human Enhancement and the Future of Work, which was compiled by the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society, it was revealed that the use of cognitive enhancing drugs is already on the rise.
In the last ten years alone, the number of prescriptions for stimulants has doubled to reach around 420,000. The report also said that there is "convincing evidence" that these cognitive enhancers are being used on a regular basis throughout academic institutions in the UK. Furthermore, the drug use is not limited to students but has is also apparent among academic staff.
The report said: "Research indicates that some academics may also make use of enhancers such as modafinil and for a variety of reasons, for example to overcome jetlag and to improve productivity for particularly challenging tasks. An online poll for the journal Nature found that of 1,400 respondents from 60 countries, one in five said they had used drugs for non-medical reasons as a cognitive enhancer."
On the one hand, these prescription drugs are not as apparently harmful as illegal recreational drugs such as cocaine and cannabis. On the other hand, the potential harmful side effects are not yet known, as there is little evidence of the type of long-term effects they could have.
Plus, these cognitive enhancers might not be as beneficial to academics as they might believe. Neuroscientist Jack K Lewis blogged on the Huffington Post UK about the gap between consumers' expectations and the actual effects that these substances can have. He pointed out that single dose of modafinil does help sleep deprived individuals by improving their concentration and memory, but that the same dose when they are not suffering from sleep deprivation will actually induce drowsiness.
"Furthermore, repeated doses of modafinil when not sleep deprived increases both positive and negative affect, which means you would simultaneously feel slightly happier and more anxious," he concluded.