How dangerous are study drugs, really? We ask the experts
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The news yesterday that a fifth of students have taken study-enhancing drugs in order to boost their productivity got us thinking about how far you lot are willing to go (and how much of your health you’re willing to risk) in order to guarantee that maybe elusive 2:1. Our time at uni might have seen a larger than advisable amount of coffee and ProPlus being consumed in an effort to squeeze that last bit of knowledge into our brains pre-exam - but yesterday’s survey made us wonder whether the substances current students are indulging in come revision time are a little bit more sinister. To find out, we asked two experts - Dr Nigel Modern from HealthExpress.co.uk and Dr Natasha Bijlani from the Priory Group - about the true impact of modafinil, and other supposedly “smart drugs.” The most common study-enhancing drug used by students seems to be modafinil, the stimulant usually prescribed to those suffering from narcolepsy. The dangers of modafinil when taken without prescription are not fully known, however Dr Nigel points out that if you do take it without advice from a doctor you are unlikely to have all the information – which can be particularly dangerous if you’re on other forms of medication at the same time. He says: “If you have not been prescribed modafinil by a doctor, you may not be aware of potential interactions with other medications. In addition, people with certain conditions, such as heart, liver or kidney problems, should not take this medication. If you have not spoken to a doctor before taking modafinil, you may not be aware of these risks.” Dr Nigel also points out that, although modafinil is not necessarily addictive in itself, “if you are taking it regularly you may end up relying on it to stay awake, particularly as regular use can further disrupt your sleep patterns.” Which is definitely not something that you want to have to deal with during an already stressful exam period. Dr Natasha says on the subject of addiction: “It is very easy to get addicted to these sorts of drugs, because of the effects they induce. “They are often taken to increase alertness and they can improve cognitive retention and recall. The very effects this produces leads to a temptation psychologically to repeat the effect by regular administration. "But over a period of time one can become physiologically and emotionally dependent. The same dose that produces desired effects initially will cease to be effective with time and the individual will feel the need to take higher and higher doses which will invariably lead to onset of toxic effects and worsening of addiction.” She adds that “toxic effects can include depression/anxiety as well as a number of physical effects.” So, we know that modafinil and other similar drugs (such as methylpheni) are being used by students – but are there particular types of people who might be more at risk of addiction than others? Dr Natasha says that, whilst there is no specific profile for people who might find themselves addicted, “they may be high achievers who feel insecure and feel the need of chemical stimulation to further enhance their performance.”
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