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Fifth of students use study drugs, says survey

8th May 2014
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One in five students has taken ‘smart drugs’ in order to boost their productivity, according to a survey.

Prescription medications, including modafinil and methylpheni, are used by a fifth of students – despite the fact that half of those taking them admit experiencing side effects such as sleeplessness, headaches, loss of appetite and increased need to urinate.

These drugs are most often prescribed to patients suffering from brain disorders.

One of the most common, modafinil, is a stimulant that prevents sleepiness during waking hours and is often prescribed to those suffering from narcolepsy. The effects of modafinil are not fully known – although it has been suggested that some smart drugs could lead to prolonged anxiety, digestive issues or symptoms of psychiatric problems.

Of those surveyed, one in five claimed that they take modafinil drug every day.  Students have described it as similar to caffeine, “just a bit more effective and with less jitters.”

Maybe predictably, science students are most likely to use the drugs, and they are most commonly bought over internet - half of those questioned said that they purchased them this way.

Professor of clinical neuropsychology at Cambridge, Barbara Sahakian, told Sky News in September last year that it "is a very unsafe way to get these drugs because you don't really know what you're getting and you don't know if it's safe for you as an individual."

Although it is illegal to sell prescription drugs over the internet in the UK, it isn’t illegal to buy them.

Sky News cites “anecdotal evidence” which “suggests there is a black market at universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, with students selling it to each other for around £2 a pill,” although the University of Oxford has said that  it had seen no evidence of a problem.

The study of 1,800 students comes from The Tab, which in May 2013 reported that modafinil was available at universities libraries in Leeds, with “stickers advertising pills” appearing “on toilets, tables and water coolers around the library.”

The NUS has advised against the use of study drugs, telling the Metro that “taking drugs like these can present a risk to your health, just like anything that isn’t prescribed by a doctor.”

Universities UK has voiced its “grave concerns” over students purchasing prescription drugs that they don’t necessarily need online.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt also told Sky News in September that he has serious concerns over the prevalence of modafinil: "Let's be clear. This is drug abuse.”

He continues, "To all those young people we completely understand the pressures of taking exams, but you are playing with fire if you take drugs that haven't been prescribed.

"You don't know what the effect will be on your mind and body. It's a very dangerous thing to do and I would strongly encourage students to think again before doing this."

The Home Office’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is carrying out a review of the use of smart drugs.




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