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Smart drugs at university are on the rise - here's how you can ace your deadlines without them


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So-called ‘smart drugs’ - or nootropics - are compounds that claim to enhance brain function.

It’s no surprise, then, that amongst the stress of exams and essay deadlines, they’re on the rise in universities.

A report by the Telegraph found that up to 25% of students at top UK universities have taken nootropics, particularly modafinil. As of 2015, one in four Oxford University students were taking the drug.

Named ‘the world’s safest smart drug’ by Harvard and Oxford researchers, the side effects of modafinil include insomnia, headaches, and skin rashes. Not much different to a caffeine overdose, right? Except there’s no long-term data available yet, so any potential after-effects haven’t been well documented.

In a BBC case study, Benjamin Zand trialled modafinil in a Cambridge University study. Although he claims his ‘mind […] stayed alert as the day went on’, his focus was distracted by things like mobile-phone games. Zand also documented a loss of appetite, a bad headache, and the need to ‘constantly’ use the bathroom. Evening effects included insomnia, itchy lumps on his arms and legs, and dehydration.

The growing pressure on UK students means smart drugs are looking like a popular option. A combination of issues including the current economy's lack of graduate jobs and competitiveness for places on graduate schemes likely adds to the pressure on young people. Additionally, the stress of paying off hefty tuition fees contributes to a growing need to find a 'way out'. It's no surprise then that a simple pill that seems like it will help sounds like just the right thing. It can be easy to ignore the consequences of a predominantly untested drug if it promises to get you that first class degree.

So what can be done to combat the use of smart drugs? Keeping the body and mind healthy on the run up to exams is crucial for mental and physical wellbeing. The use of smart drugs might increase concentration, but at the cost of leaving your body feeling run-down. Here are some tips for studying without nootropics as a fallback - and keeping you healthy while you’re at it.


Mindfulness might sound like something from a crack self-help book, but its practices are definitely applicable to any stressful scenario, university included. It operates on the basis that being more aware of our present surroundings and feelings can be therapeutic.

Simple things like meditation can help clear your mind of any lurking anxieties and help focus your brain on the task at hand. If you’ve never done it before, smartphone apps like Headspace or Calm (named the best app of 2017 by Apple) can run you through techniques, and there are always useful video examples on YouTube.


Smart drugs don’t have to be your first go-to. Natural nootropics like BrainZyme, a food supplement company set up by students that use matcha, guarana, choline, vitamins and minerals, successfully enhance brain function without harmful side-effects. Brainzyme 'supports mental performance and improves concentration with scientific nutrition', working within an hour of ingestion. It’s certified by the Department of Health, and its ingredients are verified, triple-tested, and vegan. It’s also gluten and sugar-free.

BrainZyme is easy to ingest, and is more calming than a lot of its competitors - restlessness isn't a side effect, and levels of concentration and focus are increased from the outset. It comes in Original, Professional or Elite, depending on how much focus you need, and for how long (and it tastes great, too.) 

Nutritional supplements like BrainZyme are ideal if you want to avoid the hyper-focused, often stressful repercussions of a pharmaceutical nootropic. You also don’t need a prescription to access them - BrainZyme can be easily purchased on their website.


Put your student gym membership to good use and hit the treadmill! Exercise releases endorphins which help combat the revision lull, often sparking creativity and wakefulness without the crutch of drugs. If you don’t have a gym membership, something as simple as a walk or a jog will get you out of your room and away from the books for a while.


Extra planning can take you far. Sick of cramming essays into the space of a week, or even a few days before the deadline? It can be handy to make a colour-coded timetable or bullet journal containing all your deadlines, proposed study periods, and most importantly - breaks!

Don’t be unrealistic with this - let’s be honest, nobody’s going to do eight solid hours of revision - but once you’ve drawn it up, try and stick to it. Putting specific topics or essay questions in the timetable will allow you to track your progress more easily, so you know which goals you’re working towards.


Don’t forget to take a break once in a while! The thought of leaving your studying can be daunting, especially when deadlines are looming, but it’s important to give your mind a rest. Going back to things with a fresh outlook can often be a blessing - you’ll be able to look over your work with a more critical eye.

This article is sponsored by BrainZyme. Find out more here.

Use the discount code NationalStudent10 for 10% off at the checkout.

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