UK Teens Admit to “Smart Drug” Use to Pass Exams

An investigation by This Morning has revealed that an increasing number of UK teenagers are using “smart drugs” — prescription stimulants, amphetamines and narcolepsy medications — in order to pass exams.

The investigation, which looked at the habits of school pupils aged as young as 14, found that smart drug use among teenage school students was surprisingly high, with a large number of students aware of the effects of prescription stimulants and other medicines.

Commonly used smart drugs include Ritalin (methylphenidate), a stimulant commonly used to treat conditions such as ADHD, and Modafinil, a wakefulness-promoting medicine that’s used for neurological disorders such as narcolepsy.

Both Ritalin and Modafinil have legitimate medical purposes, although both are illegal to buy or possess without a prescription. The investigation found that many students buy the pills online, often from websites based in other countries.

In a Daily Mail article on the topic of smart drug use, Dr Ranj Singh noted that the drugs, despite their use in medicine, “belong to the same family as amphetamines.” He also noted that use of the drugs “doesn’t make you smarter, just more alert.”

Ritalin, Adderall and other ADHD medications have been widely abused by university students, both in the UK and more commonly in the United States. However, the new investigation shows how common smart drug usage is, as well as how young many smart drug users are.

In the investigation, students as young as 14 admitted to using smart drugs to study for and take part in exams, often citing the pressure of passing school exams as a key reason for their use of prescription-only medication.

One student that took part in the investigation, Media Abid, noted that she had “13 plus exams” to study for, and that she was “dependent on caffeine staying up all night revising.” She claimed that due to the pressure of study, she neglected to exercise or maintain her social life.

Media explained that she purchased the drugs online, claiming that a “mindless Google search” had revealed online merchants offering the drugs for sale.

Researcher Enya Quinn-Jarvis also showed viewers how easy the drugs are to find and order online. In just 30 seconds of using Google, Quinn-Jarvis was able to find a smart drugs dealer that offered the option to order the medications to a UK address.

Most smart drugs are stimulants of some sort, meaning that in addition to their initially positive effects on alertness and energy, they can also cause a “crash” effect.

Media, now 19, stated “there are downsides” to the drugs: “My anxiety disorders were getting worse. The biggest problem for me was that I was losing sleep. So the reason I was taking the drugs was to improve my grades but the the lack of sleep was bring them down.”

In addition to stressing the potential dangers of the drugs, Dr Ranj highlighted the serious risks of buying counterfeit or mislabeled drugs online: “when you buy these online, you don’t know what you are getting.”

Instead of turning to smart drugs, Dr Ranj recommended that students struggling with exam pressure talk to a loved one or contact Childline.

Increasing Number of Young People View Cannabis as Safer Than Alcohol

An increasing number of young people in the UK believe that cannabis is less dangerous than alcohol, according to new data from NHS Digital published by the BBC.

Faye, a 22-year-old, says that “people of my generation see cannabis as safer than drinking and safer than smoking,” noting that the health risks of drinking and smoking “have been drummed into us.”

According to Faye, a better solution than the “say no” approach young people are exposed to at the moment is to provide further information about the dangers of illegal drugs — something that she claims is effective at preventing alcohol and tobacco use.

At her school, Faye notes that the message delivered regarding drugs was simply that you must “never do them,” whereas alcohol and tobacco were subject to much more detailed information regarding health risks and dangers.

“You’re told your whole life, ‘These drugs are bad for you and they could kill you,’ and then when you do these drugs and you’re fine and having fun, you reflect on your education and think that maybe everything you’ve been told is wrong.”

Faye (a false name), isn’t the only young person in the UK with a diverging view on the relative risks of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis. According to data from 2016, UK school pupils have a higher chance of using recreational drugs than cigarettes.

The trend is a significant reversal from previous decades, in which tobacco was widely used but recreational drug use was relatively rare among young people. According to the research, 24% of British 11 to 15-year-olds claimed to have used recreational drugs at least once.

The 2016 figures show a significant increase from previous surveys. In 2014, a similar survey showed a recreational drug use rate of just 15% for pupils of the same age, indicating a nine point increase in drug use over just two years.

Many recreational drug users are in the early teens. Darren, a 24-year-old interviewed by the BBC, started using cannabis at age 13, stating that he “loves the way” the drug helps him feel relaxed.

Like other young people, Darren’s interest in cannabis over tobacco and alcohol was partly a result of a belief that cannabis is a safer option.

Darren states that he heard how alcohol “can kill, cause liver damage [and] affect your speech” and noted that people “lose limbs and life by doing silly things” while intoxicated. Cannabis, on the other hand, “sounds like a softer option.”

Cannabis is also “more normalised” now than in previous decades, with a significantly higher number of people openly discussing use of the drug. The legalisation of recreational cannabis, which just took place in Canada, may also have contributed to an increase in interest.

Despite the changing attitudes of young people, both recreational and medical cannabis remain illegal in the UK. The government recently announced a review of policy, paving the way for the potential legalisation of cannabis and cannabis-based products as medical treatments.

UK Government Announces Review of Medical Cannabis

The home secretary has announced a government review into the potential use of cannabis as a medical treatment.

Sajid Javid states that the government’s current position on cannabis is “not satisfactory,” while stating that the cases of people such as Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley had played a role in the decision to review the potential use of medical cannabis in the UK.

Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley, both young boys with epilepsy, have become important figures in the effort to legalise medical cannabis, with the home secretary noting that high-profile cases involving the potential medical benefits of cannabis had influenced his decision.

Charlotte Caldwell, Billy’s mother, expressed positivity about the decision. Caldwell is one of the country’s highest-profile campaigners for medical cannabis legalisation, as well as the founder of a cannabis oil company dedicated to funding her son’s medical care.

Speaking after the review was announced, Charlotte Caldwell noted that “common sense and the power of mummies of sick children” had prompted the decision, and that the UK was on the verge of “changing thousands of lives” through the potential legalisation of medical cannabis.

Caldwell and Dingley both have intractable epilepsy — a form of epilepsy that can’t be effectively treated using conventional medication. Both boys have shown improvements through the use of cannabis oil.

Currently, cannabis is classified as a schedule 1 drug — a classification that means it is viewed as having “no therapeutic value.” The drug cannot legally be possessed in the UK, with a range of legal penalties for its cultivation, sale and possession.

Proponents of medical cannabis claim that the UK has lagged behind other countries, such as the United States, which have taken steps to legalise cannabis as a medical treatment.

Canada also recently became the first major economy to legalise cannabis as a recreational drug as part of a campaign promise by Prime Minister Trudeau. Recreational cannabis is also allowed in several US states, including California.

Speaking to the House of Commons, Javid stated that the UK’s current medical cannabis policy was not only not satisfactory to the government, but that it was also not satisfactory for parents of children with epilepsy, their doctors or him personally.

The home secretary also clarified that the review was “in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use,” noting that the review would not set a precedent or weaken the government’s ability to combat illegal drug use.

The movement for cannabis legalisation has gained a significant amount of attention over the past few years as an increasing number of people in the UK make use of CBD oil — a medicine developed using cannabidiol, a chemical compound found in cannabis.

Widely used to reduce pain and inflammation, CBD oil shares many of its potential benefits with medicinal cannabis. Usage has grown rapidly in the UK over the last two years, from less than 100,000 users in 2016 to upwards of 300,000 in June of 2018.

As part of the review, the government will analyse and consider evidence covering the potential medical benefits of cannabis-based medicines. The second segment of the review will produce an assessment of cannabis’s potential public health benefits and harms.

While the government has stressed that the review is not a move towards legalising recreational cannabis (it announced it has “no intention of reviewing the classification of cannabis”) the move towards further study of medical cannabis has been welcomed by campaigners.

MP Claims UK “Drugs Market of Europe”

Tottenham MP David Lammy has claimed that the UK is the “drugs market of Europe” and that an increase in the trade in illegal drugs is responsible for an increase in levels of violent crime around the country.

Lammy’s claims have started a conversation in the UK about drug use, as well as the scale of the illegal drug trade and the problem of drug addiction in Britain.

According to the Home Office, the illegal drug industry in Britain generates as much as £5.3bn annually. Similar figures from the Office for National Statistics estimate that illegal drug revenue is approximately £4.4 billion every year.

However, figures from the National Crime Agency put the value of the illegal drug market even higher, estimating that black market drug sales in the UK generate as much as £10.7 billion in illegal revenue on an annual basis.

One reason for the discrepancy in figures in the way in which the “value” of the illicit drug trade is calculated. Whie the Home Office and ONS only estimate income from sales of illegal drugs, the National Crime Agency also accounts for the costs of drug use to the general public.

These costs include expenses involved in law enforcement and criminal justice, as well as the immense costs to the NHS caused by the use of illegal drugs. The National Crime Agency also takes into account the cost of crimes, such as thefts, committed by users of illegal drugs.

Even the most conservative estimates of the scale of Britain’s drug trade highlight how large the problem is, as well as the cost it has on society.

According to survey data, almost 10 per cent of British adults admit that they’ve used an illegal drug in the last 12 months. Interestingly, this is slightly lower than the percentage recorded via previous surveys, such as a similar confidential survey carried out 10 years ago.

Despite this, many experts believe that today’s illegal drug market is more dangerous than ever before due to the increase in sales of illicit opioids, which are far more likely to lead to addiction than many of the widely used recreational drugs.

Opioids, which include medications such as morphine and heroin, are also more likely to result in death or serious bodily harm in the event of an overdose than more widely used recreational drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy.

An increase in the use of heroin is particularly worrying. Many of the UK’s seaside resort towns top the list of overdose deaths from opioids such as morphine and heroin, with the death rate of Blackpool twice as high as any other city in England and Wales.

Other coastal towns have significant heroin problems, with 10 of the 14 UK communities most affected by heroin located along the coast. In these towns, the rate of opiate deaths is 4.5 per 100,000 people; nationally, it’s just 1.7 in England and 2.3 in Wales.

While MP David Lammy’s claim that the UK is the “drugs market of Europe” may or may not be accurate, the UK certainly has a problem of drug addiction — one that’s becoming increasingly problematic in certain parts of the nation.

Doctors Warn NHS is “Creating Drug Addicts”

An increase in the number of people prescribed opioid painkillers in the UK has resulted in drug counsellors and doctors warning that the policies of the NHS could result in a higher number of people becoming addicted to drugs.

In a recent BBC investigation, reporters discovered that almost 24 million opioid tablets, ranging from tramadol to morphine and fentanyl, were prescribed in the UK last year. The number is an increase of almost 90% from 2007, just one decade ago.

Opioid painkillers can be highly addictive. The drugs are often prescribed for recurring injuries or after surgery as part of legitimate pain management treatment, but users can quickly develop an addiction to the drugs even at the prescribed dosage.

Prescription rates for opioid medicines are highest in industrial areas of the country, with areas in northern England topping the list. Many regions in the north have opioid prescribing rates as much as four times higher than London, according to ONS data.

Workplace injuries that cause back, neck, wrist pain and other common injuries are often all it takes for a patient to be prescribed powerful opioid medication.

According to Nicki Hari, a drug counsellor for UK Addiction Treatment, many doctors prescribe medications such as tramadol “without asking too many questions.” Hari claims that the loose prescription habits are “creating drug addicts” and worsening the problem of drug addiction.

Hari has extensive personal experience with opioid painkiller. As a 25 year old, she became addicted to prescription medicine and “manipulated” doctors into prescribing her the drugs to maintain her addiction, often requesting unnecessary surgery to be prescribed medication.

Her claims of overprescription have, to some extent, been supported by professionals in the medical industry.

Professor Jonathan Chick, of rehabilitation clinic Castle Craig Hospital, claims that the total number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction has roughly doubled in the last five years, and that there’s “definitely a link” between rising prescriptions and addiction levels.

Doctors have also acknowledged the scale of the problem. Dr Luke Mordecai of University College London Hospitals notes that opioid painkiller addiction often affects areas with low incomes more than prosperous areas.

Mordecai noted that doctors often face significant pressure from patients to prescribe certain drugs, noting that “patients demand they get given these strong painkillers” by their doctors.

The government has also taken notice. In January, a review into the level of prescriptions for opioid painkillers was launched by Public Health England. The report is due to be released in early 2019 and could prompt a review of policy towards drug prescription and addiction.

In the meantime, prescription painkiller abuse remains one of the biggest health issues in the UK. From 2016 to 2017, an estimated 2.3 million people aged 16 to 59 used prescription pain medication without a prescription, according to a survey by the BBC England data unit.

While many users of prescription pain medication cease using the medicine when required, a large percentage struggle with dependence and addiction. When prescriptions end, users are often drawn towards the black market, where more dangerous illicit drugs can be purchased.