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.