Exploring the Harms and Concerns of Study Drugs
Students spend a lot of time doing coursework and trying to manage time, and it is important to remember that it is normal to experience challenges. Some students turn to what’s often referred to as “study drugs” to stay focused for an extended period of time, however the name “study drugs” is misleading.
Study drugs is the name given to drugs that individuals take because they think it will help them focus when doing work – hence the name “study drugs”. What these drugs actually are, are stimulants which increase alertness, energy, heart rate, rate of breathing, and blood pressure, but not learning or cognitive ability. In fact, these are usually stimulants prescribed to people who have it as a part of their treatment plan. Harmful perceptions surround these drugs in the student community and can cause detrimental health effects.
The rate of study drug usage has increased in universities across North America and use usually stems from the false perception that these drugs are effective aids in completing work. Some research shows that study drug use can increase the perception of work done, energy, and motivation, when in reality, cognitive ability stays the same. There is no strong research or consensus on whether these drugs actually show improvements in learning and memory. Although there may be perceived improvements in learning, there is no strong evidence for beneficial non-medical use.
Students usually don’t perceive study drugs to be as harmful as other drugs. Some believe they will only use them once, however, these drugs can be highly addictive. Stimulants can interrupt communication between cells in the brain by increasing dopamine and can make the person physically dependent on the drug to feel focused. Once a person stops using the stimulant after prolonged use, it can cause withdrawal symptoms as the body readjusts. These symptoms can include depression, sleep problems, fatigue, anxiety, toxic psychosis, cardiac issues, and cravings.
When these stimulants are prescribed for medical use, physicians prescribe starting with low doses due to the negative health effects they can have. Ways that the body can be affected by improper use of study drugs include high blood pressure, heart problems, seizures, anxiety, anger, and stroke, amongst a host of other health effects. The drugs affect chemicals in the brain increasing brain activity upon initial use causing the feeling of increased concentration. However, this only lasts a few hours and after wearing off can have reverse effects causing sluggish, disconnected, or depressed feelings.
There are alternatives that have the same desired effects that people seek from study drugs. Some alternatives include:
- Meditation → can help reduce stress, clear mind, and focus
- Good Sleep → crucial for focus, clear thinking, and alertness
- Exercise → can boost learning, memory, concentration; and also improve mood, sleep, and stress
- Healthy Eating → fuels the brain and keeps up energy levels
Abelman, D. D. (2017). Mitigating risks of students use of study drugs through understanding motivations for use and applying harm reduction theory: A literature review. Harm Reduction Journal, 14(1), 68. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12954-017-0194-6
Study Drugs (for Teens)—Nemours KidsHealth. (July 2015). Retrieved October 28, 2020, from https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/study-drugs.html
Written by: Kiran VermaAlcohol, Cannabis, & Substances, Mental Health & Mental Illness