‘College crack’ more harmful than helpful

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(Graphic by Steph Truong)

The pressures of university can at times seem overbearing. Within one semester, students are faced with countless assignments, mid-terms and extra-curricular activities, all while attempting to balance in a social life.

For some students, relief comes at the end of the semester when we finally have a chance to relax. But for others, the thought of taking a pill that is thought to focus their attention and inhibit study habits, is ideal.

So what is this magic pill that will solve all of our academic problems?

Often referred to as “college crack”, some students use the prescription known as Adderall and Ritalin, are known to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Hyperactive Deficit Disorder (ADHD) in diagnosed children and adults.

“Some of my friends have tried it and think it’s a good thing if you want to study,” said Nick Fattore, a third-year science student who believes the pills work for studying.

However second-year sociology student Emily Richardson has a contradicting view. “If you don’t have a prescription for it, you shouldn’t be taking it. It’s all in your head anyways,” she said.

Richardson believes that the positive effects are a myth and have no benefits towards students who do not need to take Adderall in the first place.

There is a fine divide between students who are for and against using the drug for extra help who cannot properly explain the scientific reasons behind taking a drug in order to enhance one’s performance.

Despite students’ thoughts for personal use, many do not know accurate information connected to the side effects and science behind the drug. This could lead to some serious consequences if they abuse it.

Laurier professor Bruce McKay, who teaches a course on drugs and behaviour, was able to shed light on the real facts of Adderall and Ritalin.

According to McKay, the range of students that use Adderall is usually between five to 35 per cent across North America with some data suggesting that Laurier generally falls at the lower end.

The high percentage of students across Canada looking for help in the form of a pill led to some other facts that affect those who do not suffer from ADD or ADHD.

“If you don’t have undiagnosed ADHD symptoms … these drugs won’t help you,” said McKay when asked to sum up the effects of the drugs and the relevance it has in students without ADD or ADHD.

“They may keep you awake longer but no scientific evidence suggests that they help normal, healthy, young people to become smarter.”

Does this mean the pill works as a placebo effect, providing nothing but confidence when students are stressing over getting a good grade? Not quite.

The reason students may be so quick to use Adderall is the fact that it keeps them awake. A common characteristic of the drug is that it keeps you up for hours, which may be why students are interpreting it as a study enhancer.

Coffee and Redbull have been helping students skip sleep for years, so what’s the difference with these drugs? McKay described how students often misinterpret what sleep deprived really means.

“Staying awake is a very real outcome,” he said. “These drugs have been used in work places like truck driving and military personnel for years to help them stay awake for days, but students who sleep for five to six hours a night are not really sleep deprived.”

McKay added that students are better off getting a good night’s sleep rather than taking a drug like Adderall or Ritalin. With the hope of staying awake all night being the only positive effect, it is possible students are ignoring what long-term effects these drugs can have on their bodies.

Students are notorious for placing health on the lower end of the priority list and according to McKay, misusing Adderall and Ritalin can lead to a cardiovascular-related problem by increasing a person’s blood pressure and heart rate.

“These are not drugs to be fooled with,” McKay warns.

Despite the risks, many students still swear by these drugs when it comes to studying. The answer to why some students are so adamant on its positive effects is that they may not knowingly have undiagnosed ADD or ADHD themselves.

“These ideas are so contagious because people believe this works, the only way I can explain this is that there are small effects for people with undiagnosed ADHD,”

McKay explained, adding that if the drugs are legitimately aiding study it may be a signal of undiagnosed ADHD and in that case, the student should seek the help of a psychologist.

Unlike coffee, Ritalin and Adderall possess much more than a caffeine boost. But all they really produce is the ability to stay awake, with the risk of deeper health problems.

With these “study drugs” popping up all over campus it is easy to fall into the idea of an easier way to do well in school. However it is important to note that, scientifically, there is no cognitive enhancement from Ritalin and Adderall.

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