As the insurmountable academic stress known as dead week and finals looms like a menacing black cloud above Davidson Library, the student body of UCSB will find themselves in a time management conundrum which seems to strike every 11 weeks: how will we manage to regurgitate so much material in so little time?
Even if the human mind acted as an informational sponge, absorbing hundreds of chemical structures and historical dates every hour, we still would find ourselves frantically pressed for time. In order to compensate for the seemingly insufficient 24-hour day, students in increasing numbers are trying to enhance their study technique. Whether it’s by circumventing the need for sleep or by augmenting one’s concentration, many students nationwide turn to “cognitive enhancers,” a generalized category of various stimulants seem to give us the added boost in focus, motivation and energy. Although coffee and caffeine-loaded energy drinks seem to be the nectar of choice for nearly every college student during finals, an increasing percentage are turning to amphetamine psychopharmaceutical drugs designed to treat ADHD and ADD such as Adderall, Vyvanse, Focalin and Dexedrine, to name a few.
Adderall, generally regarded as the most common of the study drugs, is a combination of four amphetamine salts and acts in the brain as a dopamine and norepinephrine-releasing agent. It enables users to stay awake and alert for extended periods of time, making it a more effective studying tool for students attempting to crap in an encyclopedia’s worth of information the night before an exam. As the trend in consuming prescribed amphetamine drugs rises, it poses some potential consequences to how we cosmetically alter our neurological functioning.
According to University of Michigan Substance Abuse Research Center, an average of 4.1 percent of all American undergraduates take prescription stimulants for off-label use; on the higher end of this range, more competitive colleges reported 25 percent of its undergraduate student population taking off label prescription stimulants. Even outside of the classroom, the number of recent ADHD diagnoses has skyrocketed. In the past five years, the number of monthly psychostimulant prescriptions has nearly tripled (from 5.6 million in 2008 to nearly 14 million in 2011).
Despite the extreme legal consequences of consuming medication prescribed (Adderall is considered a Schedule II, so taking it without a valid prescription is a federal crime), there’s ample supply and demand for ADHD medication at nearly any college. Students with prescriptions can garner hefty profits by selling portions of their medication. One anonymous UCSB undergraduate, who was diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Adderall earlier this year, reported that he could “sell 40mg extended release pills for around $6-10 each… for each prescription I could get around $270 profit.”
What exactly explains the growing trend in students buying and selling highly illegal Schedule II study drugs in the context of undergraduate education? Is it the pressure of academic competition among peers? The fear of swaying too far to the left of the grading bell curve? An intrinsic desire for self-achievement? Or is it simply the euphoric dopamine rush throughout the mesolimbic reward pathway in the brain upon consuming common study drugs?
Whatever an individual’s intention, the increasing use and reliance on study drugs within colleges pose a variety of ethical questions regarding the drug’s efficacy. While more effective than coffee, is Adderall simply a cognitive enhancer akin to the jolt of caffeine from a cup of coffee, or does the drug pose deeper, more serious effects on our concentration, attention and motivation without the help of cognitive enhancers like Adderall? Does the culture of study drug reliance that comes under the spotlight around finals week breed a reliance on cognitive enhancing drugs like Adderall? Some students may imagine their study drug habit to cease upon graduation. Demanding workloads and deadlines will continue, however, and how will they then cope with such overwhelming duties without the convenient boost provided by such medications?
Besides the problem of dependence, another concern regarding study drugs is whether they should be considered an unfair advantage. In the same way that steroids are banned and tested for in athletic competition, it seems analogous that using cognitive enhancing drugs to study would be considered an unfair advantage. While the idea of turning in a urine sample in addition to one’s ParScore or blue book at the end of a final seems absurd, there’s no doubt that using cognitive enhancers to study creates an uneven playing field compared to students who lack the same access to study drugs or who choose to avoid taking drugs altogether. At the end of the day, relying on study drugs only feeds into the same hypercompetitive fervor that motivates students to consume the drug in the first place.
Michael Roe would like to point out that Adderall begins with “A” and doesn’t end in “F.”