Study drugs, or nootropics, are prescription-only drugs that are abused by a number of people in order to increase their concentration. Individuals, who do abuse these, usually do not have a prescription for these medications but have purchased them illegally (this could be on the Internet or buying them off someone who has a prescription for them).
The most well-known study drug is probably Ritalin. Generations of university students have been known to draw on the alleged source of cognitive enhancement that is this drug. This drug, along with several similar drugs, such as Adderall, was initially developed to combat the symptoms of ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder, and ADHD, Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity. These drugs exert their effects on dopamine and noradrenaline in the brain as it is believed that this is where the deficits of the disorder lie. When individuals with AD(H)D take these drugs they can concentrate and focus better.
Individuals, who don’t have the diagnoses of either condition, have reported that taking Ritalin or other “study drugs” have helped them focus better on their university workloads; they’ve also reported increases in reaction time and attention span, and reduced fatigue enabling them to pull “all nighters” in the library more easily. Now, the big question is: Do these “study drugs” actually work? And if so, how do they magically make us “smarter”’ than we were before taking them? Drugs, such as Ritalin and Adderall, act on the Dopamine and Noradrenaline systems in the brain. Boosts in these systems can increase general mood and cause euphoria (a bit like eating chocolate after a long day!). This leads to greater feelings of happiness and confidence, which in turn can make the person study longer or focus better on the essay which is due in at 9am the next morning. Others have even reported feeling more intelligent when taking these drugs. At this point you may think ‘oh, I could do with feeling more confident about this essay on XYZ that I want to get done early in the semester’, but here is why you shouldn’t go begging the doctors to prescribe you some medication: Ritalin, Adderall and several similar drugs, are grouped as amphetamine-like substances; abusing amphetamines carries a great risk of addiction with them and can lead to withdrawal symptoms once an individual discontinues taking them. Other side effects include feelings of depression, anxiety, dizziness, migraines, teeth clenching, and even irregular heartbeat. There is little research on the long-term effects of (prolonged) abuse of nootropics, however the lack of this research should be taken into consideration! “Playing” with neurotransmitters in your brain without medically needing to so, can be quite dangerous, and should not be taken lightly. Unfortunately the thought of finishing a task quicker, or being able to focus more seems to override the caution of a lot of people: In 2005 it was found that Adderall was the third most readily available drug at the University of Maryland after alcohol and cannabis.
In general, the US seems to have a much more dominant study-drug culture than the UK: it is estimated that 1 in 5 college students use study drugs short-term to enhance their studying abilities. Advocate website of the use of Nootropics praise them as enhancing general intelligence, memory capacity and stamina.
However after reading this article, you will know that this is factually wrong: nootropics don’t actually make you any smarter, but by boosting those neurotransmitters in your brain, just trick you into believing that you are!