Attention deficit and hyperactivity medications Ritalin and Adderall might be tempting for some students to get better grades, but they come with a risk.
A new study published in the medical journal Substance Use and Misuse states there is a growing trend among college and university students to take non-prescribed ADHD medications, ranging from 2 to 11 per cent of the post-secondary student body.
Another study published in Psychology, Health and Medicine journal in 2014 said that students use these medications to improve academic performance, and help with concentration, attention and focusing.
“The number one reason why people would use Adderall is because it has a longer and more intense boost to cognitive function than caffeine does,” wrote Dr. Chris Wilkes, president of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in an email.
“It’s kind of extreme that people have to resort to that – to use drugs to stay up,” said Albert Owusu, 19, first year culinary student at Humber. “I feel like if you studied hard you could still get good marks.”
Jimmy Chen, final year pharmacy doctoral student at the University of Toronto, said students take the medications because “they just want to have that extra edge.”
“If these medications help them focus, or if they think that it helps them focus, then that might be enough to get them through their work,” said Chen.
But taking these medications can cause acute side effects such as an increased heart rate and high blood pressure, as well as a chance of heart attack, said Chen.
Tics, manic reactions and zombie-like reactions are also possible, wrote Dr. Wilkes in his email.
A study released in 2011 in the Journal of American College Health also listed stomach discomfort, headaches, euphoria or a “high,” and withdrawal issues as other risks, especially if the drugs are misused or combined with other drugs such as alcohol and caffeine.
“You could have a different reaction to it. What if you get sick from it? It’s scary, it’s kind of risky,” said Owuso.
Chen said the scientific studies show ADHD medications don’t actually do very much immediately after you read your material, or even the next day.
“If you were to take it, half an hour later you probably won’t retain it any better than if you don’t. Its long term that it shows the retention,” said Chen. “So it’s a week later, two months down the road that it’s shown that you retain memories slightly better.”
The February study states the most common predictor of a student misusing these drugs is the perception that it’s normal and acceptable by peers, or by students who have tendencies to procrastinate.
“They think the only way to study better is to stay up all night. It’s their dream and they will do anything to get it,” said Josh Borillo, 18, second semester Fitness and Health Promotion student at Humber College.
Chen warns these medications should not be taken lightly. “It’s important to know the risk factors and the harm that it could do,” he said. “You can’t just glorify the fact that these medications will make you smarter. It’s more complex than that.”
“You should not take these medications lightly,” wrote Dr. Wilkes.