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Student use of ‘smart-drugs’ on the rise

The increasing trend for students using performance enhancing drugs in exams has lead to calls for universities to consider methods of stopping the problem, including random drug testing.

Cognitive enhancement drugs, such as Ritalin and modafinil, are easily available to buy over the internet and are used to increase the brain’s alertness; however according to Barbara Sahakian, a professor of clinical neuropsychology at Cambridge University’s psychiatry department, this has “enormous implications for universities”.

These types of drugs are usually used in the treatment of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy by improving brain functions like alertness and attention. Their increased use by students has however prompted calls for an ethical debate on the matter, including how society views the use of such drugs, after concerns that they could give students an unfair advantage.

When asked whether they would consider taking performance enhancing drugs, Royal Holloway students give a mixed response.  Some are in favour of the idea, saying “I don’t care about the long term effects.  If it would get me better exam results then I definitely would” and “there’s nothing wrong with having a pick me up; it’s just a step up from caffeine really”.  There are also concerns over the prospect of random drug testing, with students saying “surely this would raise a whole new set of both practical and ethical issues rather than simply solve the problem?”

However, many are against the prospect, stating “I wouldn’t as it feels like cheating; you should only be tested on your natural ability.  It would give some students an unfair advantage and pressure others into taking them in order to compete”, with another student adding “it’s just the same as an athlete taking steroids to win a race.  I would say it counts as cheating”.

There are also concerns over the health implications, with one student saying ‘I think it’s too risky.  We don’t know the long term affects; no studies have been carried out.  I wouldn’t want to mess around with something that could put my health at risk when it hasn’t even been proved to do any good”.

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