"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

“Smart drugs” deliver too little and could cause problems

June 23, 2023 – A pill makes you taller, and a pill makes you… smarter?

Whether you're Alice in Wonderland happening the rabbit hole or a highschool or college student trying to realize academic excellence, researchers have a very important message for you: There's no such thing as a “smart pill.” In fact, people's nonmedical use of prescription stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin and not using a prescription can result in unintended consequences, including lower grades and substance abuse.

Insights from a Recent study suggested that the deliberate use of “smart drugs” by people without ADHD and with normal mental abilities didn’t improve those abilities, but relatively had the other effect. Although otherwise healthy people within the study who took these drugs (Ritalin, Provigil, or Dexedrine) seemed more motivated, they took more effort and time to finish a sophisticated task than individuals who took a placebo.

“Our center is interested in how people make decisions and solve problems under conditions of risk, uncertainty and complexity,” said Dr. Elizabeth Bowman, lead study creator and executive director of the Centre for Brain, Mind, and Markets on the University of Melbourne in Australia.

“We found that their actual performance declined with these drugs; we also found that the participants who performed best without drugs were the most likely to have the greatest decline in productivity,” she said.

In addition, the drugs usually are not as harmless as they appear.

Bowman said they could cause short-term anxiety, irritability and insomnia. There are also Proof that regular use over an extended time frame can result in substance abuse problems that persist into maturity.

Old tricks, recent drugs

The nonmedical use of prescribed drugs in academic settings is nothing recent. Almost 100 years Nineteen years ago, researchers began investigating whether stimulants could improve performance on math and language tasks.

Fast forward to the twenty first century and beyond 3 million Adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD and 62% take Medications, however, are an issue. Data suggest that the larger the proportion of scholars in a college who’re prescribed ADHD medications, the greater the likelihood of non-medical use of those medications. About 1 / 4 of adolescents are more likely to be approached by peers to sell or give away medications. their medication before completing secondary school (grades 8-12) and greater than half during university.

According to the researchers, it is a huge problem.

“Our team has shown that prescription stimulants are the only class of medication where the number of young adults taking them without a prescription is greater than the number taking stimulants with a prescription,” said Dr. Sean Esteban McCabe, a professor on the University of Michigan School of Nursing in Ann Arbor and director of the Center for the Study of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking, and Health, also often called the DASH Center.

This is very true on campuses, where fraternities and the associated partying, drinking and cannabis use are widespread.

Arby, a 26-year-old counselor from Washington, D.C., reflected on his time in a fraternity on the University of Maryland-College Park.

“I could tell you that at any given time in my fraternity we had between five and 10 people who were prescribed these drugs and were not taking them. They were ordering them to sell them,” he said. “And it was not hidden, they were talking about it in group chats and bringing them to chapter meetings.”

His personal experiences with drugs spanned his entire college profession, starting along with his freshman 12 months.

“I always had trouble sitting down, concentrating and studying for these intense school projects and exams. And you know, suddenly when you get to college and the workload and the intensity increases so much … there's a quick and easy solution,” he said.

The drugs “allow you to be in the library for 12, 14, 16 hours at a time,” he said. “They've allowed me to do things I never thought I could do in terms of commitment to study and academic achievement. And in that respect, they've been positive for my development in showing me that I can really work hard and do well in school and be successful.”

Arby, who declined to offer his last name for privacy reasons, isn't the just one who believes these drugs have improved his overall performance. Study after study points to academic performance as the first motivation for non-medical stimulant use. Survey 2022 of scholars at seven U.S. universities said they take these drugs because they consider they improve their concentration, reduce restlessness, increase their alertness, help them stay on top of their tasks, and stop others from performing higher in class.

But non-medical use can be a sensitive issue.

“Over 75% of young adults who report using prescription stimulants for nonmedical purposes 10 or more times are assessed as having a possible substance use disorder,” said Esteban McCabe.

Even more worrying is that 40 to 50 percent of those affected snort the drugs, putting them at higher risk of drug-related problems, he said.

Mixed news

Amelia Arria, PhD, vice chair of the Department of Behavioral and Community Health and director of the Center for Young Adult Health and Development on the University of Maryland School of Public Health in College Park, said she is anxious in regards to the negative impact on students who really want these drugs.

“There is quite a lot of evidence for the protection and effectiveness [of these drugs] if you may have been diagnosed with ADHD and you may have a health care provider by your side and are being advised by him,” she said.

However, problems often arise when used without such supervision.

Esteban McCabe gave the example of the combination of alcohol and prescription stimulants.

“Many young adults who drink alcohol and take prescription stimulants at the identical time do not know how dangerous these substances might be,” he said.

“Passing out is a protective mechanism that stops people from drinking after they approach a potentially dangerous blood alcohol concentration. However, if you happen to take stimulants while drinking, you might have the option to override this mechanism, and this may lead to life-threatening consequences.”

Unfortunately, students are not the only ones who receive conflicting messages about these drugs: many parents also believe that they are harmless.

“There is a lot of research showing that parents and caregivers have the greatest influence on the initiation of childbearing and that parental permissiveness is a huge risk factor,” Arria said.

Sharon Levy, MD, chief of the Division of Addiction Medicine at Boston Children's Hospital and associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, agreed.

“Parents and other caregivers may be less concerned about the behavior because the motive seems reasonable,” she said.

“I've seen high school-aged kids borrow someone's ADHD medication before an important final exam, and the parents know about it and condone it. I think from some parents' perspective, a lot of kids are taking these medications, they must be safe, and why not give them a helping hand for these special events?”

Levy also said many opportunities to intervene are missed, especially at younger ages.

“The right time to have these open conversations is before college,” she said. “Pediatricians see these kids regularly and renew prescriptions for kids diagnosed with ADHD – much younger than high school. When they come in for these annual checkups, it's a real opportunity to talk about things — prescribed medications, for example, should never be shared,” she said.

Levy identified the trade-off between small improvements in attention and concentration and huge losses in sophisticated problem-solving skills, not to say the addictive potential of stimulant use.

“Unless your attention and concentration are truly impaired, the trade-off will not be worth it,” she said.