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Top 3 Substances Students Use to Aid in Studying

Across the U.S., college students are ramping up to finish the fall semester. The much awaited break is just around the corner, but not before completing those dreaded final exams. No doubt about it, exam time can be a week from Hell. Students are tirelessly pulling all-nighters, writing endless papers, and attempting to do the impossible feat of cramming a semester’s worth of information into one short time frame. Campus coffee shops are a buzz trying to satisfy the eager, yet demanding needs of yawning consumers.

However, for some students a strong cup of Joe won’t come close to meeting their need for mental stamina. Each waking minute is met with a plea for energy, improved focus and concentration. When coffee doesn’t produce the desired study effect, students may turn to other substances to push them over the finish line. These substances are known as “study drugs” or “smart drugs” and they are believed to aid in increasing alertness and performance.

Below are the top three study drugs students take to get them through exams:

#1  Caffeine

Sure caffeine is found in coffee, but today it’s marketed in other products as well. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that is frequently packed into foods, energy drinks and even pills. College students use it because it has been shown to improve attention and memory skills. The drug, is widely accepted in the American culture and for the most part, believed to be a safe.

What makes caffeine so popular is its quick “pick me up” effect. Caffeine can convert a “Zombie” into the “Energizer Bunny,” but even the bunny runs out of energy at some point. Caffeine is also known to lead to a crash of energy once the high has worn off.

Aside from beverages, caffeine can also be found in the form of pills. Caffeine pills are accessible and relatively cheap, making them a popular go-to option for students. The pills are sold over the counter and range in dosage between 100 and 250 mg. One pill can contain as much caffeine as one to three 5-ounce cups of coffee!

While caffeine pills are not classified as addictive, they can become habit forming. Plus, like drinking too many caffeinated beverages, they can have adverse side effects, which is why they often come with warning labels displayed on the side of the bottle to the consumer. Some of the side effects of ingesting more than 500 to 600 milligrams of caffeine include: insomnia, restlessness, nervousness, jitters, irritability, gastrointestinal problems, rapid/irregular heartbeat, and muscle tremors.

Several studies have shown that people who consume large amounts of caffeine have higher rates of kidney and bladder cancer, fibrocystic breast disease, pancreatic cancer, and osteoporosis. For some people, caffeine doses above 300 milligrams can result in in tension, anxiety, and even panic attack.

#2  Study Drugs

Stimulants used to treat Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), such as Adderall, Concerta, and Vyvanse, are other popular study drugs. Often, on college campuses these drugs are referred to as “focus drugs”. They are easy for students to obtain. In fact, according to a study conducted by Ohio State University, 83% of students who reported stimulant misuse reported getting the drug from a friend.

The Center on Young Adult Health and Development, reports approximately one-third of college students have engaged in the misuse of stimulant prescription drugs at least once while attending college. One in five college students report using these drugs to get an energy boost to get through long nights of studying. Students may falsely believe these drugs are safer than street drugs, because they are prescription drugs, however this is untrue.

Stimulants used to treat ADHD are controlled substances and they can be habit forming. Per the Center on Young Adult Health and Development, the misuse of prescription drugs can lead to major health problems like elevated body temperatures, rapid and irregular heartbeats, seizures, or worse yet, cardiac arrest.

#3  Nootropic Drugs

Nootropics are the final category of go to drugs for college students. Nootropics, from the Greek “noos,” for “mind,” are supplements that claim to improve cognitive function, increase alertness and concentration and strengthen memory and recall.

Nootropics like Modafinil and Adrafinil are used to treat narcolepsy, a condition which involves poor control of sleep-wake cycles. Nootropics also come in the form of natural substances like fish oil, magnesium and non-prescription drugs marketed as brain boosters. However, nonprescription Nootropics are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the long-term effects of mixing one of these drugs with another drug is unknown.

Unlike stimulants, Nootropics increase blood flow to the brain, which increases neurotransmitter activity and leaves the user feeling more alert and attentive for longer periods of time.

These drugs are another subset of “smart drugs” because they allow people to stay awake, sustain attention and improve cognitive functions, which may lead to better test scores.

Brain Safety

No doubt about it, competition in college is fierce. For once, students are competing in their field with students who are seeking to enter the labor market at a similar time. To take the edge off the pressure, many students are turning to performance enhancing substances. These substances may offer temporary improved cognitive performance to push through the final week of class, but how safe are they? Furthermore, how safe is it to artificially push the brain into overdrive and are the benefits worth the potential risks?

For all the college students out there looking for a substance to help cram as much information as possible into your brain in a short period of time, please consider the adverse side effects. No drug will ever replace the benefits of exercise, eating a well-balanced diet, and most importantly, getting an adequate amount of sleep.



Images Courtesy of iStock

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